Posted on: September 27th, 2019
Sad businessman sitting head in hands on the bed in the dark bed
Going back to work after treatment doesn’t have to be stressful or triggering

The world we left behind wasn’t working. Now that we are through a successful treatment program, it can be daunting to consider going back into our lives again. Over the course of treatment, we have changed so much, but those long set down patterns that got us to treatment in the first place are powerful—and now, having returned from treatment, they are all around us in our home, neighbourhood and workplace. How can we make the re-entry back into our lives positive and affirming to our sobriety? How can we take measures to safeguard the work that we just did and protect ourselves from relapse? How can we face the people that we left behind when we sought help in a healthy way? How can we create a new design for living that we can begin to implement when we arrive home? What does work after treatment look like?

These are all powerful questions.

It is important to plan ahead for this moment—the moment when we take our lives back. If we prepare for this re-entry, it will be a growth experience that helps us to continue to build up a healthy foundation in recovery. The most important thing is to have a plan. To know what things to do, and to have a strong network of people in recovery to see us through this next phase in our recovery. It is tempting to simply scratch our whole life and relocate to start over. In recovery circles, this is called a geographical cure, and it usually doesn’t lead to the resolution of the problems that we left behind in our life before we went to treatment. It is recommended that we face what we can, so long as we are not putting ourselves into a dangerous situation. Don’t to this. Stay away from abusers and drug houses. Stay away from toxic environments—but do face the problems left behind—the broken relationships with family, the debt collectors, the messy workplace. Facing the damage that we have done is the best way to continue to heal and to grow.

I have lost my everyday support network that I had in treatment.

Upon your departure from treatment, make sure that you have a dedicated person in place to touch base with daily, in order to negotiate your way through your feelings and the challenges that will arise in the weeks and months that you are first back. If you have not been to any meetings yet, or do not have a sponsor already, see what possibilities there are for you to check in with someone from the treatment center, or perhaps designate someone as a point person. It is a good idea to run this selection by a councillor while you are still in treatment. It would likely be disastrous if it is someone who might be triggering, or someone new to recovery like yourself. Having this person in place is very important. Crucial. So is attendance at meetings. Just because we are home does not mean that we are finished with recovery. Make sure that you are armed with a meeting list for your area and have a few meetings that you plan to attend within your first week home. Go to as many meetings as you can and try and find one that feels like home. Get involved in that meeting and listen to the suggestions that are given. This will go a long way to creating new patterns and social situations in your life that are more in line with recovery.

I have all of the same problems that I left behind and now I have face them.

While we are in treatment, our problems do not magically disappear. The thought of going home to the same old may be very daunting. The truth is that our problems are ours to face and the only way through them…is through them. Sometimes, the things that have gone wrong in our lives as a result of our addiction issues take a little while to iron themselves out. It does us good to prepare for this and to have the right attitude moving forward—one of patience. We have to be willing to do ‘the next right thing’ when it comes to sorting out our problems, but often there is no easy list of tasks that we can instantly complete for all to be well. It is a process, and the process is never instant. How could it be? The way to our bottom took some time and so does getting our life back. Be patient, but take action. Consult your recovery people and come up with a reasonable plan begin to make amends to others, face financial problems, work related issues, self-care and all of the other things that can rear back up when you come home.

Attendance at regular recovery meetings and a sponsor can help manage the feelings of frustration and anxiety that can manifest when we realize that we are not necessarily operating on our own time or agenda. For some, if not most of us, we would like things to get straightened out right away and the reality that we are in for the long haul is very daunting. Staying humble and patient helps us to wait out the storm as our problems sort themselves out. Staying in touch with others in recovery, including a councillor, others just getting sober, a sponsor and other members of twelve step programs helps us to stay emotionally even throughout this initially difficult period. We learn to stay sober in any circumstances and to start to see hope as our problems begin to be solved. Don’t give up before this amazing change starts to take place. Have a plan and approach your problems with the right attitude and hang on—things will get better so long as you keep doing the work.

My family is still angry with me and don’t trust me.

Who’s to blame if our family is not entirely convinced that all will be well upon our return? Well, usually ourselves. Often, we have done a very good job of eroding trust over the duration of our addiction and so it is prudent to understand that amends take time. Note the choice of words here. We are making amends. This is not a quick apology, but an entire re-write of the way a relationship has gone. By now, the word ‘sorry’ has likely been used quite a bit—to the point where it has very little meaning. Our loved ones are likely a bit immune to a simple ’I’m sorry’ and will need some real evidence that we have changed. When we leave treatment, all we have to be is ready for this process. It is important to come home knowing that time is a great healer. If we stick to our recovery and maintain the spirit of humility and patience when it comes to the reparation of our relationships, it is likely that our loved ones will see the evidence of change within our behaviour over time. And again, have a point person who you can talk to regularly—often our loved ones know all of our triggers and let’s face it—they are not saints themselves. We may need to blow off steam as we maintain our patience and humility during this process.

My spouse still drinks./ My neighbourhood is full of people I used and drank with and bars that I used to go to.

We went to treatment to change ourselves, not others. We went to treatment so that we could be free of the need to drink…under any circumstances. So, how do we put that into practice as we re-enter our lives and take up with people that we used to drink with? It is recommended that we come up with a plan to handle some of the trickier moments that can come up when we return from a treatment facility. So, have you put a plan in place for that first time your spouse cracks a beer? Have you found and plotted out a schedule of recovery meetings in your area? What about coffee shops? Have you decided what you will get up to instead of hitting the pub down the street? Having a plan in each of these situations is the key to maintaining sobriety. It is vagueness that will cause a relapse. Perhaps spend some time with your councillor writing a list of things you will do if your spouse is drinking in front of you for the first time. You can leave. Call your sponsor or point person. Make sure that you have a soda in front of you. Go for a walk. The list goes on. If you have a list ready in your head of actions that you will take before picking up a drink—if you have a plan—you are miles ahead of that first drink that will set things off again. The uptake: make a plan. Do it now.

I am back at work after treatment and my colleagues are asking where I have been.

Whether it be that they are genuinely concerned, or just want to dig up more dirt on your life, the truth of the matter is that your colleagues have noticed that you were gone for a period of time. There is no real getting around this situation, and so it is important to have a plan in place to address them. Now, this is a situation where there are many scenarios to consider. Did your colleagues know that there were addiction issues? Was there a big blow out at work, or did you quietly slip off for treatment? Perhaps discussing the entire scenario with a councillor at treatment is a good way of coming up with a healthy, balanced plan of action when it comes to your re-entry into work. If the destructive nature of your addiction played out at work in a big way, it may be prudent to face the situation head on offering apologies to your colleagues and to begin to show how much you have changed and are willing to change. It is likely, like in any other aspect of your life, that it will take some time to rebuild trust—especially after your escapades at the office. A measure of real humility and a plan to be ‘one of many’ or ‘a worker among workers’ will likely get you a long way.

My family are resentful that I have to continue to go to meetings.

Your family wants you back. It is likely that you have avoided responsibilities for so long, that the expectation is that you will come back and show up in full force. Hopefully, while you were in treatment, you family was too. Or at the very least, they were coached around some of the realities of your new life—including the importance of attending recovery meetings which offer you consistent support. Despite this, they might be feeling left out of your recovery. Perhaps you can invite them to an open meeting, where they are welcome, or have some new sober friends over to meet them. Pick some dedicated time to spend with your loved ones. Roll up your sleeves and do the supper dishes, or take out the trash. Offer to help. Attend their recitals, or work events. Focus on what is going on in their lives and ask them questions of interest. We show we have changed by our actions. These kinds of gestures can go a long way towards showing your family that you are more present. Whatever you do, keep going to meetings no matter what. They are vital to maintaining your sobriety. Give your family a bit to get used to your new schedule.

Leaving treatment is not a ‘happily ever after’ story. It requires constant vigilance against triggers and stressors that may lead to a relapse. There are things to face. There is work to be done. Stay strong. Use the tools that you have been given to get through the rough spots. Know there will be some, but that you can handle them sober. Have a plan. Have people you can trust to reach out to when the rubber hits the road. Being prepared and having clarity about your re-entry into your life will make this transition healthy and hopeful.

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