STARTING FRESH: Creating Your New Normal After Rehab
The majority of substance abusers retain some elements of “normal” life up to the time of entering rehab. Chances are that, treatment completed, you have a family, home and job to come back to.
However, there are also elements of your “old normal” that encouraged your abuse problem. To create a future free of drugs, take a good look at your former “everyday” and, as the old song goes, accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.
Accentuate the Positive
Evaluate the best elements of your home and work situations:
- What benefits and expectations led you to originally commit to these? (Do not add any “they disappointed me” qualifications. Answers to questions in this section should focus exclusively on good points.)
- What regular benefits do you receive?
- What unexpected benefits and special moments of joy have there been?
- How have these situations taught you responsibility and empathy?
- What about them would definitely be included in your picture of the ideal? (Again, don’t get detoured into wishing for “ideal” elements that don’t yet exist. We’ll get to “making the positive even better” in a moment.)
Write down at least ten answers to each of these questions, and keep the resulting list where you can review it regularly.
Eliminate the Negative
Now, to parts of your “old normal” that are best eliminated lest they trigger relapse.
- Avoid any place where you bought your drug of choice. Change old routes that passed the liquor store. Eat at home or in restaurants that serve no alcohol.
- If you had drinking buddies, avoid all communications with them—and be careful about contact even with those who are getting sober themselves. Two may stand stronger together, but where both are inexperienced, togetherness may also make both fall faster.
- If you abused drugs when alone and bored, find productive ways to use your time in healthy company. Join a Meetup group, volunteer at a service center, or rediscover family nights.
Increase the Positive
While life, and recovery, would be simpler if everything were either positive-to-keep or negative-to-eliminate, every life includes necessary daily elements that can become relapse triggers if not watched:
- Money. To reduce temptations for buying new drugs, reduce your contact with money. Put your salary on direct deposit and your regular bills on automatic payment. Freeze your spending levels by arrangement with the bank or by leaving your cards and cash at home. If cheating is a serious temptation, ensure total accountability by making another member of your household temporarily responsible for all bank accounts and expenses.
- Coworkers and family. Some people who might offer you “social” drinks are hard to shun completely. Unless the “everyone drinks” attitude permeates the entire workplace or family, you can usually cope by enlisting support from those who understand your problem, and practicing a firm “No, thank you” with the others. Do avoid events or locations where drinking will be a center of attention. And if you nonetheless wind up sitting near too many wine glasses and in agony from the aroma, don’t hesitate to excuse yourself and go home.
- Effort and challenge. Very few people can completely avoid those moments of feeling overwhelmed by life’s demands—which are common excuses for retreating into substance abuse. You can’t hope to do everything that looks interesting, and accepting this is your best defense against stress-triggered relapses. Keep a scheduled to-do list that includes strong attention to your real priorities. Before saying yes to anything, ask yourself, “Do I really want to do this? Why should I do this? Why should I do this?”
- Your own mind. Beware of blaming others for “pushing” you to overload or relapse. More often than not, the real pressure source is your insecure inner self that craves the illusionary security of eliminating all uncertainty and disapproval. This, and other thinking habits that tempt to relapse, have to be changed one success at a time. Commit yourself to practicing daily affirmations and gratitude, and to gently redirecting your thoughts whenever they wander. Above all, be patient. No one ever learns to automatically “think right” every time, and demanding it of yourself will make the stress worse.
One way or another, your everyday “normal” will continue to evolve all your life. Your role is to keep it always moving in the healthiest direction possible.