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Life After Treatment: What Needs To Change?

There is a popular saying: you have to rebuild your life around recovery, not fit recovery into your life.

It goes without staying that recovery is more than stopping the addictive behavior. It is a  complete lifestyle change that spans a lifetime. Stopping the behaviour is the first step, what comes after is often the most difficult part of the sober journey. 

The statistics on addiction and relapse in Canada are startling. However, there is no single path to recovery: every person is different, every story is unique. And at Calgary Dream Centre, we see incredible success stories every day. 

So life after treatment. What needs to change? The bad news is that everything needs to change. And the good news is that everything needs to change. Here are some ways to reinvent your story and start living the life you were meant to live.

Understanding Triggers

A trigger is loosely defined as anything that reminds a person in recovery of their past, addictive behaviour and triggers unwanted urges.

Triggers can be internal, such as mentally battling thoughts of cravings, social anxiety or mental stress. External triggers include familiar places, people or objects that spark a drug-related thought or craving.

Because these triggers are all around, it is important to understand what they are and how to deal with them when they present themselves. 

Trigger management is an important component of recovery and therapy, and must be continued throughout a sober living lifestyle.

Find a Sponsor

Recovery doesn’t stop once you leave a treatment centre. Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery include a sponsor component:  someone who has been in recovery for more than a year, can answer your questions and act as a confidant and guide on your journey to recovery. A sponsor can be a saving grace when faced with a tough situation or vulnerable moment.

Sober Living Housing

It can be very triggering to return to your previous living arrangement after treatment. In fact, most recovery centres will recommend not returning to your primary home for a specified period of time. The surroundings you left are often filled with memories of your past life and can trigger unwanted feelings and thoughts. 

There are options when it comes to post treatment housing. Transitional housing provides a short-term, safe place to live and support while working through recovery. Similarly, community or shared housing provides a more long-term option, living with others who are working on the same recovery goals. 

Find New Hobbies

It is likely that once in recovery, you will find you have an excess of time on your hands that was once otherwise engaged with drug or alcohol behaviour. Many people in recovery often feel “bored” going from one radical lifestyle to a more quiet existence.

Use this time to your advantage: find something you have always wanted to go and give it a try. Whether it’s learning an instrument, drawing or painting, or engaging in a new sport, now is the time to keep your hands – and your mind – busy with new things.  

Adopt a Healthy Diet

Before recovery, the most important thing to an addict is their drug of choice. And it was also the most harmful. Most times, a healthy diet plan was not something that was adhered to, as money was spent on drugs and not on nutrition.

In recovery, it is important to undo the damage done. Years of unhealthy eating and afflicting your body with harmful substances leads to nutrient deficiency, compromised immunity, and often major tissue and organ damage. Adopting a healthy diet can undo some of those wrongs, as well as reduce stress and enable better sleeping habits. 

If you need help, ask your sponsor or recovery centre for nutrition resources or speak with a dietician in your area. 

Exercise

Integrating physical activity into your recovery can be an excellent way to stay on the path to recovery. Not only does daily exercise keep your body in shape, it has been shown to release endorphins (those feel good chemicals) in the brain, reduce cravings, alleviate stress and anxiety, and help with sleep and relaxation.

Joining a fitness club or participating in group activities such as walking or running with others in your neighbourhood will also help you to meet other people who share your desire for a healthy lifestyle.

Make New Friendships & Mend Old Ones

It is common practice that the friendships made while using, are often centred around the addition. 

When a person is living an addiction lifestyle, sober friends and family are often alienated and left in the dust because of the shame felt. It is easier to let go of the friendship than to continually feel bad about oneself or feel constantly lectured to. Therefore, the addict often surrounds themselves with other addicts – people who have the same interests and don’t question their lifestyle.

When sober however, we must let go of these friendships. These friendships may feel genuine, however, being in the presence of an addict is a tremendous trigger that can quickly lead to relapse. 

Similarly, when in recovery, you may find yourself having to let go of friends who participate in an even moderate lifestyle of drinking or drug use. It is best to remove yourself from these friendships, at least for awhile, as being around any form of drugs or alcohol can be difficult and a roadblock to your recovery.

At this time it is recommended to lean on your sober community. Make new friends who align with your current goals. These friendships, because they are based on healing, honesty and trust, can be highly rewarding and valuable. 

Find A New Career Path

Whether you were successfully working before treatment or not, now is a time to question how you will move forward financially. 

Some people choose to continue the job they had before recovery: if you were a high functioning addict who was able to do their job well, you may be able to continue to do so. However, many people find their job is a trigger and cannot return: for example, highly social corporate positions or working in a bar or restaurant. And for some, the addiction was so bad, they weren’t able to hold down a job.

Whatever the case, recovery may be the time for a career change. Whether it’s starting a new job in a different field or engaging in college courses, this time can be a gift and a new start towards a more fulfilling life. 

Give Back

Giving back to the recovery community while recovering yourself can be highly therapeutic. Whether it’s volunteering in a treatment centre, a food bank or as a sober sponsor, helping someone find their way in sober living can be a helpful step in managing your own recovery.

For some, a whole new focus is needed. Volunteering with children, in a library or with the elderly, wherever your interest lies, can be a great way to stay productive and in tune with your community.

In conclusion, addressing what needs to change after treatment and making those changes can be a difficult prospect and should not be minimized. However, making those changes is made much more difficult when done in isolation. Addiction commonly brings isolation – do not feed into it. Many, if not most of the suggested changes involve other people and community. Opening up to others is what brought you through treatment, so continue to lean on each other’s strengths as you live beyond it.


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  • Mark Alexander

    Written by Mark Alexander

    Community Team-Lead Mark Alexander has been at the Calgary Dream Centre working with clients in our Community Housing program since 2014. As Community Team-Lead, he supports both case managers and clients, helping individuals work toward their goals, trouble-shooting issues that may arise, and a lot of behind the scenes work to keep the department operating smoothly. Prior to this, Mark was ordained in the Congregational Christian Church in Canada and pastored in Calgary. Both then and now, Mark’s desire is to see growth in people whether that be in addiction recovery, their relationship with Christ, or simply learning to maintain a budget. Outside of work hours, Mark is a drummer of many styles, but in particular you might hear him playing jazz at a café around town.

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