September is national recovery month, and we at UKAT believe recovery month isn’t just a chance to celebrate; it also allows us to reflect on our journeys up until now. The seasonal change couldn’t be more fitting either; as the trees shed their old leaves, we too can look back and release all the moments of tears and laughter, the times where we’ve felt grateful to that person or thing that gave us strength in a moment of vulnerability, and the moments where we’ve felt empowered by our accomplishments and proud of our journey.
To mark national recovery month, we’ve compiled a list of six valuable tips to help you stay strong in your recovery – whether it’s been a few days, months, or decades since you left rehab. We hope you draw comfort, strength and inspiration from the snippets of wisdom we gleaned from our staff and previous clients.
Sustaining connection is everything
Many of us go into rehab feeling broken and within a few weeks, we’re back in the “real world” – which can feel daunting. We asked Simon (Liberty House, three years sober) what the hardest adjustment was post-rehab. He explained that it was the transition between rehab, where you are instructed on when to eat, when to meditate and when to sleep etc., to then re-joining the “real world”, where the demands of work, of debt collectors, of family dynamics all wait for you. Perhaps this is why the first twenty-four hours post rehab are said to be the most dangerous because the transition back into normal life can be overwhelming and relapse can happen. Simon managed to steer through this by ensuring he had a plan to maintain connection immediately after checking out: “I left rehab at half eight on a Sunday morning, and by 10am, I was in a meeting”. Therefore, to enable your transition is a smooth as possible, ensure you have plans in place to connect with others as soon as possible.
Our lead addiction therapist Nuno Albuquerque (who’s 25 years sober), acknowledges that adjusting back into life after rehab can make clients feel isolated and affirms that we need to “give time for things to work”.
Everybody’s timeline of adjusting to life post-rehab will differ. So, take each day at a time and stay fastened to your meetings and in constant communication with your support network. Our Alumni team and AA/CA meetings work relentlessly to bring people together long after rehab – ensuring you are always connected and never alone.
Find you passion and fill your life with meaning
Healthy passions can increase the quality of life. Now that addiction is no longer draining you of time and energy, you may find you have fresh vitality to explore anything that calls to you. Nuno explains that meaningful activities are vital. He shares his own experiences of how he held anger towards “the systems” post-rehab and knew he needed to find a constructive way to channel his emotions. Eventually, Nuno joined a union rep and used his passion to fight for meaningful change. Stacey (Liberty House, sixty-nine days sober) says she puts her new-found energy into finishing her degree and Mark (Liberty House, thirty-seven days sober) proudly tells us he’s enrolled back in college and is eager to get his GCSEs. As you can see, the list of our individual post-recovery potential is endless.
Meaningful activities don’t have to be work or school related either: Rachel (Banbury Lodge, three years sober), affirms that; “hobbies are so important”. This could be anything from sewing, exercising, cooking, painting, learning a new instrument or doing up cars; whatever brings you joy in the present moment is a gift, and it’s yours for the taking.
You must prioritise your recovery
When it comes to recovery, we each have our own means and methods of keeping on track, but we all agree that we must prioritise such methods, as by doing so, we’re prioritising our recovery.
For most of us, it may pose challenging to find the balance between work and recovery, as well as other personal commitments. If you have felt guilty for choosing to attend a meeting over working extra hours or seeing your therapist rather than attend a friend’s birthday party, you aren’t alone. But it’s necessary, if not critical, to be selfish in your recovery. If you don’t tend to your well-being, you will not be able to sufficiently give emotional care or support to others; how can you be of service to your family, your colleagues and your pets if you aren’t healthy within yourself? As Simon accurately puts it: “If I’m not clean, I don’t have anything”. Those closest to you and your employer should understand your recovery and therefore, will recognise that your priorities differ slightly to others. For those in recovery, attending regular meetings is like oxygen – we need it to live.
Don’t let your past mistakes deter you from thriving
At some point in our recovery, we may find ourselves casually going about our day when an unwelcome thought from our past pops us, trying to ruin our good mood. We have all endured darkness in addiction, and it’s important to sit with it and thus bring it out into the light. Addiction is an illness, after all, and we aren’t ourselves when we’re unwell; we do and say things that we’re not proud of. You must “own your recovery”, Tom Woodman (Liberty House, five years sober) confidently tells us. Of course, it takes courage to meet those parts of ourselves we don’t like or to address our past mistakes. But this can empower us for the better, and we believe you have the power to stare addiction square in the eyes by accepting your story – the good, the bad and the ugly. This can be incredibly cathartic and will likely propel you toward long-lasting recovery.
If you relapse, don’t worry
There comes the point in all recovery journeys, whether they’ve been for hours or years, where people will worry if they’re capable of relapsing. In our society, triggers and temptations are everywhere; at concerts, at work functions, and sometimes they pop up out of nowhere when we’re having a particularly bad day.
“The longest recovery is 24 hours”, Simon insists “you have got to take it one day at a time”. For those in the infancy of recovery, you may find it incomprehensible that someone can be five years sober, let alone thirty. But it happens, and these people swear by the one-day-at-a-time mentality.
If you have relapsed, know that it is a stumble, not a fall, and it will only make you stronger. “Each day is a new day,” Stacey says. “If you have relapsed, it’s important to reach out straight away”. This answer is echoed by all the clients we spoke to; “Just get straight to the meetings,” Mark asserts.
We couldn’t agree more – the antidote to addiction is connection, so when addiction shows signs of rearing its thorny head, your meetings are your key source of protection, allowing you to remain unscathed by triggers and temptations.
Remember: Take it one day at a time
Addiction is most upsetting because too many people don’t get the support they need. Nuno explains to us that “many people in active addiction die via suicide or overdose without ever meeting a solution,” thereby reminding us of how fortunate we are to survive. “It’s easy to take rehab for granted”, he continues, but it must be noted that “we are fortunate to be here.”
We are reminded of the power of gratitude. Of course, we must remain thankful for our recovery, the people we meet, love and ourselves. But it’s not just limited to the big things. It’s important to be thankful for the seemingly inconsequential things, be it a smile from a stranger, a song on the radio, a cup of coffee made by a friend, comfort from your beloved pet or the taste of your favourite food. To echo Simon’s words, “recovery is a 24-hour process. A daily regime.” Therefore, when you go to sleep at night, take a moment to be thankful for all the things, big and small, that brought joy to your day, which ultimately contribute to your long-term recovery.