Once you’ve decided that the next step in your recovery journey after addiction treatment or rehab is heading to a sober living, a lot of emotions, questions, curiosities, and concerns may arise–all of which are normal. This decision is a monumental step in helping cement the foundation of your newfound sobriety and one you want to take full advantage of when you decide to go for it. For a general overview of sober livings and how to choose them, see the earlier article on this blog Transitional Living: Aftercare In Recovery, which outlines what to look for in a sober living, such as costs, accommodations, rules and regulations, in-person impressions of the space, as well as strict ethical guidelines. You’ll want a facility with safe, targeted, and holistic residential recovery services that don’t simply focus on one aspect of recovery, but on seeing you as a person with varied needs.
What should you do after deciding on a facility that feels like a good fit for you? What will readjustment to this new environment entail and how will you go about navigating your time in that space? Read on for some guidance and tips on what self-care within a sober living can look like and how to make the most of your time there. Some of your greatest recovery growth may occur within the confines of a sober living and the simplicities it can offer, which is a beautiful thing.
Navigating Structure And Free Time
Rules and Requirements
An effective sober living is one that has the right amount of structure for you and this can look different for everyone. Many recovering from substance use disorder will attest to the fact that structure, when employed tactfully, can be incredibly helpful in how one navigates their day in early sobriety. Be sure to find out what is expected of residents in terms of where attendance is required, which may include but not be limited to, individual sessions and house meetings. Is there a required number of 12-Step meetings you must attend if that is applicable? Are there activities available to you like yoga/meditation, life skill classes, job search sessions? If not, can you suggest some you think might be helpful for you? Are you allowed to drop into these sessions or is there a small commitment required from you? What are house rules about chores, curfew and are there boundaries around hours in which you are encouraged to be outdoors? Would you feel safe coming and going on your own during the day? Knowing when and where attendance is required can help you structure the remainder of your time, and ironically, sober free time may be the hardest adjustment of all.
Your New Community
One obvious and large adjustment in a sober living is to the community within it. Are you someone who’s extroverted and thrives on meeting new people or are you more reserved and would you rather try to go at this sobriety thing alone? Or maybe you are somewhere in between these two extremes. Will you have your own room or a roommate? How can you craft boundaries around privacy and quiet time? If living with others is new for you, know that you are allowed to ask for suggestions and advice from staff about any adjustment challenges.
One important tenet of recovery is that it is hard to truly recover on your own. You might learn to slowly let go of the idea that you are the only one feeling what you are feeling and that it’s OK to let others into your world and vice versa. It would be worthwhile to sit with any resistance you have to community or communal activities or sessions. Trust and patience are a few building blocks of sustainable sober friendships and relationships, especially when you are living with the individuals. Like you, your fellow sober living fellows are also recovering and you will encounter all kinds of personalities. Some may work for you and others may not. One helpful recovery slogan to remember is principles over personalities; this saying stresses the idea that you don’t have to necessarily like everyone, but it’s important to treat everyone with respect as they are going through their own struggles as well. Try to refrain from gossiping or any other behavior that could potentially compromise your healing or hurt you being there in any way. If you are with someone whom you don’t feel comfortable around or feel as though you are walking on eggshells around them, trust that feeling and see if there are any boundaries you can work on to preserve the integrity of your recovery.
Redefining Your Relationship To Time in Sobriety
One you get a good sense of the extent to which your sober living is structured, think about what you would like to do with your free, unstructured time. Now this may be one of the more challenging parts of your adjustment to a sober living. You may not have the routine of an addiction treatment center and you’re not living independently quite yet, so be patient with yourself if you find yourself struggling with this. Here are some ideas for things to think about as you start learning to trust yourself and who you are in your free time when you’re not pursuing substances or under the influence.
Are you someone who will put pressure on yourself to find ingenious ways to kill time? Or are you better at going with the flow and feeling things out in the moment? In active addiction, time may have felt like an adversary and it might have felt like there was never enough of it. After all, a common slogan in recovery is that addiction is a full-time job in and of itself. In the beginning, sobriety and recovery may feel like a full-time job, but that is normal and part of this full-time job is learning to reclaim your free, “me” time.
While a sober living will bring with it a handful of communal activities, make sure there will be solitary time for you to decompress. Reading is one great option for a solitary activity. Perhaps you may only have enough energy for reading recovery-related literature, or may need an escape from the world of the sober living to retreat into a good book or magazine. If reading is important to you, be sure to seek out the appropriate literature, or bring some with you. If you don’t consider yourself much of a reader, give it a chance. Sometimes reading can be a great litmus test of how present and alert you are or aren’t (in which case, perhaps you’re tired, and a nap would be a great alternative). Ask about other activity options as well, such as games, crafts, television and gym access, or anything else you feel would be helpful for your transition to this new space. Give yourself the option to try new things; contempt prior to investigation is a common deterrent from having new experiences that might otherwise serve you well in surprising ways.
It must be said that large swaths of unstructured time and boredom can be a trigger. Where do your thoughts lead you when you’re not actively engaged in a meeting, session, or bulldozing through countless activities, as fun and engaging as they may be? A great option to witness the trajectory of your mind is to journal during your stay, so be sure to bring a journal and pen with you that you can keep in a trusted place. Freewriting, or allowing yourself to write continuously without stopping for a set amount of time, can be an incredible activity to reveal not only your surface-level conscious thoughts, anxieties, musings and concerns, but your underlying, subconscious ones as well. These subconscious beliefs are oftentimes fueling our outward actions and behaviors in ways we might not even know. Other topics to write about can include listing the external things you are grateful for, like having a place to stay, your newfound sobriety, a fresh community with which to begin anew, or simply the weather that day.
Another list that can be self-affirming is one in which you write things down you are proud of, which is more inward-facing than a gratitude list, and can include the most seemingly small actions (or non-actions) like taking deep breaths during a stressful moment or taking the time to make your bed. In sobriety, we learn to approve of ourselves on a daily basis. If might be doubly helpful to share your list with someone else and encourage them to do the same. Other topics to consider:
- What are your fears and anxieties about sobriety? This particular sober living?
- What are some of your goals for your stay? What about after discharge?
- In the spirit of self-honesty, ask yourself: Do you genuinely want to be there or are you feeling pressured to be? Do you want to get better or do you think you have a few more drinks or drugs in you?
- What are the feelings and sensations you turned to drinks and drugs for? Confidence? Relaxation? Self-assurance? Social ease? How can you try to work towards these qualities in sobriety?
Don’t be afraid to explore these questions and share your responses with someone trustworthy who can hear you and help reassure you that you are not alone. It’s often when we let our fears fester that they loom over us and hold way more power than they need to. Maybe through writing you’ll discover there’s a slew of other issues you may need to explore, like family dysfunction or codependency, but for your stay at the sober living it may make the most sense to focus on the noble endeavor that is not picking a drink or drug up, one day at a time.
Don’t be afraid to ask for extra help or support should you need it – whether it’s from your individual counselor or other staff members. You no longer have to fight using urges alone or sneak out of the house to possibly risk a week-long bender. Guarding and protecting your emotional safety is a key step in your sobriety is also crucial. Be especially honest if you experience or witness violence/threats of violence, fighting, harassment, theft, or other inappropriate forms of behavior and be sure to report these instances to the appropriate staff members. It may take some emotional labor at first, but ultimately it will ensure that you feel secure, stable, and safe in what is already a precarious time and phase of your recovery.
Upon Discharge: Transition Challenges
A good question to ask ahead of time, is regarding the extent to which you will have access to staff, counselors, support after discharge. Will there be check-ins or can you only reach out in the case of something more dire? Do you want to stay in touch with your fellows at the sober living as well? How can you continue to hone healthy habits you may have picked up from the sober living? Do you feel compelled to leave a review about the place? Are there ways you can give back to the sober living through volunteer opportunities should you feel moved to do so? It’s never too early to start thinking about discharge, as it can put your stay into laser-sharp focus.
Congratulations on taking the step to register at the safety net that is a sober living. Though the costs and time requirement may seem like a lot at first, you’ll learn to navigate your newfound sobriety with guardrails that independent living cannot offer. You’ll learn to trust yourself and others again, through both structured and unstructured time, as well as learn to ask for help, which is a true sign of courage. In sobriety, you learn to be more intentional in your thoughts and action and live life with meaning and purpose as you hone your internal compass about what works and doesn’t work for you. You’ll learn to reclaim your personal power, choice, and agency in ways you couldn’t when your thoughts were hijacked by the debilitating presence of alcohol and drugs.
Marina R. for Avenues NYC