During my years in the recovery community, on both sides of the coin (as a client, as well as a professional), I learned a great deal of the resources that are available to recovering addicts, if they choose to use them. Some recovering addicts believe after detox and a short stint in rehab they are ready for the world. Proven research, as my own experiences can testify, show greater success of recovery when recovering addicts get involved in a sober living environment.
What is a sober living program? Many organizations offer recovering addicts a transitional program allowing a recovering addict to live independently while also preparing them for real world experiences. I will use a metaphor of building a house to help better understand this process.
Phase I – The Halfway House
A halfway house provides recovering addicts a place to live while going to treatment and relearning the basics of daily living. This environment can be compared to building the foundation of a house. I lived in a house with thirty(30) other men who were all at different stages of their recovery sharing responsibilities for not only our recovery but the recovery of others. It provided the structured environment many addicts need in early recovery while also providing support when times got rough.
For instance, we were given various responsibilities to be done daily. As active addicts, we tend to deny ourselves these basic needs. Eating three meals per day was encouraged while attendance at dinner was mandatory as a “check in” opportunity. Cleaning our rooms, making our beds, keeping up with personal hygiene, our own laundry, etc. were all monitored. In addition we were required to attend all treatment and other appointments. For the first couple of weeks, we were required to sign out of the facility with another individual going everywhere with that person. They became responsible for us, as we became responsible for them. It was only after all these responsibilities were fulfilled were we given the opportunity for “free time” (which was very rare).
This type of environment can be very difficult for any addict in early recovery. In active addiction things were done when we wanted to answering to no one. This environment was a complete reversal of those attitudes. Hostilities broke out all the time as attitudes and behaviors clashed. I can remember it taking me every fiber in my being not to physically harm others I was living with at the time.
Without the support of treatment, recovery meetings and the professionals there to help me, it wouldn’t have been possible for my success to move to the next phase of sober living. I was now given a choice. Either I could move back into the community (living on my own) or move into the next phase of sober living. After listening to “suggestions”, I chose to do the later. A decision I would not regret.
Phase II – Supportive Living
Organizations have various time frames for moving from one phase to another phase. For me, I lived in the halfway house for three months, then transitioning to the next phase of sober living called “Supportive Living”. In this environment, I was paired with another individual in our own apartment. The expectations were the same but our freedoms were expanded. We were responsible for our own activities while being actively monitored on a weekly basis. This phase can be compared to building the frame of a house. With a strong foundation, I was ready to begin building the frame of who I was going to become in the future. Over the course of eight months, I had two roommates of different experiences.
My first roommate tested all my skills I learned while in the halfway house, as well as the new skills I was learning in sobriety. I learned the true meaning of defects of character and shortcomings. He showed me the person I didn’t want to be. Failing in all areas of daily living and responsibilities, he later relapsed (as no surprise to me). The experiences only strengthened my own sobriety.
My second roommate was more committed to sobriety like myself. At first we got together fine. We both completed our treatment programs. We were required to begin volunteering to gain work experience, as well as given a chance to further our educations. I began a degree program at a local community college. As time passed, we began to shape our own lives and our differences clashed.
Yet again, I was given a choice. Either I could go back to the community to live on my own or continue to the next phase of sober living known as “Shelter Plus Care”. By this time I was actively involved in Alcoholics Anonymous with a home group, Sponsor and going through the Steps with my Sponsor.
Phase III – Shelter Plus Care
After eight months of living with another recovering addict, I chose to live in my own apartment, do my own thing, while still having a professional support system, if needed. The only requirement at this phase of residential living was to remain sober and meet with a counselor once a month. At this point in my life, without going through the other two phases, I could have never survived on my own. It was time to build the roof of my house, put all the finishing touches on my house and open the front door.
At the beginning of this phase, I was in college and held a part-time job to help pay for my own expenses living alone in my own apartment. This continued on for two years as I successfully graduated the local community college earning a Associates in Applied Science in Computer Science Information Systems. Due to the lack of computer science jobs in my area, I turned my interests to my next passion, chemical dependency.
I was already volunteering time at a local detoxification facility. When a position opened as a full-time employee, I applied. This would potentially cause a conflict of interest because the employer was the same organization providing my sober living experience. Thus, a decision was made to finally move back in the community living on my own with no more support besides my own. I was ready. So I accepted the position working with the same organization that provided me all those materials to build my house. I had come full circle opening the door to my house, letting people in to show them how I built my house using a sober living program.
If the recovering addict puts all his/her energy into their sobriety, listening to all the suggestions and making the right choices along the way, the results are amazing. During this process, I learned so much about myself, both strengths and weaknesses. It offered the opportunity to explore and handle all types of situations on my own while providing professional support if the need should arise. Such programs provide the recovering addict the needed resources to build their own house, if they choose to use them.