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As you prepare to leave behind the safety and structure of inpatient treatment and imagine your first few days home, it can be difficult to know where to begin. You may feel some combination of anxiety and excitement as you think about the transition. You may even feel somewhat overwhelmed. It is common for people to think “I just did all of this work on myself, I need a break!” We have found, however, that the actions that you take in the first 72 hours after leaving addiction treatment are critical to long-term success in recovery. It is your first opportunity to apply the new behaviors, skills, and practices that you learned in treatment within your community.
Building healthy new habits
The focus of the first 72 hours after leaving treatment should be on establishing new habits, rather than simply avoiding old ones.
We know that recovery involves much more than abstinence alone. It is our hope for you that you take this opportunity to transform your life. You are introducing positive, healthy practices that allow you to develop increased self-worth, build self-esteem and improve your relationships.
When you are leaving treatment, I encourage you to put thought and intention into how you will spend your time in those first few days. When I work with a patient immediately following treatment, we sit together and develop an hour-by-hour schedule for those initial days, followed by a daily schedule for their first several weeks. This will allow you to create a routine of healthy actions to take each day, ensuring that you are receiving the support you need and practicing your recovery skills.
There are necessary actions to take in those first 72 hours that directly impact recovery. These include:
- Unpacking and organizing your belongings to create a positive environment for your recovery.
- Attending daily recovery meetings (12-Step, SMART, Refuge Recovery, etc.) to begin to build a recovery support network.
- Attending your first appointments with your therapist and/or psychiatrist to continue clinical work.
- Connecting with your Caron Alumni or other recovery contact to learn about their experience.
It is important to approach recovery from a holistic perspective. There are wellness activities to focus on such as exercising, healthy eating and taking care of responsibilities. Discussing and planning how to practice self-care and cope with potential stressors is critical for long-term recovery.
Other steps to take
In addition to an hour-by-hour and day-by-day plan for how you will spend your time, there are some other key elements to keep in mind than can help you transition from treatment to home.
Don’t isolate. Addiction is a disease of isolation. It alienates us from other people. It is essential in recovery to stay engaged by sharing your experience and feelings and discussing any struggles with a trusted circle of support. People can feel incredibly vulnerable in those first 72 hours, especially because you may be repairing relationships and cultivating new ones. Whether it’s going to a 12-Step program, group therapy, or intensive out-patient session, building a support network will allow you to feel connected to others who understand what you are going through.
Be cautious of falling into old, comfortable behaviors. It might feel more comfortable staying home, rather than going to a new meeting. It might feel more comfortable to put off that appointment with a new therapist. It might feel more comfortable to avoid sharing with others when you are struggling. In recovery, we must challenge ourselves to step out of our comfort zones. These actions will allow you to replace unhealthy patterns of behavior with new, constructive ones.
Remove all intoxicating substances and paraphernalia from your home. I strongly encourage those in early recovery to work with a trusted loved one or professional to remove triggering items from their home environment and add soothing and supportive items that represent their new life in recovery. For example, old prescriptions, bottles of alcohol and any items that remind you of using or drinking, should ideally be removed. If that’s not possible, make sure substances are not easily accessible to you, such as locking up pills where you can’t access them. By removing substances and paraphernalia from your home, you can help safeguard yourself from slipping into unhealthy behaviors when your defenses are down. In place of these items, you may choose to incorporate recovery literature, positive photos, or even letters from supportive people in your life as daily reminders of your progress.
Build as many protective factors around yourself as possible. If you must attend a professional event where alcohol will be served within your first few days home, make sure a trusted colleague is aware of your recovery and that you have an exit strategy if you feel emotionally unsafe. Likewise, set clear boundaries with family, friends and other areas of obligation, so that you can prioritize your recovery.
The work done in the first few days after leaving treatment is an investment in yourself. Be patient and kind to yourself during this period of growth. Leaving treatment is a major transition, but if you have a clear strategy, you can set yourself up for success.