Back in the early days of this whole recovery world we now find ourselves in, drunks and addicts pretty much had one option, sober up in the clink, and then go back home. If they were unsuccessful in their first few attempts, they would be locked up in an asylum and labeled insane.
Today, we have a much more diverse variety of sober living and inpatient treatment to choose from on our journey of recovery. For many of us, some sort of halfway house or sober living is to be expected. So why exactly is attending sober living so important for us, what role does it play in our recovery, and do we really need it?
What is Sober Living?
In what has pretty much become the norm of people in recovery these days, the usual “getting sober” timeline looks something like this:
- Inpatient treatment
- Sober Living (often with outpatient treatment)
In that wonderful and chaotic period of becoming newly sober, sober living is usually the stepping stone that separates those who want it and those who don’t. In that period of time, people are leaving treatment and entering the real world. Rather than just jumping into their own apartment or going back to live with their parents, sober living provides a nice gentle cushion to help them get back onto their feet without going too deep too fast.
Also, let’s be honest, moving back in with parents or family is not always the healthiest emotional place for many newly recovering addicts, as the same old triggers will always be there.
Comparatively, moving into a year-long lease by themselves tends to be pretty dangerous as well.
So, sober living creates that little nest between treatment and the real world where newly recovering addicts and alcoholics can learn how to live a healthy and functioning life again.
What Does Sober Living Teach Us?
When I first got sober, I knew how to hold a job, but I did not know how to pay bills on time, buy groceries, prepare nutritious meals, or maintain a tidy home. It might sound simple to those who didn’t spend their entire teenage and early adult life shoveling alcohol and drugs of all sorts into their systems, but for me, the only time I really ever “cleaned” was when I was on a week-long cocaine bender with nothing else to occupy my mind.
When I got sober, I had to literally learn how to tidy as I went, do laundry on certain days to ensure I had a clean work uniform, and yes, even make my bed in the morning. These are things I learned in my sober living home. Granted, I was “strongly encouraged” to do these things, lest I be punished with an early curfew, but in the end, I learned that I actually felt good when I took care of myself and my home.
So, what do sober living homes teach us? Well, a quality sober living will instill:
- Commitment to our recovery
- Value of independence
- How to budget, buy groceries, and pay bills on time
- How to manage time (meetings, work, step work, house meetings)
- How to meet and build relationships with other recovering folks
- How to be a considerate housemate (if you didn’t already learn that in rehab)
Probably the most meaningful lesson I learned in sober living, was how fragile early recovery was. I can’t tell you how many times I would get frustrated about “being forced to do chores”, and threaten to leave, only to end up staying because I had nowhere else to go. It wasn’t until I witnessed several girls leave to relapse during my time there that I realized how easily it can all be lost.
Some of the girls would come back, beaten down by the outside world and feeling ashamed and remorseful. One girl never came back, we later found out she had overdosed and the guys she was with left her in a hospital parking lot. She didn’t make it.
The little chores I had to do didn’t seem so bad anymore. Sober living taught me how to be grateful for what I had, something I hadn’t felt since the years before I hit puberty and started “partying”.
Why is Sober Living Important?
For many of us, living a clean and sober life is against our nature. It goes against everything we know and every self-preservation tactic we have developed through our addictions. For the most part, detox and inpatient treatment wring us out a little bit. Sober living is where we actually get hung to dry and start to do the real work. The day to day living.
Yes, trauma therapy, being introduced to the 12 step fellowship, and learning relapse prevention techniques are vital, but if we don’t have a safe environment to be able to dip our toes in and practice using these, it can be very easy for it to all come crashing down.
As much as we like to tell ourselves it isn’t so, we are sensitive beings, especially in early recovery. We are raw nerves, and the world can be heavy if we don’t have a good support system. Sober living provides us this. We get to meet other individuals, around the same age, with around the same experience, all looking to better themselves and become more than just a shell. We are held accountable for our actions and expected to start working towards finding a job, getting a sponsor, and working the steps.
Sober living provides us with the barrier between where we came from, to where we want to go. It isn’t meant to be a permanent place, but when utilized correctly, can be the jumping-off point for the rest of your life to begin.