Everyone who undergoes withdrawal from their addiction is faced with two very difficult barriers to abstinence. The first is their inner drive to use. Cravings will arise and they are powerful enemies. The second barrier can be just as powerful – our friends and the lifestyle that encouraged or supported our addictive behaviors.
"Sober Living" is the newer name for what used to be called "halfway houses". They were originally intended to be a buffer zone between a recently rehabiliated addict and the "real world". While they still function as a buffer under this new name, they are much more than the limbo, or parking spot, that they used to be.
The modern Sober Living Home continues the same group therapy and training that addicts first receive in rehab. Residents agree to random drug/alcohol testing and to attend required meetings and perform whatever jobs they are assigned. Sober Living Homes vary on which programs they offer and the length of time someone is allowed to stay. But they all seek to ease addicts back into mainstream life.
Problems with inpatient rehabilitation
While detox and rehab facilities perform a valuable function, they are not set up for long-term or transition care. Part of the reason is that addicts are ‘done to’ instead of having to make their own decisions and direct their own affairs. Detox and rehab are the ER and surgery of addiction. Sober Living is the physical therapy. Both are needed, but inpatient rehab usually doesn’t have the luxury of time or the ability to move addicts slowly back into society.
The philosophy of Sober Living
In many ways, addicts are like children. We allow our addiction to overpower our ability to make hard decisions. We come to like our master and dodging responsibility becomes second nature. In short, as addicts, we are less-than-functioning adults.
Sober Living takes the fragile and stresses them slowly, over time. Time is essential here. There is the time needed for physical healing from the addiction. There is the time to exercise our will and decision making capacity. There is also the time needed to resolve legal and relationship issues.
When all of the personal problems that addicts have built up in their lives come at once (as when they are discharged and ‘let go’ from rehab or jail) the temptation is to fall back into what we know best-- what we know best is using. A skilled Sober Living staff will evaluate and track the progress of each resident. They will slowly add responsibilities and stressors – perhaps dealing with financial or legal issues; perhaps getting employment. In all cases, the ‘out’ of falling back into drugs is prevented. It may be a case of two steps forward and one step back, but progress is the rule.
Generally, Sober Living means structure and authority directed toward getting an addict functioning as an entire human being, rather than a hollow shell of instinct and desire. One of the main benefits for addicts is that the rules allow them an excuse to avoid those friends and situations that encouraged drug use in the first place.
Learning to be human
It may seem strange that addicts are so crippled by drugs that they cannot function in normal society. However, this is true for many addicts. We learn how to act in a world that is shaped by getting and using our drug. We are excellent liars, cheats, con men (both ourselves and others) and whiners. If these skills were marketable, there wouldn’t be as much of a problem.
To get to a place where our word can be trusted and where we can take care of ourselves and others… that is a journey that takes time and coaching. We need to relearn what life is like without our escape into a drug or alcohol.
How much time? Well, many addicts will say a lifetime, but it is that first fragile week, or month that can make a world of difference. Current thinking is a minimum of ninety days -- the longer, the better. And having an experienced eye on the situation (by way of trained staff) keeps a lot of distractions out of the mix. After all, as any addict can tell you, we are experts at BS. It sometimes takes a firm hand to help an addict stay on the path to successful abstinence. Sober Living can provide that.