Life After Rehab | A 3-Part Guide for Families
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Life After Rehab

Recovery is a process. It takes both time and patience.
The first step is to determine if your loved one is serious about sobriety.

Worrying or constant monitoring doesn’t help. But, pretending everything is OK, because you want it to be OK, is even more harmful. Walk the thin line of being supportive, yet aware and ready to speak up. A relapse doesn’t mean failure, but it can’t go unaddressed.

When you see they’re serious, work on healing. Healthy relationships are built on honesty, communication and accountability — qualities that were likely lacking before. After the initial wave of emotions, make an active choice to forgive and rebuild, but keep your expectations realistic. It’s not healthy for you to be their only support or to expect them to assure you that they’re OK every day. Continue your own social life and interests to avoid unhealthily obsessing or relying on them.

Warning Signs

Part of the recovery process is stepping up to take responsibility. This includes maintaining a job or committing to school (or both). More than likely, they manipulated you in the past to get what they wanted. Putting an end to this is a huge part of their (and your) healing. Everybody needs help now and then — like paying rent for the first few months of sober living. To verify where money is going, you can ask for account passwords, call the company, get copies of the bill or pay directly. However, don’t completely take over their finances for them. Giving your loved one money shouldn’t be the norm.

You’ll almost always notice suspicious behaviors before you confirm a relapse. If they’re staying out late, sleeping in, not coming home or avoiding family dinners, it’s time to reach out. At the very least, these types of behaviors show the person is letting their healthy lifestyle slip. More likely, they’re back in addiction and it’s controlling their life and dictating their schedule.

Addiction is often a source of shame, but recovery should come with pride and accomplishment. While recovery doesn’t have to define them, they should be happy to tell you they’re still on the right path. If they’ve slipped back into addiction, they won’t want to talk. It’s embarrassing, and they probably feel guilty. Most people would rather change the subject or walk away rather than lie. Don’t stop asking just because they shut you down. In fact, address that specifically.

”I feel like lately when I bring up your recovery, you want to change the subject. That makes me worry that things aren’t going well. If you need more treatment, I’m here for you. If you are doing well, I’d like to keep the conversation open.”

If they hang around the same people and go to the same places, they’ll be constantly reminded and tempted. A relapse is only a matter of time unless something changes. Instead, life after rehab should include new friends, meetings, a sponsor and hobbies. If you don’t see them changing where they spend their time, know they’re probably not serious about recovery and act accordingly.

Recovery is a life-long commitment. Even people that are 10, 20, 40 years sober go to support meetings and see therapists. (That’s why they’re still sober). If your loved one isn’t following the recommendations, it’s a sign they’re still stuck in manipulation and denial.

Look for:

  • 30 meetings in the first 30 days
  • A sponsor by day 45
  • Outpatient treatment for at least 5 months
  • Sober living for at least 1 month, ideally 6-12

Each component of the full treatment process is covered in much more detail in Session 5 of HopeTracker — including why sober living is important.

As much as we don’t like to talk about it, relapse is always a possibility. To help you avoid giving in to denial or paranoia, complete Relapse Agreement right away (while they’re in a good place). The agreement indicates specific signs you can watch for and what to do when you notice these things. Intervening early can prevent things from escalating back to how they were.

Addressing the Warning Signs

Talk About It

Be sure you’re addressing specific behaviors you see now rather than general fears about them relapsing. Don’t come at them with anger and judgment. They already feel depressed and embarrassed. Instead, allow them to open up to you. Help them be honest with themselves and contact their support network.

Agree on a Plan

Relapse means gaps exist in your loved one’s recovery that need to be addressed. More treatment is always required — no exceptions or excuses. However, this doesn’t have to mean repeating the full process. If you experience or suspect relapse and need advice, call (888) 492-1633.

Set Boundaries

If they’re angry or annoyed, it’s not a good sign. Don’t let them brush off the topic. Push past denial or excuses. A relapse can be as a temporary setback and learning experience. But, if they refuse further treatment, go back to setting boundaries. Put your foot down and require them to take sobriety seriously.

How to Rebuild After Addiction

1. Work to Forgive

Forgiveness isn’t something you do for your loved one. It’s about letting go of your anger and judgments to allow yourself to heal. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse or erase their actions.

In order to forgive, you need to acknowledge the reality of what occurred and how you were affected. Think about the specific incidents and behaviors that angered you. Accept that these things happened. Accept how you felt and how you reacted. Feeling is the first step to healing, but then you need to let these thoughts and emotions go.

It may help to focus on your personal growth from these experiences. Not only did you survive their addiction, perhaps you grew from it. What did you learn about yourself or about your own needs and boundaries? You should be proud of your strength! You can even give some purpose to your experiences by helping other families in your support group, social circle or on HopeTracker that face the same struggles.

What if they’re not sorry?
As part of their recovery, they should be reaching out to make amends. Forgiveness is easier if you feel they are genuinely sorry, but even if they don’t express it, they feel shame and sorrow for hurting you. You can forgive even if they aren’t sorry or continue to struggle.

Do I have to tell them I forgive them?
You don’t have to say anything to your loved one to forgive them, but you should express these feelings if you’re trying to rebuild your relationship. Say the words, “I forgive you” and add as much explanation as you feel is merited. Then, you have to live it. Recognize when you’re feeling or responding out of resentment and actively redirect yourself to peace and acceptance.

2. Talk About Recovery

Hopefully, your loved one is talking openly about their recovery. If not, don’t assume they’re OK because there hasn’t been an incident. If you feel suspicious or curious, ask (without judgment). It’s better when the conversation stays open.

When they talk, be sure to actively listen. If they feel you’re dismissing them, resentment and distance will build.

If you have a hard time letting go or bringing up the topic, try family therapy — even just a few sessions. If they used insurance for rehab, sessions together could be free or already part of outpatient treatment. Or, use your insurance. With no insurance, look to religious leaders, community health centers or therapists with costs based on income (sliding scale).

That said, they need to solve issues without putting the burden on you. If they reach out to you struggling or for advice, you can direct them to their sober network. ”I’ve been told to suggest you call your sponsor, therapist or sober friends to help instead.”

3. Talk About Anything Else

Your loved one likely spent years living as an addict, but that’s not what defines them. The topic shouldn’t be all you talk about. Rediscover who they are as a person to understand them on a deeper, more personal level.

What do you spend the most time thinking about? • What shows are you into? • What was the best compliment/advice you’ve received? • What makes life good? • What’s on your bucket list? • What’s your favorite holiday/food/song/movie?

How often should we talk?

It’s OK to continue to take some space. Try sending a text saying your thinking of them or a funny picture instead of bombarding them with calls. Establish a weekly talk time (or date night), so you both have the same expectations.

4. Do Things Together

You probably didn’t spend much quality time together before treatment. Their mind was constantly distracted. Take time now to enjoy each other’s company and show them recovery can be fun.

If they’re back at home or nearby, setting up an activity on a weekly basis can ensure you both set aside the time.

Sunday evening walks • Monday soccer league • Tuesday family dinners • Wednesday pottery class • Thursday book club • Friday soup kitchen volunteering • Saturday movie night

If they didn’t come home after rehab, don’t push them to. Instead, plan to visit them. Look for plenty of fun activities to build lasting, positive memories that combat any negative ones. And, focus on what you can do at a distance to have more in common.

Join the same fantasy football league • Read the same book • Watch the same TV series • Play multiplayer video or phone games

Our Stories

Patricia E After Treatment Stories
Parent
Spouse
Adult Child
Sibling

We had a different experience each time our son went to treatment. The first time was court-ordered for a couple of weekends. There was no change in his behavior. We felt uneasy about his partying, but lived in denial. He was young, and we hoped (pretended) that it was just a phase. Now, I clearly see my behavior was enabling him. I wonder if it would have helped to not let him live so easy back then.

Over a year went by, and things got worse. We looked at an outpatient facility together, but I was waiting for him to take some initiative. The final straw was a family dinner where he couldn’t keep his head off his plate. The next day he agreed to go for 6-months after work. Things got better. He came out of his room more, and we had some real conversations. But, as time went by, there were more and more suspicions that this was still an issue.

I struggled to understand how to support him. I convinced myself that bringing up suspicions or asking about his recovery was reminding or labeling him. In reality, my silence was feeding his denial and driving me insane. I went to my first support group because I didn’t know what else to do. Eventually, he was hospitalized and put on a feeding tube after acting strangely at work. When he woke up, he got on a plane and flew to inpatient treatment.

This time, he came out noticeably changed. Instead of being a topic that was off-limits, his recovery became a source of pride. He wanted us to know about his meetings and his sober living. Without my worry and frustration hanging in the air every time we spoke, our relationship felt normal almost right away. I wasn’t suspicious. He wasn’t distracted. Since he was actually engaged in 12-steps this time, tough conversations came up without forcing the issue. More importantly, he demonstrated every day that he’s now responsible for his actions. Unlike before, there is no question that this is what recovery looks like.

- Patricia E.

I knew Lisa was serious about her recovery when she sat down with the boys the morning I gave her the ultimatum. She told them about her problem, that she was lining up help and that she wouldn’t drink anymore. Tears all around. She went willingly and embraced treatment. It was a whole new experience for her and a way to fill the evening hours without alcohol.

As she got more sober time under her belt, I could tell she felt better physically. She looked better and seemed to have a better handle on things emotionally. Our lives got better too. She got promoted at work, which was totally unexpected. She started communicating more about her needs and her plans for the future. For the first time, I didn’t feel she was keeping secrets or living a secret life.

Now, she’s always present when we’re together. Our sex life is better too, which makes us both happy. We’re a new and stronger team. Our family is united in respect and happiness. Lisa has been clean and sober for over four years, and I’m looking forward to the next 40. At one point, I thought I’d never be able to say that.

- David C.

The memories I have of growing up with my father are not the typical memories a little girl has. My father never taught me how to ride a bike. He never helped me with my homework. Instead, you could always find him on the couch, with his feet up, the tv on, and a bottle of Scotch by his side with empty ones strewn across the floor. That’s the father that I remember from my childhood.

For years, I thought that was normal until I became old enough to understand. I started seeing my friend’s dads at our cheerleading practices or taking pictures with them before they headed off to prom. My mom tried hard to set him straight, but his addiction continued, and he didn’t care. When my dad missed my high school graduation, for me, that was the final straw.

I didn’t want to feel anymore. The pain was too great. So, I turned off my emotions. That was the only way I could survive. And because of that, I was taken off guard when he showed up sober at my college dorm room one weekend. He asked me out to lunch, and my initial reaction was to slam the door in his face. He had missed so much of my life, and now he wanted to apologize over lunch?

To show how hard he had worked on his sobriety, my dad drove four hours every weekend to my school to ask me out to lunch. Eventually, I broke down and agreed. We talked for hours. He spoke about how sorry he was and that he understood if I never wanted to forgive him. I could see how hurt he was that he had missed his little girl grow up. We continued to meet for lunch for the rest of the time I was in college, and through those meetings, I was able to slowly let go of my pain. And even though we still have a long way to go to rebuild our relationship, when my dad was there to see me walk across the stage at my college graduation I was able to tell him with confidence, “I forgive you.”

- Natalia C.

I remember when there was no end in sight to all the suffering we went through. Three years ago, I spent Christmas Day in the ER watching my brother slowly recover from an overdose. We thought we lost him, and it was a miracle to have him back. Year after year, the holidays were a constant reminder of a very traumatic day for my family.

After much rebuilding, this year felt very different. Matt has regained our trust, he still goes to meetings, sponsors others in early recovery and takes his sobriety very seriously, he has a full-time job (which he always says comes second to his recovery) and he will be starting school in fall.

I will be forever grateful to his therapist in that treatment center who gave him (and us) the tools we needed to support him while he rebuilt his life. He has taught me compassion, patience and forgiveness. I can honestly say that he is the best I’ve ever seen him. Even though I wish my family didn’t have to go through it, I am grateful because we’re closer than ever before. This past Christmas was the best one in a long time because our home felt whole again. We celebrated his three years of sobriety by going out to dinner, opening gifts and watching Christmas movies.

- Jess B.