It’s often said that the real work involved in recovery doesn’t begin until after rehab. There are numerous reasons why recovery is hardest after returning home. But perhaps the most obvious reason is because this is when you have to figure out how to live as this new, sober person. You must put to use all the strategies and coping skills learned over the course of your rehabilitation, but it’s not always so simple.
The last time you were home, sleeping in your own bed, rummaging for food in your own kitchen and showering in your own shower, you were in active addiction. However, your new lifestyle and social habits as someone in recovery must be completely different than when you were dependent on drugs or alcohol. The longevity of your recovery depends on how well you can acclimate to sobriety. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself slipping back into more ominous, destructive patterns.
In recovery, there will be instances when you’re the only sober individual among family members, friends or acquaintances who aren’t familiar with addiction or the recovery process. This will inevitably make you feel alienated. It’s crucial, however, to remain steadfast in your commitment to recovery. By having a frame of reference for such situations, you’ll be able to protect your sobriety while not feeling alienated due to your recovery.
Acknowledging the Elephant in the Room
First, be aware that you’re under no obligation to divulge your status as a recovering addict. Twelve-step recovery groups defend the right to anonymity while encouraging sobriety, thereby establishing a precedent of discretion1. On the one hand, you have every right to be proud of overcoming addiction, but the reality is that there’s still some level of stigma surrounding addiction. Whether or not you indulge this discussion is a decision you should make on a case-by-case basis.
However, family members and close friends are more likely to be privy to your history of substance abuse, so it may behoove you to explain why you choose not to imbibe2. If they’re unfamiliar with the nature of addiction, you may consider taking a moment to explain how a slip can quickly turn into a relapse, which is why recovering addicts don’t take the chance. If they have your best interest at heart, they’ll encourage you in your journey of recovery. They may find that they enjoy your company more now than every before.
Sometimes Less Is More
It’s less taxing to discuss your history of addiction and your recent recovery with family members and close friends, but for those with whom you’re not as close, it’s not as comfortable. This is one of the most tricky situations, because your reluctance to imbibe might draw attention. However, as long as you have a plan for such situations, you have nothing to worry about.
One way to avoid divulging your recovery is to take the “less is more” approach. You needn’t say more than “I don’t think I’m going to drink today.” As an alternative, you might say that you’re extremely health-conscious — which, in a very literal sense, is the truth — and leave it at that. Acquaintances are unlikely to press you for additional information, which means a short-and-sweet, blunt answer will be acceptable.
The Right to Choose
Addicts have a tendency to feel compelled to justify their sobriety. However, when it comes to revealing your past as an addict and your current recovery, you have the right to choose if and when you want to do so. Even if you weren’t a recovering addict, every person has the right to choose whether they participate in alcohol consumption or drug use. If you want to politely decline without providing a reason, that is a healthy boundary to draw. It can be as simple as “No, thank you. I’m not drinking today.” If you don’t make a big deal about your commitment to sobriety, others are unlikely to capitalize on the situation.
Many More Similarities Than Differences
Now that you have a few strategies for negotiating your way through compromising situations, let’s address the alienation that you may feel because of your pledge.
Regardless of a history of addiction, everyone makes choices of which they’re not proud. Having a history of addiction does not diminish a person. Similarly, being sober does not disengage a person from life. Although you may be in recovery, you still share more similarities than differences with the people around you. A person in recovery is not and should not be defined by their sobriety. Be aware that the alienation a recovered addict feels around people who aren’t in recovery is self-imposed. People in recovery oftenfeel like their pasts ostracize them from those around them, but by all appearances, recovered addicts are no different from anyone else.
Being sober might be a tenet of successful recovery, but it’s not a lifestyle that’s exclusive to people with a history of addiction. There are many individuals who have never experienced a substance abuse problem and are sober by choice, further disintegrating any perceived separation between non-addicts and recovering addicts in the room.
Written By Dane O’Leary