What Comes Next? Planning for Life After Treatment

It's a fresh, exciting, maybe-a-little-bewildering new day. Here's what to think about as you prepare to leave treatment and ponder: Who will I be?

September 9, 2022
Diver exploring a reef under the ocean surface

When your life is consumed by addiction, you often as not lose sight of what matters — what mattered — most to you. One by one, relationships, hobbies, nutrition, your health and even hygiene tumble from being priorities to, at best, inconveniences. It will feel good, even exhilarating, to get all that back, but it takes time and will.

As you progress in your recovery journey, you’ll begin to rediscover passions and fundamental elements to a happy, healthy life. Meaning and purpose are central in healing from substance use and mental health disorders.

This process of exploration is essential for lasting recovery. If you want to have a fulfilling and satisfying life, it is important that your “why” drives whatever actions you take. This isn’t just new-agey pep talk material; it’s a pragmatic attitude for self-preservation and progress. Understanding what gives you meaning in your life will help keep you motivated when you feel like giving up during, say, your weekly therapy sessions or other recovery regimens you’re unsure about. Understanding the purpose behind these tasks can provide the clarity and motivation to keep you going.

Make a Plan Before Leaving Treatment

During treatment, you will learn coping strategies to help you rebuild relationships and manage your sobriety. These strategies are the foundations upon which you will build in recovery. But as you know, they are just the beginning. It’s not too early to start getting more existential: Who will you be after treatment?

Before completing treatment, take some time to talk with professionals and peers to help you develop a plan following treatment. Creating goals that focus on job opportunities, pursuing activities you enjoy, and having a safe living and community space can all help ease any anxiety or doubt when taking the dive into recovery.

Set Some Goals, Especially Fun Ones

Abstinence alone is not enough. Literally — on its own, it doesn’t give you anything to do. So start planning your time while you’re still in treatment, and start with the fun stuff. What are you passionate about that you can get back into? Surfing, jamming out, weight lifting, writing, maybe even traveling: Mapping out what you want to do can instill a sense of accomplishment while also, handily enough, distracting you from thinking about substances.

Even if you can’t fire up all your projects immediately after treatment, having goals reinforces that you have something to work toward and something to look forward to. Once you know your dreams, or even just your desires, you can start making them a reality.

Consider Additional Aftercare Options

It’s normal and realistic to feel that, depending on how treatment goes, you need a little extra help to transition back to your everyday life. While you’re planning for life after treatment, consider aftercare options. Transitional living arrangements can provide the structure and security you need while acclimating to your new sober everyday.

Sober housing can give you space, support and some peers going through the same experiences, as you continue to work on coping strategies and strengthen relationships with yourself and others. Additional aftercare options might include follow-up therapy and joining a treatment center alumni group program. Alumni groups are one way to keep in touch with the community and can provide a good bit of motivation and accountability during recovery.

Think About Your Job Situation

Finding a way to financially support yourself following treatment can be stressful — even thinking about it is gonna be stressful. But without a plan to pursue work, you might find yourself at loose ends. Employment (or lack thereof) can be exasperating for anyone, but you don’t need to relapse over it. So it’s important to think about work after treatment. Are you currently employed, and can you return to work? Do you understand your rights when looking for work?

Staying connected with your peers and the recovery community could also lead to job opportunities. Or you may decide that you want to go (back) to school to pursue a degree.

Seek Your Purpose. Find Your Purpose?

There’s no rule against pondering your core self, animating principles and other meaning-of-life Big Questions while you’re still in a treatment facility! Finding your purpose can start simple: Spending time with family and friends, volunteeringtrying out a new hobby. You’ll see that for quite a few people in recovery, purpose is not tied to social status or material achievements so much as enjoying everyday activities and feeling a desire to live.

Regardless of what you pursue, you’ll want to do it with vigor — it should be something you’re passionate about that feels comfortable and enjoyable, not a chore. Build on this. If you learn a new hobby, for example, recovery may come more naturally since you’ll have a new and improved version of yourself to work toward.

What Do You Love?

In order to pinpoint what you love, it’s helpful to remember what you loved before addiction took over. Of course, it can be challenging to reflect on past versions of yourself, especially if substance use is all you’ve known for a long time. But this can be a key to self-discovery.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • How did I spend my time before substance use?
  • Who did I spend time with?
  • What was I most passionate about?
  • What did I like most about that?
  • If old hobbies, relationships or curiosities don’t interest me anymore, what does?
  • Who do I aspire to be?

Once you outline answers to these questions, you can begin to redefine who you are, what you want out of life and how you can get there.

And If You Take Away Just One Thing Here: Recovery Is Opportunity

Recovery is all about reclaiming who you are now that you are free of substances. You have a new perspective, a strong support system and the opportunity to take life in new directions — including once-impossible ones. With some planning and realistic goals, figuring out what comes after treatment can start to feel pretty cool indeed.

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