Opting Out of An Aftercare Treatment Program May Kill You
TJ was big and tough, he played football in college and there really wasn’t anything he thought he couldn’t do. I hated him the first time I met him, but that was just because he was so damn good looking. He made me laugh a lot and he actually made rehab pretty fun. When we graduated from our drug rehab up north in Minnesota we made plans to ditch aftercare, skip the halfway house, we were told to go to and move in together. We were just going to go to meetings and have fun we said. TJ drove back down to Iowa to get his things and I got us a sweet two-bedroom apartment on the river in St. Paul. I pictured us watching the barges go down the river as we drank our coffee and did our morning meditation.
TJ was supposed to be back in two weeks, but he shot up again after the first week and 3 days into the second week he died of liver failure at age 25. The night President Obama won his first election was the night I found out. I was lying on the floor of our empty 2 bedroom apartment crying as CNN played in the background. That night, I drank my self to sleep on a big plastic bottle of Vodka. We chose to not follow our drug therapist’s instructions, we chose to not go to aftercare and now TJ is gone.
Always Follow Your Drug Rehabs Recommendations
The first thing I thought of when I heard TJ died was, we should have listened. Over and over again as I moved my clothes into my new one bedroom apartment I kept hearing the words of our therapist. Go to aftercare, go to IOP then Outpatient, get a sponsor, go to AA meetings and I can guarantee you’ll never drink or use drugs again. Guarantee was a pretty big word to be throwing around to a couple of drug addicts with a combined 14 drug rehab stints under their belts, but by the look in his eyes and the double digit of sobriety chips on his desk – we knew he was serious. As addicts and alcoholics, our grandiose nature causes us to think that we know more about sobriety than an entire team of individuals with masters degrees.
The staff at any treatment center knows more about how to remain sober than any patient who enters. That is a fact, don’t even try to debate it because I did, and TJ did, and look where that got us. The staff at our drug rehab knew that by participating in an aftercare program we would have a far better chance of making it out of our addiction alive. In fact, The National Center For Biotechnology Information, a government sponsored site, supports the claim that participation in a long term aftercare treatment program significantly increase the chances of an addict staying off heroin and staying sober over 1 year. I wish TJ and I had been humble enough to realize that we’re not experts on addiction.
Never Stop Learning About Addiction and Recovery
What’s pretty crazy is that when TJ and I were in substance abuse treatment together we used to brag to others that we knew everything there was to know about addiction and recovery because we had been to 14 rehabs. I actually said, “I very good at treatment.” What does that even mean?
The truth is now with many years sober and my own degree on the wall, I now realize that you never stop learning about addiction and recovery and the pursuit of more knowledge is what makes the difference between long-term sobriety and relapse. During The IOP groups I’ve attended as part of my aftercare program that I would eventually attend, this continued learning really took shape. I discovered things I never knew and each brought about new revelations about myself and my addiction. 28 to 30 days of inpatient drug rehab simply didn’t provide the wealth of understanding and self-reflection that my aftercare treatment program provided.
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Process Triggers in Real-Time with An Aftercare Treatment Program
The times when I would think of TJ the most were when a member of my outpatient group would come in on the verge of picking up. This one guy walked into group, on the verge of using heroin again after being fired from his job. He had spent that last 2 hours roaming the streets looking for a bag of dope. As a group, we were able to process his cravings in real-time and keep him from turning back to his addiction. In a 30-day inpatient treatment facility, you’re immune from temptation and triggers, so naturally it’s easy to stay sober (maybe that’s why I was so good at treatment).
An aftercare treatment program acts as a safe harbor from the storm of addiction that will always be raging in the outside world. By participating in an aftercare treatment program the tools of recovery are always being sharpened and practiced, offering a strong defense against cravings. The longer I participated in aftercare the stronger my relationships with others grew and the stronger my program became.
Make True Friends and Develop a Support Group
The biggest lie ever told in the AA community is, “My boys in Jersey will never let me drink again.” If your boys in Jersey are not in recovery – they’ll let you drink again. No one can understand an addict, like an addict. You know why you never see a dog and a human carrying on a conversation in English? Because it is impossible. The same can be said for a person who does not have the disease of addiction truly being able to help an addict stay sober. It’s almost impossible.
This is why the friends I made in my aftercare treatment program will always be better friends than, “My boys in Jersey. ” In aftercare I made friendships based on my ability to share intimate personal details about my recovery, my addiction and my personal struggles with both. These friends understand what it is like to be me because, they are just like me. They fight the same demons, think the same crazy thoughts and hold me accountable in a way no one else can. The friends you will make in an aftercare treatment program essentially become your personal secret service, helping to guard you each day from sticking a needle in your arm. That’s something I could have been and should have been for my friend TJ.
Increase Self-Esteem by Helping Others
The big book of Alcoholics Anonymous says that, “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.” When participating in an aftercare treatment program this incredibly important aspect of AA is being practiced to it’s full potential. As a participating member of an AA home group, IOP or OP program, you’re helping other alcoholics stay sober, just by showing up. AA was built on this idea alone, and aftercare programs are found to be extremely effective because they hold true to this philosophy. Helping other alcoholics stay sober also increase self-esteem and produces a high I have never found in any bag of heroin.
Helping others stay sober is also a debt I owe to my dear friend TJ. I had not found my way yet in this program. I had not realized the importance of an aftercare program and wasn’t yet able to help him they way I could have. I can’t bring TJ back but what I can do is try my hardest everyday to help another alcoholic stay sober and if in some small way I can keep one addict from the gates of death then maybe somewhere up there TJ will be proud.