Aftercare


What To ExpectWhen you’ve made the decision to seek addiction treatment, it’s hard to imagine what your life will be like without drugs or alcohol. Although no two people are exactly alike, this article outlines some of the issues you can expect to deal with during your first year in recovery.

Withdrawal

The term withdrawal refers to the physical symptoms you experience after drugs or alcohol leave your system.

Withdrawal symptoms depend upon the substance being abused and your length of use, but often include stomach upset, sweating, headache, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and mood swings. A medical detox helps you avoid dangerous side effects and keeps you as comfortable as possible.

Acute withdrawal symptoms start to taper off as your brain chemistry adjusts to a normal level. However, post-acute withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from six months to two years. Common post-acute withdrawal symptoms include difficulty with memory and concentration, decreased physical coordination, and trouble managing emotions.

Counseling

Once detox has been completed, counseling is vital part of setting the foundation for long term sobriety. Counseling typically involves a mixture of individual, group, and family sessions. Your counselor may also recommend experiential therapies such as art, music, or equine therapy.

If you suffer from a co-occurring mental health disorder such as depression or PTSD, your treatment plan will need to address both issues simultaneously. Often, people with mental health disorders turn to substance abuse to self-medicate the symptoms of their condition. If their mental health needs aren’t addressed, it becomes extremely difficult to maintain sobriety.

Celebrating 30 Days of Sobriety

Having 30 days of sobriety under your belt is considered a huge milestone. At this time, your withdrawal symptoms have become more manageable and your counseling sessions have provided you with the tools you need to begin a life free from the burdens of substance abuse.

Near the 30-day mark, you’ll likely be transitioning from an inpatient treatment facility to outpatient care. Your counselor will provide you with a detailed aftercare plan to make the adjustment process easier.

Creating a Strong Support System

After leaving an inpatient treatment facility, you’ll want to keep up the recovery momentum by creating a strong support system for yourself. Your facility’s aftercare resources are a good place to start, but you can also turn to support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous to connect you with people who understand the challenges you’re facing.

People in the early stages of recovery often find that turning to their faith provides comfort. The new friends you meet in worship services and church activities can play a vital role in your recovery by providing encouragement and accountability, even if they have no personal experience with substance abuse.

Building Routines

During the first year of recovery, much of your time will be spent creating a routine for yourself. You’ll need to figure out how to balance work, family, social, and treatment obligations. Using a traditional day planner or a scheduling app on your phone may make it easier to keep track of appointments.

As you’re building a routine for yourself, remember to be realistic about what you can accomplish. Not giving yourself enough time to relax can create stress, which places you at risk of relapse.

Repairing Relationships

When you’re struggling with addiction, it’s easy to inadvertently hurt the ones you love. Restoring trust with friends and family will take time, so be patient with this part of the process.

A sincere apology is always a good place to start, but most people in recovery find that their loved ones respond well to seeing how hard they are working to stay sober. Keep your loved ones informed of your recovery milestones while making an effort to communicate honestly and openly.

Discovering Sober Hobbies

One of the most exciting parts of embracing a sober lifestyle is developing new hobbies. During your first year in recovery, give yourself permission to explore areas of interest—even if they put you outside of your comfort zone.

As you’re thinking about what activities appeal to you, consider aiming for a mix of solo and group hobbies. Solo hobbies such as reading, creative writing, gardening, or painting provide a way to distract yourself when cravings hit. Group activities such as joining a bowling league, volunteering at a local nonprofit, or trying out for a community theater production let you expand your social circle.

Avoiding the Dangers of Overconfidence

As you get closer to the one-year mark, it’s natural to become more confident in your sobriety. Feeling comfortable living clean and sober is an excellent sign, but overconfidence can be a risk factor for relapse.

It’s important to remember that addiction is a chronic illness. Just as someone with diabetes needs to continually monitor their blood sugar, eat right, and exercise, you’ll need to stay on top of your treatment plan to manage your sobriety.

By Dana Hinders

To learn more about our programs, please visit our website.

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Thanksgiving tableIn the early stages of recovery, you’re learning new ways to cope with everyday situations. Developing healthy habits is a big task, especially during the holiday season. If this will be your first sober Thanksgiving, stay on the path to recovery with these 8 helpful tips.

1. Be Grateful.

Thanksgiving is all about counting your blessings and there’s no greater blessing than being in recovery. Writing down your blessings in a journal is an excellent way to remind yourself of your commitment to your sobriety while getting into the spirit of the Thanksgiving celebration. Sending personal notes to those who’ve helped with your recovery is another great way to show your gratitude. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a natural born writer, you can’t go wrong with a heartfelt note of appreciation.

2. Start a New Tradition.

If drinking is normally a big part of your Thanksgiving celebration, consider this year an opportunity to start a new alcohol-free tradition. You could organize a team trivia contest, play a friendly game of flag football, create a silly photo booth complete with assorted costumes and props, or give back to your community by volunteering at a local homeless shelter. There’s no right or wrong way to celebrate Thanksgiving, as long as you’re making memories with the people who mean the most to you.

3. Make Plans for Self-Care.

If you’re struggling with depression or social anxiety, crowded holiday gatherings can be overwhelming. Even if you’re genuinely excited to see everyone, a packed room might be hard to handle.

Taking the time to meditate or engage in some relaxing yoga poses before the event begins is an excellent way to keep stress levels in check. Bringing items to help you calm down, such as headphones and relaxing music, calming essential oil spray, or a fun mini adult coloring book, can also be helpful.

4. Don’t Throw Good Nutrition Out the Window.

While Thanksgiving is a time to indulge, keep in mind that healthy eating habits help support your recovery. Start your meal with a salad packed with fiber rich veggies, choose moderate portions of your favorite entrees and side dishes, then finish with a special dessert. Make a point to eat slowly and give your full attention to your food so you can savor every last bite.

One common mistake that people make when planning their Thanksgiving holiday is coming to the feast on an empty stomach. If you let yourself get too hungry, you’ll be more likely to eat to excess. Being hungry can also make it harder to regulate your emotions and control your cravings for drugs or alcohol.

5. Bring Your Own Beverage.

Ideally, your host should provide a non-alcoholic beverage choice for guests who don’t drink. Unfortunately, this is a detail that not everyone remembers. Avoid a sticky situation by simply bringing your own non-alcoholic beverage option.

Sparkling cider, herbal tea, flavored water, or a fruity non-alcoholic punch are excellent beverage choices for a Thanksgiving meal. Bring enough to share and you may find yourself surprised by how many guests decide to spend the day sober with you.

6. Stay Busy.

Keeping yourself busy throughout the event will help calm your nerves and reduce the intensity of any cravings you might have. Volunteer to help set the table, put the finishing touches on a few side dishes, or entertain any impatient young children. Your helpfulness will be appreciated and you’ll make new memories in the process.

7. Go to a Meeting.

It’s common for 12 step programs to host multiple meetings throughout the holidays, so there’s probably one near wherever you are traveling. Connecting with others in recovery can help you stay on the right path. If desired, you could use this opportunity to invite a supportive friend or family member to attend an open meeting with you.

8. Plan an Escape Route.

Hopefully you won’t need to use it, but it’s always a good idea to come up with a graceful way to exit a situation that starts to feel like it’s just too much. Consider having a friend on standby who can send a text or call with an “emergency” that lets you leave the party early if needed.

Another easy way to exit a situation is to simply inform everyone ahead of time that you have another appointment later in the day and will need to leave early. This strategy works well for situations where you know that you won’t be feeling up to socializing for the entire event.

By Dana Hinders

If you or someone you love needs addiction treatment, please call St. Joseph Institute at 888-352-3297.

 

Staying Sober During the Holidays

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Meet St. Joseph Institute’s Alumni/Aftercare Coordinator and PRN Counselor, Emily Benjamin. An alumna of St. Joseph Institute (SJI) and a self-professed nerd, Emily brings joy and enthusiasm to her work. Her passion comes in large part from her own experience as a recovering addict and the thrill she finds in being able to live life fully, both at work and at home.

When I asked Emily if I could interview her for the SJI blog, she readily agreed. Read on to discover the LONG list of things Emily does for St. Joseph, her vision for the future of alumni relations at SJI, and what exactly makes her a nerd.

How long have you worked at St. Joseph Institute, and what brought you here?

I have been at SJI as an employee since August 2017. However, my journey takes me back to 2011. In 2011, I came to SJI seeking treatment for my own addiction to heroin and opiate pain killers, via injection. I came here against my will (my parents basically dropped me off and said, “Cya later!”); to say I held on to anger for my first few days of treatment is an understatement. It took me about 3 days until I realized I was grateful to be at SJI. I spent 30 days here and have been clean ever since (May 24, 2011).

At three years clean, I entered my Master’s Program for counseling at Mount Aloysius College.  It was the owner of SJI that advocated on my behalf to get into graduate school even though I had a felony on my record. To my surprise, I was accepted. By my senior year, it was time for an internship. SJI had recently come under new ownership and I did not know if I would be able to obtain an internship there. I tried, anyway. To my surprise, Summit Behavioral Health was happy to take me on for my practicum and internship.

I began on May 26, 2017 (5 years and 2 days to the date of me entering as resident). I interned for 14 months, and then was hired as a PRN counselor. In August, I became the alumni/aftercare coordinator/PRN counselor. Today, I have 6 years and 3 months clean and sober, and have a job at the same facility that gave me my life back! I am beyond grateful.

Give us a brief description of what you do as alumni coordinator.

As the aftercare/alumni coordinator, I set up all aftercare for clients. This includes all counseling services (IOP, PHP), sober living, case management, probation appointments, and all things necessary for a client to leave with a solid aftercare option. I also coordinate events for campus. For example, I recently coordinated a full day of events for National Recovery Month, including the coloring of a banner for overdose victims as well as a balloon release and candlelight vigil; a few days later, we had a campfire featuring the Penn State CRC (Collegiate Recovery Community) alcoholics and addicts, who shared their own addiction stories with our clients while we all enjoyed music and s’mores.

I am also the speaker-seeker and invite speakers, both alumni and outside speakers, to come every Thursday night for our in-house NA/AA meeting. I place phone calls to residents who have discharged, beginning at 7 days post-treatment, followed by 30 days, and then 6 months. I create a database of alumni clients so that I can then invite them to the reunions that we schedule yearly. I also facilitate all orientations for the new residents on campus.

What do you love about your work?

I love working with addicts and alcoholics, because I was in their same shoes. I can speak their language and I can empathize with what they are going through when they get here. Not only that, but I love to help. I just received a phone call yesterday from a mom of a current client, and she said, “My son told me that you give him hope every day.” That’s why I do what I do. To let my clients know there is hope. WE DO RECOVER! 

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The fact that I am able to help these clients understand that their disease does not have to stop them from living a life beyond their wildest dreams gives me a feeling that I cannot describe. I was given a second chance at life through SJI. I could not have gotten clean if I had not started in treatment here just as they are doing. What makes SJI unique is that EACH individual staff member cares about the clients. From the counselors to the cleaning ladies, we all take our time to make sure our clients are comfortable, because we love what we do! 

What do you want to see happen for the alumni in the future?

I would like to see the alumni group increase and empower current residents. I would like to bring in more of an alumni presence into our in-house meetings as well as host events on campus, regularly, where clients are able to see that recovery works and that recovery is awesome. I want the alumni to have a network with each other where they can motivate each other and reach out, all having the common bond of SJI. I want a resident from 2010, when SJI first opened as a treatment center, to be able to encourage a resident in 2017, and vice versa. I want to see SJI hosting events that bring in alumni on a monthly basis, at least.

Why are alumni connections important in recovery?

Evidence. Alumni connections show evidence that treatment WORKS. Alumni connections show that someone else has been in one’s seat and is living a life beyond their wildest dreams, in just a few month’s/year’s time. Alumni connections give clients the ability to see that they are not alone or unique, and that addiction does not discriminate—but neither does recovery!

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not coordinating alumni?

I am a nerd. If I am not reading up on counseling techniques and finding new fun activities to host at SJI, then I am typically hanging out with the ones I love. I have five nieces, one nephew, and one niece/nephew on the way. I like to spend my time with my family, because I remember a time where they were the last people I wanted to see.

My active addiction took me away from enjoying little things, like a walk in a park, or a drive back the mountain. I enjoy alone time so I can read and even catch up on my favorite reality TV shows! I love attending NA meetings and giving back to my sponsees, guiding them through the 12 steps. I love carrying the message of hope in my free time, because any day is a good day to give back!

If you are seeking treatment for yourself or a loved one and would like to know more about the treatment services at St. Joseph Institute, please contact us today. We find great joy in helping our clients find their path to an exciting, sustainable recovery.

By Cindy Spiegel

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