By Anthony Anders, ADC, LCDC-III – Chemical Dependency Counselor
I took a call from a young man this morning asking to get into treatment for his addiction. After asking the usual questions and giving the usual answers, he asked, “How long will I be in treatment?” Having never met him, and not yet having done a proper intake, I could not even begin to give a proper answer. Even with that information, I cannot give a proper answer most of the time. At least, not at this point in the game.
I am not a fan of giving a definitive length of time that someone will be in treatment. Even in my own journey, I learned that if you tell me a time frame (e.g. “28 days”), that is the number that will stick in my mind. At twenty-nine days, I will most likely consider myself done, completed, accomplished. Treatment does not work that way. The time frame can become a distraction. One may focus on “crossing the finish line” as opposed to gleaning as much information and insight as possible while connected with the necessary resources.
As I pondered the answer to the question the young man posed, I came up with four responses to how long a person may need to be in treatment or recovery. They are rather nebulous to some degree, but all can be considered relevant to every individual.
My first answer would be “right now.” Initially, it is about being present and reconnecting with what someone needs right now. If you are at the stage of change that prompts you to call and inquire about treatment, strike while the proverbial iron is hot. Much distress in addiction comes through negative projection of what may come, what may get in our way, what may harm us, and through that lens, many come up with unfounded conclusions as to why now is not a good time to change. Many who have lost the battle to addiction have fallen while thinking, “tomorrow may be my day.” Recovery begins now. The only time in reality is now, Change occurs in the now. And then it is our job to get to the next right now. The concept of changing forever is tough. But to consider changing for just right now, is often a digestible amount.
After engaging into treatment, when asked “how long will I need to be in treatment,” I say, “I don’t know.” Upon becoming stable, we must allow for chemical changes to occur within ourselves to allow for the other necessary changes to commence. These can involve physical, mental, emotional, legal, occupational, educational, social, spiritual, environmental, experiential, etc. This phase I call “cleaning out our closet.” We reorganize, declutter, inventory, and choose what needs to stay and what needs to go from our life. Since everyone’s backstory is different, the time it takes to gain traction in a new direction and sweep up some of the collateral damage from a lifestyle of addiction can take a minute. Bottoms are relative. How far it takes to bounce or climb up from yours is yet to be determined. As we say, “recovery is not a sprint, it is a marathon.”
About the only definite I can commit to in any form of recovery is that a year is a good place to start. Whether it is recovering from addiction, a health issue, divorce, or other traumatic event, a year is a solid timeline to plan on. The reason is that within a year, you will encounter every holiday, season, anniversary, and occurrence that may come across your radar that can pose a challenge. The anniversary of the death of a loved one; perhaps a bleak grey winter like we have here in Ohio. Your first football season without drinking or using your drug of choice. Triggers present in a variety of ways so a year gives you a broad enough set of encounters that will show you where you are. The storms show us where our leaks are. The second year, we can reflect. What did we do correctly? Where do we need to patch the leaks?
The final answer is “forever.” Yes, we can say that we are in recovery forever. But recovery is also a philosophy. Will you be on a medication forever? Will you go to meetings forever? Will you be tethered to professionals forever? I don’t know. What I do know is that recovery is a philosophy. It is a dynamic, ongoing, evolving assessment of one’s wellness and needs and concern with dealing with the onslaught of stimuli that can nudge us in a positive or negative direction. We develop filters for our thoughts. We learn to realize that substances only blur the situation and not remove it. You will be in recovery forever. But from that, I mean in a broader context that the situation that brought you to recovery should serve you by raising your awareness of your need for certain protections. Being “sober” is not abstinence from drugs or alcohol. It is clarity of thought, concern for our wellness, concern for those we encounter, awareness of what does not serve us or cause us harm, and a genuine quest for a growing sense of authenticity. It is not the sum of the results in your urine screen.
So, recovery is now, it’s unknown, it’s next year, and it’s forever. Don’t get hung up on the time but what you can become as a result of what you have gone through. Use the tools and the people at your disposal and prepare for a change that can be extraordinary and take you to new levels. But as the young man that called this morning did, and if you do nothing more, pick up the phone. Begin your own comeback story.