New Town, New School, New You: Same Recovery

You went through treatment and you’re on the road to recovery. Maybe you spent part of the summer in a residential program, or maybe you did an intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, or day treatment program. You spent long, tough hours uncovering the issues that led you to addiction or substance abuse, and then you spent an equal or greater amount of time learning new, positing, life-affirming coping mechanisms to replace the life-interrupting coping mechanisms of addiction and substance abuse. Then you worked with your therapist and counselors to formulate a comprehensive, sustainable sobriety program to follow after leaving treatment.

You spent a great deal of time and energy creating the new you. Which is, of course, the old you, minus the addiction and substance abuse part. It’s you, 2.0. Your family may have even decided you’d be best served by a total and complete change of environment. You may have moved to a new town and found a new school.

These are wonderful and positive steps that will likely set you up for success in the long run. However, there’s one thing to keep in mind while navigating all these changes: no matter where you go, what city you live in, or what school you go to, your recovery goes with you. Changing the external elements that may or may not have led to your substance abuse and addiction can be a huge help, but the key to your continued sobriety lies inside of you.

Stick With Your Program

There are a couple of things that trip teenagers up when they’re in recovery. Well, there are more than a couple, but this brief blog will focus on two: complacence and overconfidence. These two common mistakes often go hand in hand with big, external changes, such as changing schools or moving to a new city. Don’t get caught thinking that since you’re in a new city surrounded by a new group of peers you can let your foot off the gas. With very few exceptions, you’ll find the same – or remarkably similar – social groups in every high school around the country, which means many of the same factors that led you to addiction and substance abuse will reveal themselves before too long.

That’s why you can’t afford to be complacent or overconfident.

Just so we’re on the same page, here’s a dictionary definition of complacent:

“Showing smug of uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements.”

Your recovery depends on your daily attention to the details of the sobriety plan you formulated with your therapists and counselors. There’s no resting on your laurels allowed. As time goes by, you’ll get better at recovery, and at staying sober, because they are learned skills that get stronger over time. With that in mind, it’s important to remember that recovery – as you learned during rehab – requires constant self-examination, constant assessment, and constant checking in to make sure you’re on the healthy, life-affirming path you chose when you went into treatment. When you think you can stop looking at yourself with a discerning, critical eye, that’s when you become overconfident.

And just so we’re on the same page, here’s a definition of overconfident:

“Having excessively strong self-belief or self-assurance; having an over-abundance of certainty about one’s own abilities or correctness.”

It’s a fact that you need a great deal of self-confidence to maintain your sobriety. You need to be sure of yourself. One of the skills you’re working on developing is resiliency and the ability to manage stress without relapsing. Without certainty, conviction, and self-belief, you’re never going to make it – but there’s a flip-side to all that.

Complacence + Overconfidence = Red Flag

Here are there ways to tell if the combination of complacence and overconfidence might be leading you to relapse:

  1. You stop going to meetings. If meetings like AA or NA are part of your program, don’t stop just because you move to a new town and you think the new you doesn’t need them. Find a meeting and go.
  2. You drop your daily work. During rehab, you probably learned techniques that became daily practices, which are on their way to becoming habits. Things like exercise, journaling, meditation, or talking to recovery partners are things that may seem small to you now, but they’re the building blocks of long-term sobriety. If you find yourself thinking, “I don’t need this anymore,” it’s time to talk to a recovery partner, counselor, or therapist. Get a second opinion, and make sure you’re not sabotaging your recovery.
  3. You start hedging. You may tell yourself it’s okay to have one drink, take one pill, or smoke weed one time. You think it’s fine because you’re sure you won’t start back every day. You’re sure your recovery skills are strong enough to withstand a slip. This is especially dangerous in a new social milieu, because you may want to do it just once in order to fit in with your new peers. Take it from anyone with extensive recovery experience: that’s a dangerous, slippery slope that can lead you right back to daily abuse.

Dance With the One Who Brought You

Remember: no one did the initial work of recovery for you. That was all you. You got sober, made it through treatment, and made it to this point because you took recovery seriously. You had help, support, and guidance, of course. But you, 2.0, is based on the new coping skills and the hard work and dedication you put in during the early phases of your recovery. The thing about recovery – the thing your therapists and counselors told you over and over – is that it’s a lifelong process. That means that no matter where you move, no matter what school you go to, your work does not change one bit: recovery is your responsibility, and sustainable recovery requires daily attention to the fundamentals. No one can take care of those fundamentals but you. Stick with them, and you have a good chance of staying clean and sober. Let them drop, bit by bit, due to complacence and overconfidence, and you have a good chance of slipping back into the patterns of addiction and abuse you worked so hard to escape.