Many people leaving rehab face an unexpected challenge. They finally see that the people who always “had their lives together” are far from perfect. Suddenly they are the ones who have the real problems.
This is because in rehab, you spend weeks or months working on your identity. You don’t just deal with your cravings. Rather, you learn to relate to the world in a brand new way. You learn how to appreciate everything in your life, how to face adversity, and how to better manage your relationships. It’s like you have a whole new identity.
Then, when you go back into the world, everyone else relates to you as the person you used to be. They also relate to the world in unhealthy ways, similar to how you did before.
This is a common experience, and occurs in any number of circumstances. It can be particularly poignant for male addicts. Recovering males often return to friend groups in which speaking about feelings and being vulnerable is seen as shameful.
After spending so much time in a safe space where you could explore your true identity, it becomes difficult to actually maintain that identity. You find yourself holding things back, laughing at jokes which are toxic, and relating to people just like you did before rehab.
The worst part is that it’s not just others who act in these ways. When back in these familiar settings, it is all too easy to revert to the person you used to be without really being aware of it.
It’s not a simple matter, but there are ways to maintain your identity outside of rehab. These tips will give you a starting point.
Avoid spending time in groups
When you leave rehab, your friends might be eager to go out with you. They may even plan some alcohol and substance-free activities. Diving right back in is going to be tempting.
However, try and resist the urge to do so. If you can, avoid going straight back into group settings. It is very difficult to maintain your new identity in your old friend groups. You’re going to want to keep everyone happy rather than relate in a real way. Groups rarely provide the space to be vulnerable and open up. They are more likely to close all avenues to do so.
Ideally, meet up with your friends in a one-on-one setting. This way, you can take the exciting risk of opening up about what you’ve gone through. Eventually, when you do start spending time in groups again, your friends will have had a chance to get to know the identity you’ve discovered.
Aim for “good enough”
In rehab, you learn a lot about how to relate to the world and others in a more authentic way. It is exciting and you have never felt more in tune. When you leave rehab, you will want to use the communication techniques you have learned to interact with others.
Unfortunately, it will not often go as smoothly as you imagined. You will find yourself skipping steps and, in some cases, giving answers that are less than honest.
The thing is that real world interactions don’t go as smoothly as when presented on a worksheet or in rehab. Rehab is a kind of vacuum. The outside world is always throwing complications at you, and you simply cannot and should not plan all your interactions.
Rather than trying for perfection, aim for good enough. Did you manage to express yourself better than you would have before rehab? That’s a great start. If not, you can try a less ambitious approach the next time.
Spend time alone
Humans are social beings. These days, it is tempting to always be speaking to someone, whether in person or over phone or text. But socializing can also be a way of avoiding scary thoughts and feelings. It can end up suppressing your identity.
In order to maintain what you have learned in rehab, you are going to have to regularly spend time alone. Spend this time meditating, doing some exercises, or simply being creative. The details are up to you, but make sure you’re not just turning off your mind.
Maintaining your identity outside of rehab is going to be one of the biggest challenges you face. Spend the necessary time working on yourself, even if it means you can’t be as social as you were before rehab.