Continuing Sources of Care and Support Enable Growth
Recovery, like life, is a journey in which growth can actually be the status quo. Having a long-term plan for care and support is essential for success in our recovery process because it empowers us to keep growing. Even if we have had a positive, successful experience with treatment, or whatever our current form of support may be, planning for transitions and next stages enable us to build on the growth achieved in new contexts. In the medical world, this type of longer-term thinking is known as the continuum of care. The U.S. Surgeon General’s Report emphasizes the importance of continuing care, due to the potentially chronic nature of the condition.
Think of a plant. If a tree cuts off its access to nutrients from the soil, water, and sunlight, it will start to shrivel, and eventually die. If we’re not growing, we’re dying. Even if we are leaders in our recovery community, and have experienced significant growth, we need to stay connected to resources and nutrients that help nourish us. And as the sapling of sobriety or new relationships grows, we may need greater amounts or new types of nutrients. When a sapling is taken out of a planter box and put in a forest, attachment to new sources of nutrients, water, and sunlight is essential. In the same way, in recovery, connecting to resources or people through whom we receive connection, love, support, remains a consistent need, and particularly as we may transplant ourselves into new places.
One of the great gifts of recovery is the opportunity to give, and share our hearts, wisdom, and experiences with others. But remaining open to receive is just as vital. Sometimes we can prevent our own further growth by believing that we need to be self-sufficient, or partnering with fear that somehow embracing new areas of growth diminishes the beauty of what we’ve experienced in the past. We need to celebrate our successes and our victories, and recognize that they can become the foundation for more. Even as we step into positions of leadership, or opportunities arise to serve others, remaining open to trusted voices and sources of wisdom and connection keeps us healthy. When we stop being willing to receive, and learn, we cut ourselves off from nutrients that sustain and increase our health and life.
Continuing Care Must Suit the Individual
A plan for continuing care will vary based on our condition, experiences, and needs. If we’re participating in inpatient or residential treatment, it may include outpatient programs that allow for greater reintegration into more regular life. It could also involve identifying new forms of community, counseling, and support groups, especially if there is a new geographic context. For many of us, this will be an aftercare plan created in partnership with a treatment professional. Good providers prioritize long-term patient well-being and success, and thus will focus on planning aftercare or continuing care plans.
If we’re currently participating in support groups as our primary source of care, our process may be more informal, and could consist of regular attendance or additional forms of counseling and encouragement. Involving a mentor, a sponsor, or other source of trusted wisdom is valuable. Developing a plan is crucial, but it won’t do much good if we don’t share it with others who can help provide support and accountability as needed. Creating structure and boundaries for ourselves may feel different or uncomfortable, but they create a space within which we can experience greater freedom of choice, health and fulfillment. For instance, committing in our plans to no longer visit certain unhealthy environments means that we don’t have to wrestle with decisions that may lead in a negative direction.
Time is Needed for Healing; Don’t Underestimate Your Needs
The brain’s design and function means that lasting change can take time, especially if we’re addressing an addiction or other mental health disorder. Sometimes, the experience of joining a program or being a part of treatment can result in a positive emotional feeling, as can sobriety within a treatment center. In our processes, it’s important not to let our positive experiences or emotions cloud out the need for planning ahead. Transitioning into new contexts, relationships, and communities can be emotionally challenging. We may overestimate our health while in treatment or relatively “safe” environments. Transferring newfound perspectives and skills learned in recovery into other situations can be more difficult than anticipated. Different contexts can trigger unhealthy learned responses or reactions in our brain, almost automatically. It’s important to be aware of changes and challenges that could arise.
Tips for Building a Long-Term Plan
So, what should a long-term plan for recovery include? A formal aftercare or continuing care plan prepared by a treatment professional may look slightly different, but here are some practical items to consider either way.
Counseling. Who will we be partnering with to continue to find greater breakthrough in understanding ourselves, our experiences, and our lives?
Community. Who will be part of our community going forward? Who do we need to create new boundaries with? While it’s admirable to want to help others who may be struggling, we all need people in our lives from whom we can learn, and who are farther along in the process of life. Who are people with whom we can have fun, and enjoy life?
Challenges. What contexts, situations, or relationships could be challenging to experience in our transition? What are our plans to handle those contexts and challenges when they arrive? Who will we call? Where will we go? What helps us re-find an experience of peace, gratitude, and clarity? Developing a relapse prevention plan with a clinician, mentor, or other trusted source may be helpful in addressing these questions.
Checking In. Who are we inviting in to our process to help follow up on this plan? A friend? A counselor? A mentor or sponsor? Who are we willing to be open with, both to their encouragement and their honest feedback?
Calling. What can we do in our recovery that reminds us of our purpose and value? What is our “yes” in life? How can we practically move toward our “yes,” and who might be important in this process?
As we build this plan, inviting others to review and provide feedback can be valuable. We may find that our recovery plans change over time as experience life. The ultimate goal is not to complete a plan perfectly, but to experience fullness of life. However, if our plan starts to change, we should seek to understand why. Are the reasons for change are aligned with our goals and new direction? It’s all too easy to find reasons to justify small shifts in direction or compromises toward unhealthy choices.
Remember, receiving continued support or care does not have to limit our ability to pursue our passion or calling in life. Recovery resources can help us maintain and strengthen our ability and motivation to pursue what matters to us in life. There is no shame in needing support over a longer period of time.