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Imagine asking a 14 year old to shop for and cook Thanksgiving dinner completely by himself/herself. I can assume that somewhere between selecting recipes, trying to figure out how to physically get to the grocery store and making grandma’s homemade stuffing, they may feel totally overwhelmed, give up and throw in the towel.

This is what is happening in sober living all over New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and every other state. Well-intentioned addiction treatment centers provide some valuable information to the addicts and alcoholics. Most of these centers boast having the best and newest evidence-based practices. Following the suggestions of their clinical team, these hopeful young addicts leave treatment and find a sober living.

The cost of sober living facilities range from as high as $12k a month to as low as $125 a week. There are also great agencies out there that offer to pay the first month or security deposit at some of these recovery residences. The quality, location, amenities and staff can be drastically different depending on the monthly rent or program fee.

But what if the price and the other stuff have nothing to do with it? What if your loved one has already been set up for failure from the day they walked into residential treatment center? Do you know that some addiction treatment centers (unintentionally) them up for failure from the start?

We at Surfside would be willing to go out on a limb and say that 90% of folks leaving addiction treatment are given a discharge plan. Part of that plan is to attend 12-step recovery, get a sponsor, join a home group and work the steps. BUT what if this just goes in one ear and out the other because of the “evidence based” info they got in treatment?

The majority of addicts in addiction treatment will tell you that their will power will not keep them clean and sober and the addiction counselors and other staff will agree with them. Treatment centers will work tirelessly with addicts and alcoholics to help them identify their triggers, develop a plan to avoid a relapse, talk with them about understanding their brain chemistry, neurons, dopamine and offer other skills like deep breathing, mindfulness and art therapy. Understanding all this information and implementing these skills will ideally give the sufferer the ability to prevent a relapse. But wait… Does this mean they now have the ability to use their will power to resist a bag of heroin or a cold beer on a hot day? No. It actually means, based on years of clinical and personal experience, that they will probably not be able to resist the impulse to use. They will use, and then be kicked out of their sober living house and end up back in treatment.

If these folks openly admit that their will power does not work and they are powerless then why in the world, as professionals, are we trying to get them to think they have will power to remember this stuff after 21 days in treatment?

Page 20 of the book Narcotics Anonymous talks about an overpowering desire to use regardless of the consequences. Alcoholics Anonymous literature it talks about an inability to remember the consequences of even a week or month ago. So then why do we spend all this time working with these “evidence based” practices? Ask your loved one this question: “Last time you picked up a drink or drug after a period of clean time, why did you not think about the consequences? Why did you not avoid your triggers?” Addiction treatment centers need to stop with some of this stuff and get back to the basics of 12-step recovery.

The answer to this is learning how to use Step 2 in 12-step recovery. The 2nd step states that we “Came to believe that a Power greater then ourselves could restore us to sanity.” This does not mean that we will leave treatment and try our hardest to remember how bad it was and remember that we will be triggered if we see that certain person or go to that certain place.

The step means we need more than ourselves to stay clean. It means we need more than our own mind to remember the consequences of our drug use.

When an addict in his mid-twenties finds himself in a sober house and is being told to “just hang on tight,” it would mean they are using their own will power to not use. This has never worked for them before and will not now. Recently, during a conversation with a woman in Narcotics Anonymous who had long term clean time, stated that “these young folks are coming in with no motivation to do the steps, they all think they can just not use because they decide to.” If over 30% of people are coming into 12-step recovery from treatment centers then why do they have no feeling of urgency to move through the steps?

Think about this: most of these folks are going to treatment 2+ times and are being told they need to remember how it was, and they need to identify that time they may use, then they are plopped in a 12-step meeting and being told that they can not do this on their own – wouldn’t you call this a mixed message? If treatment centers expect these young men and women to stay clean in sober houses then they need to prepare them for Step 2 based on their powerlessness in Step 1.

When someone is moving from treatment to sober living willingly, they are already working on this second step. They are starting to believe that the house can help restore them to sanity. When they get a sponsor or start going to meetings willingly, they believe these things will restore them to sanity. This is only the beginning. People in early recovery will need to embrace the rest of the principles of the steps and recovery. They will need to find a way to make all 12-steps work for them and learn how to apply them as part of their day.

Sober living in New Jersey and other states can be very effective if the management of the house has a good understanding of what is needed for further growth and recovery. The 12-step principles can be applied to all addicts regardless of age or religious background – even the atheist can use these principles to recover from addiction. Step 2 is the doorway into lasting recovery and a fulfilled life.

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