I had just returned from one of the best mini vacations of my life - I went down to my home state of Mississippi where I saw old friends, felt that familiar slow pace of life, heard those twang accents, and took in that salty beach air. While I was there I remembered thinking to myself, “Now why can’t I just eat seafood and hang out all the time?” I would count down the days until I had to stop being a grown kid and start having to get back to reality. However, on my first day back to Sunspire Hilton Head after my vacation, I felt that familiar atmosphere and adrenalin rush that is indicative of this wonderful place; a place in which there is so much passion and love that it is almost palpable. Walking through our treatment facility and greeting the clients - giving them all high-fives and seeing their smiling faces - is one of those moments where I remembered why I love my job much more than living the life of a grown kid without responsibility. I have the opportunity to interact with individuals who contribute to my purpose in life every day.
The cherry on top of my first day back was when an Alumnus who had graduated from our program a year prior paid us an unexpected visit. We embraced, exchanged pleasantries, and caught up on how he had been. I was excited just listening to his enthusiasm of how in a few days, it would be exactly one year that he walked through the door of Sunspire Health Hilton Head where his “life changed forever.” After we spoke briefly, he agreed to come back to celebrate his one-year sobriety with us as an Alumnus and share his story about his successful first year after treatment.
Now, this isn’t the first client who has paid a visit to Hilton Head - in fact, he is one of several whom return to share their story of life after treatment. From all of the Alumni who graduate from our program and remain sober, I have come up with some interpretations of the common denominators every successful Alumnus possesses:
First things first: Start acting like the person you want to be right now instead of waiting to become the person you want to be.
This may sound counterintuitive, but boy is it accurate. If I want to be a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader one day, I cannot continue to sit on the couch and eat tacos every night. I have to start being active and eating clean now even if it is unfamiliar or uncomfortable for me. If I want to be someone who has success in sobriety and in life, I should start thinking and talking the same way as someone who has several years of sobriety under their belt. Sometimes the psychological change follows the changes in habit and action.
Second: Stay engaged and be proactive. Don’t assume others will do the work for you.
Come back to the Alumni events and keep in touch with a sponsor, mentor or the Alumni Coordinator. Call your treatment facility - every day, if you have to. We will answer. I may love every one of my Sunspire Alumni but there is just no way to keep in constant communication with three, four, five or six-hundred people. So please, do not wait for your support system to spontaneously develop, help develop it yourself.
Last but certainly not least: Take professional advice and be open-minded!
The addiction treatment field has developed from years of practice, evidence-based research, and many educated professionals such as ourselves – please, listen to us. Sometimes it truly takes an open-mind and a willingness to trust this process to be able to achieve a lifetime of sobriety. The individualized recommendations you received from your treatment plan are tailored to fit you for a reason! So, if research and established counselors recommend not having any relationships for a year, do not get into a relationship for a year! If we suggest going to a sober living community instead of back home to a toxic environment, try it! I have never seen someone quit drugs and/or alcohol and have their life fall apart - it falls apart while they are struggling with addiction, and then they have to fight tooth and nail to regain their life.
Recovery is possible. The most influential people in my life have struggled with this disease and fight for a better life every day; becoming a better person in the process. We just hope that you find structure and support from those of us who truly care about you. We won’t lead you awry, I promise.