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Home, or Sober Home? It’s Not An Easy Call

couple eating breakfast

AIR member ellecal is fortunate to have a Loved One she feels perfectly safe with, but the stress of living with him post-rehab still feels overwhelming. What’s the best housing choice for their situation? Both living at home and living in a sober home come with challenges. Either way, the best chance for success is to be as informed as possible. 

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My partner is home from one month in rehab, and I would like help figuring out how to either convince him to go to sober living or maybe to go away for the sake of my own mental health.  
I am definitely safe with him (he’s incredibly kind and gentle) but I am very stressed and uncomfortable that he is not doing what the professionals recommend (continuing his recovery in sober living) because he almost died from very long-term alcoholism. I’ve taken time off work next week to figure out what to do, and I’m very interested to know all recommended resources, and how to best use this time.

Before we talk about next steps, ellecal, is your partner participating in any recovery activities? Is he using outside help to stay abstinent? Is he attending self-help meetings, or seeing a therapist or a recovery coach? Is he exercising or doing anything that can help settle his mind? Has your partner looked at psychiatric medication that can discourage drinking, such as naltrexone (Vivitrol is the monthly shot)? 

Sober living is indeed critical if your partner has nowhere safe to stay. And by “safe,” we mean both safe from physical harm and a safe recovery environment.  

Time to learn about sober homes 

Sober homes are safe, inexpensive places to live with others who are at a similar juncture as your Loved One. The most common requirement for admission to a sober home is 30 days of abstinence (which, by the way, is a major barrier for those who are not safely housed). Here is a primer on sober homes.   

Sober home quality varies greatly and is time specific. Always visit the house first, if you can. You’ll want to look for a clear management organization in the house, and, if self run, rotation schedules for tasks posted around. Is the home clean? Where are the men in the middle of the day when the house is empty? You might want to read more about the social model for sober homes and our response to this AIR member

Trying to fill a void with drugs 

Whether in a sober home or his own home, your partner needs to plug into community services to get help for his recovery. In my opinion, without a supportive connection with others, few people can get and stay in recovery for long.  

Addiction is a disease of disconnection.i Young people start using substances to deal with problems of connection to others—because they’re shy, because they’re different, because they’re hurting, or just because they want a little attention. Connection and loneliness are huge challenges for us all. When you don’t or can’t feel connected, drugs become that reliable connection. The drugs fills the hole, as they say in AA. In my own case, drinking brought me to that reliable middle ground, somewhere between not feeling such crushing aloneness but also not having to connect with another person, which always caused me so much anxiety.  

You have some big decisions ahead 

If your main source of stress about your partner is that he’s at home rather than in a sober home, I think you can let that worry go. A sober home would ask of him the same as you can—to sample from the many services and programs listed above. He would be asked to choose from what’s available in the community and to make this a practice of recovery he adheres to every week.  

So if your home can be that safe recovery environment and you’re willing to create it, then sober living from home is fine. Those who argue against inpatient or sober homes argue that the person still has to come back to the community eventually and plug in to a new configuration of services, with new practitioners, new meetings, and new connections.  

I hear you when you say you are stressed. If your partner is back from treatment and is doing nothing to maintain it, I’m stressed here with you.  

Otherwise, you have a decision to make. Can you both see your partner being at home and following a recovery plan? In essence, you would be rewarding him by agreeing for him to be home (which he decidedly wants) and with you (ditto). I can see how happiness could come from this.  

The call is yours to make. The first step is for you to size up what you can do, and what you need to have to stay calm and in your corner. If having him home disturbs your peace too much, if you find yourself eagle-eying him or over-focusing on his recovery, you may want to wait a while before he comes home. Let the trust first start to rebuild over some time.  

The forgotten family 

When the family member’s included in the equation, we see the gap that exists in aftercare planning. CRAFT, however, reminds us to consider the social unit, the family, into which the Loved One is returning. If you keep CRAFT principles in mind—including self-care—you’ll have a more holistic view of who and what is needed to maintain your Loved One’s recovery.  

Decisions by treatment programs that don’t consider the family are rather typical. Also, beware of the treatment program that just expects your Loved One to go home, without assessing whether home is physically safe and a good recovery environment. Such assumptions relieve the program from the messy and frustrating work of finding outside housing for their client.  

Thank you for writing in, ellecal. Please keep us up to date. 

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