Finding Balance in Pursuit of Long Term Sobriety

By Hugh C. McBride

"Learning how to manage and find the balance in every area of life is the gift of sobriety.” -- Lucy Taylor, Clinical Director of Passages to Recovery

Drug addiction and recovery are complex issues that resist simple solutions. Though addiction often follows a common progression, each case is unique, and no two people follow the same path back to sobriety.

That said, though, it would be understandable if many of the young men who complete drug rehab at Passages to Recovery offer one word when asked about the foundation upon which they are building their recovery: balance.

From overcoming internal conflicts to developing supportive interpersonal relationships to handling the many responsibilities that comprise "normal life," the young men who enroll in the Passages to Recovery addiction treatment program soon learn that the key to achieving their goals lies in their ability to find balance in their lives.

Internal Balance

A drug addiction treatment program in southern Utah, Passages to Recovery blends 12-Step principles with an intensive wilderness experience and a comprehensive residential program to provide addicted young men with the tools that they will need to pursue long-term recovery.

Following an initial weeklong assessment period, the young men complete a wilderness program that lasts about a month, and then return to the program's Valley Site for the second phase of Passages to Recovery's 90-day drug rehab plan. During all phases of the 90-day addiction treatment program, the young men will be working toward being accountable for their actions, planning a course for long-term sobriety, and learning to find the balance in their lives that will allow them to manage their recovery and the rest of life's responsibilities.

The first step in finding that balance involves addressing inner conflicts. "When they arrive at Passages to Recovery, they think they're broken, that they're damaged beyond repair," said Lucy Taylor, the program's Clinical Director. "Here, though, they enter an environment that is nonjudgmental, a place where they're told that they have value."

Part of recognizing their intrinsic value, Ms. Taylor said, is realizing that the addictive part of their personality isn't inherently evil – a fact that comes as quite a surprise to many of the young men who are completing drug rehab at Passages to Recovery.

"Some people think they have to get rid of the addict self in order to survive in recovery," she said. "But we look at the positive intent of both sides, the addict self and the sober self. For instance, the addict self becomes the gatekeeper, because it knows all about what to watch out for to prevent relapse. And we work on integrating those two parts into a healthy whole person, instead of telling our clients that they need to eliminate a potentially necessary part that is especially important to recovery."

"We work on this during psychodrama [role-playing exercises]," Ms. Taylor continued. "We have a positive self that's telling us 'you need to do this in order to stay sober,' and we also have the addict part that's telling us 'you've got to have those drugs in order to reduce stress and feel pleasure.' The students learn how to respond in a way that they can extricate themselves from triggering situations without falling back into their old unhealthy habits."

Interpersonal Balance

While continuing to work on reconciling their inner conflicts, the young men who are completing Passages to Recovery's 90-day addiction treatment program are also given ample opportunity and guidance to develop better conflict-resolution and interpersonal relationship skills.

When they are in the wilderness, the young men are put in positions where they need to rely on the other members of their group, and where they need to prove themselves worthy of the trust that others put in them. "Forming supportive relationships is one of the most important parts of addiction treatment. Knowing where to go when you need a boost in the right direction is critical," Ms. Taylor said. "From the very first person that they meet at Passages to Recovery, our goal is that every conversation they have is positive and welcoming."

In addition to preparing them for situations that may tempt them to relapse, the psychodrama exercises also encourage the students to learn when and how to reach out to trusted friends or family members.

"When somebody's an addict, it's all about survival, but we get them to the point where the healthy decision-making part of the brain is back in the loop when they're making choices," Ms. Taylor said. "Through the therapy components (psychodramas), they develop different mantras, or sayings that can help them get through difficult moments, such as 'Can you help me with this?' or 'I need a little help here.' These also become a part of the psychodrama process. This is the process of inviting an individual’s higher power to assist.”

Also, by participating in the psychodramas both as protagonist and as a "supporting player," the young men see potentially triggering situations from a variety of viewpoints, and have the opportunity to help each other during sessions where group members review videotapes of the role-playing exercises.

Balancing Responsibilities

The young men who are completing Passages to Recovery's 90-day addiction treatment program begin working on the concepts of internal and interpersonal balance from their first days in the program. In Passages II (the residential and community-oriented component that follows the wilderness program phase), they turn their focus toward a third type of balance – learning how to manage their recovery while also taking care of the many challenges and responsibilities that are associated with "real life."

"What occurs during the second part of the 90-day program is that they continue to do the 12-Step recovery process while integrating back into the community and taking responsibility for taking care of themselves," Ms. Taylor said. "They are learning a lot about how to be a functioning sober adult in the world."

The days the young men spend at the Valley Site during Passages II are far from empty. Among other activities, they do chores, attend yoga and meditation classes, work on written assignments, take part in educational seminars, attend 12-Step meetings, participate in daily therapeutic groups, complete community service projects, exercise, and plan for the next phase of their life.

"Their days are pretty packed," Ms. Taylor said. "We want them to know that when you're in recovery, your day needs to be pretty well scheduled. At the same time, we're teaching them about balance – about how they can manage their recovery and still take care of their other responsibilities."

As they approach the completion of the addiction treatment program and prepare for the next steps in their recovery, the students take on increasingly greater levels of responsibility for fulfilling and finding balance in the physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual areas of their lives.

"Passages II is where they learn to transfer what they've learned in the wilderness to the rest of their lives," Ms. Taylor said. "It's where they learn what it takes to live a sober life."