Long-term recovery calls for intentional choices, not short cuts
After going through treatment for alcoholism, David James* could have returned to a high-powered sales career in the hospitality industry. Instead, for now, he is working part-time at a supermarket.
“I haven’t earned so little since I was in college,” the 51-year-old laughed. “But money’s not everything. I’d rather be around for the next 30 or 40 years. I’m taking the advice of my therapists and taking it slow.”
Taking time to focus on his recovery has helped him reach 16 months of sobriety so far. He has returned several times as an alumni speaker at Oxford Treatment Center, where his own recovery began.
James completed 30 days at the residential campus and two months in the center’s sober living and Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), followed by an extended sober living stay. It was not his first time in treatment.
“I tried the traditional 28-day stay. Tried going to the hospital. Tried faith-based programs,” he said. “Every time I would go to treatment, I couldn’t wait to get out. I’d go straight back to work, and would quickly lose focus on what I needed to be doing — working on my addiction and my issues.”
It was always the same thing. Within two or three weeks, I was drinking again.
James’s experience echoes what research is revealing about how length-of-stay in treatment affects outcomes in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse points to three months as a minimum treatment term for people to “significantly reduce or stop their drug use,” with the best outcomes occurring with even longer durations of treatment. The NIDA also recommends a continuing-care approach, “with the treatment intensity varying according to a person’s changing needs.”
Oxford Treatment Center’s programs and facilities are designed to meet people where they are with the appropriate level of care. At each level, the treatment team works with individuals and families to plan for next steps that can best lead to long-term recovery.
Clinical Outpatient Therapist Larry Wills, LPC, M.Div., said the approach contrasts with many people’s expectations that 28 days in treatment can “fix” someone’s addiction problem.
“The reality is, people are here to learn a set of tools and skills, and to identify resources they’ll be able to use when they leave here,” Wills said. “The real work really comes when they get back into the everyday world.”
Wills, who worked with James during his outpatient programs, said people who are serious about recovery make choices to put their recovery first.
“That can even mean finding a new career — especially if the old career was highly stressful and part of the reason someone got in trouble with mood-altering chemicals in the first place,” he said. “Instead of rushing back to the same-old-same-old, you have to find new ways of doing things.”
For James, when the time came to leave Oxford Treatment Center’s residential campus at Etta, he took advantage of a longer-stay option through the center.
I knew this time I couldn’t just go back home right away. I had to do it right this time.
James’s time in treatment coincided with the opening of Oxford Treatment Center’s new Resolutions supportive housing campus in fall 2017.
The campus includes the Oxford Outpatient Center and four transitional homes adjacent to it. People in early recovery can move from the Etta campus directly to Resolutions. They live in an early-recovery community while continuing receiving treatment at Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) and IOP levels of care.
A further second phase of the Resolutions program gives people a chance to continue living in a supportive environment while regaining their independence — getting a job, driving their own vehicles. Weekly individual therapy sessions still provide ongoing support, as people put what they’ve learned about recovery into practice.
James was among the first people to participate in the second-phase program, and continued to meet with Wills each week.
“I credit Larry with having a huge part in my success,” James said. “Alcoholics have big egos; we each think we hung the moon. We have to control everything. It’s been a big learning curve for me, to see that I don’t have to be right about everything. Larry taught me to let things go.”
Today, James continues to work part-time because of the flexibility it offers, as he speaks to recovery groups and shares his story. He is looking into training programs to become a counselor.
For those still struggling with addiction, his advice is to give treatment a chance.
“If not Oxford Treatment Center, get help somewhere,” he said. “Take the program seriously, and do what the professionals tell you to do.”
“No one likes to be told what to do. I get it: The last thing I want is somebody telling me what to do. But the professionals understand the science behind what you’re going through. If you listen to them, they can help.”
Learn more: Oxford Treatment Center Resolution campus