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[ Opinion ]

Should You Live In a Sober Living Home

How Do You Know it’s right for you?

I lived in a Sober Living Home (or SLH) for nearly three years, first as a client and then as a manager for over two years. I quickly learned how important an SLH can be to sobriety. I also saw how it can help you change your life. Because of my experience, I consider myself qualified to speak about Sober Home living.

In my time as manager, I saw great triumphs of the human spirit. I experienced people rising from the lowest depths to achieve not only sobriety, but a newfound strength of character they never knew they had. I have seen people make huge changes in their lives and become completely different people as a result of their stay. Additionally, I have experienced tragic things that will haunt me forever. Addiction has a very dark side that is beyond imagination. Seeing people self destruct even further was not common, but it did happen.

For me the worst I had to endure was the death of a good man I considered my friend. Some of our housemates found him dead in his room one afternoon. Several of us had spoken to him that morning, and none of us could have fathomed he would be dead hours later from a drug overdose.

I was only ten minutes away when I got the call and raced home. My heart was pounding and I was hoping he was just overdosed. I walked into the room and you could immediately see Scott was dead, not just overdosed, Scott was dead. I stood there motionless and couldn’t muster anything, no feelings at all, just numb.

When the paramedics rolled Scott’s body out the front door I pledged to do more as a house manager. I didn’t feel any responsibility for Scott, but I wanted to do more. After some thought I decided to communicate with clients in the house in a more profound way. I wanted to be aware of the things people were thinking. I vowed to make it a point to pull people aside every week and have a private talk with them. I wanted to see if there was any signs that I may have missed with Scott.

About now you are probably saying to yourself, “you know, that place sounds dangerous, and that story is not helping his case for Sober Living Homes.” I purposely chose to share that story because I want to make a point and a comparison. A sober Living home IS a safe place. You are tested frequently for drugs and alcohol, and there are consequences if you are found to be using or drinking. Would you feel safer out on your own, with no supervision whatsoever, mixing drugs that could kill you? If you are the parent of a child with severe drug and alcohol problems, are they safer left to their own devices, or would you rather have them living in an environment where myself, and others, can clearly see what they are up to? I say this because I managed a house with sixteen addicts and alcoholics who had seen and done everything. Believe me nobody is more versed in addict behavior than us: addicts.

Though I was the manager, and person responsible for what goes on in the SLH, I had help from the clients. In some ways the SLH was self policing. I can’t count the times I was tipped off by a concerned client about another client’s behavior. There is a community spirit in the SLH of “we are all in this together, so don’t screw it up.”

So how did my friend die then? He died from mixing drugs and alcohol. The house is not a jail and you are free to come and go. We found an alcohol bottle in his truck and remnants of drugs. Most of us think he did it on purpose because he was terribly depressed. Our friend made a choice to die and there wasn’t anything we could have done to stop him. We all felt his pain and did our best to talk to him and give him hope. There are no guarantees in life. A Sober Living Home is no guarantee of anything, but I have personally seen near miracles happen to those who really try to change their lives. I know this, because I am one. I am certain that, had I not gone to the Sober Living Home, I would still be drinking and taking drugs, or I would be dead.

All things considered, a Sober Living Home is the safest, most productive place to recover. You have structure, and you have people who understand and care for you. This support and structure is exactly what you need. What do you have to lose? It’s not a jail. You can walk out anytime you want. The truth is, it just might save your life.

What is a Sober Living Home?

A Sober Living Home is a house that is used as a living environment for addicts and alcoholics in recovery. Most homes are owned or leased by a company and are regulated by different organizations indigenous to their state or locale . There is more information online about Sober Living Homes and how they are regulated, but, to put it simply, they are loosely regulated at this time. This does not mean you can’t find a reputable Sober Living Home. You can, and they are expanding across the country.

Sober Living Homes got their start in the 1970’s in California. In those days they were referred to as Half Way Houses, which has a negative connotation due to the fact that released prisoners were often sent to live in Half Way Houses. These first experimental houses were the foundation for what would become the current version called Sober Living Homes, or SLH’s, and Sober Living Environments, or SLE’s. In Northern California, we refer to these houses as SLE’s.

Sober Living Homes are easy to explain. They are residential homes that rent out rooms to clients who need a safe environment to live in.

In general, if there are four bedrooms in the home, there will be two clients to a room. In some cases there may be three to a room. It is very rare to see four clients to a bedroom, but I have seen it.

There are some prerequisites that need to be met before you can live in a SLH. First you must have a sponsor and be working a 12 step program. You must attend outside meetings, and you must have been to a treatment center recently. These prerequisites insure that you are serious about your recovery. Lastly, you agree to pay rent on time and comply to the house rules.

The house rules are very simple. Keep your room clean, attend house meetings, do your assigned chores, and be home by curfew. These rules are not so constricting that you can’t conduct a normal life. You can hold a job, attend classes and further your education. You are welcome to have family and friends over for visits.

You can stay in most Sober Living Homes as long as you like. My personal and managing experience says the longer you stay, the better your chances of recovery. I used to tell new clients, “stay a year at least, you will never regret it.”

Will I Like it There?

Some think the idea of going to live in an SLH is scary, and they would be right. Leaving the security of your current world and going to a house full of strangers is scary. I know I felt that way when it was proposed to me. I declined three times before I said yes to it. Looking back, it was the best decision of my life.

Will you like it? That depends on you. If you’re not ready to be sober, then probably not. I say this because, if you are still deep in denial about your addiction, you will not see all the good in a Sober Living Home. If you are ready to make a commitment to sobriety, you can’t find a better environment to help you attain and keep sobriety.

Like I said before, it’s scary in the beginning, but the fear goes away quickly. Once you settle in, you find yourself making friends and sharing your thoughts with people who can truly understand what you are going through. You will feel a community spirit in the house by being surrounded with people who can help each other navigate their way through long term sobriety.

You will gain friends for life. You become very attached to some of your roommates. You will go to meetings together, but you will also do other things like, dinner out, movies, festivals, shopping and cooking together. You also gather friends and support from the meetings you attend, like AA and NA. With the house support and friendships you make there, and at meetings, you will have a family of support to help. This all leads to a sense of “I am not alone in this struggle.” I found it immensely productive and was able to thrive and change myself into someone I was proud to be.

Summation

Having been a client and a manager of a Sober Living Home, I am a huge proponent of the concept of Sober Living Homes. I truly believe Sober Living Homes are the wave of the future for long term sobriety. I say this, partly because it worked for me, and partly because I saw so many people grow and prosper while at the SLH I managed. I witnessed radical changes in people from when they first arrived. I also saw people fail miserably. What was the difference in those who succeeded and those who failed? Change. The people who succeeded changed the most. They dropped some bad habits and adopted new habits. They made a concerted effort to be honest everyday and set new goals in life. They also learned the importance of a healthy diet and exercise. A Sober Living Home is the perfect environment to change yourself. Mainly because you are sequestered away from your former life and you have ample time to reflect on yourself and where you want to go in life. Familiar people, places and things from your past can be triggers for using. There are no familiar things in a Sober Living Home; it’s a blank canvas waiting for you to create something new.

Robert Apple

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