What to Expect After Treatment: 8 Strategies for Success

Author: IAFF Staff

November 20, 2019

For many who pursue residential behavioral health treatment, the toughest part of the recovery journey begins once you leave the facility. Upon returning home, you face the challenge of continuing to prioritize recovery while encountering the same work, family and life demands that were there before treatment. 

Fire fighter carrying a large hose while two others talk behind him

To continue moving forward, consider these critical components to your recovery:

  1. Continue with all recommended aftercare. Your aftercare plan is designed by your treatment team to support your individual recovery needs. Almost everyone who completes residential treatment will continue to need some level of outpatient care for a period of time. Continued participation in aftercare, which may include counseling, medication or group support, is critical to your continued symptom stabilization.
  2. Don’t resume business as usual. Recovery is an ongoing process that is not resolved the day you leave rehab. Resist the urge to jump back into your normal routine at work, home or in the community. While your typical routine may offer social connection and daily purpose, moderation is key. You will need extra time to ease back into normal activity while following up with aftercare.  
  3. Don’t commit to any big social or family events. If you have been gone for an extended period, well-intentioned family or friends may be eager to reintegrate you into the social calendar. Trust your instincts here. For some, anticipating a large social gathering may cause additional anxiety and create unrealistic expectations to be ready by an arbitrary deadline.  
  4. Get enough rest. Sleep plays a vital role in restoring the ability of your body and brain to function, especially if you are in recovery from chemical dependence or mental illness. Now that you are home, it’s up to you to create a schedule that allows for enough sleep and rest. Take advantage of days off shift to get a minimum of seven to eight hours of sleep.
  5. Maintain daily structure. While rest is critical to your recovery, too much downtime is not good for anyone. If you are not returning to work right away, having a plan for the day is critical. If you are recovering from depression, anxiety or substance abuse, stretches of the day during which you are isolated or have little to do are the most vulnerable times for symptoms to creep back up. 
  6. Adjust your support system as needed. When you realize that you have changed but the people in your life have not, it might be time to reexamine your relationships. Those in your support system should offer emotional and practical support, while also holding you accountable to self-care.
  7. Give people time to come around. If you have been off the job for several weeks, crew members may be unsure about how to interact with you on your return. Often, people want to be supportive but don’t know how. Others may have mixed feelings or questions about your return to work. What you share with others is your decision and depends on your individual stage of recovery, as well as your comfort level with your crew. Don’t expect crew members to know what you need without telling them.
  8. Expect Good Days and Bad Days. Remember, progress not perfection. Now is the time use the coping skills you learned in treatment to manage daily stress or symptoms. Whether it’s relationship stress, challenges getting back to work, or managing residual symptoms, you may have days that feel like you are back at square one. You are not. Take a moment to reflect on all the progress you have made, starting with your brave decision to ask for help.  

  9. Support group of people in addiction recovery sitting in a circle

    To learn more about how to support a brother or sister who is returning to the job after treatment or an extended absence, see the IAFF Guide on How to Support a Crew Member Returning From Treatment.

    The IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery is a comprehensive care center designed exclusively for IAFF members struggling with addiction, PTSD and other co-occurring mental health problems. Call today for a free, confidential, no-obligation screening for you or a loved one.

    Lauren Kosc, M.A., LCPC is a behavioral health specialist, clinician and blog editor for the International Association of Fire Fighters. If you are an IAFF member in recovery and want to share your story, contact [email protected].

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