“No life skills.” This is a common insult you may occasionally hear thrown around—often behind a person’s back—when they have trouble cooking, cleaning up after themselves, or even socializing with other people. But while people are often judged quite harshly for these shortcomings, the fact of the matter is that many people have never been fully given the chance to develop them. This can be especially true of many addicts and alcoholics, who either never developed these skills in the first place or simply left them by the wayside while they were in the grips of their disease.
It’s easy to toss blame around, especially when the addict is younger. We may assume that they grew up with absentee parents who never taught them about hygiene or basic survival. We may assume that the parents were enabling them, never requiring them to learn these skills so that they could take care of themselves properly after leaving the nest. Either way, it’s sort of a red herring. Because in all the time we may spend tossing blame around, we could have been expending our efforts toward seeking a solution to the problem.
Amethyst Recovery is very much a solution-based treatment center. Perhaps the disease itself may be incurable, but its symptoms can be treated through strongly individualized care. And regardless of age or background, we understand that many of our recovering addicts require a great deal of life skills training if they are to become fully functional and self-sufficient in sobriety. Some may wonder just why life skills are so important to recovery, as well as which skills should receive the most focus. Hopefully, the following discussion will answer some of those questions, along with explaining how life skills training is factored into our recovery programs at Amethyst.
Why Life Skills Matter in Recovery
To explain the importance of life skills in recovery, we must analyze some facts about the disease itself. In Chapter 7 of Alcoholics Anonymous, we encounter the following two lines:
After all, our problems were of our own making. Bottles were only a symbol.
This could be interpreted a number of ways. The most common interpretation, however, is that drugs and alcohol are only symptoms of a much more complicated disease. There are many symptoms, and our issues with the development of various life skills are symptoms that many of us have exhibited since long before we began our substance abuse.
In order to truly fight addiction and alcoholism, we must fight more than just the substance abuse problem. We must address every symptom of the disease. Because as soon as any of our old symptoms begin to pop back up, we soon find ourselves at risk of a full-blown relapse. This is one of the driving motivations behind HALT—the notion that addicts and alcoholics must be wary of hunger, anger, loneliness and tiredness. If our symptoms also included difficulties in the development of life skills, then we must be wary of this as well.
When you look at it from this perspective, life skills training can easily be viewed as a core component of relapse prevention. When we give ourselves over to sloth and a lack of responsibility, we lose the sense of purpose that helps us stay clean and sober. The same happens when we allow ourselves to slip into isolation rather than maintaining our social skills. It is exceedingly difficult to remain sober when our thoughts and behaviors mirror those which we displayed while in active addiction.
Even if you forget about relapse prevention, life skills are still an important part of recovery in the sense that we are trying to remove our shortcomings and become better people. And while the examples we used in our introduction were comprised of basic skills such as cooking, cleaning and socializing, there is actually more to it than that. The concept of life skills is relatively broad, with no shortage of vital characteristics that we must learn to develop in recovery. Below, we will examine some of the most important life skills that every recovering addict and alcoholic should attempt to develop.
Important Life Skills to Develop
When we use examples such as cooking, cleaning and hygiene, we are basically talking about the life skills which affect our ability to live independently. Life skills relating to self-sufficiency may also include the ability to monitor our health and nutrition, the ability to establish a healthy daily routine, and the ability to balance and maintain our finances. All but the most functional alcoholics have likely encountered problems maintaining their careers, or even gaining employment in the first place. We have been bad at budgeting our expenses, usually putting drugs and alcohol before necessities such as bills and groceries. Everything that relates to financial stability, cleanliness or physical health can be categorized under skills for daily living.
The social aspect of life skills is also quite important. In fact, Hazelden’s guide to life skills in recovery includes multiple sections about social interaction, communication and relationships. It is vital that people in recovery develop a strong support network, so that we may never have to face our problems alone. At the same time, we cannot use our support groups as a crutch for avoiding those who are not in recovery. Social skills therefore include maintaining the confidence and self-respect to say “no” to our non-addict, non-alcoholic friends when they invite us to go out drinking after work.
Emotional well-being ties into life skills as well, especially where social interaction is concerned. Believe it or not, letting go of resentments is something of a life skill. We cannot go through life succumbing to anger every time something rubs us the wrong way. We must learn forgiveness, or else communication with others will be incredibly difficult. When you were young and people told you to respond to anger by closing your eyes and counting to ten, they were teaching you a vital life skill. Unfortunately, many of us forgot this skill by the time our addictions began lowering our inhibitions. And while we may not have learned it, meditation can be a vital life skill in this regard as well.
In case you haven’t noticed, the common theme uniting all of the above life skills is that they all focus on stability. Because at the end of the day, that’s what life skills are all about. They are about finding ways to keep ourselves afloat while learning healthy and necessary coping mechanisms so that we can survive and enjoy our sober lifestyle. In fact, you might even say that life skills could be pretty much anything you to do maintain your sobriety. If you are regulating your mental, emotional or spiritual state, you are practicing life skills. If you are monitoring your health, home and finances, you are practicing life skills. Even going to meetings, calling your sponsor, or practicing meditative forms of stress relief may be considered life skills—albeit skills that are relatively specific to addicts and alcoholics. But how can you learn to factor all of these skills into everyday life? Well, that’s one of the things we endeavor to teach at Amethyst.
How We Offer Life Skills Training
Some of the life skills we discussed in that last paragraph fall under the category of basic recovery tools, meaning that patients at Amethyst Recovery will learn them in the course of their recovery regardless of whether or not they require education in other areas of life as well. As for other skills such as anger management or the ability to seek and maintain gainful employment, these will fall more under our guidelines of personalized care. If a patient has generally maintained vital components of independent living when not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they may not require this sort of education to the same extent as patients who have dealt with these issues their entire lives.
For those who require it, life skills training will be a major component in our full continuum of care. It is during the two most intensive phases of treatment that we tend to give this sort of education the most focus. After that, patients may be required to fulfill relatively few hours of individual therapy, and they may even have a fair degree of freedom when residing in our sober living facilities. It is important to us that patients in need of life skills education are taught the requisite skills before it becomes necessary for them to put their education into practice.
Whatever life skills may be necessary for a patient to ensure relapse prevention, we will do our best to make sure they are taught and developed accordingly. Naturally, there is only so much we can do in this regard. At some point, it becomes the responsibility of the patients themselves. But you’ll find that, while Amethyst is not the only treatment center to offer life skills training, we are one of the few to offer it in such personalized fashion. If you or someone you love is suffering from alcoholism or addiction and is in need of precious life skills development, contact us to talk about treatment options. We will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.