You’ve made it through detox. You even made it through your first 90 days of residential treatment. You have so much to be proud of! The early days of recovery are filled with some of the hardest yet most rewarding work you’ll ever do. Just as it feels like you get your footing, suddenly it’s time to move into a sober living facility. Getting back into the community means being exposed to potential triggers; will you be able to handle the temptation and stay sober?
Sober living facilities focus on providing a home base for people struggling with addiction. It’s a place to live where you can truly be yourself – flaws and all – while getting the guidance you need to stay on the right track. Depending on your own unique needs and the facility you choose, you may be given the opportunity to bring your pet!
Choosing to share your newfound life with a furry buddy comes with plenty of responsibility and much reward. But if you’re on the fence about bringing your fur-child along to accompany you throughout this stage of your recovery journey, you’ll probably find this article to be helpful, as it outlines the main health (and sobriety) benefits of why it’s a good idea to say “yes!” And it’s because of all these benefits (and more) that pet-friendly sober living homes have become widely popular.
Less Anxiety and Stress
Having a pet by your side may help you to deal with the anxiety and stress many people experience in Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) in better, healthier ways. The same is true for people who experience stress as a result of dual diagnoses. Research shows that being in the presence of a friendly animal can lower blood pressure, encourage us to relax, and in some cases, even reduce anxiety attacks and other dual diagnoses-related symptoms.
Dogs seem to be especially helpful in this regard. In 2011, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) conducted a study on the benefits of dog ownership, revealing that dog owners had better self-esteem, better overall well-being, and a greater ability to deal with tough social situations like rejection or conflict. These are three very common struggles for people in recovery, too!
When you’re mired in the depths of your addiction, it can become extremely difficult to have empathy for others. Addiction and substance become the most important thing in your world; getting that fix supersedes everything else. Unfortunately, empathy sort of flies out the window when this happens, both for yourself and for those around you.
Addiction steals your ability to relate to other people and care for yourself properly. It makes you selfish, self-absorbed, and unable to see beyond your own immediate needs. By owning a pet, you instantly have a constant reminder of how and why it’s important to care for yourself and those you love.
An article published on The Washington Post website agrees. It points out a study that identified how dogs can draw a self-absorbed child outward. Since addiction comes with a significant amount of self-absorbency, too (albeit the “care” is malignant, rather than beneficial), re-learning how to be empathetic both to yourself and to others is vital.
Whether you decide to share your life with a cat or a dog (or even just a fish), taking on that responsibility will, in one way or another, teach you the importance of kindness, caring, and empathy.
Getting More Exercise
As you move away from your drug of choice, you move towards living a healthier lifestyle in general. Getting enough exercise is a very important facet of your journey, especially if your addiction brought you to a place where you weren’t eating properly or exercising regularly in the first place. You may be tired, feeling “flat,” or simply unmotivated to get up and get moving.
Motivational struggles in recovery are exceptionally common, particularly for those with depression or those who abuse stimulant and painkilling drugs. It takes time, healthy living, and a great deal of patience for your endorphins to reset and go back to normal (sometimes months). That can make the prospect of getting more exercise seem daunting and nearly impossible at times.
Owning a pet – particularly a dog – gives you a daily reason to get out of bed. An excited, wet nose demanding to go adventure through the world is difficult to refuse, even if you’re not feeling particularly ambitious that day. You’re much more likely to get up and moving when you have a furry motivator by your side.
Eventually, that forced daily exercise becomes less of a chore and more of a habit. Suddenly, you’re taking your dog for a walk before he even asks. Whether you’re doing it for your dog or for yourself, you’ll still be reaping the physical health benefits of dog ownership.
Accountability in recovery is huge (in fact, we’ve written about it before). It’s why many of us move into sober living facilities in the first place; we want to be around people who will check us when we aren’t making the best decisions, especially if we tend to rationalize letting our program slip. It’s why people attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), counseling sessions, and recovery groups all across the United States.
Having to be accountable to someone other than yourself forces you to be more responsible about your decisions, lest you disappoint them or let them down. But it also ensures that you have someone cheering for you, rooting for you, and encouraging you to stay on the right path at all times, too. It plays a vital role in staying sober both in facilities and in everyday life, especially if you’ve had relapses and slips in the past.
But how exactly does a pet make you more accountable? The link isn’t always easy to see at first; after all, your dog isn’t very well going to remind you not to use, at least not in words. What he or she can do is read your emotions, your stress level, and any anxiety you might be feeling, and then provide valuable feedback in the form of behavioral changes.
It’s exceptionally common for a dog to act out in response to their owner’s emotional states – both positive and negative. When your pup or kitty does this, consider it a sign; your furry friend is giving you the heads up you need to put self-care strategies in place before you end up relapsing. It also forces you to be honest with yourself about how you are coping.
And when you come home after a particularly bad day at work or a really difficult therapy session? Your pet’s joyous greeting will remind you of the fact that someone loves you, too.
When we are mired in addiction, it becomes easy to toss the consequences of using out a window, especially if the only consequences we can see are to ourselves. At rock bottom, many of us didn’t really care what happened to us in the first place anyway. Without accountability, it becomes even easier to rationalize poor decisions associated with using, such as the “light substance use” or the “just this one time” incident – both of which invariably lead to substance abuse for most, if not all, recovering addicts.
Owning a pet is like owning a living, breathing reminder of the potential devastation that comes with addiction. You might be removed from sober living, or you could even overdose and lose your life – who will take care of your dog then? If you allow yourself to slip, you might spend all your money on your drug of choice and not be able to afford to feed him or take him to the vet when an emergency arises. If you drink, you could pass out and wake up to find a lovely mess on the rug because you neglected to take him for a walk.
Owning a pet forces you to stay on track, both with better self-care and with your sobriety goals, too.
The very best reason to have a pet in sober living? The immeasurable joy you’ll experience by developing a close relationship with another living being. Whether the two of you are playing frisbee or just hanging out on the couch watching movies on a Friday night, spending your life with an animal is a fantastic way to ward off boredom, loneliness, and restlessness – all of which can increase the risk of relapse during recovery. Getting to spend time with a fantastic new best friend? That’s pretty purr-fect, too.