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4 Things to Consider When Choosing Sober Living (from "The Fix")

One of the things that sets transitional housing apart from other housing options is that there is built-in accountability.

You’ve been through detox and intensive inpatient treatment. You’re newly sober and ready to begin returning to normal life, learning how to balance the day-to-day demands of work and relationships with your new dedication to recovery. Supported housing can be a great way to ease that transition.

Transitional housing (also known as sober living) usually happens in group homes that have set rules — like curfews, expectations around jobs, and drug testing policies. The homes allow people in early recovery to have more freedom than they did during inpatient care, while still having guidance and accountability to help them stay on track with their sobriety.

Just like it’s difficult to choose a rehab center, it can be tough to find a transitional housing program that is a good fit. Here, The Fix talks with Ben Kaneaiakala, CEO of Phoenix Rising, an outpatient treatment center in Aliso Viejo, California that works closely with transitional housing providers, and his wife, Dr. Alia Kaneaiakala, the facility’s chief clinical officer, about how to choose the right transitional housing program.

1. Ask what type of structure and accountability the house has.

One of the things that sets transitional housing apart from other housing options is that there is built-in accountability. In some homes people are required to hold a job and attend a certain number of meetings each week, for example. Some homes rely on urine testing to ensure that clients are remaining sober.

Exactly how the programs keep people accountable can vary widely, says Ben Kaneaiakala. Before you commit to a transitional housing program, ask about their expectations and regulations and make sure that you are comfortable with them.

“Know what the rules are before you get to the house,” he says. Also be sure to ask about the consequences for breaking the rules, he adds.

2. Choose a facility that has open communication with your rehab.

Many rehabilitation programs, including Phoenix Rising, work closely with a handful of transitional housing programs in order to provide streamlined communication that benefits clients.

“Ben has a relationship with these places and they can call us, so we have fairly constant communication,” said Alia Kaneaiakala. “If something happens with a client we know right away. That’s more of a wrap-around service.”

Knowing that your rehab and transitional housing are working together to advocate for your success can remove a lot of stress through the transition process.

“The continuity of care is one of the important parts,” Kaneaiakala says.

In addition to taking the recommendation of your rehabilitation center, find a transitional housing program that is certified so that you know there is some level of quality assurance, Ben Kaneaiakala suggests.

3. Make sure it feels like a safe space.

In order to succeed in early recovery, clients need to be at ease. That means that they should make sure that the transitional housing feels comfortable for them. That might mean choosing a facility that is single-sex or finding one with a smaller number of clients. The key is making sure that you will be at ease.

It’s also important to be sure that you get along with the house manager, who can have a big impact on the environment in the house.

“The manager can change the entire dynamics of the house,” Ben Kaneaiakala says.

In addition, ask about how the house handles conflict, Alia Kaneaiakala advises.

“There needs to balance of the good of the individual with good of the house,” she says. “The program has to meet individuals’ needs without compromising the safety of the house, to be compassionate but also have boundaries and keep to the rules.”

4. Be prepared to learn.

No matter how great the fit, transitional housing won’t always be easy. That’s because an important part of the transitional housing experience is learning how to coexist with other people.

“This is an opportunity to learn to deal with other people, handle conflict and respond to other people,” Ben Kaneaiakala says.

Eventually those skills will help you have healthy relationships with your family and people at work.

“This is a life skill that you actually need to practice,” Kaneaiakala says. “Use sober living as an opportunity to live amongst people.”

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