Fall means back to school. For many incoming college freshmen, the transition from high school to higher education is challenging. Because the nature of the transition is difficult, many university professionals develop and teach transition courses to support new students in making the necessary changes to be successful. These transition courses cover the logistics of starting school ( e.g., advising, course selection, paying for school, library systems, etc.) , and also delve into the emotional, psychological, and physical aspects of adapting to a new environment. Covering topics such as finances, safe sex practices, study habits, nutrition, relationships, and learning styles has the potential to help students if they choose to implement what they have learned into meaningful action.
This transition to university life can be even more challenging and life-threatening for college students who are in recovery from alcohol, drugs, or other behavioral addictions. Recovering students are tasked with figuring out the “normal” transition between high school and college along with the additional goal of learning to navigate their recovery in what can be a hostile environment: a college campus.
At Texas Tech, I am fortunate to teach a freshmen transition course for students in recovery. In my experience, teaching this course and working with many students in recovery, I have seen the importance of implementing and following through with recovery plans. Recovery plans are also incredibly important in extending the continuum of care after addiction treatment is completed. Regardless of the environment, students in recovery who implement and follow through on their recovery plan are most often successful.
In simple terms, a recovery plan is a well thought out plan of empowerment and action regarding recovery and wellness. It is important that students in recovery take ownership of their personal plan creating meaningful action items that promote their growth and development.
When developing a recovery plan, students must ask, “What are the important areas in my life and in my recovery that I need to focus on now? ” Identifying priority areas and creating action steps within these areas are critical. These areas and steps need to be reviewed and renewed on an ongoing basis to be effective.
Listed below are 5 Key Components to a Successful Recovery Plan.
1 . Recovery Plans are Intentional, not Magic
Recovery isn’t magic. It’s hard work. Viewing recovery in a light-minded way or approaching it haphazardly is dangerous. No one is successful in their recovery by doing things by accident or hoping recovery will magically happen. On the contrary, recovery plans must be deliberate and well thought out. Persons in recovery must voluntarily develop, implement, and commit to a meaningful plan. Being intentional about what areas of life and recovery need attention and being deliberate about the actions necessary to be successful is a powerful tool. For example, if you have experienced past trauma and it is currently causing you problems, a reasonable action plan item is to seek therapeutic help for the trauma. The action is implemented as you secure a therapist and attend therapy.
2. Mechanisms of Accountability
Accountability is essential. Students in recovery must review and renew their recovery plan often. Having mentors and peers willing to hold an individual accountable for their planned and stated actions is an important step to maintaining long-term recovery. Accountability assumes a level of transparency by disclosing the plans made and also gives others permission to lovingly, but strongly, engage and confront students when actions are not completed. For example, a student creates a plan to study at a certain time every day and discloses that plan to a mentor giving permission to hold them accountable. The mentor then follows up and supportively holds the student accountable for that commitment.
3. Connection and Community
Recovery plans must include opportunities for connection with mentors and peers. Finding and interacting with these influential individuals is vital to feeling connected to others. These connections create valuable opportunities to reach out for help during vulnerable times. Recovery plans should include frequent planned community connections ( e.g., 12 step fellowship meetings) as well as individual time with mentors such as sponsors. Also vital to connection and community is participating in social activities with others who share the same core values. For example, a student in recovery makes a plan to attend three recovery meetings each week, specifically identifying the meetings they will attend. The student follows through with the plan connecting with their peers in recovery.
Service is important. Giving of our time, talents, and resources to help those who are less fortunate or are not as far along in the process of recovery is a key step to maintaining recovery. Service allows a person in recovery to gain perspective, to foster gratitude, and to get out of one’s own head ( e.g., thinking that everything is about you…it’s not!) . Without service to others, a recovery plan remains a selfish endeavor. For example, a student in recovery chooses to serve at a local animal shelter, a cause close to their heart. They go to the animal shelter, attend the service orientation, and serve once a week for 4 hours.
Recovery plans need to include goals and actions regarding self-care. Consistency in self-care activities helps to reduce stress and promotes wellness. Self-care ( e.g., meditation, exercise, reading, hiking, etc.) is highly personal. As recovery plans are implemented and modified, students discover activities and efforts that are good fits for them and help them thrive in a demanding and stressful environment. The importance of self-care in recovery plans cannot be overstated. For example, a student in recovery makes a goal to meditate 5 mornings a week for 30 minutes. Each day they make a point to wake up and meditate, sleeping in on the weekends.
Utilizing a recovery plan can make a huge difference for students in recovery who are transitioning from high school to college. In my experience, students who implement and follow through with an intentional plan are highly successful.
Failure to be intentional, to be held accountable, to be connected to a recovery community, to serve and to practice self-care can be life-threatening.
It is important to not leave recovery to chance – never expect recovery to magically happen.
Thomas G. Kimball serves as the Director of the Center for Collegiate Recovery Community and holds the George C. Miller Family Regents Professorship at Texas Tech University. He is co-author of the book, Six Essentials to Achieve Lasting Recovery, Hazelden Press. He is also a Clinical Director with MAP Health Management, LLC.