Residential treatment centers have given thousands upon thousands of alcoholics and addicts their start in recovery. The standard 28-day primary treatment program is sufficient for clients entering the recovery process; however, research shows statistically higher success rates for clients who spend additional time in a structured step-down program, such as an extended-care residential facility or ¾- or ½-way transitional house. Yet many clients are unable or unwilling to extend their time away from family, business, or work. How do we give clients returning directly home from primary treatment a better chance at beating the odds?
Clients discharging from primary treatment programs need continuous structure in their first several months of sobriety. Clients initially need a healthy daily routine, something that works for them. Sober companions or sober escorts can help clients adjust to this new way of life using the skills and tools learned in primary treatment.
Sober companions can participate in whatever is recommended in the client's discharge plan, be it daily 12-Step meetings, meditation, spiritual practices, physical activity, yoga, massage, or journaling. Companions can assist the client with obtaining new contacts in recovery, filling discharge prescriptions, going to an initial counseling session or IOP assessment, or dealing with the difficulties of remaining sober. A companion essentially does whatever it takes to get the client off on the right foot. It's a service that a treatment center could provide to its discharged clients or partner with an agency to provide.
A sober companion is much more than a glorified babysitter. A sober companion gets into the trenches to help clients get “plugged in” to the recovery services available in their own backyards. Our company requires companions to be clean and sober for a minimum of five years and involved in recovery. Companions have to be able to secure insurance and pass background checks. Being well traveled, well read, intelligent, and flexible are other important attributes. Being a certified or licensed professional in the recovery field is important, too.
The days are long gone when a sponsor took someone into his home for 30 days and worked through the 12 Steps with him. Nowadays you'd be hard pressed to find a sponsor willing or able to be with a person 24/7. Yet a sober companion is more than a “paid sponsor.” A sober companion integrates himself into the client's lifestyle and surroundings rather than the other way around, being there for him whenever he is needed. Optimally, companions are matched to each client based on gender, needs, personalities, and similarity of life experiences. Companions offer their experience, strength, and hope to the recovering addict coming home.
There is an inherent fear in coming home from treatment. Many clients who have shown positive progress and a sincere desire to remain clean and sober while in treatment have relapsed on the trip home or during the first few days out of treatment. Yet sober companions can offer support by meeting the client at his treatment center, accompanying him on the flight, and taking him to his first 12-Step meeting.
The services a sober companion provides can vary to meet individual needs. Companions can be available for 24/7 support to help with court appearances and probation appointments. Companions can help with housekeeping tasks some addicts avoid, such as clearing out reminders of their previous substance-using lifestyle, or can help clients call physicians, dentists, and pharmacists to inform them of the client's new recovery status.
In addition to day-to-day support, companions can be available for events such as weddings, funerals, business travel, and family gatherings. We have helped brides on their wedding day and friends who have had to say good-bye to a loved one. With his simple presence, a companion can help lessen tension and pressure that often lead to relapse in these usually difficult times.
Sober companions can be equally beneficial to a client going to treatment. We know through experience, some of it our own, that airports and airplanes are difficult for many clients, with some people “getting lost” on their way to treatment centers. Consider the case of John, a 43-year-old, professional, accomplished businessman and husband who was having difficulty getting himself to treatment at a facility in the Caribbean. He was able to make the flight from California to Orlando, but the connection to San Juan escaped him.
After his third attempt, a sober companion was employed to help John. The companion met John at his arriving gate after his red-eye to Orlando. John had a few cocktails while flying across the United States. The flight from Orlando to San Juan was seriously delayed, causing John and the companion to miss their connecting flight in San Juan to take them to the treatment center. John wanted to enjoy the casinos' and other entertainment of San Juan for the night, and he attempted to bribe and barter with his escort—to no avail. John finally arrived at his destination and found sobriety during his 28-day stay.
Sober companions can work with families, interventionists, admission specialists, physicians, attorneys, personal managers, agents, and anyone else concerned with getting a client to and from treatment safely and expeditiously. Many companions are familiar with the uncertainty, fear, and sense of aloneness inherent in the trip to treatment. So for providers and clients looking for an alternative to extended residential treatment, a sober companion can be one more tool for a successful recovery.
Jamie Eater, MSW, CAP, is President, and Rick Parrish is Vice-President, of Sober Escorts, Inc.