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True Story: 20 Surprises and Difficulties In the Real World, Post Treatment

This is part of a series of Interviews and writing from young adults who reflect on their treatment to transition to “real life.” Some went to treatment as a teen and others went as young adults.


Life is different when you leave a treatment program and go out into independent living.  The program that I am currently in is a transitional living program where I have an apartment with a couple other girls who are also in the program. Overall, this program involves therapy groups a couple times a week, working a job, taking a couple of classes a week, and practicing living independently skills.  Life is pretty unstructured and for the first time, I have to structure my time and money and keep myself safe from relapsing into my earlier patterns.  I wanted this, but it is harder than I thought.

These are the top 20 surprises that I have had in the four months since graduating from high school, leaving the residential treatment program, and turning 18.


  1. Creating and following a schedule for my day-to-day life

  2. Finding a balance between free-time and structure

  3. Implementing the skills I learned from treatment into real life situations

  4. Managing and prioritizing my responsibilities

  5. Life is NOT as cheap as I thought (or it used to be), and because of this, money disappears from my bank account much quicker

  6. It’s hard not having people around me to check up on me, hold me accountable, or give me company

  7. Setting boundaries with other people (especially guys)

  8. Finding time to take care of myself, and actually doing it

  9. Eating healthier/ making meals for myself

  10. Knowing when it’s an appropriate time to tell a new relationship that I was once in treatment

  11. Being in a classroom setting with people I don’t know at all

  12. Talking about what’s going on for me, the emotions I’m having, and being vulnerable

  13. Making new friends who are healthy and good influences on me

  14. Identifying the things I need versus the things I want

  15. Sticking to behaviors that align with my values

  16. Exercising more often

  17. Focusing on myself versus focusing on having an intimate relationship

  18. Staying in a rational headspace  (not going from blaming myself to a “screw this” attitude)

  19. Thinking in long-term versus short-term

  20. Picking myself back up once I’ve made a mistake

About the author:

Jane Smith*  is now in a transitional program and turned 18 in August 2016. She attended a wilderness therapy program after her first treatment program & then enrolled in a second residential treatment program, where she graduated in June from high school. Jane was accepted to a university, and chose to have an intentional transition out of treatment and a year off to work & grow. Jane is without the structure of residential treatment, and has a job, a cell phone, a social media presence, and continues to develop authentic relationships with her family.

* Name changed for confidentiality.