For single people leaving rehab, there is a certain piece of advice given over and over again. Do not jump into a relationship. The reality is that in addiction recovery, there are so many ups-and-downs, and even after rehab you need to work hard to stay sober. The instabilities of a new relationship can be hugely detrimental, especially considering the fact that you don’t yet know how much you can trust the person.
But what about pets? If you are lonely as a single person leaving rehab, is a pet a good idea? There are reasons you might be hesitant to get a new pet, but taking care of a pet can actually be very good for you during recovery.
Here are some of the reasons to consider getting a pet after rehab.
They rely on you…
When you own a pet, you are everything to them. Not only do you feed them daily and take them on walks, but you also provide love and affection. The way they look at you is an indication of just how much they need you. For many recovering addicts, this provides additional motivation to stay off drugs and alcohol. Your pet needs you to be present and cannot live without you.
…but are low maintenance
Their complete reliance on you can provide motivation, but it might also feel like too much pressure. The good thing about pets, however, is that they are relatively low maintenance. Of course, there are pets who require specialized care and it may not be the best idea to choose a needy pet, but most pets require nothing more than food, water, and your presence.
If you can’t commit to daily walks, get a cat instead of a dog. If keeping a new cat from running away is too much pressure, or if you don’t have space for a cat, get a hamster. There is no need to pressure yourself.
Learning unconditional love
One of the joys of having a pet is learning unconditional love. That love goes two ways. A pet loves you for no reason other than that you exist in its life. It does not care about your past, nor does it care about how “successful” you are in the present. It has no opinions on your addiction, whether good or bad. It is an incredibly important lesson for recovering addicts that you are worthwhile no matter what. Your achievements or mistakes don’t define your worth. The fact that you exist is enough proof of your worth.
The flipside is also true. It is incredibly difficult to show unconditional love to other humans, especially since they probably will disappoint you at some point. Maybe they already have. We all make mistakes and mistreat people we love. So, when someone we love hurts us, we continue loving them, but it can be hard to see that underneath the anger.
With animals, however, it is easy to provide unconditional love. You do not love them because they are good conversationalists or turn up for you when you need a favor. Rather, you love them because they exist and you are taking care of them. There is nothing complicated or conditional about it.
Building your confidence
Another reason getting a pet after rehab can be beneficial is that it is a responsibility that you can handle. As addicts, we can get caught up believing that we cannot be trusted because of our past actions. Learning that this is not true can take some time. By taking care of a pet, you start to build your confidence in yourself, with the evidence that you can do it.
Taking care of a pet grounds you in your life. You have purpose every day and you achieve something more valuable than you can imagine. It is a great way to remember that you are capable and have staying power.
Are there reasons not to get a pet?
Getting a pet immediately after rehab is not necessarily the right thing for every recovering addict. This is not because you cannot handle it, but because you are going back into the real world with a whole new perspective. You do not know exactly what you want in your life and may find an entirely new purpose that takes you away from the life you once knew.
A pet goes some way to tying you down, and that may not be what you want. While many recovering addicts simply want to settle into a normal life, not everyone settles in the same way. For some people, it takes travel or a career change to find a life in which they are most content.
Many recovering addicts find great joy and meaning in taking care of a pet. Consider adopting after you leave rehab, and take some time to weigh up the pros and cons.