They say it takes a village to raise a child, and in early recovery, that child is us. A newly recovering alcoholic or addict is often compared to a newborn baby. Helpless, needy, and emotionally uncontrollable, and in need of help. People in early recovery need support and guidance from people with recovery experience – either trained addiction and recovery professionals, or people with personal experience with addiction and recovery, or preferably both. Without support, the chances of a full recovery are dramatically decreased.
Working with other addicts and alcoholics is a core tenet of several recovery programs. Even without any “program” in place, in order for a recovery attempt to be successful family and friend circles need to be dynamite – not naysayers, dependents, or enablers. We can find this support in many ways, but it is vital to our recovery process because it gives us relatability, emotional support, and a sense of something worth holding onto. One of the most crucial steps in early recovery is finding a sober community.
Developing sober relationships
In active addiction, many addicts experience abusive, harmful, enabling relationships. We either live in fear of the people around us, lie to them or are using them to our advantage. These relationships come to serve us in twisted and unhealthy ways. Sometimes family enables our drinking, friendships become toxic and volatile, or romantic partners encourage (and simultaneously criticize) our drug use. These toxic relationships feed the demon of addiction, creating more and more reasons to flee reality for the supposed comfort of substances.
It may feel impossible to ditch these harmful relationships for new ones, but creating new, sober relationships can be the best thing for our recovery. We need to feel supported, valued, and accepted in order to move onto a new way of living. We need someone to relate to, a shoulder to cry on, and a reason to hold tightly to our sobriety. Many people find these new, healthy sober relationships in the rooms of recovery programs, in support groups, or by taking up residence in a sober living facility, also known as a sober house or sober living.
Finding inspiration in the people around you
It is important that we find people who are also sober to serve as a template to our lives. A frequent error of the human mind is to compare, and when you compare yourself to those around still drinking and drugging you might feel you come up short, that you are missing something. The reality is that you are not, but we have an urge to fit in with our peer groups, that urge is a strong motivator and the quicker we can retire those friends the better off we will be.
It is equally important that we replace those old faces with new role models, and with peers who reflect the lifestyle we want to aspire to or are already living. In this sense we get 2 things out of relating to those around us: the ability to convey our experiences to someone, and something to idealize for the future or to expect from our future selves.
Emotional support from your recovery community
Everyone needs someone to complain too, to tell when something bad happens, and to cry to when things go downhill. Too often pain leads us straight back to our old ways. Emotional support is a vital ingredient in stifling our misleading thoughts. We may feel like there is no other way to cope, and it is important that someone gives us a solution, listens and can understand what we are going through.
An emotional support system in recovery may include a sponsor, counselor, case manager, recovery coach, or a trusted loved one with experience in addiction and recovery. For some people, getting out of the woods means getting a grip on mental health issues. For people with a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders, therapists and psychiatrists are a crucial part of the recovery support system.
A recovery support system can also include the people in your recovery community. Sometimes a simple conversation outside a 12-step meeting or an evening spent talking to a sober house roommate can make all the difference in the world. Help can take on many forms, and no single person has all the answers for your recovery. Many people find that the same question may have a variety of different answers. Reaching out to the people around you and asking for suggestions is a great way to find a variety of solutions to the same problem so you can decide for yourself which one works for you.
Building and repairing relationships
By creating relationships based on trust and honesty, we learn to open up to the people around us, and in turn opening up to ourselves. The bonds we develop with the people in our sober community give us the tools we need to repair the relationships damaged in active addiction. Through our recovery community and sober support network, we build the self-esteem and honesty necessary to rebuild our relationships with our friends, family, romantic partners, and spouses.
The most important thing about sober communities is they’re there when we need them. Whether it’s a sponsor, a therapist, a counselor, members of a local recovery meeting, or sober living housemates, there is nothing more important than having people to depend on. People in recovery understand that being there for someone who’s suffering is a reciprocal relationship, in which the person that I help today will be able to help me or someone else tomorrow. We’re all in this together, and together we can do it.
— Emily Ash for Avenues NYC, 2018