Sobriety is tough. For some people it can almost be harder for them to cope with sobriety than it was to live in addiction. At least, it feels that way at first. You certainly won’t incur the same costs, and you’ll be able to deal with some of your underlying issues through such means as therapy and meditation. But even so, once you’ve detoxed and gone through a treatment program, you’re left with trying to figure out what comes next. And if you intend to stay sober as you move on with your life, it would behoove you to start building a strong support network.
Having a strong support network will help you to stay sober by giving you people who demonstrate such qualities as reliability, loyalty, caring and friendship. You’ll also be able to demonstrate those same qualities yourself. Trust us—being as dependent as those in your support network will do you a lot of good. It will help you to affirm yourself, and feel better about who you are. So if you’d like to start experiencing the benefits that come with a strong and sober support network, then you might want to pay attention to the five tips we’ve given you below.
1. Know What You’re Looking For
First of all, it should be said that anyone you know who is still abusing illicit substances should probably be left behind. It can be hard to do so, especially if you’ve known them for a long time. But ultimately, if you want to make the most of your recovery, then you need to avoid the risk of temptation. This means that if you do decide to keep those people in your life, then you must make sure that they take your recovery as seriously as you do. Make sure they know not to have drugs around you. Early in your recovery, you probably should not be around them when they have been drinking, either. Anyone who is unwilling to respect these boundaries does not belong in your support network.
Now, it stands to reason that you’re going to be constructing your support network primarily to include other people in recovery. If you went through treatment, then you likely met some strong candidates over the course of the recovery process. But your support network should not consist solely of people who only have as much time in sobriety as you. If you really want your support network to be strong, then you need people who can teach you through their own example.
That’s not to say that your sponsor and other members of your support network must have years upon years of sobriety under their belts. Some of them may, in fact, be quite new. But you should have as many experienced people as possible. Also bear in mind that a person’s experiences with sobriety are somewhat relative. You might meet someone with thirty years of sober living behind them, and yet sometimes that person will have a worse attitude than someone with only a third as much experience. It all comes down to attitude.
Certain members of your family and close friends will likely make it into your support network as well (for instance, anyone who was at your intervention, if you had one). The most important thing to look for is dependability. Honesty, too. You want someone who won’t just placate you, but who will be honest with you when they see certain defects of yours beginning to come to light. You want someone who will take your calls when you are struggling, and who has a generally positive enough outlook to guide you through your periods of darkness. If you find that you admire a person’s attitude and approve of their general lifestyle, then you want them in your support network.
2. Know Where to Look
We already mentioned that you might try staying in touch with people from treatment, but you might wonder where else to find possible candidates for your support network. After all, knowing what to look for won’t simply make those people appear. You can certainly find support through message boards and other online communities dedicated to sober living, but even that won’t likely be enough. You’re going to want to find people with whom you can meet face-to-face.
Luckily, there is no shortage of 12 step recovery programs out there. If you Google your zip code or the name of your city along with the phrase “AA meetings” or “NA meetings” or “CA meetings” (or whatever your preferred recovery meeting happens to be), then you will usually find an official list of meetings in the area. If you are not a fan of the 12-step model, then you might look at list of local SMART meetings to see if there is a meeting place in your area. If you have multiple options, then you should try them all out and find the best one. Having a solid home group can be an important step toward developing a truly strong support network.
Of course, maybe recovery groups aren’t your thing. Maybe you don’t like SMART either, or there isn’t a SMART group in your area. Maybe you subscribe to the Rational Recovery theory that recovery groups are too fallible. That’s really your business, but it’s going to make it a lot harder to build a support network. However, if this is how you feel, then you might consider this: try just going to a meeting or two anyway. Find someone you like, and explain to them how you feel. Because you just never know. They might not agree with you, but that doesn’t mean they won’t respect the fact that some people recover through different means than others. If they’re open and understanding, it wouldn’t hurt you to get their number in case you ever feel like you’re in a bind and need some help.
However you go about it, you need to find someone who identifies with what you are going through. Living in a world in which you feel like you’re the only person who knows about your problem is a very lonely way to live. It might work for a while, but there’s likely not much longevity in it.
3. Know Where NOT to Look
Some of the answers to this one are obvious. For instance, you obviously aren’t going to look for your new support network in a bar. Believe it or not, some addicts and alcoholics might be inclined to try, since this is one of the places they probably associate with what they once considered to be the height of their social skills. But most people with a decent head on their shoulders know the folly in such thinking, and so we aren’t going to spend too much time talking about it.
Instead, we’re going to talk about Farmers Only, eHarmony, Match, and all of the other online hook-up tools that might seem appealing to those who are getting their lives back on track and think they’re ready for a relationship. There’s actually a relationship counseling website that wrote a rather thorough yet easily digestible article on the oft-stated rule that addicts and alcoholics should avoid relationships for the first year of their recovery. It’s worth reading, but the main thrust of it is this: sex and intimacy can complicate things, and it’s not a complication you should be dealing with when your recovery is still fragile. You’re still learning to become the sort of person that doesn’t need to substitute true emotional contentment with instant gratification. Having sex when you’re in the middle of that growth might lead to a reversal in some of the progress you have made.
But what about when that first year is up? You still want to take things slow, but you can start slowly testing the waters. If you want to add to your support network by developing a close relationship with someone you find attractive, then that’s just fine as long as you’re certain that you are ready. Just don’t forget to continue looking for someone who embodies the qualities we’ve already discussed. You might even consider dating another addict or alcoholic, as long as they also have a year and are solid in their recovery. There’s even an online dating website called Somebody Sober, geared specifically toward those who are serious about recovery and looking for someone who feels the same way.
You might prefer something like this, as opposed to “13th stepping,” which is what it’s called when people try to seek relationships at recovery meetings. Thirteenth stepping is generally frowned upon, as it’s viewed more as a predatory attempt to have sex rather than develop a relationship. But if a bond develops naturally at your home group, and you both have more than a year, then you might consider exploring that. You likely consider that person to be a part of your support network already. Just don’t rush into things and risk creating tensions within your home group if things go south.
4. Develop the Right Mindset
Even if you aren’t trying to make a romantic addition to your support network, you still have to focus on being in the right place in your recovery. As we stated in the very beginning, you have to be willing to show the same honesty and reliability that you expect from the members of your support network. Relationships, romantic or not, must always be a two-way street.
The fact that most of your support network will consist of other people in recovery means that your honesty may sometimes be tested. Remember, even those with more time in sobriety than you will still need help every once in a while. The problem is that people sometimes do not realize that they are struggling. When you observe that a person is acting differently and that they may be on a relapse track, you have to be both honest and assertive enough to tell them what you see. You already know the signs of addiction due to your own experiences, so trust your instincts on these matters. This is one case in which it is truly better to be safe than sorry. Nobody wants to feel as if they’re criticizing a friend, but when you’re in recovery, a good friend is sometimes the person with the most willingness to step up and speak the unpleasant truths.
This leads to another skill which you must develop—patience. Just because you do the right thing does not mean that it will be appreciated in the short term. But if that person comes to realize that you made a truthful observation in an attempt to save them from themselves, then they will come to respect you for it. They will value you as a member of their own support network. If, however, you fail to say anything and that person succumbs to relapse without anyone stepping in to try and help them…well, you just may risk losing that member of your support network for good.
We aren’t saying that you need to become the perfect model of sobriety before you can begin building your support network. All we are saying is that if you want your support network to truly thrive, then you need to work on embodying certain qualities that will ultimately make your new friendships much stronger. You may not always be perfect at it, but strive to make progress rather than perfection. You’ll be glad you did.
5. It Won’t Just Happen On Its Own
So you know what kind of people you want in your support network. You know where to find them, where not to find them, and what kind of person you need to be if you want to benefit their support network. But now comes the hard part. This is the part that will come easier for some, but for others will take all of the might and courage they have at their disposal. This is the part where you actually make the appropriate connections and put yourself out there by asking for the help you need to stay sober.
You won’t always need to go out of your way to ask for help. Some people will offer it freely. But in some instances, this is not the case. For instance, if you are in need of a sponsor (which many will tell you is one of the most important members of your support network), then you can’t sit around twiddling your thumbs and simply hoping that someone will offer. You need to identify someone that you feel you can trust, someone you respect. And then you need to ask them. It can be scary, as it feels like a pretty big decision. But once it’s over, you’ll realize that it was only as difficult as you made it.
In some cases, even asking your family to be a part of your support network may not be easy. Addiction puts families through a lot of strain, and they might not be over it quite yet. If they aren’t speaking to you right now, don’t rush them. But think about contacting them and simply trying to make your intentions clear. Let them know that you understand them to be feeling a great deal of pain and frustration, and that you’ll do whatever they require of you in order to make amends. If they reject you, then put it on the back burner for now. Other members of your support network might be able to help you make amends in due time, when the trust has started to grow back.
Trusting people doesn’t come naturally for some addicts and alcoholics, but you need to trust in others if you want to build the strongest support network you can. You also need to trust in yourself. Trust that you are worthy of the contacts you are trying to make. Trust that you can be successful in this, and that the help you will receive in your recovery is worth the effort. Because it is. It truly, truly is. And above all, you deserve to be happy. But you have to start by being social.
Hi Justin – why is it that the person in recovery must meet someone new? Why is there no mention of repairing their previous romantic relationship? Many addicts damage relationships with healthy partners not only due to their addictions, but because they don’t know how to relate to someone who offers them love, respect, communication and healthy boundaries. Why can’t they use their newfound insight, skills and motivation to repair what was already good for them? It cannot be assumed that all of their prior relationships were unhealthy; many times they run away from the very person who offered them appropriate support, healthy love and peace for the same reasons that they try to use alcohol or drugs to drown out their pain, much of which was there long before they met their partner.