What can you do if you feel alone in your recovery? Feeling alone is certainly quite common in early recovery because we tend to isolate ourselves, and also because it can be really difficult to reach out to new people at the beginning of our recovery journey. Most of us got some “social lubrication” from our drug of choice, and we also had an established set of peers that were “in” in our addiction (for the most part). So there are real obstacles to making new connections in early recovery.
The problem is that it is absolutely vital that we do so. Without these new connections in early recovery we cannot remain clean and sober. Why not, you ask? Because of two reasons: One, we need to identify with other people in recovery. Meaning that we need to hear our own story being told by other people so that we know that we are not crazy. Many of us beat ourselves up because of our addiction, and we have to know that we are not alone in this. That there are others out there who suffer from the same exact struggle. And then to realize that these people are clean and sober today, this should give us a lot of hope.
Second of all, we need to make new connections in early recovery because we need to learn how to live a new life in sobriety. You cannot learn this just from reading books or websites. You have to have dynamic information if you want to recover. Meaning that you need to actually talk to real human beings and find out how they made it through certain challenges that you may be facing right now. So you can read in a book about such things, but it is far more powerful when you actually talk with others and get their direct advice. We need real people in our lives in order to recover. So you definitely need to make new connections in early recovery if you want to succeed.
That said, we need some suggestions in order to solve this problem of being alone. What can you do? Let’s talk about solutions.
First and most powerful suggestion: Go to AA or NA meetings
My first and most important suggestion to you at this point is to go to an AA or NA meeting in your area.
There are many arguments against this advice, I know. When I was stuck in my addiction I was quite terrified of AA meetings. I did not want to go to them. In fact, I was so afraid of sobriety and I was so afraid of the social anxiety that came from being in an AA meeting that I swore that I would never attend one.
I was wrong. Eventually I got desperate enough that I was willing to risk it. I became willing to risk sitting in an AA meeting and even sharing in one. But the fact is that I was terrified of the idea that other people would be looking at me, expecting me to speak. Because I don’t like to look stupid, and when I get called out on the spot, many times I will clam up and not think of anything to say. Panic!
So I did not like this aspect of AA meetings. And I would tell people this in my early recovery and they would say “Well just go to AA meetings and listen, you don’t have to share.” But this did not help any, because they would get to the end of the meeting and I had not shared anything, and inevitably the chairperson would look at me and say “would you like to say something sir?” And then the whole group would stare at me in expectation. That moment was terrifying. I could not handle it. In many ways I still don’t like that tension, that attention, that moment where they are all looking at you.
So that was my own major objection to AA and NA meetings–social anxiety. I was terrified of the social aspect of AA, and of being called out to speak in front of others. Even if you can avoid speaking and remain quiet, you still get that attention placed on you in many cases, and that was a lot, at least for me.
So what is the solution? What is the answer when it comes to AA meetings?
In my case, I started going to the meetings out of sheer desperation, and it got better. I was able to overcome my anxiety and I became more and more comfortable sitting in AA meetings. I even shared in many of them, though I would not share for long. I always planned what I would say in advance. But eventually I even chaired a small meeting each week at the request of my sponsor (he knew what was helpful for me!). And in forcing myself to sit through meetings and in forcing myself to share at these meetings I was getting past my anxiety.
This is huge. If you can find the courage to force yourself directly through this fear and anxiety then it will be a huge step forward for you in recovery. Nothing could be more beneficial to your sobriety.
That said, if your anxiety is so great that you cannot force yourself to confront it head on, there are alternatives (which we will get to in a moment).
Another common objection to AA and NA meetings is that they are “religious.” I won’t deny that they talk about God at AA and NA, so you are certainly able to object to that in any way that you want. But I would also advise you that many hard line atheists have managed to recover in AA and NA, so the belief in a higher power is not really necessary. There are many benefits to AA meeting attendance that do not rely on hard faith. You may find another solution out there, but it also might be a whole lot easier to just practice tolerance of others and go to AA anyway and ignore all the God talk.
The bottom line is that AA and NA meetings are a huge resource for anyone who is trying to get clean and sober, and to ignore them completely is a pretty big setback in my opinion. They are the source of a huge amount of support and knowledge in your local community. If you want to find other people in your area who are trying to recover, then look at the AA and NA meetings. That’s where they tend to congregate.
Second suggestion: Check out online recovery
Another suggestion for you if you happen to feel alone is to check out online recovery.
For example, you might check out the online forum right here at Spiritual River, where people help each other in their recovery journey by posting online. Some people use it as a daily check in, others use it as a daily journal, some people use it to ask questions of others, and so on.
The bottom line is that you can, if you like, check it out and get involved. Start posting. Ask a question, let people know how you are doing in your own recovery, or just post that you are thinking about quitting drinking. Let the world know where you are at. This can be quite helpful to someone who has trouble reaching out to others in “real life.”
When I first got sober I started posting in a few different online forums for recovery. I noticed over time that they have a real community online if you are willing to take the time to get to know people. You can still find real connections online, just like you can in real life. I can remember doing online AA message boards when I had less than one year sober, and it made a real difference in terms of the support that I had. I could really reach out to others, ask questions, and get real feedback from the people that I met online. It was pretty neat.
So don’t discount the idea of online recovery. It remains a solution for many people in their sobriety journey.
How to build new relationships in your life – focus on quality above quantity
Do not feel like you have to have two dozen friends in recovery in order to be normal. Don’t feel like you have to have lots and lots of sober friends or peers in sobriety so that you feel popular or anything. This is not a race or a contest. What you want, instead, are quality connections.
Therefore you should focus on one relationship at a time as you meet new people in recovery. Don’t feel like you have to rush around and meet everyone all at once. Instead, if you meet someone in your recovery journey, take the time to really get to know the person. If that person has significant amounts of clean time (more than a year or two, say) then feel free to invest a lot of time and effort into building that relationship.
This brings us to another good point about the people that you meet in rehab. When you first get clean and sober, a lot of us will attend an inpatient treatment center in order to start our journey. There you will meet lots of new peers who are all trying to accomplish the same thing that you are. Perfect, right? Instant recovery connections.
Not so fast. What I would caution you about here is the success rates in very early recovery–they are almost certainly worse than you think they are. Which is to say, you should never rely on the connections and support that you meet in a treatment center, specifically, people who have roughly the same amount of clean time that you have.
No, what you need to find in recovery are people who have significantly more clean time than you have, and you need to get with those people who inspire you and learn from them. What you do not want is to form a support group from the people who “graduate” from a 28 day program with you. That is a recipe for disaster. Why? Because almost all of them will relapse.
That probably sounds pretty harsh, and possibly it sound overly pessimistic. I promise you that it is not pessimistic. The alternative to this is to go to AA and NA meetings when you get out of rehab and start building a support system from the people that you meet in the AA meetings, rather than from the people that you met in rehab. The people in rehab don’t have any real recovery–they are just starting to learn how to live a sober life and have nothing of value to offer you.
That sounds overly harsh, I know. But that doesn’t make it untrue. The fact is, the group of people who you graduate from rehab with are not a good support system for you in the long run. They may have been great while you were in the protected environment that was inpatient treatment, but once you walk out of those doors, most of them will relapse quickly. And that is not going to help your cause if you are relying on those people for strength and support. When your support system relapses it seriously undermines your recovery.
So again, the suggestion is to get out of treatment and to go to outside AA or NA meetings. Find someone there that inspires you and attempt to make a connection with that person. Maybe even ask them to be your temporary sponsor. Build quality connections rather than trying to find a huge peer group.
The role of helping others and the twelfth step
One of the most powerful principles in recovery is that of the twelfth step–or giving back and helping others. This is a powerful principle because it reinforces our own sobriety so strongly.
This is based on the same concept as teaching others. When you teach something you learn it on a much deeper level than you ever experienced in your past. Teaching a concept exposes you to a deeper level of knowledge about the subject. This is the idea behind twelve step work and carrying the message to the alcoholic or addict who still suffers. When you reach out and help others learn to live clean and sober, you reinforce your own ability to remain clean and sober.
Therefore you need to start thinking about twelve step work and “giving back” to the sobriety community. It doesn’t really matter if you have 30 days sober or 3 years sober. Nearly anyone can help out and give back to the recovery community in some way.
One obvious way is to chair and AA or NA meeting. I did this for a year or so and it was a good opportunity for me because it forced me to share with others when I normally would have stayed quiet.
Another way to give back is to sponsor someone in recovery. In order to do this though you have to attend AA meetings and actually participate them. It is a program of attraction so you are not going to find anyone who wants you to be their sponsor unless you are “putting yourself out there,” so to speak. By sharing at AA meetings and being a visible example of successful sobriety, you will naturally attract people who want you to help them in recovery.
Another way to give back is to start participating in online recovery. If you do this, eventually you will be someone in the online recovery world who has some experience and some knowledge about how to stay clean and sober, and inevitably you will connect with newcomers in the online world who are seeking your knowledge. By participating on a regular basis you become part of a helpful community, and you will realize one day that you are in, in fact, making a difference.
This is a very powerful principle in recovery, that of giving back and helping others. Twelve step work has real benefits that will carry you through in your own sobriety when other methods are failing for you. In other words, if you are stuck in recovery and you don’t know what to do next, find a way to reach out and help others. It is a natural solution to just about any situation in sobriety. Helping others gives you so many powerful benefits that it is almost always the right answer.
We all have a unique way that we can give back to the world. Some of us like to share at AA meetings, and we can do a great deal of good just by showing up and carrying a simple message of hope to the newcomer. Some of us don’t like to speak at meetings, and we can find other ways to give back instead. For such people, the online world has a lot of opportunity, if you are willing to seek it out and start posting on message boards and get to know a community.
How to reach out and help people
Part of helping others is just to listen and be ready. And in many cases, you will find that simply listening is all some people need in order to be helped.
One of the unique opportunities that I found in my own recovery journey was to work at a drug and alcohol treatment center.
This is a special situation and obviously it will not work for everyone, but it might work out for you if you are interested in pursuing it.
Simply go apply at a local treatment center for a job. You don’t have to be certified as a therapist or a counselor necessarily, because there are all sorts of jobs that are required to run a treatment center. I have held no less than 4 different jobs at a local treatment center over the last eight years and none of them required a specialized degree. For example, many treatment centers use nursing assistants, janitors, office staff, and so on. You don’t have to be a therapist in order to hold many of these positions.
Working at a treatment center is a really unique way to give back to the recovery community. It is a very different sort of job that you probably cannot imagine until you actually do it. And it will definitely expose you to a full range of emotions through your work–there are things to celebrate as well as regular tragedies that occur. Addiction is a high stakes game in which you have both winners and losers. If you work at a treatment center you are going to get exposure to both of those outcomes, over and over again.
Obviously working in a rehab is not for everyone but it is one suggestion that might help a few people in their recovery journey. It is really unique and rewarding work, if it happens to be a good fit for you.
Ultimately if you feel alone in recovery then it is up to you to put yourself out there and find new connections. You can do this at real world AA meetings, you can do this in online recovery, you can do it through family and friends, or you can even go find yourself a job in the recovery field. But it is your responsibility to get into action and create those connections. It is not someone else’s responsibility to bring recovery to you–instead you have to go get it for yourself.
Have the courage to reach out and ask for help. In time you will also be able to reach out and be there for others as well.