When I was still struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction, I could not really picture what “the solution” looked like. I had no real concept of what addiction recovery or addiction treatment would actually look like for someone like myself. How would recovery actually work for a person trying to live their life sober? What did that solution look like?
I had no idea. And I think my biggest problem at that point was that I believed that addiction recovery must be a very unique and personal thing that had nothing to do with other people. I believed that when a struggling alcoholic or drug addict decided to get sober, that they would do so entirely by themselves, in their own way.
I was wrong about all of that. From what I can tell today, no real alcoholic or drug addict recovers “alone.” You cannot just decide to quit drinking or taking drugs and then do it all by yourself in your own unique way without any outside help or input. It just doesn’t work that way.
Or perhaps it does work that way, and there are examples of people who “recover” all by themselves with no outside help, but then my question for you is this: Do we even label those people as addicts or alcoholics? I don’t believe that we do. We just see that they were drinking heavily or using drugs and then decided to quit. But I don’t think we label that as addiction in most cases.
No, we reserve the label of “addict” or “alcoholic” for someone who is admitting to having a problem and possibly also seeking help for it. The key here is that they have to, at some point, seek help for their problem. Sure, an alcoholic could stay stuck in denial forever and never seek any help, and they would still be an alcoholic. But the truth is that any “real” alcoholic or drug addict who wants to turn their life around needs to seek out help in order to do so.
When I got into recovery I was in a state of complete surrender. This meant that I knew in my heart of hearts that I could not possibly figure out the solution to my own problem. That is what it means to be in a state of surrender to your addiction–you are truly baffled by it and you have to tried everything you can think of to try to outsmart your addiction and you have failed repeatedly at doing so. And so ultimately you reach this point of rock bottom, of total surrender, in which you feel almost completely and entirely hopeless to fix your own problem. And it is at this point that you have the ability to ask for help and to actually listen and learn from other people.
Now when you first try to get clean and sober you are going to experience this feeling of uniqueness that every alcoholic and addict typically goes through. We all feel like we are the only person who has ever been so in love with our drug of choice, with alcohol or drugs, and that no other person could possibly understand or relate to how much we love to get drunk or high.
This is why it is so important to have other people in your recovery program. You need other people so that you can hear their stories and then relate to them. This lets you know that you are not crazy, and that you can also possibly recover as well. When you hear people tell their story, you can hear that they are alcoholic or addicted just as you are, and then you can see that they are clean and sober today, and that they are happy. This gives you a level of hope that you simply cannot get if you are completely by yourself. So you need other people in your recovery so that you can relate to them.
Now the second reason that you need other people in your recovery is that they will be able to instruct you as to how to live your own life in recovery. You can get some of this knowledge from books or from other sources, but you cannot get all of the knowledge that you need this way. In other words, every struggling alcoholic and drug addict is going to have some issues and problems in their lives that are not really addressed in the written literature, and therefore they are going to need to talk to others and get at least some information from living and breathing people, face to face. Therefore, because you need dynamic information in some cases, you need a support network in order to recover.
Now the third reason that you need people in your life for recovery to work out is because they can help to hold you accountable. If you are, for example, attending AA meetings on a regular basis then you have some level of accountability there because your peers expect for you to show up to the meeting and to share about your recovery. Once you are in a pattern of doing this you are in a position to be held accountable, and you feel as if you let everyone down if you were to relapse. This can be really important because if you stay isolated and try to recover entirely on your own then you do not have this level of support and accountability to help you.
A fourth reason that you should get a support network is because they can rescue you from the immediate threat of relapse. Today we all carry around phones, and if you are seriously struggling with a potential relapse then you can reach out instantly and connect with someone in recovery who can talk to you immediately. This is very powerful, but of course you have to actually reach out and communicate in order for it to be effective. But going to your first AA meeting and asking for phone numbers is one way to start building this network of support, and the people in recovery meetings are usually more than willing to reach out and offer this kind of help and support.
A firth reason that you should become part of a recovery community is so that you can eventually give back what was freely given to you. One of the most important things about living in recovery is the idea that we have to “give it away in order to keep it.” This means that if you are giving back a message of hope to others who would want to get sober then it will in turn strengthen your own sobriety. This becomes more and more important then longer you remain clean and sober, because we need this constant reminder in order to stay “plugged in” to our recovery mindset. Working with newcomers in early recovery is very powerful for someone in long term sobriety.
So where do you find a recovery support network? How do you build it? I would suggest that you start by going to inpatient rehab, especially if you are still stuck in addiction yourself. From there you will meet a group of peers and likely be introduced to a support community such as AA or NA. After you leave treatment, follow through with your aftercare, because things like IOP or various support groups can become part of your recovery network. There are programs that are adjacent to AA and NA such as Smart Recovery, Recovery Refuge, and so on. When you first leave rehab you should explore those options in an attempt to find the best fit for your life and for your own personal recovery program.
Dive in and do it all. Find your people and make a commitment to stay involved. You need a recovery community to be a part of your life in order to recover. Good luck!