In order to succeed in early recovery you are going to need to make some key connections in terms of support.
Why is this necessary at all, you might ask?
Simply put: We cannot recover by ourselves. We cannot do it alone.
Any struggling addict or alcoholic who has found their way to a recovery program knows this, because they have tried repeatedly to “figure it out” on their own, yet they keep failing at it. Eventually they have to admit to themselves and to others that they need help. For whatever reasons, they need other people in order to recover.
My belief is that the reason that we need other people in order to recover is for two reasons: One, because we need to know that we are not crazy when we are struggling with the insanity of addiction. If you go to an AA meeting and you listen to the stories that people tell you will quickly realize that these people are “crazy” in the same way that you are, and that they have somehow managed to get their life together in AA or NA today. So there is hope. We need this identification with other addicts in order to know that we have hope and that we are not crazy.
Second, we need to take direct advice from other people in early recovery simply so that we are not following our own advice. Period.
If I were giving myself advice in early sobriety then I would relapse every time. Why? Because the alcoholic “voice” in my head would win out every time in the end. I can easily talk myself into a drink or a drug if left to my own devices. Therefore I need to somehow get out of my own way and “turn it over” so that I will instead live by the advice of other people.
The secret in recovery is not that there are magic shortcuts or special rituals that keep people sober; it is simply that we are told what to do so that we don’t screw ourselves up and go drink. That’s all. We just need to get out of our own way, and the best way to do that is to follow the advice of others for a while. You need to make an agreement with yourself that this is how you are going to live for a while–listening to the advice of other people. This is the single best decision that you can make in early recovery–the decision to not make your own decisions.
So the process of early recovery begins when you surrender and you ask for help–presumably from another human being. They tell you what to do and where you should turn for help, and hopefully you are directed to inpatient treatment. There you can start to build the connections that will sustain you through your early recovery.
When you go to inpatient treatment you are going to meet several key people. The first of these would be the therapist or counselor that they give you while you are in rehab. This person is going to be critical for your early recovery because they will help you to get linked up with the necessary resources for you to succeed in early recovery. For example, they may direct you to IOP groups after you leave inpatient treatment so that you can continue to get help and support for your recovery.
While you are in inpatient rehab you are going to meet a group of peers. I can still remember some of my peers from when I was in treatment over 17 years ago–that is how deeply connected you can become to the people that you go through treatment with. Everyone is there to accomplish the same thing; everyone is simply trying to get clean and sober. Inpatient treatment is never a threatening environment, and everyone is generally supportive of each other. You have nothing to worry about in terms of meeting the right people and finding help and support. This is what treatment is designed to facilitate–healthy connections with a group of supportive peers.
Now after you get through inpatient treatment they are likely going to recommend that you attend 12 step meetings or some type of support group. This is where your recovery really takes off because these are the connections that could potentially sustain you for a lifetime. I do not necessarily have to remember the people that I met during this time of my life because some of them are still in my life today! That is the power of making healthy connections in early recovery–those supports can stay with you for a lifetime. There are people in my life today that I would definitely go talk to immediately if they called me and needed help, and they would do the same for me.
Having a sponsor in a 12 step program is also beneficial in this regard. You need to have someone that you can count on when you may be craving your drug of choice, someone that you can reach out to that you know is going to be there for you. Having a sponsor is helpful when you are getting lots of different advice from people at the meetings and in support groups, and you are overwhelmed with too much advice and too much input, and you need to somehow simplify and move forward. Having a sponsor can cut through all of the “noise” that makes up early recovery so that you can take action and move foward. Your sponsor can say “yes, all of these things are important, but right now you need to do this and focus on this thing right here.”
As you maintain your sobriety for longer and longer you will start to realize that recovery is largely about relationships. You will also notice that, while you do have some strong supportive relationships in your life, you will also have some toxic relationships that do not really serve your goals. Call these people “energy vampires” if you like–they are toxic and they drain you of your positive energy, bringing you down and also bringing out the worst in you.
Instead, we want to surround ourselves with positive people and positive influences. One of the ways to do this is to actively distance ourselves from people who may be toxic or negative. Sometimes it takes an act of courage to walk away from what was once a “friendship” in order to make room in our lives for more healthy relationships. In order to embrace the new and healthy we have to clean out the toxic stuff. If someone is a negative influence on your life then you need to actively put distance in between you and that person, for the sake of your sobriety.
Finally, you might consider the idea that one of the best ways to make key connections moving forward into long term sobriety is to do some form of 12 step work, meaning that you find new ways to carry the message of hope and recovery to people who may be suffering.
There are many ways to do this, and it is up to you to explore them and find your particular strengths. You might end up sponsoring newcomers, chairing AA meetings, going back to school in order to do substance abuse counseling, and so on. Each of us has unique gifts and talents in our lives, and those gifts will ultimately translate into a way to reach out and connect with struggling addicts and alcoholics. Find your special connection to recovery and it will, in turn, help you to remain clean and sober–even as you reach out and help others. Good luck!