Creating and utilizing a strong sober support network is essential to entering and maintaining recovery. As with any chronic disease, research demonstrates that people heal better when they have strong systems of social support. However, many women in substance abuse treatment and early recovery struggle with what that really means and how to go about achieving it.
The phrase “sober support” is somewhat misleading, as it sounds like you just need to find some people who are supportive of you being sober. However, what is actually required is much more comprehensive. To create a strong recovery for yourself, it is important to create a diverse community of social support: a variety of people who support, not just you being sober, but your entire new healthy lifestyle. You have a variety needs and fulfill a variety of roles, so you need sober support people from a variety of settings and backgrounds. These people may come from the recovery community, 12-step groups, family, friends, helping professionals, spiritual organizations, or the workplace. While each person in your sober support network may have a different type of relationship with you, in general they should be overall emotionally healthy people with healthy boundaries who support you in your new healthy lifestyle. This is not to say that your support people cannot have any issues or limitations of their own- everyone does. However, it is important to avoid relying on others who have an active addiction or dysfunctional ways of interacting with you, as that may only serve to undermine your recovery.
Of course creating a support network is only half the battle. Countless women in early recovery come back from their first 12-step meeting with a long list of phone numbers they never call. Like any new skill, reaching out for support and creating new relationships takes practice. If you don't utilize your support network when things are going well, you definitely won't do it when you really need help. Practicing means calling someone every day. It also means regularly scheduling time to spend with your support people. Depending on the person's role, this meeting time may be for recovery, therapeutic, or spiritual work, or for fun social time. Don't manipulate or take advantage of others, but do ask for and accept help when you need it. An important part of recovery is learning to meet your needs in healthy ways and creating a system of social support is one important way of doing that. Many people who relapse after periods in recovery identify ceasing to utilize and connect with their sober support network as a major factor leading to their relapse.
If you were fortunate enough to receive treatment for your alcoholism and/or addiction at Our Hope or at another facility, we strongly encourage you to take advantage of the aftercare programs that facility offers. At Our Hope, many of our Staff members are certified Recovery Coaches and are more than happy and qualified to provide support after you leave treatment. Beyond this, you'll find we offer several other aftercare programs, including free web- and phone-based consultation with your primary therapist for 18 months after completion of treatment. We also strongly recommend that when you've found a 12-step group you're comfortable with, you ask for a Sponsor in that group. This is a very important, yet sometimes difficult step to take, but it can make the difference between committing to your new life in recovery or not.
Life in addiction is typically very isolated, especially for women. Even if you used your substance in a group, you probably still felt alone. Recovery is an opportunity to make positive connections with others and build and rebuild meaningful relationships. It is an opportunity to stop being alone and start being a part of a community. Creating this new way of interacting can feel intimidating and overwhelming, but if you remember its importance and work on it a little each day, it will become easier and the reward will be a fuller life and a stronger recovery.
*This article was originally written by one of our Clinical Therapists in 2011, but has been updated by Our Hope Association to include new services.