Finding a New Recovery Community

People in recovery need a circle of friends who are also in recovery.

Our sweet little, red brick house in Alabama.

When I got sober in 2012, I learned that my sobriety depends on the people with whom I surround myself. I need to interact with other people in recovery to help me stay sober and active in my recovery. Fortunately, my husband, Austin, is a recovering alcoholic, the same as me, and we’re able to support one another in our recoveries, but we need more than just each other. We need a community, a circle of friends, in which we can find and offer support to other addicts. Recently, for the first time since I quit drinking, I had to think about finding a new recovery community to fit into – a daunting task for introverts like me.

Why I Need Friends Who Are in Recovery

There are several reasons why I need to be a part of a recovery community. Perhaps the most important is peer support. I know that when I surround myself with friends who are also in recovery, they can understand my struggles without me having to explain anything. The reverse is also true, if someone else is struggling with recovery, I get it, so I can empathize and offer support. That connection, the commonality that recovering addicts have, lends itself to creating the supportive environment we need to maintain sobriety. Without peer support, isolation can set in, and that’s a dangerous place for an addict to be. Isolation keeps us stuck in addiction cycles. When I relapsed last year, I wasn’t going to meetings and I wasn’t doing anything to work on my recovery. That allowed old behaviors to slip back in, and it resulted in me picking up. 

Studies have been done that show that people who are involved in recovery communities with peer support are less likely to relapse than those who aren’t. I know this to be true for me. When I stay involved, I stay sober. There’s accountability when I’m a part of a group that encourages me to talk about my issues before I end up on a slippery slope. I have friends who are counting on me to show up at meetings and get-togethers, and they will call or come looking for me if I don’t. Having something to lose (friends, social interactions, activities, etc.) makes it easier to stay motivated about sobriety and to keep my feet planted firmly in recovery.

Recovery groups are also helpful in increasing awareness about addiction and reducing the stigma that is still attached to it. Support groups like AA encourage people to be open about their recovery without the fear of being shamed or judged. Even timid people like me can feel comfortable sharing in recovery groups because it’s pretty likely that someone else in the group has experienced the same feelings or thoughts that I’m having. I don’t have to be fearful, embarrassed, or ashamed about what I’m going through, and I will probably get some good advice about how others have gotten through similar things.

Being involved in a recovery community allows me to help others, which is one of the main tenets of AA. In step 12, we are encouraged to “carry the message” to other alcoholics. It says:

“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Helping others isn’t a one-way street, it’s beneficial for the helper too, because in recovery “we keep what we have by giving it away.” By helping others, it keeps it fresh for me, I can see the pain of early sobriety in newcomers, and that helps me stay sober. I can offer my experience, strength, and hope to them. These are messages that I often need to hear again myself. It’s a symbiotic relationship, in which we are helped by helping.

 A Cross-Country Move Meant Finding New Recovery Support

We made a big geographical move last May, from Tucson, Arizona to the small, rural town of Fayette, Alabama. Austin is from Alabama and he has family in nearby Birmingham, but I had only visited the South a few times before our move. In the early part of the year, Austin inherited some property in Fayette, and our dream of retiring to Alabama was fulfilled early. Austin, our son Benjamin, and I packed up, and made the 1,600-mile trek across the southern US, amid the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Being new in a small town along with all the shut-downs due to COVID-19 made it challenging to get to know anyone, let alone people in recovery. In Fayette, there aren’t many AA meetings, just one each week on Tuesday evenings, and even that one wasn’t meeting until very recently. I came from Tucson, where there were hundreds of meetings every month, at all hours of the day and night. The Celebrate Recovery group was and still is, on hiatus until the virus is over – if it’s ever over.

Fortunately, God’s providence can be found everywhere – even in Alabama! By His grace, we found a wonderful and supportive group of people in recovery who recently started a Friday night get-together where we all share a meal, talk about recovery and Jesus, and support one another. It’s resulted in meaningful friendships that also exist outside of our weekly meeting, a sense of belonging, and a way to help each other with recovery. I’ve always felt that people in recovery bond quickly because of what we’ve been through. There’s a deep understanding of the pain and consequences of addiction and the challenge of getting sober that we all know, and that draws us toward one another naturally.

It’s still early days for me in our new home in the South, but I have found a circle of like-minded friends that continues to grow, and for that, I am so very grateful. I already feel like I fit in and that is such a blessing for an alcoholic like me.

When Relapse is Part of Addiction Recovery

alcohol addiction relapse

Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, p85

I’m back! Back to writing and blogging for myself and not just for work. I wish that I could say that I’m back and I’ve stayed sober for the last couple of years, but that wouldn’t be the truth. I had a relapse in September 2019. Fortunately, it was a one-time, one-day relapse, from which I got right back on the wagon. It was a huge blow to my ego and to my self-worth, knocking me to my knees in shame and humiliation, which is probably why it’s taken me over a year to write about it. I won’t go into the gory details of that horrible day. Suffice it to say, I was an alcoholic being an alcoholic, and it wasn’t pretty. However, looking back now, I can clearly see some important lessons that I needed to learn.

Lessons My Relapse Taught Me

My relapse taught me a lot about myself, my recovery, and my loved ones. Here are a few of the most important things I learned:

I need a recovery program. In the year or so before my relapse, I had fallen away from AA. Nothing bad happened, I just allowed other aspects of my life to get in the way of going to meetings. I really think that I thought I was far out of harm’s way, that I wouldn’t drink again ever. After all, I had been sober for almost seven years. Complacency. How many times had I been warned about it in meetings? Way too many to count. Yet, I allowed it to happen to me. I know that there are some sober people who don’t need a recovery program to stay that way. I also know now, that I do.

I have to manage stress and anxiety more effectively. When I was in active addiction, the way that I coped with stress and anxiety was to drink. When I got into recovery, I learned other coping skills to manage them. Things like self-care, talking to another alcoholic, H.A.L.T. (to be aware if I am hungry, angry, lonely, or tired), going to meetings, taking a nap, writing, praying, and other healthy activities helped me handle life on life’s terms. Prior to my relapse, I had returned to old behavior, and started stuffing feelings of stress and anxiety. I didn’t use my healthy coping skills consistently, making a disaster just waiting to happen. And then it did.

You do go right back to where you left off. The only thing different about my drinking when I relapsed in relation to my old, active addiction drinking, was that I no longer had a tolerance to the booze. One of my last drunks in 2012 ended with me in the hospital following a blackout and a handful of pills. My relapse, though not as serious, ended up with a blackout and a trip to the hospital. Thank God it didn’t end in handcuffs, which happened more times than I care to share in my previous drinking.

My family loves me unconditionally. After my relapse, I felt terrible guilt and shame. But it wasn’t because of anything my husband, daughter, or stepson said or did. They were nothing but loving and supportive in the days and weeks that followed. They loved me through it, with graciousness and mercy, and I am so very grateful.

Relapse is a Part of Recovery

I’ve always hated the saying, “Relapse is part of recovery.” I felt like it justified an addict’s or alcoholic’s choice to pick up again. My feeling about it hasn’t completely changed, but it’s loosened up a bit. I can see now that for many of us who are in recovery, relapse is part of the process. It’s something that we can learn and grow from, enhancing our recovery. It’s risky though. One relapse can be (and has been, for many) a fatal action. Luckily for me, that wasn’t the case, but I certainly don’t want to risk it again. So, I will remember the truths I listed above and always remember that I am not recovered, I’m recovering – hopefully forever.