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.

It’s All About the Maintenance

I’ve been slowly working my steps with my sponsor, and have finally finished this go around.  I had steps 10, 11, and 12 to go, and since this is my umpteenth time through the steps, and I incorporate these 3 steps into everything I do, we worked them all together.  The last three steps are the program’s maintenance steps, how we should try to live our lives every day.  Even though I feel like I practice these steps pretty regularly, I still like to go through them with my sponsor.  She has me do some writing on them, and I always feel a sense of renewal in my program and have new insights that I hadn’t recognized before.

Step 10 of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says:

“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”

step 10Step 10 is like a mini fourth step, that you do every day. It’s a way to hold yourself accountable, without procrastination (one of my biggest character defects), so that at night you can go to sleep knowing that you took care of your side of the street in all of your interactions that day. This was really difficult for me when I started out in the program. I had a lot of resentments, and I clung to them tightly. I had what I thought was justified anger, and most of the time, I wasn’t too keen on letting them go. I sometimes recognized my part in them, but even when I did, I was nowhere near “prompt” in my handling of them. Step 10 has helped me to stop avoiding taking responsibility. When I look back at my day, and I see a situation that I could’ve handled better, or I see someone who I owe an amends, I really do try to take care of it right away, and No matter the outcome, I always feel better for doing so.

There are different ways to do this step.  There are daily inventory worksheets you can download, and there are apps for your phone, or you can do what I did in the beginning and call your sponsor every night.  But really it comes down to asking yourself, “how did I do today? Is there anything that I need to make right?”  When you answer those questions honestly, and you take the necessary action, you’re working step 10.

Step 11 of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says:

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

I love, love, love step 11! Now, that is. When I started out in AA, this step was one of the most daunting for me. I didn’t have any kind of relationship with God, and I didn’t know how I would ever get one. I never pictured myself as someone who prayed; I didn’t think that I could do it.step 11 coin

What I found was that Step 11 wasn’t something that had to be done perfectly from the start. It’s a step that evolves over time, starting as one thing, and growing into another. My prayers started out as simply as, “Help me, God” and “Thank you, God.”  That was all I could muster.  But it worked.  I no longer felt alone, like I had to do it all myself, and I felt grateful. Now, some four plus years later, my prayers and my relationship with God are full and rich. I talk to God all day long, and I thank him for everything, because I know that I couldn’t do this sobriety thing without Him.

Step 12 of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous 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.”

step 12The first time I reached step 12, I realized that it assumes (guarantees, really) that by this time we will have had a spiritual awakening. I wondered, at first, had I had one? What if I hadn’t? Had I done the steps wrong? As I thought about it though, I realized how different things were for me. I wasn’t drinking anymore, I wasn’t creating more wreckage, I was taking responsibility for my past actions and bad behavior, I was improving my conscious contact with God, I was living recovery. If that’s not a spiritual awakening, I don’t know what is!

The latter part of step 12 is about helping others and living all of the steps every day.  I love to carry the message of Alcoholics Anonymous, and I love spending time with other alcoholics. I try to reach out to people who need help, and who need to hear that there is a better way to live. I feel like it’s my obligation and my privilege to share my story and spread the word of AA.

The last three steps really are all about the maintenance. I know that when I am doing my best to work all three, my life is happy, joyous, and free.  That’s the way I want to be.

it works if you work it