It Takes A Village: A Connected Recovery Community Helps Maintain Sobriety
Recovering from drug and alcohol addiction is not a solo expedition, but requires an integrated village of personal, peer, and professional resources. By overcoming powerful cultural myths to find support and learning exactly what a strong, connected recovery community looks like, you can set yourself up for success as you make the transition from residential care to lasting sobriety in everyday life.
Diana was used to doing things herself. Ever since she was a kid, she had what was described as an independent spirit. She took risks, she stood out, she carved her own path, all of which served her well as she embarked on a successful career that moved her, from prestigious internships, to her first start-up, to her first IPO. But along the way also came her first line. Her first dealer. Her first withdrawal.
“The idea that I needed help with anything was such an unfamiliar concept,” she tells me as the 2-year anniversary of her recovery approaches. “The idea that I needed help with addiction—such a shameful thing, so antithetical to the image others had of me—was something overwhelming and foreign. Denial feeds addiction for everyone, but for me, I wasn’t just in denial about my use, I was in denial about my need for outside support.”
While Diana did eventually seek treatment, she saw treatment as a contained space—she would go, she would recover, and she would come back to her life as if nothing had happened. “I didn’t integrate myself into a recovery community after treatment, in part because I told myself I didn’t have the time, in part because I was worried about being ‘exposed,’ and in part because I simply didn’t think I needed it. I was smart and self-sufficient, I should be able to do this myself! I had gone to treatment, I didn’t need any more help.” Soon enough, she relapsed. Her use pushed her further into isolation and began to fracture her already tenuous grasp on a broader social world.
Overcoming Cultural Myths to Find Support
Social withdrawal within addiction is not uncommon. “Battling addiction to drugs or alcohol can leave people feeling as though they are completely isolated,” writes Erica Smith, a National Certified Counselor specializing in addiction treatment.
The lack of support from family and friends can leave these people stuck in the insidious cycle of substance abuse and addiction. When people make the brave decision to seek treatment to overcome their addictions, however, they are freed from this world of isolation.
Getting to treatment, however, requires overcoming significant obstacles both inherent to addiction itself and, for some, very specific barriers inherent to your personality. Often, the very characteristics that propel your accomplishments within your chosen field can also construct a wall between you and recovery; your independence, self-sufficiency, and success suddenly serve to keep you locked in a state of addiction.
But recovery is not a solo venture. As sober coach Patty Powers likes to say, “A network is the key to getting sober because an addict alone is in bad company.” Nor does need for support end with residential treatment; the journey toward recovery is ongoing and should be richly populated by support sources, a concept that can be difficult to negotiate with your feelings of self-sufficiency.
However, Granfield and Cloud note, “Though we live in a society that glorifies a meritocratic ideology of ‘pulling oneself up by the bootstrap,’ it is largely a cultural myth.” This concept can feel counterintuitive for those for who perceive their success as being rooted in meritocratic individualism and, indeed, counter to whom you believe yourself to be. But research shows us again and again that people with strong, connected recovery communities are more successful in attaining long-term sobriety and that it truly takes a village to heal.
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What Does A Strong Recovery Community Look Like?
Your recovery community should begin to take shape from your first contact with your treatment facility and continue to be fleshed out during and after your time in residential care. Ideally, this community will consist of:
A Residential Treatment Team
Your treatment team will create the foundation for everything that comes after your time in residential care. It is vital to seek out the best professionals available to you to make that foundation as strong and resilient as possible. Your treatment should be grounded in a medical approach that integrates a variety of empirically supported treatment modalities, holistic therapies, and 12-step peer supports to give you multiple avenues toward recovery.
Friends and Family
Your friends and family are an invaluable resource both in treatment as you reintegrate back into your everyday life. The love, empathy, and sense of belonging you have with those closest to you give you strength and nurture your spirit as you embark on this new chapter in your life. Often, however, friends and family can be the most difficult to reach out to due to fear, shame, and the damage addiction may have done to your relationship. Some relationships may have to rebuilt slowly and you may want to seek out family or couples therapy to facilitate that process. Others may surprise you with their willingness to offer immediate support.
Physicians and Individual Therapists
If your time in residential treatment has uncovered underlying mental health disorders or you have started a course of relapse prevention medication, transitioning your medication management to an outpatient physician is imperative to maintaining your care. Your residential treatment team should work with your outpatient physician to ensure that this transition is seamless. An individual therapist allows you to continue and build on the therapeutic work you have engaged in while in residential care and gives you continuous, one-on-one monitoring as you navigate sobriety.
12-Step Support Groups
12-step support groups are the cornerstones of many people’s recovery journeys, serving as a welcoming space where you can find support and community virtually anytime, anywhere. While you may worry that you will not fit in at a 12-step support group, chances are that you will quickly understand why so many turn to these meetings as a way of continuously rededicating themselves to sobriety. Over time, you may take on a mentoring role within these communities, a step that can be particularly healing as you are able to share your own wisdom and experiences to contribute to others’ sobriety, enhancing your sense of purpose.
In addition to meetings, 12-step groups can introduce you to a broader social community of people who, like you, have struggled with addiction. Some groups organize outings, dinners, and parties, allowing you to have enjoyable social experiences without drugs or alcohol and helping to forge bonds with others who understand what you are going through. These can be particularly important if you have had to remove yourself from your pre-treatment social group in order to avoid triggers and relapse.
Sober Companions and Coaches
For some, sober companions are an essential part of the recovery process, particularly if you have multiple relapses in the past or are returning to an environment with overwhelming triggers. Sober companion services are tailored to your unique needs, from spending a few hours with you on a daily basis to 24-hour care, and these arrangements may change over time depending on where you are in your healing. You may also want to enlist the services of a sober coach, who can work with you in-person or remotely on a timeframe that suits your individual needs and schedule. Sober coaches have often been where you are and can serve as a powerful source of support as you return to your personal and professional life, with some offering assistance specifically for executives and others in high-stress professions.
Making the Transition
The best treatment programs recognize that residential care is only a beginning and the ultimate goal is to create a framework for healing that lasts far beyond your time at the residential facility. This means that throughout your stay you should not only be learning the skills to cope with sobriety when you return home, but you should develop a detailed plan with concrete resources that you will turn to once you are back in your regular environment.
Your residential treatment team should work with you to both understand your own preferences and the potential triggers that your post-treatment life will present to craft a realistic, multi-pronged approach that will buoy you through the challenges ahead. This may include working with your family and your outpatient treatment providers throughout your time in treatment as well as referring you to appropriate and trusted services that are local to you both directly following treatment and at any time in the future. You can also take advantage of any continuing care programs offered by the residential facility to make your transition back to everyday life as smooth as possible.
By breaking through isolating and embracing a supportive recovery community, you can truly reap the benefits of treatment and set yourself up for long-term sobriety, ultimately creating a more stable, fulfilling, and happier life for yourself.
Alta Mira offers a comprehensive suite of treatment programs for those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our innovative curriculum and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward sustainable recovery.