Being in recovery from addiction is not a solo endeavor. It is absolutely essential to develop a safety net of like-minded people who understand what you are going through. You will need this safety net of support when you hit the inevitable low spots ahead. Developing meaningful connections with other people is necessary in recovery from addiction. This is known as our “we.” Other words that express this sense of “we” are fellowship, congregation, hood, sangha, or community.
At first it may be difficult to open up to others. In our addiction, our trust of others and ourselves may have been damaged. Being vulnerable with others and sharing honestly can be absolutely frightening. It is essential, however, to avoid the next relapse. This authentic connection supports long-term sobriety.
It is also challenging for most people in recovery from addiction to ask for help. We feel unworthy and do not want to take the risk of rejection. Struggling with shame, guilt, and remorse traps us into this lonely place of existence that over time is unsustainable without numbing. We eventually find it necessary to pick up a drink or a drug even though we did not plan on it.
We are wired for connection. We are happiest when we have people in our lives that we feel close to and can talk to openly and honestly. This will take some time to build. Patience and perseverance will be necessary. People are still people and just because we are in recovery it does not mean that they will suddenly be ready to be connected to us in a meaningful way. It will take time and our consistent ability to keep doing the next right thing.
Below are five specific practices that will be very helpful in developing that necessary “we” in recovery from addiction.
The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.
Five Practices for Developing the “We” in Recovery From Addiction
- Show up. This practice involves simply showing up. Woody Allen famously said that “80% of life is showing up.” This means keeping our commitments and doing what we said we will do. It involves engaging with others in social activities and consistently showing up. Being consistent is a key factor because that is what allows others to get to know you. Whether it is church, the gym, or an AA meeting, just keep showing up. This will take a lot of effort. Having a buddy to go places with really helps us to just show up.
- Be Selective. The practice of being selective requires us to discern where we will be finding our “we.” It is not about going to as many AA meetings as you can possibly fit in to your schedule in order to just check off that you went. Look for quality meetings that share how to live clean and sober and not just share war stories of the days of using. Whatever venue you chose to find and cultivate your “we,” make sure it is a positive place that will give you the support and tools to live happily without drugs and alcohol. This is all about quality not quantity. Find the places that have the people who are joyful, positive, and eager to be of service. It is not about collecting phone numbers that you will never use.
- Be real. Be vulnerable. Belong. This is perhaps the most frightening of all. People who suffer with substance use disorder learn to hide their authentic selves in order to fit in. It is the price that has to be paid for feeling a part of rather than the pain of feeling apart from. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston and renowned author, states, “The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.” Not being true to our self creates inner conflict. This disconnect will eventually cause so much discomfort that relief is sought through our drug of choice.
- Be worthy. Getting caught in self-criticism and self-doubt leads to a constant sense of impending doom and a deep sense of insecurity. Nothing saps confidence more than self-pity. This big “I suck” factor can be overcome by paying attention to our own self-talk and how we talk to others about our self. Self-worth takes time to build; it helps to state it as a distinct intention and work daily to overcome the self-centeredness that fuels a lack of self-worth. Finding a spiritual path and practicing its tenets will certainly help to gain skillfulness in dealing with self-loathing.
- Acceptance. Accept others for who they are not and not who you want them to be. This is a huge challenge and will require daily awareness and lots of grace for you and for others. Our need to control damages our relationships and shuts us off from those we love and care for. We shut down, shut off and create barriers when we try to control others. Begin to notice all the ways you try to make people do what you want them too. Whether it is while driving, interacting with co-workers, or hanging out at home. This lack of acceptance not only manifests in attempts to control others, it also occurs when we want something we can’t have or don’t want to lose something we do have. Acceptance feels like a passive practice but will actually take all the strength, courage, and faith that you have!
These necessary practices for recovery from addiction are all interconnected. When practiced together they become a powerful safety net in which to create the container for personal transformation and then be ready to go out into the World and help others.
Connecting with others, developing that “we,” is the antidote to the loneliness that is said to be worse for people than obesity and air pollution. And for the person in recovery from addiction, being alone to much means we stay inside our own heads and focus on ourselves which inevitably leads to finding it necessary to pick up a drink or a drug.
Cultivating the ‘we’ in recovery from addiction is one of the best relapse prevention tools you will have in your recovery toolbox.