Recovering from an addiction is a long process that involves physical and mental withdrawal, long-term cravings, and lifestyle changes that will help you to combat the original causes of your addiction and your addiction triggers.
While the first step to overcoming an addiction is always seeking out professional help for addiction treatment, you will have to begin to build a support group around yourself while you are in treatment so that you can rely on people to help you once you no longer have the support of a clinic or facility. Your therapist or counselor will no doubt discuss building a support system or community as part of your treatment, and this guide will help you to understand why you need one and how you can build and maintain support around yourself long in to the future.
What is a Support System
A support system is quite literally a group of people or organizations that you can rely on to help you stay clean or sober. No matter what your addiction, you need help and most people who are close to you will be willing to give it.
Your support system or community may be comprised primarily of strangers from your 12 Step Recovery Group, might be close friends and family, might be friends, and it may be a combination of all of the above. There is no one right way, as your support will depend on your relationships and your circumstances. This is especially true if your family situation is not one which encourages sobriety, if your friends are still addicted, or you otherwise can’t seek help from traditional places.
You Can’t Do It Alone
It’s important to remember that while you can do a great deal on your own, support makes life easier. People who spend time living with other sober people after existing rehabilitation treatment are more likely to stay sober, those who attend mutual support groups (like AA) are more likely to remain sober or clean, and persons who maintain healthy relationships with the people in their lives have a stronger chance of staying clean over 12 years than those who don’t. This is true for both men and women, because while women often replace emotional support with alcohol or drugs, men often disregard emotional support in favor of using drugs or alcohol.
Knowing who to talk to, knowing that you can trust those people, and that you can rely on someone to steer you away from cravings can be extremely beneficial to you and your state of mind. A support group also exists to hold you accountable, so that you know other people are expecting you to stay clean or sober for them.
Building Your Support System
There’s no one best way to ask for support and there’s no set group of people whom you should ask. However, you should use a few specific qualifiers before you ask anyone for their help.
- They should be close to you
- They should care about your future
- They should be invested in you emotionally or otherwise
- They should be reliable
- They should be clean and sober themselves
- They are reliable
- You can offer them similar support
- They have been clean or sober at least as long as you have
- They are held accountable by other people
- They are available to talk to
You can ask close friends, family members, your spouse or partner, members of your sobriety or mutual support group, members from your rehabilitation, and even co-workers to help you to stay clean. Who you choose is up to you. Importantly, you should aim for at least five people who can support you and talk to you. Why? The more people you have, the more people who will hold you accountable, and the better your chances of staying sober.
Ask for Help – Asking for help can be one of the most difficult things that any of us ever has to do, especially if it also involves coming out about our addiction. So many of us build our addictions around hiding them and not admitting to them, that talking about it can be difficult. This is especially true because of the stigma built up around addiction for both men and women, and the repercussions that an addiction can have on your life. You have to decide what you want to say, how much you want to tell, who you want to tell, and then come clean about everything. Your discussion should involve that you are getting better, that you are fighting for your future, and that you need positive emotional support. If you have wronged anyone while addicted, this is a good time to apologize and to make it heartfelt.
Know Who You Can Count On – Not everyone will be there, not everyone should be. It’s important that you know who will be available no matter what and who you can count on in some situations but not all. For example, close family will most likely be there no matter what, unless you have a poor relationship with your family.
You have to go through your support system and choose the people you can call on in an emergency who will be there no matter what. It may be helpful to create a list to rank your supporters based on when and how you can call on them. For example, if you’ve asked your co-worker to ensure that you stay away from the bar, you can’t rely on them to support yo during a 4 AM call. Know who to contact and when you can do it, so that when the time comes, all you have to do is pick up the phone.
Being Honest – It’s difficult to be honest and to let people know how you are feeling, especially if they are counting on you to stay clean or sober. Knowing that someone is disappointed in you can be incredibly hard, but it is something that you will have to get used to. However, by interacting with your support group from the start, helping them to understand what you need and why you need it, and letting them know that cravings and weakness are a normal part of the recovery process, you can minimize these reactions. It’s important that you emphasize trust and non-judgment, because you need those things in order to recover. Talking to people in advance to let them know that you need positive support and reinforcement, even when you’re feeling your worst will ensure that they know how to react to help you to get better.
12 Step Groups / Mutual Support Groups – 12 Step Groups and other mutual support groups are extremely common in the USA and for good reason. The most well known are Alcoholics Anonynous (AA), and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), but there are many other variations to cover other addictions as well. They give you somewhere to go so that you can discuss everything with people who have been there, done that, and are facing the same problems as yourself. You will likely be recommended to one or more 12 Step Groups by your counselor when you are leaving treatment, and you may continue to attend such groups at your drug and alcohol treatment center. You can expect members of your 12 Step Group to function as your support in exchange for you doing the same for them. You can agree to let them call you when they experience cravings or triggers, so that you can talk them down, and they can do the same for you. This kind of mutual support group is extremely valuable and can be instrumental in helping you to maintain your recovery.
Educating Your Family and Significant Others
Many people have very misinformed ideas of addiction, through no real fault of their own. Without ever having experienced addiction, most will base their opinions on TV shows, movies, and the news, which can paint a picture that has nothing to do with reality. Taking the time to discuss your experiences, your recovery, and your future, with your those in your support group who are not in recovery themselves will give them a much more informed look at what addiction really is.
You can also bring them literature from your 12 Step Group or other support group, direct them to books to read, or simply discuss your own experiences. Books like ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ by Brene Brown, ‘Unbroken Brain’ by Maia Szalavitz, and ‘Memoirs of an Addicted Brain’ by Marc Lewis are great places to start.
Overcoming an addiction is difficult, but with the right planning, the right attitude, determination, and people to talk to, you can do it. Everyone has their own circumstances, but a support group can be immensely valuable in helping you to make it through addiction into your new, substance free life.