One of my favorite speakers in recovery once said “When I’m with you I’m not with me. When I’m not with you, I’m left with me and I’m not alone.” Funny, but poignant when it comes to addressing the importance of developing a recovery support network.
We talk about it all the time in the recovery community. From the counselors, to the sponsors, to the doctors who work with people with addiction, we all repeat the same message over and over. Get support. So why is that support so important. I want to cover a few of those reasons and hopefully convince some of you or at least remind most of you why we talk about it so much.
1. Addiction thrives in isolation- In past articles I have talked about viewing addiction as having a life of it’s own. So getting away from the medical and clinical models for a minute, lets talk figuratively. Addiction has been described as that devil on your shoulder, just like in the cartoons. It sits on your one shoulder and whispers bad ideas in your ear. Maybe a better analogy is the one that I learned when I was fortunate enough to work for a Native American owned and operated company that dealt with teens and addiction. An elder once told me this story. A grandfather is telling his grandson that in his life there are two wolves battling for control. One wolf represents, all the bad things like greed, selfishness, and a self destructive nature. The other wolf represent the good things, community, selflessness, caring and compassion. The grandson asks his grandfather, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?” The grandfather replied, “Which ever one I feed.”
That’s how addiction gets fed. You isolate and that “bad wolf” gets to spend a lot of time being fed doubt, and all those negative messages we feed ourselves that have to do with unnecessary guilt and shame.
2. It’s all about community and a new culture.- Anyone who has traveled any distance down the rabbit hole we call addiction can tell you that there is a whole other community and culture down there. No I’m not talking about the mole people, although I’m willing to bet the mole people have their fair share of addicts. I’m talking about a culture and a community that you learn to navigate in your addiction that has it’s own rules and ways of doing things. Recovery is just like that. The recovery community has it’s own language and it’s own culture and it behooves you to immerse yourself in that culture if you want to benefit from it.
You can sit at home on your couch and watch Anthony Bourdain travel the world and visit different areas and fool yourself into believing that your experience in watching makes you well versed in that culture or you can go to those places and experience it yourself. It’s not the same.
People who are successful in long term recovery learn about the recovery community and culture first hand and use the knowledge of that culture and community to improve their chances of going the distance.
3.Recovery isn’t supposed to be boring.- One of the biggest dangers that people, especially in early recovery face, is boredom. There’s a reason for that. Addiction while often stressful and destructive, is anything but boring. Whether or not that chaotic lifestyle is healthy is beside the point. If you are used to living in that chaotic environment, and then get into recovery, which should be fairly stable, it can seem boring. After awhile of that you are gonna start craving that chaos again, that your stupid, stupid, stupid addict brain confuses with exciting and fun, then before you know it you’re right back in the thick of your addiction and this time it’s worse.
Hanging out with other people whether in recovery or not, who are healthy for you, helps alleviate that boredom, and helps you with the transition into stability.
4. Human beings are social creatures by nature- Very few of us are set up for total isolation. That doesn’t mean you need to have an entourage of people, just that you need to work on expanding your network of people in recovery and other healthy people. Early recovery can be lonely, especially if you get rid of all the unhealthy people in your life. There’s also the issue that a lot of people with addiction face and that’s social anxiety. We tend to make things far worse then they actually are in our heads. In recovery we talk about the “Depth of Defense Strategy.” The Depth of Defense Strategy is a military strategy which says if you try and take ground, and come under fire, you retreat back to where it’s safer. That’s a pretty good strategy to avoid being shot, or otherwise wounded. The problem for people in recovery is when they unknowingly use that same strategy when they encounter something uncomfortable and retreat back to where they think it’s safe. Even if that supposed safe spot is unhealthy, it’s familiar. We call that comfortable misery. People who do well and move forward in recovery learn to recognize when they are dealing with a perceived danger as opposed to a real one. Meeting new people is not going to kill you or do you harm. Is it uncomfortable? Of course it is. It’s something new and all change, positive or negative, causes discomfort. Being able to manage that while meeting new and healthier people is one of the challenges of recovery. The payoff, I assure you, is worth it.
At Recovery Works NW we have a staff with decades of combined experience in dealing with addiction. Not only do we provide medication where needed, we also will work with you to help you identify how to increase your own support network. It’s not as hard as you think and the only thing you have to lose is loneliness and misery.