The Upside of Sober Living Communities

Recovering from substance use or abuse can seem like a herculean task at the outset, but it’s important for those seeking relief to remember that the road to recovery doesn’t have to be lonely. In sober living communities, you commit to recovery and a better life alongside others with similar experiences and hardships. With company and community comes support, structure, and the accountability necessary to keep you and your peers focused on the future. Not only that—living in a community also helps you to establish a network of people to communicate with following treatment. In the accompanying infographic, we’ve taken a closer look at the benefits associated with sober living communities, as well as some statistics related to treatment and recovery.

The Upside of Sober Living Guide

Recovery and Community Isolation Isn’t The Answer

If you have taken the plunge into your recovery from addiction, whatever your addiction may be, you are certainly aware of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions,[1] written by Bill W. and Dr. Bob S., who founded Alcoholics Anonymous.  The Twelve Steps embody the spirit, philosophy and foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous.  They are its guiding principles and method for recovery.  Moreover, they have been adapted and adopted for use by other self-help organizations such as Marijuana Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and a host of others.

One of the Steps, Step Five, states “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”  What does this mean?  What does this do?

First we must look at the social and behavioral pattern of an alcoholic.  The pattern was described, best, by Bill W. and Dr. Bob S.:

Almost without exception, alcoholics are tortured by loneliness. Even before our drinking got bad and people began to cut us off, nearly all of us suffered the feeling that we didn’t quite belong. Either we were shy, and dared not draw near others, or we were noisy good fellows constantly craving attention and companionship, but rarely getting it. There was always that mysterious barrier we could neither surmount nor understand.[2]

In other words, alcoholics, as well as other addicts, are lonely, withdrawn, separated, or isolated.

The first four Steps in recovery are (1) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable, (2) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity, (3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him, and (4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.  All of these lead to Step Five and its implicit direction to engage in fellowship.

You’ve been an addict of some sort.  Whether your isolation was a cause of your addiction or your addiction was a cause of your isolation, you have set yourself apart from relationships with anyone or anything except the substance or activity to which you were addicted.  The Steps, in their entirety, are the basis for a reconfiguration of your life, which includes healthy relationships.  Maybe you’ve had one bad relationship, or maybe you’ve never had a good relationship, or maybe you’ve been in one-sided relationships.  Whichever it is, the Twelve Steps teach a healthy way to recover.

You go to meetings, sometimes more than once a day.  You encounter people just like you.  They’ve been where you are, done what you’ve done, and are learning to live in sobriety.  Understandably, you will feel reluctant to go in.  But you must.  The people in those meetings have struggled, just as you have.  They’ve battled and are battling addiction, just as you are.  They will befriend you.  People may offer you their contact information so you can reach out to them, compare experiences, and share in the process of recovery.  They will ask you for your contact information as well.  They are willing to help you, if for no other reason, helping you helps them.  In one of those meetings you will encounter a person who you will choose to become your sponsor, who will help you handle your new life.  You will no longer be alone.

Back to the meaning and function of Step Five:  “Admitted… to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”  This is something you have to do in order to complete your Twelve Step program.  You have to relate to somebody else.  If you can relate to one person, you will find it easier to relate to more people.  Recovery means you cannot be alone.  “Life takes on new meaning in A.A. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends—this is an experience you must not miss.”[3]   Ridding yourself of isolation is the key to your recovery.

You cannot do it alone or in a vacuum.  Nor should you try.  Step Five is the answer.  Go to a meeting.

[1] Alcoholics Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (New York, N.Y.: The A.A. Grapevine, Inc. and Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing (now known as Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.), 1952, 1953, 1981).

[2] Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 57.

[3] Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 89

Discretion in Recovery

To be in a recovery program means that you will adhere to and work the Twelve Steps.  Intrinsic to your program is the idea that it is anonymous.  Indeed, the final letter of the abbreviation of most, if not all, fellowships that follow the Twelve Steps as a formula to help people recover from various forms of addictive, compulsive, or other behavioral problems is “A.”   That letter, of course, stands for “Anonymous.”   But what does that mean in the context of recovery?

As support for the name and purpose of the organization, the Twelve Traditions incorporate the concept of anonymity:

Tradition Eleven — Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.[1]

Tradition Twelve — Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.[2]

Confidentiality is a necessary element in the process of recovery, both inside the organization and outside.  Recovery, by its very nature, is an intensely personal task.[3]  People who are going through the recovery process generally experience feelings of hope for their future, optimism and a firm belief in themselves and their ability to persevere,  as well as fear, stigma, embarrassment or shame for what they’ve done.  The anonymity of the group allows them to openly express, without fear of unwanted exposure or public judgment, anything they wish to disclose and seek help for.  Members regularly go to meetings with other members who share their form of addiction.  They identify themselves to the other members, preserving anonymity, in this manner: “Hi, I’m Ignatz and I’m an alcoholic.”  Anonymity protects the members’ privacy in their pursuit of sobriety and ensures that everyone in the meeting is treated as being of equal value.  It also affords the individual the personal opportunity and choice to reveal his or her addiction to whomever they wish at the time of their choosing.

Key to the public’s ongoing trust in Twelve Step groups is the knowledge and faith in their commitment to the principles of discretion and anonymity.   There are those who would disagree.  Generally their opinion is that the concept of anonymity is archaic.  In “Challenging the Second ‘A’ in A.A.,” writer David Colman starts by saying, “I’M David Colman, and I’m an alcoholic.”[4]  In his article, he quotes a professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri at Kansas City who revealed his own experience getting sober with A.A., who said, “I think it’s extremely healthy that anonymity is fading.”  He cites examples of people who posted pictures taken at A.A. meetings on their Facebook pages thereby involuntarily outing other attendees, other writers of memoirs detailing their experiences in recovery, and even politicians who have traded on their sobriety:

Still, others have embraced the path of full disclosure and been rewarded. Since becoming sober in 2006, Patrick J. Kennedy, the former Rhode Island congressman and a son of the late Edward M. Kennedy, has acknowledged that he attends A.A. meetings while also actively campaigning for legislation to make addiction be held to the same standard of insurance coverage as other mental health issues. (The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, included as a rider on the Troubled Asset Relief Program, was signed into law in October 2008.)

“The personal identification that Jim and I brought to this issue as recovering alcoholics gave us a place from which to speak about this,” Mr. Kennedy said, referring to former Representative Jim Ramstad, Republican of Minnesota, his co-sponsor of the bill (and for a time, his sponsor in A.A.). “Stigma here is our biggest barrier, and knowledge and understanding are the antidote to stigma.”[5]

What he ignores, and what is central to an addict who is trying to recover is that the decision to reveal oneself as an addict or as a recovering addict is a personal one.  Nobody has the right to expose another person’s personal issues.  The founders of A.A. understood this.  They incorporated this concept into the program they created.  Clearly, it works.

[1] Alcoholics Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (New York, N.Y.: The A.A. Grapevine, Inc. and Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing (now known as Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.), 1952, 1953, 1981), p. 180.

[2] Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 184.

[3] Repper, Julie, and Rachel Perkins. Social Inclusion and Recovery: A Model for Mental Health Practice. Edinburgh: Baillière Tindall, 2003.

[4] Colman, D.  (2011, May 6). Challenging the Second ‘A’ in A.A. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com

[5] Colman, D.

A Way Out

She was only ten years old when her drug use began.  Both of her parents were active addicts.  She smoked marijuana, drank a lot and took, among other things, Percocet and Vicodin, and she became anorexic, bulimic, and she began to cut herself.  She found herself living in a shelter, at age thirteen, with her mother and younger sister.  After police intervention, she went to live with her dad.  His drugs of choice were uppers.  They became hers too.  Eventually she ran away from her dad and wound up with her grandparents.  Her plunge into addiction continued.  She entered the criminal justice system and was placed in a treatment facility.  There she encountered a treatment counselor who refused to give up on her.  After a while, she had an epiphany:

I finally got on my knees and prayed.  I don’t think I actually said anything, and if I did I don’t remember it.  But I got this overwhelming sense that even though my lawyer, my PO, Rudy, my friends, and my family could all give up on me… God wouldn’t.  So I wasn’t going to give up on myself.[1]

It paid off.  She said that “nothing’s been easy, but recovery is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.  There wasn’t a specific event that saved my life; it was my own spirituality and surrender that did it. I know without a doubt in my heart that if I’d continued using I’d be dead. Not in trouble, not in jail—dead.

He was well into his Ph.D. in respiratory medicine at the Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University, having already earned a Bachelor of Science degree and a Masters in Health Science.  He was a prolific writer.  And he suffered from migraines.  For those, he went to see the medical school’s doctor.  In eight months, he was prescribed over 6,000 controlled substance pills, to help him stay awake and study, to help him sleep, for anxiety, and for pain. He believed his intellect would protect him from addiction.  It didn’t.  As a result, he was forced to drop out of his Ph.D. program after 15 years of work.  He was trapped in life due to the severity of his addiction.  He was caught forging a prescription for Demerol, for which he lost his job.  He went doctor shopping to acquire drugs.  Ultimately he realized that, if he wanted a way out of his addiction, he would require a year in a long term residential program where he could work on his addiction issues every day.  The program worked.[2]

Door… Egress… Escape… Exit… Loophole… Opening… Outlet… Vent… Window.  All of these are ways out of what might otherwise be considered an impenetrable situation.  Think of these items in the context of addiction.  They all fit.

As the two examples above reveal, addiction can be considered a prison cell.  It provides little or no freedom, although anyone who is in it may misperceive it as a sustainable way of life.  Anybody who reaches the point where they realize they are prisoners of addiction would want to get out.  They would recognize that have missed out on important, as well as every day, life events.  Conversely, those who live in the illusion of their addiction actually live in denial of the limitations on their lives and of themselves.  So, what to do?  Where to turn?

The subjects above each took a different path.  One found a counselor who wouldn’t let go and the other, after much prompting, realized that his life and his life’s work had been forsaken in the name of his addiction.  Finding the resolve, the internal fortitude, to seek a way out is hard.  Once that is complete, the next hard step in pursuit of a way out is to find, commit to and stay in a treatment program.  Work your Twelve Steps.  Find a sponsor.  Stick with it.

 


 

 

[1] “True Story: Savannah.” Savannah: A True Story of Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery. 2 Oct. 2012. Web. <http://www.phoenixhouse.org/news-and-views/true-stories/true-story-savanna/>.

[2] Loffert, David. “From Hopkins to Homeless: My True Story of Prescription Drug Addiction – Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.” Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. 5 Dec. 2014. Web. <http://www.drugfree.org/stories-of-hope/hopkins-homeless-true-story-prescription-drug-addiction/>.