Let’s face it, in active addiction, you probably didn’t care so much about letting people into your life, mostly because it was just another person to hide your use from. As alcoholics and addicts, keeping people at a distance was the way you operated. As a result of your alcoholism or drug addiction, your interpersonal relationships suffered. In recovery from addiction, you must learn how to let people into your life. Fear of judgement is a thing of the past, as in addiction treatment you learn to share the things you don’t want to in order to grow from them.
Early recovery is an experience that requires you to reach out for help, a lot. “The common thread that runs through the most successful people in the history of mankind is that they all realized they couldn’t do it alone. Reaching out for support is a brilliant quality they all shared and something that we, too, would do very well to adopt…Hands down, people who have a lot of support not only reach their goals quicker and with more gusto but they also experience more fulfillment and have more fun getting there” (Carew). Rest assured, you will never have to be hesitant to let people in because of the web you’ve spun to hide your substance use disorder; this behavior is in the past. In recovery, the only web you’ll want to spin has a much different purpose— support.
What is a Support System?
A support system is a network of people that you build into your life for support, guidance, companionship, advice, and socialization. These people in your support system will be an invaluable resource in addiction treatment and recovery. Your support network consists of people who you can call, talk to, hang out with, and depend on.
Who Should be in your Support Network
- your therapist
- your case manager
- a sponsor
- people actively involved in a program of recovery
- members of your home group
- sober peers
- supportive (and sober) family members
- a spiritual advisor
Avoid filling your sober support network with co-workers, “friends” who don’t support recovery, unstable individuals, people just starting out in addiction recovery, and members of the opposite sex— these people will usually end up being distractions or not having the purest of intentions.
In early recovery, of course your family members will be a part of your support system— however, it is more important to rely on people in recovery for support. Family members should not be dumping grounds for your emotional trials and tribulations, there is a fine line between sharing and oversharing— venting to family members can spark unnecessary worrying and may make your family feel helpless if they can not provide solutions. You should be discovering solutions for yourself, not relying on people to carry you through every obstacle you may face. This is why we suggest reaching out to other sober people in recovery before asking for your family’s help or advice.
With all of this being said, do not expect anyone in your sober support network to fix all of your problems, or find solutions for you. This is work that you need to do for yourself, by yourself— a support network exists to support and guide you, not to do any of the work for you.
What to Look For in Potential Supports
Here are some attributes of individuals who you should be looking to add to your support system:
Make sure you’re relying on people with ample time in sobriety, especially if you are asking for their advice!
You want people in your support system to be consistent. Reliability is key, as you will be relying on these individuals in one way or another.
Make sure you are choosing people who will show up for you! You need to be able to depend on people for advice, help, understanding, etc.
Trust isn’t automatic, but you should have some form of trust that you are able to build upon with the person.
This trait is pretty self-explanatory; it’s called a support system for a reason.
You need someone who has stability. We’re not as concerned with things like financial stability as we are with this individual’s mental and emotional stability. You do not want to be engaging with someone who is emotionally or mentally unstable.
Obviously, you should only engage with people who are respectful to you. You also want to engage with people who are respectful of any boundaries you may have. This is a protective measure for your sobriety, but also for the sake of your sanity.
- People who are serious about their recovery
Like-minded individuals who are taking their recovery seriously are the most important allies you can have in your own recovery process.
We recommend choosing individuals who are uplifting. We also recognize the importance in choosing individuals as supports who are of the same sex. Filling your support network with people of the opposite sex can cause issues. Just trust us on this one. You may be wondering where you meet these types of people, for some inspiration, we’ve provided some ideas below.
Where Do You Meet Supports?
There are many places you could meet someone to build into your support network. Here are some ideas:
- 12-step meetings
- your home group
- the clinical team at your treatment center
- support groups
- volunteer opportunities
- local social clubs
- community events
- art shows
- social gatherings
Tips for creating a solid support system:
- “Take a look back at your life where you had the greatest success. Chances are good you had support. Examine the support system you had in place and think about how you created it” (Carew).
This is one of the best tips we’ve heard for building a strong support system.
- Try talking to one new person at each 12-step meeting.
Introduce yourself to the speaker, ask for their phone number, tell them you need support. People in recovery are always more than willing to help, try not to feel weird about it, everyone in 12-step programs have been where you are at and want to help you.
- Ask someone else how they did it.
If you find yourself struggling to build a support network, ask someone else how they did it! This tip is so simple, but we often overlook simple solutions. Ask someone who has a strong support network, chances are they are more than willing to tell you how they did it and may even offer to introduce you to some good people who you can add to your support system.
- Be aware of your body language and facial expressions— are you approachable?
When you are out and about, be aware of the impression you are giving off. Are you sitting in the back of a meeting, with your arms crossed and a blank expression? This can give off an unapproachable vibe.
- Having a hard time meeting new people?
Get involved! Join community events, organizations, associations, etc. Go to a meeting and make it your home group, and introduce yourself at the business meeting and tell members you are looking to build a strong support network. We promise, you will leave the business meeting with many new friends.
- Speak up!
Ask for a “where and when” phone numbers list at a meeting, you will get a pamphlet with dozens of phone numbers on the back of it, giving you the ability to reach out to many new people. Get up and share in a meeting, say that you need support and would love to meet new people who are strong in their recovery. Ask for support, being assertive with your needs will ensure that they are met.
How a Strong Support System Will Help You
When it comes to addiction recovery, you are going to need support. It’s always good to share what you’re going through, and ask for advice from someone outside of yourself— especially when those people have gone through the process themselves. It will be endlessly beneficial and gratifying to have supports who can help you deal with issues that they have successfully overcame too.
As you move forward through the recovery process, you will also be able to rely on sober supports to figure out how to do life. You will find out first hand what being sober looks like, you’ll begin to understand how people in sobriety have fun, what they do on a Saturday night, how they budgeted, how they bought a car or a house, etc. Also, someone or multiple people from your support network could be potential roommates for the future; it will help you greatly to live amongst sober people who are strong in their recovery.
The beauty in adding people from 12-step programs of recovery you may be involved in, is that these supports have once been in your position. Not only can they empathize with you, but they will be able to tell you how they got through some of the same stages you will be facing. This type of support is crucial.
Reach Out to Us
If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, please reach out to us at (877)-RECOVERY or (877)-732-6837. Our team of addiction specialists are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because We Care.
Carew, Chrissy. “::Coach Carew | The Top Ten Ways to Build a Strong Support Network…” CoachCarew, Coach Carew, www.coachcarew.com/the-top-ten-ways-to-build-a-strong-support-network/.