10 People You Need on Your Support Team in Addiction Recovery
If you’re a recovering alcoholic or drug addict, giving up the substances you depended on to get you through the tough times is … tough. Even tougher is staying sober. In order to maintain your sobriety, you need a little help from your friends — and not the friends you used to drink or use drugs with.
For successful recovery, you need to immerse yourself in S-O-B-R-I-E-T-Y. This means you need to surround yourself with people who support your new way of life — let’s call them your “sober team.” These are the people who want what is best for you, and when the going gets really tough, they are the ones who can help you do what it takes to stay on your recovery path.
Assembling a sober support team doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to join a 12-step fellowship or other recovery program, though that might help you more easily find friends who support your sober lifestyle. Your recovery journey can be done independently, without joining a structured program, but you still shouldn’t go it alone. Here are some of the people that are critical to have on your sober team:
#1 A long-time recovering addict who has walked this path before you. For people in recovery who have joined a 12-step program or similar group, this support person will likely be your sponsor. For others, this may be someone you know who has been in recovery for a while, and who is insightful about those dark moments and able to talk you through a crisis or temptation without judgment.
#2 A truth teller. This is the person in your life who will always tell you the truth, even if you don’t want to hear it. This is probably the best person to rely on for giving you honest feedback about how you seem to be doing. This person may be extra vigilant about negative changes they notice in you during recovery, and can give you direct feedback to help you avoid crisis. If you’re veering from your recovery program, this is the person most likely to tell you so. This person can help you recognize when it’s time to seek professional help.
#3 Someone you can count on in a high relapse risk situation. This person is willing to be on “speed dial” for you whenever you’re feeling tempted to drink or use again. Hopefully, they can be available by phone, text, email — at any hour. Often, this is the person in your life who is also in recovery and understands how to help you through these times.
#4 A person who loves you — for who you are — no matter what. Unconditional love is essential for everyone, but especially those in recovery. This is the person (or pet) in your life who loves you regardless of what you say or do, even if you make big mistakes.
#5 An addiction therapist/counselor who makes you dig deep and face the ugly stuff in order to heal. An addiction counselor can be a great sounding board as you continue on your recovery journey, helping you take a hard look at things that come up during the process and address them in healthy ways. If you don’t already have one, your counselor also can help you formulate a recovery plan with actionable goals, or construct a crisis plan that will help you cope with relapse triggers that could jeopardize your recovery.
#6 A health advocate. You might ask another friend or family member to be your “fitness partner” to help keep you on track with healthy exercise and nutrition. Having another person to work out with or follow an eating plan with can help you stick to a regimen. If you need more support or guidance with your medical care, perhaps this person can also accompany you to doctor appointments, or at least sit down with you to help you compile a list of questions to ask your doctor at your next visit.
#7 A friend who knows your before-and-after story, but supports the new, sober you. A non-drug-abusing friend from the old days who knew you at your worst can be a great mirror for how much better you are doing now. While being reminded of your old addicted behavior isn’t always constructive, if the person is supportive of your recovery they can help you gauge how far you have come.
#8 A personal planner. A friend who is highly organized could help you organize a weekly routine with specific days mapped out for shopping, paying bills, cleaning house and running errands. There are also professional services that offer this kind of help for a fee.
#9 A new friend or two who you meet sober, but feel comfortable telling that you’re in recovery. In your new sober life you’ll meet people who didn’t know the old you. When you’re ready, you can share your story with these friends and request their support. It will be important for you to share your past to help them know how to avoid situations that present challenges for your sobriety. Making new friends is also a valuable measuring stick for you — a measure of other people and their capacity for acceptance, understanding and love, despite your past.
#10 A reliable sitter. Perhaps a family member could assist you by babysitting or dog sitting to free up some personal time for you to rest and de-stress in healthy ways. It is important in recovery not to let old anxieties and burdens pile up and weigh you down. Taking time for yourself is an important aspect of recovery.
How to Ask for Help
Asking for help can be difficult, especially for recovering addicts who are not usually accustomed to opening up and asking others for assistance. But getting support from others is critical to your sobriety. So how do you ask for help?
Start by making two lists: one of the specific tasks you need help with, and another with the names of friends and family members who may be willing to take on these roles. Take into consideration their background, familiarity with recovery, time commitments and interests. Contact each person on your list and ask a direct question: Can you help me with this? Avoid hinting around and hoping they’ll offer. Most people will feel honored that you’d entrust them with these tasks and will admire your courage for asking.
If a direct request feels too intimidating, some people in recovery find it helpful to write a letter to a friend or family member asking for their support. Though it may seem a bit formal, you can explain that this letter-writing exercise helps you to more openly discuss what you are going through and to spell out the different ways they might support you in your journey. Alternately, you can write out the letter as an initial step or a “dress rehearsal” that helps you practice how to verbally ask for help.
The key is to ask for others to support you in a variety of ways that will help keep you on track — taking care of your overall health, working your recovery program, using positive coping skills to reduce stress, and managing day-to-day responsibilities to keep everything running smoothly.
Some of these requests may seem like small things, but when a person spirals into active addiction, these are the things that begin to fall apart. Once in recovery, it is critical to rely on your support network to help you rebuild this structure of small things so that you can successfully navigate a course to long-term recovery.