Having recently returned to Help Me Stop as Director of Treatment Services I want to share some thoughts on the importance of developing our recovery community further. I am honoured and excited to be back with Help Me Stop and look forward to developing the community into a vibrant place where people can get well and flourish.
Everyone needs to feel as if they belong somewhere or have a place to call home. This is a basic human need and is essential if we are to feel safe and grow.
Many addicts and alcoholics say that they have always felt at odds with the world, as if they don’t fit in anywhere. We feel in a constant state of disease and lack the ability to do life as others do. The type of upbringing makes no difference, the feelings that lie at the heart of addiction are completely indiscriminate and the questions are universal.
Who am I?
Where do I fit in?
Can I trust anyone?
How do I get accepted?
Am I loveable?
Why do I feel empty?
Why am I never satisfied?
When in active addiction, drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, shopping, (the list is endless) seem to be the only things that make sense. We put our trust in substances and behaviours instead of people (Except for the dealer or the barman) leading to a tumultuous and toxic love affair that plays out sometimes over many years.
As with any abusive relationship we fall out with one substance and hook up with another or remain utterly stuck believing that the next time we use it will be different. inevitably this creates bigger and more far-reaching problems until we reach a point where we are baffled, hopeless and beaten. We were convinced we had found a home in drugs and booze and are left feeling utterly betrayed. We become more and more disconnected from humanity.
The value of connection
If we are lucky, we end up “coming to” in a 12 step meeting or a treatment centre and are able to start unpicking the tangled mess that our lives had become. Once the substances have drained from our system, we often find we are back knee deep in fear, self-loathing, anger and bewilderment. These feelings are familiar to us, we know them well, like old friends they reappear to invite us back for one more party.
And again, if we are lucky, we stay for a while in the clinic and/or the 12 Step Fellowship meetings and we begin to enjoy the feeling of belonging and connection with other humans. We start to look at the 12 Steps, we start writing, sharing, washing, eating well and even enjoying a life free from pills, powder and booze.
We begin to recover in the presence of others and perhaps for the first time we find a tribe where we belong. A place where we feel accepted by others and where there is no judgment. We start to feel worthy of a seat at the recovery table. We have found a family, a club, a gang, a bunch of friends, a safe space, A COMMUNITY.
The sense of community we experience by engaging with a 12 Step Fellowship will help to keep us clean and sober, but also it will help us heal, grow and teaches us how to thrive in the face of life’s challenges. Just because we are now abstinent it does not mean the rest of the world will give us an easy ride.
Coping with life on life’s terms is indeed a conundrum that often leads to serial relapsing and eventually, for some, death.
We know that simply removing the offending substance from our lives does not necessarily lead to full and lasting recovery. We often feel that people relapse for a myriad of reasons but the truth is there is always a common and simple thread that runs through them all.
The main causes of relapse are: Disconnection, Isolation, Dishonesty and most importantly not doing the necessary work on ourselves to stay right with the world.
We disconnect from our support system; we isolate from recovery and we are dishonest about our recovery. Once these three things have happened, we stop working on ourselves and lose perspective on our lives.
We can disconnect in a number of ways – Physically not attending meetings or not talking to our sponsor or peers often justifying it with what we believe are more important responsibilities around family and work.
We can isolate in a similar way or simply sit in a meeting and not share or not answer the phone when a recovering friend calls, instead choosing to message them saying:
“I am fine, just busy”
Finally, we become dishonest convincing ourselves and others that we are taking care of business with work, family and other far more important commitments.
As a result of withdrawing from our recovery community we begin to run on self-will and disconnect from any form of higher power that may have been guiding us.
Ask yourself these questions:
Do I ever felt spiritually lifted following attendance at a 12 step meeting?
How do I feel connected and supported after attendance at a 12 step fellowship meeting?
Have I ever felt better able to remain abstinent after attendance at a 12 step meeting?
Am I better able to cope with life’s challenges after attendance at a a 12 step meeting?
Do I ever feel more confident within myself after attendance at a 12 step meeting?
Do I feel a sense of belonging after attendance at a 12 step meeting?
If you have felt any of these things then you are indeed participating in a recovery community.
Then ask yourself “Why would I ever turn my back on my recovery community?
Recovery is not a complex or challenging equation; in fact, it is a very simple calculation.
Addiction thrives in the darkness of isolation whereas recovery flourishes in a community made up of individuals on a similar journey. The newcomer is present to remind you of the darkness that lies behind and long termers are there to inspire and share their experience.
We cannot recover on our own!
Withdraw from your recovery community at your peril!
I have spent twenty five years working in prison rehabs, residential rehabs and community based rehabs as well as attending 12 step fellowships for my own recovery.
The one thing above all that has kept me in this field of work and on my own personal recovery journey is my experience of being part of a community.
I have nothing but gratitude for the fact that I have finally found my true home where I feel accepted.
“The therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel”.Source: Narcotics Anonymous – How it Works
Help Me Stop Community Commitment
We will build and develop a recovery community for and led by the people that use it.
The HMS community will be a safe, non-judgmental space where people can access full and lasting recovery.
We will build a community that will serve as home for anybody that seeks a sense of belonging and purpose.
The HMS community will celebrate everyone’s achievements and ensure the benefits of recovery are visible to all.