September is National Recovery Month, a time to spread awareness around addiction, increase the understanding of addiction and mental health, and celebrate people in recovery. Each year, it is celebrated not only by people in recovery, but by treatment, recovery, and prevention programs around the country as they share success stories about their fellows. Not only does this help spread awareness, but it helps destigmatize addiction.
This year’s theme for Recovery Month is “Join the Voices for Recovery: Together We are Stronger.” It emphasizes the importance of sharing community and national resources to help one another. After all, substance use touches nearly all walks of life - it doesn’t discriminate.
When I first got sober, I felt extremely alone. I didn’t know the true value of friendship at the time, much less how to get vulnerable with others to form deep emotional connections. However, despite my inability to connect with other women, I was still met with love and compassion by nearly every woman who crossed my path.
At my first 12-step meeting I was approached by a woman who offered to be my sponsor. I didn’t know how the whole sponsorship thing worked, but I said yes anyway. The following morning, we met for coffee. She handed me a list of phone numbers of women in her support group and told me to call one person each night to begin building healthy relationships and forming my own support group. Those nightly phone calls built the foundation upon which my recovery stands and, ultimately, saved my life.
Why Support Groups are Important
Whether you find your support group in an outpatient treatment program, an alumni program, a 12-step fellowship, or other recovery programs, having a support group is an integral part of addiction recovery. They offer emotional support, life advice, and companionship - all of which are crucial to have in recovery.
Isolation is a dangerous thing, and it often precedes relapse, contributes to addictive behaviors, and negatively impacts mental health. Staying connected to a support group of other people in recovery will help you remember that you aren’t alone in this journey. Instead, you will have immediate access to a group of people who understand exactly what you are going through.
Support groups and community involvement in recovery can help you develop healthy habits, find joy and purpose in life, and prevent isolation - all of which are essential to achieving long term sobriety.
When I first got sober, I felt really alone. Nobody in my family suffered from addiction and none of my old friends were in recovery. I felt like I had nobody to talk to who could really understand me, and that was a scary place to be.
Once I began to form relationships with other women in recovery, my sobriety took on a new meaning. It no longer meant isolation, misery, or boredom. Sobriety became something that was actually fun. The women I surrounded myself with taught me how to enjoy life, cope with my emotions, and how to treat others with love and respect. More importantly, they showed me that I wasn’t alone. In fact, in every challenging situation that I faced, there was somebody in my support group who had experienced and endured the exact same things as me.
By forming relationships based on unique challenges and common experiences, I finally felt like I belonged somewhere. I finally felt like I wasn’t being judged for my past or my present.
What Makes for a Good Support Group
Support groups of any kind are meant to help individuals who are going through similar experiences as the rest of the group. In recovery, a support group should consist of like-minded individuals who have the same goals in their sobriety. Although family members and friends who are not in recovery can be wonderful motivators and supports, they may not be able to empathize to the same degree as those in recovery can.
A good support group will make members feel welcomed, understood, and valued. Rather than condemning or criticizing one another, support groups should lift their members up and offer advice for difficult situations. In addition, a dedicated support group should hold their members accountable for their behaviors, commitments, and involvement within the group.
My support group has always been there for me. They answer the phone when I call, they tell me the truth even when it hurts, and they are there for me when I am struggling. If I don’t show up to a meeting, they hold me accountable and make sure I am okay. They continue to show me the true meaning of love and friendship. Most of all, I have never felt an ounce of judgment from them and they have taught me what it really means to be a woman in recovery.
My experience with my support group has demonstrated that together, we really are stronger. Without them, I would feel lost and alone. Not only have they set the foundation for my recovery, but they inspire me to help others just as they helped me. Having a support group is like having an army of people beside you who are all fighting for the same thing - to help others recover.
Hailey has 4 years sober and is the content manager for PAX Memphis Recovery Center. As an active member of her local recovery community, she enjoys telling her story and sharing her experience to help those who are suffering from addiction.