One of the dangers of relapse is isolating yourself. When you start to see your old thought patterns return or when you begin to feel those old feelings come back to you, it’s easy to want to pull away. It’s easy to want to hide away in your home and avoid people in general.
Although there’s a certain safety that comes with being alone, there’s also a danger. The danger is getting so caught up in your feelings and thoughts that they end up driving you to drink. One thought like, “She makes me so angry,” can trigger a relapse. Or having an old feeling of anxiety come up out of nowhere can be the impetus that kicks start the drug use.
Although engaging in a community has the dangers of having to interact with others, it also has immense benefits. Sure, interacting with others means you’re going to have to face yourself and who you are in the presence of others. But if you can put your fears, frustrations, and judgments aside, you might find that being a part of a group can significantly support your recovery.
The primary reason community is so effective for recovery is that it takes the secretive, hidden quality of the addiction off the table. Suddenly, in a community, there are others who are in recovery as well, addiction and the road to sobriety is being openly discussed. The horrible experiences, the challenges, the obstacles, and the breakthroughs are being shared among people who have been to the bottom too.
Of course, the classic sober living community is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson, sometimes known as Bill W. Since its founding, AA communities have sprung up around the world. And if you’re in recovery, you’re likely participating in some form of a community. That might be at a treatment facility or a sober living home, or attending AA meetings.
Another form of community is group therapy, which you might be attending as a part of a treatment program. Group therapy is a treatment method similar to individual therapy. However, the difference is that there are a number of people in the room discussing a psychological or social concern they share – such as addiction. There is often at least one mental health professional in the room to facilitate a therapeutic discussion of the topic. In group therapy and in a sober living community, a person can find others who are struggling with the same issues. They can come out of the dark about the concerns they are having.
In other forms of community, such as support groups, parents, spouses, and children of those struggling with addiction can also experience the benefits of community in support groups. For instance, Al-Anon is a related AA community for loved ones of those struggling with addiction or in recovery. Such a group can provide loved ones with the resources they need to support their addicted relatives or friends through the difficulties of addiction and breaking free of an addiction’s grasp.
Another reason to make community an essential part of your recovery is that addiction can create a sort of tunnel vision experience. There are often preoccupations, fantasies, and obsessions having to do with using drugs or drinking. Also, addiction usually comes with an overwhelming amount of thinking, worrying, and dreaming about drinking or getting high. Addiction doesn’t only include using; it also includes thinking about getting high and planning the day around getting high. Fantasizing and daydreaming about the drug of choice frequently accompanies addiction.
However, openness with others encourages honesty and helps to fight against denial. In a community there is often compassionate listening to others and yourself, a kind of listening that addiction might have closed off. In fact, the degree to which you listen is a skill that strengthens over time. Most people listen long enough in order to say what they want to say. Yet, hearing others and listening to them are very different tasks. Listening requires the use of all the senses, including intuition. Listening includes listening to the experiences of others, relating to others, and most importantly, listening to ourselves. Listening asks that we touch what is being communicated underneath the words. This sort of listening strengthens trust and respect, and it is the openness that heals addiction. It too leads to connection – with ourselves and with others. And this can be fostered through community.
If you feel the need to hide your drinking or drug use or the need to minimize the destructive effects of addiction, then joining a community focused on recovery can be incredibly helpful and healing. Participating in a community can be the primary method by which your recovery begins.
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