When addicts and alcoholics in early recovery enter a treatment program, many believe that it is simply a matter of quitting their substance of choice. They imagine that being sober involves spending your entire life saying “No” to an overpowering desire for drugs and alcohol. For these newly sober recovering addicts, sobriety might seem like a pretty bleak future, compared to which even the miseries of active addiction might seem preferable.
When these recovering addicts enroll in sober living homes, however, they are often surprised to find out that the process of recovery is a holistic experience. Recovery means making changes in every aspect of life.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, mere abstinence is never sufficient for people trying to stay sober on a long term basis. Recovering addicts have to change their approach to socializing and connecting with others, which involves addressing mental health issues, behavioral patterns, and simply practicing connecting with others.
It is common for people in the recovery community to refer to alcoholism and addiction as “diseases of isolation.” This term refers to two distinct but overlapping phenomena.
The first is that social isolation and its emotional effect, loneliness, are common factors driving addiction. Alcohol and drugs can comfort people while they’re alone, and they are also commonly perceived as “social lubrication” tools that help people make friends and have more positive interactions with others.
The second phenomenon is that alcoholism and addiction actually make people lonelier. When addiction takes center stage, friendships fall by the wayside as drug use because the dominant priority. Substance abuse can also lead to antisocial behavior. All of this results in friends and family being pushed away.
Sadly, these two phenomena form a vicious cycle. People who have spent years engaging in substance abuse find it harder to get sober and implement healthy life changes, because addiction has likely damaged the social support systems that make this possible.
For this reason, most treatment programs work with recovering addicts right away on developing a social support system. There’s no reason to wait until addicts are calm and finished detoxing. The process of detoxing and those arduous first few weeks of sobriety are in fact easier when supported by others who are experiencing the same pain.
In sober living homes, the primary focus is on community. Sober recovering addicts need to learn to work and live together in the same home.
For many, this is indeed a learning process. Addicts who are used to following nothing but their own selfish impulses must learn to recognize the needs and desires of others. This involves learning a wide variety of skills, among them compromise, negotiation, and most importantly empathy.
Ultimately, however, residents of sober living homes realize that they have a lot to gain from these relationships — which for many quickly become strong friendships. Having friends who understand the trials and tribulations of early sobriety is an incredibly powerful source of support that makes the whole process easier.
Learning how to live responsibly in a community is also useful practice for life — these are necessary skills that continue to strengthen a recovering addict’s social ties for years to come, making relapse less likely with each passing year. In fact, one recent study on sober living homes showed that the primary factors behind long term recovery are social support and 12-step program involvement (another form of social support encouraged by sober living houses).
Of course, the most obvious benefit of having a crew of recovering addicts is that it makes recovery fun. Sober living homes tend to be filled with laughter. Residents spend a lot of time bonding, joking, sharing stories, and playing games.
Most sober living homes organize outings to do fun activities like hiking and surfing. It is during these moments that many recovering addicts first make the discovery that sobriety is not a painful state of always saying “no” to drugs and alcohol, but a joyful state of saying “yes” to life.
While inpatient treatment is temporary, successful recovering addicts discover that the joys of a sober community are permanent gifts. Most continue to follow a program of recovery in the rooms of 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
These meetings exist in every major city around the world. Recovering addicts can continue to expand their sober social networks and get the support they need to remain sober. Moreover, they can provide critical support to others.
This isn’t just a selfless activity. Research shows that helping others, by reducing focus on personal ego and selfish desires, actually weakens addiction. By immersing themselves in a 12-step program after finishing addiction treatment, addicts can continue to live a joyful life and stay sober.
If you’re currently thinking of getting sober, why impose upon yourself the additional challenge of doing it in isolation. Design for Recovery offers a program of recovery that you can follow while living with and being supported by other recovering alcoholics. Reach out to Design for Recovery today to discuss the changes you want to make in your life.