10 Tips for Helping Your Peers in Sobriety SupportAnna Ciulla
Most people in addiction recovery agree that it takes a team to keep a person sober. Having someone (or several someones) to be accountable to means that:
- You have the incentive of not disappointing your friends.
- Empathy and tough love are both there when you need them.
- You get extra input to verify that your goals are achievable and realistic.
- The taste of success is doubly sweet when you have others to share your celebration.
Of course, these benefits should accrue to everyone in your sobriety support group. And by joining that group, you implicitly promise to help spread those benefits. Here are some ideas on how to do that effectively.
1. Follow the Rules of the Group
A few group rules are near-universal:
- Wait your turn to share: don’t interrupt.
- Keep quiet outside of meetings about what’s shared in meetings.
- Always show respect for others.
Depending on your individual group and its support philosophy, you may also be required to:
- Keep your own sharing time within a specific time limit.
- Speak only during your own turn, even if you think you have the perfect addition to someone else’s contribution.
- Attend a set number of meetings a month.
- Take a turn bringing refreshments or speaking to the group.
Follow your own group’s rules scrupulously: they’re there to keep the support network effective. If you disagree with any rules, talk to leadership, find another group (or don’t join in the first place), but don’t impede the progress of other members by rebelling or sulking.
2. Be Dependable
Besides following the group rules, this means keeping your promises (from making this week’s coffee to being there when a fellow member calls). It also includes keeping up regular meeting attendance and pitching in to help as needed.
3. Be a Good Listener
This doesn’t stop at not interrupting: sitting quietly with your mind a hundred miles away is not being a good listener. When someone is speaking to the group, pay close enough attention to retain their key points. If talking to someone one-on-one, don’t hesitate to repeat back what they’ve said in your own words: everyone likes to feel they’ve been heard and understood.
4. Avoid Comparing, Judging or Boasting
The absolute worst thing you can do in response to someone’s confession of struggling with a relapse trigger is say anything that sounds remotely like, “What’s wrong with you? There’s nothing tempting about that.” Everyone tends to think that what’s easy for them should be easy for everyone: but you, too, have weak spots in areas that are insignificant to your peers. And people with addiction disorders are particularly sensitive to any implications of “You’re a weakling.”
5. Share Advice, But Don’t Preach
If group rules allow for sharing ideas and advice, do so tactfully. Don’t be the know-it-all who’s always telling others what’s best for them: that attitude annoys others to the point they can’t tell good advice from bad. Besides, getting cocky is likely to lead you into the fall that comes in the wake of pride.
6. Stop Pity Parties Before They Start
Part of a support group’s purpose is to sympathize with others’ struggles: but if everyone starts openly agreeing that everything always goes wrong or everything’s hopeless, that’s feeding “might as well return to chemical comfort” temptations. Avoid starting “poor me” conversations yourself, and if anyone else heads in that direction, ask them to share some of their blessings or recent successes.
7. Focus on the Positive
Besides providing a path away from “hopeless” thinking when it threatens, focusing on the good in life will keep your group away from the pity-party route to begin with. Try to share at least three good things for every struggle (and be openly thankful every time you successfully resist temptation, rather than complaining about its existence).
8. Respect Your Peers as Individuals
Don’t nag introverted group members to share more. Don’t show annoyance if someone radiates more energy than you’re comfortable with. Everyone has their own natural personality traits, and the best sobriety path always includes working with these traits.
9. Encourage Sharing All Kinds of Achievements
Celebrations don’t have to be limited to sobriety anniversaries, or even to things directly associated with sobriety. Share your successes (and ask about others’ successes) in everything from getting Master Gardener certification to completing a GED. Effective sobriety isn’t just about what you don’t do: it’s about becoming the well-rounded unique individual you were created to be.
10. Be a One-on-One Support Partner
Once you’ve been with a group for a while, consider volunteering to:
- Be the on-call support partner who stays available to coach someone else in case of temptation.
- Mentor a new group member.
- Share coffee dates with someone else between meetings, where they can go into greater detail on their struggles and triumphs.
A major element of long-term success in sobriety (and life) is giving back some of what you’ve received. Get active in helping others, and you’ll soon find you’re helping yourself (and being helped by those you’re helping) in more ways than you imagined!