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August 28, 2018

7 Best Practices for Staying in Touch with Your Support Network

Friends in coffee shop laughingAn active support network, comprising both formal support groups and informal friendships, can make the difference between relapse and long-term recovery. But as with any tool or program, a support network will do you little good unless you use it.

To get the most from sobriety support:

1. ATTEND FORMAL MEETINGS ON A REGULAR SCHEDULE

Depending on the group you choose, your stage of recovery, your other commitments and your transportation options, that schedule may be three times a week or twice a month. But never let more than a month pass between meetings, even if you’ve been sober for years. If nothing else, there are other members, newer to sobriety, who could use the benefit of your experience.

2. GIVE AS MUCH AS YOU TAKE

Besides offering help and encouragement to fellow support-group members, consider volunteering for group leadership or a special event. And in home, work and social settings, do your fair share and a bit extra:

  • Pitch in with household chores.
  • Offer to take over some assignments from an overworked colleague.
  • Bring refreshments to your office or church meeting.
  • Host a small group in your home.
  • Treat a friend to a movie.

Becoming a regular giver will not only help counter addiction-related habits, it’ll make your life more fulfilling overall.

3. BUT DON’T ABANDON THE “RECEIVING” ROLE

Many people who develop addictions are perfectionistic and a little too eager to do everything, not trusting anyone else to get it right, or fearful of displeasing others with a “no.” Taking too much on yourself is needlessly stressful (always a danger zone in recovery) and also deprives others of the joys of giving and learning. You were smart enough to accept help in sobering up and making plans for your future. Be smart enough to accept help in making that future a success.

4. KNOW WHETHER YOU’RE AN INTROVERT OR AN EXTROVERT

And manage your social life and support-group attendance accordingly. Introverts in particular are prone to feeling guilty about their “antisocial” inclinations and forcing themselves to attend bigger or more frequent gatherings than they’d like. That means unnecessary stress, which, for someone recovering from addiction, could mean relapse. If you’re a natural social butterfly, great! If you prefer going out twice a week and sticking to small gatherings, do it your way with a clear conscience.

5. KNOW WHETHER YOU PREFER PLANNING OR SPONTANEITY

“Introverted” isn’t necessarily synonymous with “organized,” nor do all extroverts prefer spontaneous invitations. You’re probably a “planner” if:

  • You keep a detailed and well-used personal calendar
  • You take “save the date” notices literally
  • When you receive an assignment that will take days or weeks, the first thing you do is divide it into steps and add each step to your calendar
  • You detest interruptions with a passion, and cancellations with an even stronger passion

“Planners” are naturals for regular attendance at support-group meetings: social life may present more challenges. Join a club or sign up for volunteer work. Have at least one ongoing “date” (dinner every Friday night, Saturdays at the spa) with a loved one or peer group.

You’re probably the spontaneous type if:

  • All you write down in your personal calendar are things you absolutely can’t afford to forget
  • You frequently invite friends out on two hours’ notice
  • You work best under the pressure of imminent deadlines
  • Your college nickname was “Last-Minute Larry”

You’re likely better than your planning-oriented peers at calling for emergency support, but worse at keeping up regular support-group attendance. Get a fellow group member to hold you accountable. In your social life, let everyone know that when you say “drop by anytime” you mean it as more than a polite cliché. Don’t, however, drop in unannounced yourself, unless you’re sure the other party is also a spontaneous type.

6. DO YOUR FAIR SHARE OF LISTENING

Everyone knows you’ve been through a lot and have a lot to deal with yet, but even the most understanding peers don’t want to be treated as sounding boards without separate lives of their own. Practice hearing people out, being empathetic and staying interested in what interests others. And remember to rejoice in others’ triumphs as well as offering sympathy for their troubles.

7. FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE

Hopefully, everyone in your support network knows to avoid gripe sessions: since discouragement is a major factor in most addictions, acquaintances who live in growl-and-grumble clouds can be almost as hazardous to your recovery as people who urge you to have “just one” drink. Don’t be a Debbie Downer yourself, either. Make a point of finding things to be thankful for. Things such as your support network!

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