By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
In the early stage of recovery developing a support system can be a challenge. We all know we need someone to support us, but who and how do we enlist their support? Let’s start with a description of a person in recovery from alcoholism and then expanded the description to other forms of recovery.
Newcomers in A.A. are encouraged to find a sponsor. It can be embarrassing to ask someone you hardly know to sponsor you. This relationship needs to be a good fit. The sponsor should be someone who has something in the way of recovery to offer and someone you feel comfortable in discussing your life with. They should also be someone you can trust to tell you the truth.
Have you ever done anything to help someone else? Let’s say you did something to help a child or an elderly person, how did that feel? Did it feel good to be able to help that person?
Sponsors do things for the person because it feels good to do so. They also work with others as part of the A.A. program because helping others keeps them sober. You are not imposing on a sponsor when you ask them to be your sponsor; you are offering them a chance to feel good about helping and to further their recovery. Don’t cheat a potential sponsor out of the opportunity to be of service.
Here is the process for selecting a sponsor that will likely be helpful.
There are lots of A.A. and N.A. meetings. Most areas have central offices that can give you the address of a meeting nearby. With the changes in technology, there are lots of online resources, meeting lists, and even online meetings. If at all possible attend in-person meetings; it is important to make personal contacts.
Look for fellowships or places that have frequent meetings at the same location. Your car can find the bar without you steering it. Make it easy for your car to find the A.A. meeting on its own. Make a habit of going even when you don’t think you need to go. Someone there may need to see you. Support systems work in two directions.
There is likely to be one meeting that feels more comfortable than others. This may become your home group. Don’t stop there, however. Try out other groups for that time when you can’t go to your regular group but need a meeting. As you make friends at your home group consider going to other meetings together.
At each meeting listen for people who say something that strikes you as helpful. After the meeting ask for their number. Many meetings will send around a phone card for members to give the newcomer their numbers.
Should you ask someone and they say no, please do not take this as something about you. Some people are very busy and don’t think they have the time for phone calls. Others, because of their jobs or situations, are not supposed to give out their phone number. If the potential sponsor says no keep asking till you find someone who is able to give out their number.
When an alcoholic is thinking of drinking they will find that the phone receiver weighs two thousand pounds. They can’t lift the phone to their face to talk. By practicing phone calling every day you strengthen your arm and your habit of calling a recovering person. Sometimes you will find the other person needed the call even more than you did.
Don’t stop after one try. If the first person you call is not home or can’t talk keep calling until you reach someone. Having more than one person in your support circle is a huge plus.
It is also recommended that you not wait until after you are drunk to call. Call before you drink. Call as a way to manage the urges. Call as a way to build that connection with your support system.
One of those people you are calling, the one that is there for you, that is the person you are likely to ask to be your sponsor. Ask them. If they decline ask them for a recommendation. If you trusted them enough to ask them, trust them to refer you.
The best meetings are often the meeting-before-the-meeting and the meeting-after-the-meeting. Sit and talk. Go for coffee or dessert after the meeting. People hang out and talk not only about recovery but about the challenges of living life after drugs or alcohol.
Attend your fellowship’s social events, potlucks, picnics, sporting events and so on. The more you develop social friendships the more people you have as potential support systems. Don’t wait till the crisis strikes to form strong friendships.
The process for finding sponsors at N.A. or other twelve-step programs is much the same.
There are an increasing number of peer-run centers and peer-run groups. Ask at your local mental health providers about peer groups. Many areas have local NAMI chapters they can be especially helpful in referring you to peer support groups, so should local mental health agencies.
There are also online groups for mental health issues.
If you have both a substance abuse issue and a mental health issue look for co-occurring groups. It can also be helpful if you have multiple issues to attend more than one fellowship.
Think about how you would like your support system to support you. Write out the things you would like them to do and not do. Make sure you discuss your wishes should a crisis strike. Make sure your support system knows about your professional providers or who to call if you have a crisis.
So there are some suggestions for creating and strengthening a support system. What have you done to create a support system?
Other posts about support systems can be found at:
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Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.