Life in Recovery

How Community Helps in Overcoming Substance Abuse and Addiction

Community is essential in recovery because it supports connection, whether it’s via treatment, a support group, healthy and trusted friends or family, or a counselor or therapist. Many of us can feel alone in our struggle, or have felt that way for a long period of time. It’s amazing how powerful and life-giving the simple experience of being known and not alone can be. Experiencing community may feel risky or different, particularly for those of us more familiar with isolating. But it’s worth the risk and the time, even if the process is messy or imperfect. We can set the pace at which we build community.


Finding Space to Be Ourselves

Community plays a central role in the experience of deeper connection, which is vital for successful recovery and growth in life. Building relationships with people reminds of our worth and value, and that we’re not alone. In recovery, community provides opportunity to learn from the processes of others, and to hear stories that inspire.  Having an environment where we feel safe to fully express ourselves and be vulnerable in our process is essential in recovery. Healthy community can be found in other places, be it through sports leagues, fitness centers, hobby groups, or religious groups. What matters more than the type of setting is how much trust and connection we experience. We each need spaces where we can be fully known, fully ourselves, and feel safe to seek help or express ourselves.

Why Community Matters in Recovery

Investing in our recovery community is worthwhile, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. While tremendous progress can be made via counseling or programs at treatment centers, community is essential for maintaining and building upon this growth over the long-term. This is particularly relevant when we return to contexts that are more similar to our life before recovery. What do we do when back in the “real” world?

An older man talks about his recovery process with a support group at a treatment center, led by a therapist.

There will be competing priorities and many reasons to not prioritize community, but here are a few important benefits:

Offers new beginnings. Many of us need to make adjustments in our friendships and relationships during recovery, particularly if they are not supportive of or aligned with the new direction of our lives.  Support groups and other community can offer a fresh start.

Counters shame. Hearing others’ stories and processes reminds us that everyone has a past, and everyone is imperfect. There is permission to be in process, and a key ingredient to growth is simply to be willing to stick with the process.

Stirs hope. We get a window into the lives of others who may be facing and overcoming situations similar to ours. Hearing those stories reminds us that change and success are possible, and that we are not alone.

Builds connection. Support groups are a place where deep relationships can be built in the process of sharing lives and processes. Vulnerability fuels continued growth and allows us to feel loved — to be fully known and fully accepted.

Provides learning opportunities. We get to understand and learn from others’ processes, including their successes and failures. Hearing others process through their perspectives, emotions and experiences can unlock something in us, or bring clarity to our own situations.

A person is taking notes at a church she goes to because the community, connection and support is essential in her recovery.

Overcoming the Fear of Community

Community may seem scary and uncomfortable. Past hurtful experiences may make the idea of opening up to community very difficult. Being open to community, and to the feedback they provide, can be awkward. But the person in our support group, or our sponsor, or our counselor, may have the insight or experience that helps us grow and change, and experience greater life and fulfillment in important parts of our lives. Inviting community and their feedback puts us in a position to access the keys and tools we need to thrive in life. If community is difficult for you, remember that it’s okay for trust and relationships to take time. We are not obligated to open ourselves up to community, particularly if it’s not very life-giving. Pursuing community in ways aligned with our goals and values can unlock positive experiences and growth.

Building Community Is a Lifelong Journey

While recovery-focused community can be incredibly valuable in recovery, and particularly in times of transition, we may find that other sources of community provide valuable resources and life-giving connection, too. Every person’s journey through recovery is different. Some find great success and meaning in remaining involved, particularly through growth and then giving back to individuals newer in recovery. Others may need intentional recovery-focused community for longer-periods of time. Others find great life and meaning by transitioning to other sources of community over time. While being careful not to rush our own process, recognize that our journey with community gets to be our own. Look for healthy connection via community, and for resources or outlets that enable it.



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