By David Heitz
It long has been said that every recovery plan needs to have a component of group support, such as a 12-step program or one of the many other established recovery support groups out there.
“No man is an island,” veteran 12-steppers tell the newbies.
Without human connection in our lives, most of us become lonely, bored and depressed.
An eye-opening experiment with rats many years ago showed that lonely rats with no one to play with literally killed themselves with cocaine water when made available to them. The other rats, with toys and playmates? No interest in the drugs.
Today, many people say that research was flawed. Still, even its critics say it made an important point.
“The point that ‘Rat Park’ is used to underscore is true,” reported The Outline. “Environment often plays a role in a person developing an addiction and the War on Drugs does nothing to address that.
“In fact, the War on Drugs has done tremendous harm by ignoring the sociological factors that contribute to addiction and focusing exclusively on criminalization.” (1)
Your relationships determine your overall health
“Studies show that social relationships have short- and long-term effects on health, for better and for worse, and that these effects emerge in childhood and cascade throughout life to foster cumulative advantage or disadvantage in health,” report Umberson et al. in one highly cited study.
The study, published in the journal Health and Social Behavior, discusses both good health behaviors and bad health behaviors.
It’s not surprising that people who exercise, eat right and abstain from drugs and alcohol live much longer than those who do not.
Is it just because they’re “sticks in the mud” or are they enjoying life through positive relationships that don’t include bad health behaviors?
“Many studies provide evidence that social ties influence health behavior (see a review inUmberson, Crosnoe, and Reczek 2010),” write Umberson et al. “For example,Berkman and Breslow’s (1983)prospective study in Alameda County showed that greater overall involvement with formal (e.g., religious organizations) and informal (e.g., friends and relatives) social ties was associated with more positive health behaviors over a ten-year period.” (2)
The authors found that while social ties can influence positive behaviors, it’s important to remember that the reverse also is true.
If you hang around alcoholics, coke heads, meth heads, or heroin addicts, “good health behavior” is not what you can expect to be conveyed upon you.
What to do besides ‘the rooms?’
One thing is for sure: Whether you want to stop drinking altogether or just stay sober after you already have, plenty more research shows that people who fill their lives with meaningful experiences are more likely to remain sober than those who withdraw.
And, withdrawing from society can happen when people get sober and change “faces and places.” Two years later, you can find yourself asking…now what? Staying at home becomes all too comfortable. Suddenly, you feel isolated.
This is particularly true for those who are not a fan of “the rooms.” And if someone in recovery truly believes “the rooms” may discourage their sobriety, but only after giving the rooms a fair shot, perhaps they shouldn’t attend meetings.
Many current drug users and heavy drinkers silently would admit that they are unhappy with their current relationships, which likely are based on the substances being abused and little more. Even if they are whooping it up at a tavern, if it’s not satisfying, it’s not a true “experience.”
So, what else can we do to bring meaningful experiences back into our lives? Particularly in place of, or in addition to, 12-step programs?
What things are other people in sobriety doing to try to re-invent themselves?
Take up a sport
In Northern and Southern California, a tremendous number of LGBT people and others in recovery participate in AIDS LifeCycle. While the ride is only one week out of the year, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, training and fundraising for it goes on all year.
The AIDS LifeCycle “cycle” of train and ride never ends, creating a sort of “rolling AA” all over the Southland and Bay Area.
“AIDS LifeCycle is one of the really positive things that has been steady in my life for the past two years and that has kept me going,” Nick Quattrocchi told HIV Equal. “There is a huge overlap, a really big overlap, between those who ride or work for AIDS LifeCycle and the sober community in L.A.” (3)
Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are held every night during the ride at the camps along the way.
Other people in sobriety join adult football leagues with their local park board, or even become triathletes and compete in Iron Man competitions.
Recover at the beach
At Broadway Treatment Center in Huntington Beach, Calif., clients can participate in “Surf Therapy,” also known as “Liquid Therapy.”
There also is “sand therapy.”
“It’s about connecting the principles that we learn in recovery to the process of learning how to surf,” Brian Shohet, one of the center’s counselors and surf instructor, explains in a video.
“I feel that, as counselors and as therapists it’s our duty to introduce these activities. Something exciting, something healing, that these people can get into once they get out of treatment.
I talk to clients that have been with me for six months to a year out of treatment now and they tell me that surfing has changed their life. That they wouldn’t have been able to stay clean, they wouldn’t have been able to stay sober, had they not gotten into surfing.”
Find a hobby (like surfing) that encourages mindfulness
Writing. A lot of people claim they always wanted to be a writer. Once you get sober, it’s a great time to start.
Not only will writing occupy your time instead of drinking or drugging, but it also promotes “mindfulness” – the art of living in the present and being aware of one’s surroundings.
Mindfulness is important to people in recovery because it helps them get to know their own selves. It’s the only true way to manage urges to drink or use.
But writing also is a wonderfully creative, fun, even relaxing exercise for people who enjoy it.
There’s no need to have a topic to write about. You can simply start journaling about whatever is on your mind.
And by no means must writing be in isolation. Start trying out different coffee shops or even taking your laptop to a favorite park to do your writing.
Painting, drawing, or just plain coloring. You don’t have to be Van Gogh. Buy an adult coloring book at the dollar store, and pack of crayons. For $2 you’ll will be taken back to shortly after the womb.
Yes, they really do publish adult coloring books!
Start attending charity events around town
Charitable events are a great way to meet new, decent people. Often, they involve physical activity, too (such as 5K walks/runs).
For people recovering from trauma, such events can help ease them back into society in the environment of safe spaces being held for a good cause.
Lots of people say they would love to learn how to sing, or play an instrument. Both of these things are popular “new beginnings’ among people in recovery.
Both, again, help a person focus on their environment, themselves, and being present: Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is essential to keeping people in recovery in the moment, and not distracted by the past (that can’t be changed) or the future, that can be changed simply by living in the present.
- MacBride, K. (2017, Sept. 5). This 38-year-old study is still spreading bad ideas about addiction. The Outline. Retrieved Oct. 10, 2017, from https://theoutline.com/post/2205/this-38-year-old-study-is-still-spreading-bad-ideas-about-addiction
- Umberson, et al. (2010). Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy. Journal 51, S54-S56.
- Heitz, D. (2015, June 2). Sober Rider Replaces Darkness with Light on AIDS LifeCycle,. HIV Equal. Retrieved Oct. 10, 2017.