I’ve learned a lot in sobriety, like how to cope with difficult emotions and healthy ways to spend my downtime. But one of my most important lessons I’ve learned is the importance of surrounding myself with people who nourish and not exhaust me. This nourishment comes in all types of relationships—from my closest BFFs all the way to professional support.
When you’re navigating your way through recovery, it’s critical to find your people.
These four types of relationships have been essential to my growth and development in sobriety. They didn’t all arrive at once, and some types are sure to drift in and out. But having a diverse mix of people supporting me, directly and indirectly, is key to my recovery. In fact, I’d call it a non-negotiable.
1. The Sober People with a Similar Recovery Style
When I got sober, I assumed life would become lonelier than it was already. But, as I put myself out there in my recovery group and in the Instagram recovery community, I started to meet other people who were taking on sober life just like me. We read the same recovery books, attended the same types of meetings, and tried to approach life with a similar mentality.
Sober peers (who often became close friends) are crucial to have in sobriety. They champion us. They’re there to support and comfort us when our asses are being held to the fire. They will always be there for us, because they understand what we’re going through. And, above all, they remind us that the way we’re choosing to navigate life sans booze is valid and good.
2. The Sober People Who Add a Different Perspective to Recovery
I could shorten this whole paragraph to five words—beware of the echo chamber—but allow me to explain.
Although it’s good for your soul and your confidence to surround yourself with like-minded people, it’s equally important to go outside of your recovery bubble and learn how others get and stay sober. For example, AA might tell me to steer clear of resentments, which can definitely be helpful for the little things. But in my experience, there were some feelings of anger and resentment that I needed to allow myself to fully feel in order to let the emotions pass through me. It was only once I started following the Instagram accounts of sober women who did not attend AA that I was inspired to fully feel and accept my emotions and understand that my anger about some past situations was completely valid.
That’s not to say deep healing can’t happen in AA or more other recovery programs—I’ve gone through some amazing mindset shifts because of AA. But I personally needed more excavating than the 12 Steps allowed. If I stay in that echo chamber of like-minded recovery, at best I’d remain stagnant, and at worse, I’d start to develop shame and frustration if the advice stops clicking.
Listening to other viewpoints, even ones I don’t agree with, helps me become a more open-minded and accepting person. As long as someone’s suggestion isn’t hurting anyone, I can see that even though I’m not connecting with it, maybe hundreds of others are.
I personally needed more excavating than the 12 Steps allowed.
3. The Outside Perspective
Therapists, 1-on-1 spiritual guides, life coaches, and sponsors (which are specific to many 12-Step programs) are always good people to have around. You build a relationship with them, but they aren’t your best friend. And that makes it easier for them to respectfully point out blind spots when necessary, or to have you look at a situation from the other side. For me, I work with a sponsor and recently began seeing a therapist.
It’s good to use more than one resource since each person provides a different service and area of expertise. For example, a sponsor can offer me empathy and support when I go to visit my family (since, like a lot of folks, family can be a big trigger for me), but they don’t have the same skills or credentials a therapist does to help me go deep and heal past trauma. Another example would be if your job really played into your drinking, you might visit a life or career coach to work on any limiting beliefs you have around your career and self-worth. They can help you reframe your present role or work toward a new, healthier one.
I want to make clear that I know not everyone is in a position to afford professional support services (though, sponsorship through AA is free). However, if you are in a situation where you can cut back in other areas, I’d advocate for making room for a third-party ally to come into your life, even if it’s just for a short time. When I cringe at my $50 therapy bill, I remind myself that in the past, I had no problem dropping the same amount on a weekly shopping binge at TJ Maxx. In the long run, the deeper work will do more good than heels and pastel-colored bath bombs.
4. The Person Who Doesn’t Know I’m Sober
A few months ago, a coworker asked me if I wanted to take a trip to France in May of next year so we could learn how to make champagne and then subsequently drink it. Not an ideal trip for a sober person. I thanked her and let her know why I wouldn’t be the best travel companion. She apologized, I told her not to worry, and then we went on with our usual conversations. My sobriety has never come up again, and I like that.
I’m lucky to have had a positive experience with a coworker and friend who was so understanding—but I can’t always predict reactions. And although I’m very open about my recovery, it’s also nice when people don’t know. They don’t tiptoe around talking about craft beers, justify their own drinking, or assume I wouldn’t want to go to certain events and thus not invite me. And, if they do find out, they’ve gotten a chance to see firsthand that sober people aren’t “boring” or “weird.” They just drink an ungodly amount of seltzer.
Sobriety is a big life change, but the good thing is you don’t have to go at it alone. Take time and start to build a tribe of sober friends. When ready, take the important steps to find someone who can support and help you heal specific issues. And lastly, don’t be afraid to keep the title of “sober woman” to yourself and get to know people without sharing that fact.