How I Changed My 12-Step Recovery Network While Staying Grounded in Recovery

By Charlotte Grey 07/17/16

Four years sober, I stepped into a controversy among my friends in my regular meeting. I was forced to find another group and that changed my life.

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Changing Recovery Networks While Staying in Recovery
Changing my group changed my life.

After years of daily cocaine, angel dust, wine, vodka, and heroin addiction, expulsion from high school, two felonies, two misdemeanors, probation, and suspension from college, I got sober at age 20. Only attending mid-morning weekday women's meetings for my first month, I didn't find friends my age until a member of that women’s group invited me to an anniversary party. I instantly clicked with the recovering young people in my small suburban hometown.

Then, at four years sober, I stepped into a controversy among those friends that caused a massive fallout. I didn’t feel safe or welcome at meetings. I was used to adjusting my meeting schedule after breakups with guys in the rooms or wanting fresh perspectives on recovery, but this was different. I was followed, threatened, cursed and screamed at in public. One woman almost called the cops because she was afraid I would be physically attacked after a meeting. I had to forego fellowshipping, parties, anniversary celebrations, trips, dinners, and a friend’s wedding. And it didn’t get better with time or attempted apologies. This continued until I consciously switched networks three months later. 

Already commuting for work everyday, I shifted to meetings in New York City. I’d been frequenting some meetings there since the early days when I was new to sobriety, but I struggled to find the ones that felt like home or where I would click with a niche of friends. One night, a former sponsorship sister made an amends to me and strongly encouraged me to sign up for a Labor Day weekend sober camping trip. It always filled up instantly and registration happened to be the next afternoon. It’s no coincidence I ran into her that night. My higher power provided the opportunity for a new life when I was ready to move on, when I had spiritually and emotionally grown as much as was possible from those friendships in New Jersey.

And so on Labor Day weekend, I hopped on the bus to Camp Kresge organized through a New York City group called Not A Glum Lot, and that trip changed my life. I only knew two people of the two hundred attendee roster before going, but the beautiful souls on that campsite embraced me unconditionally. Aside from frequent meetings and spiritual workshops, we did yoga, went kayaking, hiking, held volleyball tournaments, a talent show, and a nightly campfire where everyone stayed up until dawn playing music and singing. Blissfully immersed in a sea of newfound friends, I probably scrapped together twelve hours of sleep over those four days.

After Kresge, I followed the friends I’d made around to the local meetings they loved, fellowshipping before and after each one. We’d socialize at hookah lounges, grab dinner, or see movies each weekend, and they invited me to sober parties in the area. I suddenly found myself plugged into a new network. One month after Kresge, Hurricane Sandy hit. The day the bus routes reopened, I escaped my clinically narcissistic mother's codependent hysteria and slept on my new friends’ couches for a month until I found an apartment. I've been living here and happily ensconced in the same network since.

For the past year, I've been hoping to relocate again and each time I check out a new city, I consciously prepare for the major life transition. I reach out to my current network and let them know I might be moving, asking them to connect me to sober friends in that area. I email Young People in Alcoholics Anonymous (YPAA) pages, join YPAA Facebook groups, and introduce myself. By the time I visited my first prospect, Savannah, Georgia, I already had lunches and meetings lined up. We’re immeasurably lucky to have Internet access because it's possible to build a network in most corners of the world before even setting foot there. I’ve also learned to cultivate some compassion for myself; sometimes networks develop quickly, sometimes slowly, though it has a much higher chance of happening if I put in the effort. Anywhere I travel, I'm a newcomer and need to invest time into establishing myself like I did when I was new and counting days. 

In Savannah, my post traumatic stress disorder came back and AA became my lifeline. I shared at each meeting that I might relocate there and checked in. Going to meetings but not speaking is an insidious form of isolating for my alcoholism because even though I'm technically present, no one will get to know me. I have to ask for people’s numbers and actively seek out fellowship opportunities. I hit as many meetings as I can, knowing from my four-year trial and error New York City experience that I won’t immediately find the ones I like. I followed my new Savannah friends to their favorite meetings that week. The ones I plan to regularly attend should be those that I want to go to regardless of who’s there, the ones that feed my soul the spiritual nourishment it’s craving. I ended up building a network of 20 young people within two days in Savannah. 

Many meetings offer printed phone lists of home group members and it's my responsibility to call people instead of setting the expectation that they should seek out my friendship because I’m the newcomer. Texting is an easy excuse to bypass true human connection. Creating the time and space for the energy of a new friendship to blossom is crucial. Relationships can’t develop during the hour that a meeting takes place because we’re reading, sharing, and listening to the recovery message, though showing up early to a meeting can allow for socializing. Attending the local events announced during meetings and taking service commitments immediately, whether it’s a home group or a number of groups, are other fast tracks to establishing friendships.

My mantra is to not isolate, no matter how exhausted, busy, or lonely I feel. Aligning with my higher power through prayer and meditation can fill my heart’s deepest desire to connect with other human beings for only so long. To keep my alcoholism at bay, I need the reinforcement of the message of recovery and the opportunity to be of service to recovering alcoholics or I can become dry: physically sober but emotionally sick. I've heard people share that they’re new to meetings in an area, have been living there and sober for years but almost relapsed from the self-imposed solitude. Long-term recovery is like physical exercise: no matter how fit I feel, if I don’t consistently maintain what I’ve worked for, I’ll lose it. 

From following through with these suggestions, I ended up meeting one of my best friends in Savannah. We’re still close, even though she now lives in California, because we check in by phone throughout the week. Most importantly, I realized from these experiences that I'm connected to everyone I consciously keep in my life no matter where my apartment happens to be. I was shocked to discover that my close girlfriend from Phish tour lives in Portland, Oregon, because I spend time with her so frequently on the East Coast. She travels, she stays in touch, and she never feels far away. The idea of leaving my best friends in New York City makes my heart a little homesick, though my spirit knows that moving isn’t a separation, so much as an expansion and integration of all the areas I’ve come to call home. 

Further resources:

“The Opposite of Addiction is Connection” by Johann Hari

Not A Glum Lot

Clean Fun Network

Conferences of Young People in AA

Charlotte Grey is a pseudonym for a recovery and spirituality writer in New York City. Her work explores her experiences in overcoming adversity by integrating 12-step solutions with other spiritual and psychotherapeutic methodologies to inspire healing, understanding, and compassion. For more of her published pieces, visit www.charlottegreywritings.com or follow her Instagram @charlottegreywritings.

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