Finally Stepping Out of a Sober Living Community

Finally Stepping Out of a Sober Living Community

By Amy Dresner 07/17/15

Any kind of change is challenging for me. Now I’m finally moving out of sober living.

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These two and a half years in sober living have absolutely saved my life. I relapsed after a seven-month stay at my fifth inpatient rehab while in a different sober living. I went back into rehab to detox for a week, came straight to this sober living and have been sober ever since. Of course, I know you can get sober anywhere and you can relapse anywhere. People get loaded in rehab. People get sober in jail. But the right sober living allows you the safety and emotional support you need while you find your feet in sobriety.

I think back to my first sober living when I was 25 and wonder how the hell I ended up back at square one…again.

I’ve had at least four different roommates in the time I’ve been here. Obnoxious messy me on a single bed, sexting and snoring just 20 feet away from another poor girl just days off heroin or booze. Living in a small confined space with somebody who starts off as a stranger can be…challenging. You quickly learn “boundaries,” “tolerance,” and “consideration,” things I sorely lacked before. Also any semblance of privacy is gone so forget masturbation…except when they’re asleep, which I admit is pretty creepy. You can also throw modesty out the window unless you want to go into the bathroom or closet to change every time. There’s definitely an upside to being seen and examined by somebody who’s not trying to have sex with you. One roommate said to me, “Oh my God, do you have any idea how incredible your body would be IF you worked out.” I got to the gym, granted it was seven months later but hey, better late than never.

It’s easy to think you have your shit together when you’re around people with days, or months, off drugs and alcohol. But it is a false sense of success and security, not unlike my days hanging out with lower companions. It’s equally humbling to be in the same house in the same situation as somebody 20 years my junior. I think back to my first sober living when I was 25 and wonder how the hell I ended up back at square one…again.

I’d never particularly liked women, especially in groups. Like other loner druggies, I abhorred sororities, teams and social clubs. I found gaggles of women annoying with their high-pitched voices and incessant chatting about nothingness. They also made me feel a bit masculine with my low voice that many, including my own mother, mistake for a man’s on the phone. But I had a different experience here. It was nice to be held and stroked by chicks when I cried. It was nice to have a slew of girls I could talk with about boy troubles or my period. And it was nice to have somebody help you dress for a hot date and say, “Oh not that shirt, definitely THAT shirt, you hot bitch!” (Yes, you can date in sober living, you just have to find that odd guy that doesn’t mind you’re in a halfway house for drunks in your forties, and get back by curfew.) 

So I’m moving out and I admit I’m a little terrified. Basically, I’ve been in some sort of “treatment” since my marriage crumbled; trying to stab somebody will do that. And now the thought of being “out there” is how I felt when I was 21 and leaving the cozy confines of college or, dare I say, the familiar digs of prison. (Thankfully, I am not sure about the prison part. I was only in jail for five hours.) I’m feeling a little bit…”institutionalized.” I know it’s time to move on but I’ve been in this little recovery bubble for over two years with mandatory house meetings, step workshops and the occasional dreaded Kundalini class. What will happen when I’m on my own? Will I abuse my new freedom? Will I sink into a mire of isolated depression? Will I shoot Jack Daniels and have sex with strangers…again?

Honestly, the most life-changing experience here was when I was a nanny to the house manager’s baby. I’ve never had a child nor have I wanted one, but this kid and I had an undeniable connection from the start. And when the new mother needed a brief moment to regroup, I’d sling the baby over my shoulder and start pacing the house, humming. During her first year, before I had nine writing jobs, I took care of her almost daily. Who knew that a selfish, entitled, junkie criminal could be an amazing babysitter? I was trusted with this little person’s well-being. I was considered reliable, trustworthy even. This little girl opened up a place in me that I didn’t know even existed: a sweet nurturing maternal spot that I now try to access in my friendships and relationships. Men are just big babies anyway.

When I gave my notice, I cried. The house manager assured me that I was “family,” I could always “come home” and that she would walk me through every step of the process. 

As defiant as I am, as much as I will love my “freedom,” I know from previous experience that I do best when I’m in a structured environment. As the kid of divorced parents, I was shuffled around a LOT, between houses, cities and even countries so moving is incredibly destabilizing for me. Moving is generally considered one of the most stressful things a person can go through but when you’re already unstable inside, a big outside shift can feel thoroughly overwhelming. 

While packing up, it was less than delightful to go through old papers...bail-bondsman paperwork from my arrest, community service logsheets, divorce lawyer files, criminal attorney files, worksheets from rehab, bills from the psych ward…all souvenirs of a life destroyed by addiction.

I leave here knowing I touched people. I was of service. When I’d hear a new girl weeping in the next room, I’d go knock on her door, listen, soothe, try to make her laugh. One introverted roommate admitted that I had inspired her to be more open, braver, shameless. I changed profoundly during my stay and I showed other girls that they can change, too. 

I’m not the most organized person and I absolutely loathe The Container Store. To me, it’s full of people with OCD who like to put things in cool boxes. But by my third trip there, within five hours I finally got it. “I now have a false sense of security and control over my life and destiny. I no longer feel the laws of entropy apply to me. Is that what this store is for?,” I asked the cashier. “Ummmm…Yeah, I guess,” he said, unamused.

So all my shit is now in little clear stacking polypropylene boxes ready for the big day. I’m organized as fuck and finally ready to build my life outside of a recovery home. Just me and my alcoholism, no supervision. Home sweet home!

Amy Dresner is a columnist at The Fix.

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