4 Ways to Find a Sense of Belonging in Addiction Recovery
A requirement for living a fulfilling life is feeling a sense of belonging in the world. One of the key problems with those suffering from addictions is that they feel they are different. They feel they don’t fit in. They feel they don’t belong. Clients at SCHC are often asked to think back to their life in active addiction: did they feel they just didn’t fit in, that they didn’t feel that they were the same as others, that something was wrong with them? Perhaps they became something of chameleons just to fit in with different groups of people. In fact, if you listen to their stories, this is one of the most common themes. If you are in recovery, listen for this at the next 12-step meeting you go to, or read any of the stories in the Big Book, or watch a drug movie such as Barfly with Mickey Rourke or Panic in Needle Park with Al Pacino. You will hear what it’s like to be an outcast in the world.
Most individuals in addiction recovery often spend a lot of time developing a sense of belonging in the world. When SCHC clinical staff hear from clients who have slipped or relapsed, it is usually because they didn’t feel this belonging. Here’s a typical example:
“I cleaned up, did everything suggested to me, I’m living this middle class existence… and I’ve never been so bored in my life!”
So how do we pull off this trick of feeling completely comfortable, whether at an AA dance, at work, or at home? This blog looks at 4 strategies people in recovery can use.
This is an important point: Finding a sense of belonging requires action. This is why we remind our clients that they are the authors of their lives. Waiting for someone else to help may mean waiting an eternity.
1. Ask Yourself, “What Does Life Demand of me?”
People with addictions are notorious for demanding that people (and situations) change to suit their own needs and expectations. Some examples:
“I demand that I be able to use drugs, even though they are illegal.”
“I demand that I be allowed to drink and drive, because I’ve run out of booze and I really need more.”
“I demand that I be allowed to leave the family for three days to get loaded and then be forgiven.”
“I demand that I be the centre of attention.”
We often clients ask our clients, “What are you prepared to do for your recovery?” One of the reasons we ask this is because so many clients come into treatment making demands on recovery.
“I will stay in recovery if and only if…” and then come the demands.
“I came into recovery to learn how not to use my drug of choice, but I demand that I be allowed to have a beer or smoke pot because they were not problems for me.”
“I will take risks, but I demand that I only have to take risks that I’m comfortable with.”
“I demand that my recovery progress only if my family is fully supportive.”
Some clients get upset when they call a government office and then get put on hold for 30 minutes. They are demanding that someone answer their call immediately. Some clients get frustrated when they have to wait 90 minutes at the hospital to get their blood tests done. Some clients get upset when there is not enough space in our vehicle to go to on an outing. Some get upset when their family members do not visit.
In all these examples, the person is making demands on others and on situations. This is problem for recovery, because anyone who makes demands on life is still an outcast, still on the outside of life looking in.
A much better approach is to stop demanding that people act a certain way or think a certain way. The strategy to accomplish this is to ask yourself, ‘What does Life (this situation) demand of me?’ The genius of this approach is that people in recovery then join in with life. When they join in with life, they’re no longer on the outside looking in, no longer an outcast.
2. Start Connecting with Others in the Community
Another approach to feeling a sense of belonging is to get involved in the world. It probably isn’t a surprise to learn that researchers have found a very strong link between recovery and volunteering.
Here are some examples of things that SCHC alumni are doing:
– Volunteering to sit on a Board of Directors
– Volunteering to be the Group Service Representative of their AA group
– Helping out serving Christmas supper in a poor neighbourhood
– Coaching a minor hockey team
– Giving talks to high school kids on the dangers of drugs
– Raising money for a charity
– Helping out at the local amateur theatre group
– Helping promote environmental awareness
– Joining a political party
It’s quite remarkable that alumni who volunteer, give back, or do something that’s “bigger than themselves” also say they are doing well in recovery.
It’s a strange thing, but most of us don’t even know our neighbours. It’s hard to feel a sense of belonging when we don’t even know who’s living next door. Lots of people in recovery go out of their way to be good neighbours. For example, some help out shovelling snow after a snow storm, host a neighbourhood barbecue, join a neighbourhood-watch program or an ‘adopt-a-street’ program to pick up litter, send Christmas cards to each neighbour, and/or invite a neighbour over for coffee.
3. Take Action to Make Parts of Your Life More Appealing
It’s interesting that people who are fulfilled in recovery do things that are very meaningful to them. Some alumni worked jobs that were no longer a challenge. After treatment, they returned to school or are pursuing other careers. Some clients are near retirement or have other obligations, so they cannot realistically give up their jobs. In recovery, though, they have done things to make the job more interesting, such as relocating to another company office, shifting to a new location, asking their manager if they could work toward a higher position, or giving up working overtime. All of these strategies have the same purpose: to make the job more comfortable.
As well as making work more interesting, many alumni have made their home life more exciting. Some of the strategies alumni have used include family movie night, doing something special for each family member once a week, and having coffee in bed with their partner on Saturday mornings to talk about their relationship.
4. Start Looking at the Positive
We all know that life is filled with misery; it cannot be avoided. In fact, psychology researchers have discovered that our greatest fear is the knowledge that we will die. This is what the so-called ‘midlife crisis’ is all about: we’ve lived half of our lives, we’re not as physically resilient as we used to be, and we have gained the wisdom to begin reflecting on what we’ve accomplished.
We all suffer. People in recovery may find it’s easy enough to complain about the jerk at work or the AA member who smokes pot, but still takes a cake. It’s easy to dwell on our own weaknesses and the weaknesses of others.
But it is also true that we have many gifts: freedom of choice, freedom to change the way we look at ourselves and at the world, freedom to find something meaningful even in the worst possible situation. We’re not like a rat in a cage, who is trapped. We have the blessing of changing our situation and our attitudes. We have the wonderful ability to learn and grow even from our worst failures.
We’ve known for thousands of years that we react to things according to how we make sense of them. It’s not the things in life that are important, but how we interpret them.