The Life Challenge
How to Engage Your Support System in Recovery

How to Engage Your Support System in Recovery

By Pat Matuszak

Female friends locking arms

When you hear the term “support group,” you might picture a circle of chairs in a counseling setting with a therapist prodding each person to share about particular subjects. That’s an understandable generalization, but support groups comes in a wide variety of configurations. In fact, by some standards, you may already have a support community around you, whether you notice it or not.1

It’s something like the way groups spontaneously form because of substance abuse or because of recovery. The community that enables heavy drinking is busy with activities that may encourage substance abuse for someone who struggles with addiction. They may not be as intentional as a sober life community, but the surrounding camaraderie is similar. They plan events where substances are acceptable and plentiful, while the recovering community plans events with the opposite purpose. Both exist to join together for a common purpose, and in turn,  feel welcome and valued.

The substance abuse community supports your reasons for using and then introduces you to people who supply substances. The sobriety support system confirms your reasons for not abusing substances and connects you with positive role models. Both are active communities with successful growth techniques.

The question is whether you want to access the power of support to pull you out of addiction and keep you sober, or whether you want to let the pressure of those involved in substance abuse enable your negative behaviors and keep you locked in addiction.1

Reversing Course is a short film by the online community Here to Listen, and it illustrates how people are surrounded by support groups. It shows a man influenced by his network of colleagues at work to try drugs. They enable him to use along with them. As he becomes addicted, he breaks ties with those who try to stop his progress. He exchanges his sober community for addiction supporters. When he realizes he is trapped and wants out, he has to exchange communities again to make it work. In the film, several people reject their sober friends and then let them back into their lives as they recover from addiction. The story finishes as the characters from different backgrounds finally come together at a support group and help each other walk away from substance abuse.2

One example of a healthy online community gathered for a great cause is the Heroes in Recovery community. Writers there often discuss how on the way into substance abuse they were surrounded by support and on their journey out they are embraced by the support of others as well. Shana’s recovery story is one example of those you will find there:

“I went to a place where I knew I would find people like me … a 12-Step meeting. I went the following morning with the taste of alcohol still in my mouth and coming from my pores. I found a seat in the corner of the room, I listened to the people share their stories. What they used to be like, what happened, and what they are like now. When it was my turn, I couldn’t even speak. I sobbed the whole meeting. I knew I was home in that room with complete strangers. I have never taken another drink since.”3

Recovery support communities are made up of people who have experienced addiction and come out on the other side. They plan sober activities and are there to support you when you call for help. You’ll find people who get you and engage in conversations that are real and powerful. Others’ stories can help you understand your own experiences and realize you are not alone.

The caveat to engaging support is that it can get overwhelming to know where to look. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • A church or other spiritual community is one alternative to recovery groups where sobriety is valued in and of itself, and recovery is not necessarily part of the conversation.
  • You can get involved with a service group such as Habitat for Humanity, a food pantry or neighborhood improvement group.
  • A physical fitness club that does aerobics, running, walking, climbing or hiking will connect you with people who put high value on their body’s health needs.

Connect with sober family members you’ve lost touch with or neglected on your way into addiction. If you reach out again, you will often find that they are open to reconnecting.1 Plan some time together catching up. See if you can help out with their needs. Giving support is as therapeutic as receiving it. You’ve been through a learning and growth experience in life, so you have likely gained some skills that would help others.

Sometimes we let our own special interests go when we are walking into or out of substance abuse. Remind yourself of activities that bring you joy and satisfaction. Did you love getting out in nature for hikes and exploration? Do you love animals and rescue stories? Have you painted pictures, restored antiques, planted a garden, taken photos or helped build a neighborhood playground or park? Get in touch with groups that plan your favorite activities and you will find support communities that share your interests and joys.


1 Baum, Will LCSW. “Building Your Support System: Who out there is on your team?” Psychology Today. December 29, 2009.

2 Burgos, Raven. “Reversing Course.” Here to Help. 2017.

3 Shanah M. “I Am Thankful for the Struggle.” Heroes in Recovery, November 20, 2016.