Finding Your Tribe

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It's not enough to go it alone

You’re hitting meetings. You have a sponsor who you call on the regular. The Big Book is dogeared and annotated on your nightstand. You’re getting used to the slogans and may have even *gasp* repeated a few of them. You’re not drinking or using. Good work! Early sobriety is a time of change, growth, rule following and blossoming like the wild ghost orchid you are.

One of the first bits of advice I heard in a meeting was “stick with the winners.” It sounded a little exclusionary to me at first. I mean, aren’t we ALL swimming in this same AA soup together? But then I heard the message put another way: gravitate toward the people who demonstrate sound sobriety – they take an active role in their recovery, have reasonable decision-making skills, they get their hand up in meetings sharing on topic from the heart, and sometimes they just wear a sweatshirt from the rehab you went to.

That’s how I discovered what would become the most meaningful, transformative, life-savingly awesome part of my recovery experience – my tribe. I was becoming a regular at an early morning meeting that met 7 days a week, the wide-eyed girl on the pink cloud trying to remember names and categorizing everyone I met – the ones who took every newcomer under their wing, the militant Big Book thumpers, the ones who showed up and shut up, the criers, the players, the Daddy figures, the ones who drone on interminably about their cat choking on a potato chip but never once mention how it relates to drinking, and the ones who bravely lay bare their underbelly to release their pain to the universe.

It was one of the last type who repeatedly got my attention with her thoughtful shares. She had just about a year more sobriety than I did, so she was relatable in a way that the old timers just weren’t in the beginning. I don’t remember her monopolizing the room, but when she did get her hand up, she talked about things that made sense to me – how the desire to drink at people and things showed up in her life and how she was using the tools of the program to wrangle those feelings into submission.

I was a little shy in the beginning and wasn’t very successful with the whole extended eye contact thing, much less the business of walking up with my hand outstretched and introducing myself. And then one morning I wore a sweatshirt bearing the logo of the rehab we had both attended, struck some common ground, and ended up at breakfast together with a mutual program friend. It was a slow burn at first. Having more experience with sobriety than I did, she was cautious in getting to know me – a trait that I learned serves us well in the rooms. I have said about the beginning of our friendship that I was more like a puppy (Lovemelovemeloveme!) and she assumed some more cat like attributes (Let me rub my butt on you a few times before I decide if you’re going to be my person). Aside from our alcoholism, scandalous love of cake and pudding, and willingness to sing preposterous karaoke songs for each other in my basement, we don’t have a whole lot in common.

That’s the beauty of a 12-step program. It generally attracts a group of random individuals, and through the experience of shared pain, joy, and that innate knowing that only another addict has, we bond. Boy, do we bond.  And that's why we consider ourselves a tribe.

We started texting to support each other’s program. Then we added a third friend to the text chain and helped each other navigate some rough waters. Before long we were planning dinner dates and sending each other hilarious memes and embarrassing selfies. As new women came into the rooms, we expanded the support circle, including them in the group text where we all offer our experience, strength and hope in the ongoing, revolving door text thread.

This group text became a lifeline that kept us all connected to the program, while simultaneously disconnecting us from our erroneous personal BS. Aside from the daily business of sharing inspirational quotes or reflections, recipes, jokes, and the occasional video of a horse smiling, we’ve ventured into territory so deeply, soul-baringly personal that we have borne witness to grief, tragedy, monumental life changes, indecision, pure unadulterated joy, and questionable moral judgment. We shine a light on the darkness, build each other up, and are brutally honest. Together we have woven a net into which each of us has fallen from time to time. We celebrate together, and we cry together. We give each other gifts for no reason. We know when someone needs space and can intuit when that space gets dangerous. We drag each other to meetings or out for coffee when we’re low and honor each other’s achievements. We have inside jokes that still make us burst out laughing, very inappropriately, months later. And sometimes we show up unannounced at 10:00 at night with 2 pints of pudding just to say “I’m here for you.”

The bond of 12-step friendship goes so far beyond having support. I am fortunate enough to have a loving husband who is totally committed to and supportive of my sobriety. But when I am romancing the memory of a glass of wine over a lovely Friday night dinner and blurt out “God, I really want a drink right now. I miss oblivion,” I am met with a pale look of horror and a single frightened tear, because he can’t relate to this specific brand of insanity. Whereas my tribe, without skipping a beat, will be all “Oh I hear you, sister. Just yesterday I was at my nephew’s christening and fantasized about snorting a box of horse tranquilizers!” We get each other because we’re tuned into the same frequency.

We are a tribe, a pride, a pack, a family who above all else has kept each other sober. Find your tribe. Add them to your recovery toolbox.  And love them like your life depends on it. Because it does.

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