One of the first things I noticed when I got sober was that my old friends sucked. As I looked back, I saw that they were only “fair-weather” friends. They were looking for money, shelter, or a lost soul to comfort them in their loneliness. They weren’t friends at all. They wouldn’t stop whatever they were doing to come and help me if needed.
A hard realization to accept, but it must be for me to move on. The upheaval of losing contact or becoming disgusted with the old network of people you surrounded yourself with can be uneasy. No matter your age, you can build a new foundation of friends who care.
What I needed was a whole new set of friends. Thankfully, the rooms were full of potential contacts and possibly friends, despite my early suspicions of their sincerity. A few of them must have been sincere: We still rely on each other after 10+ years sober since I first met them!
Below are some tips I learned for building a network of reliable sober people.
Be sure to ask for the phone numbers of anyone you connect with
It may sound old-fashioned, but phone numbers are still the only way to contact someone outside of the meetings. If you strike up a conversation with someone, even a short one, ask for their phone number.
Sometimes I leave notes in my contact list to remember the person by either physical appearance or profession if it stands out. For example, “Dave – bald head.” Those little notes usually remind me of the conversation I had with the person so that I won’t have forgotten about them when I am ready to call.
Even if you don’t use the number and delete it from your phone, the idea is to build up a “warm” list of people you know so you can call when needed.
Get in the habit of calling.
As someone who had a fear of talking on the phone, I felt nervous calling someone out of the blue during the day. However, my sponsor strongly suggested that I do this to get sober. So I swallowed my fear and did it anyway.h
I had about five other people of the same gender whom I eventually called regularly. I found that many people aren’t themselves great at returning calls or being available, so I dropped them from my call rotation.
When I got to know the people better, it became easier to call again. So it became a habit. I wasn’t just calling when I felt my world was on fire either. It was often a call to hear how their day was going or share mine.
When there came the days that my world did feel like it was on fire, I instinctively knew to reach out to them. And they helped me through. One invited me over to dinner and to wrap Christmas presents to get my mind off things. It was a huge help.
The wild thing is hearing others say your calls have helped them a lot. As someone who felt like a burden all the time, I took a while to understand what they meant. You become someone who helps through your outreach, even if it feels like you’re taking more than you give.
Volunteer for Service Opportunities
There are countless ways to help out besides just setting up the meetings. If you attend the (usually quarterly) business meetings, you learn more about how the Program operates. The group may also elect you to perform a service position, such as making coffee, being a group secretary, etc. These service roles help you spend more time before and after a meeting learning the ropes, and ultimately meeting new people.
Showing up at the start time of the meeting and leaving at the end time is a way NOT to make new contacts. I understand that it is the best someone can sometimes do, but there is so much more life just before and after the meetings to solidify your network of sober friends.
A service position makes you accountable to be there a little earlier and stay later so that you can’t find yourself an excuse not to be. Someone else depends on you to fulfill that role.
That’s not to say you should overburden yourself with service roles. The groups are almost always short-handed. If you show a willingness to help, group members may inundate with requests for help. You shouldn’t feel guilty if you have to turn down a position because you know you couldn’t reasonably perform it alongside your other life responsibilities.
Start slow and fulfill it to the time required, whether it’s a month or a quarter. Then renew your commitment or move onto another that you find enjoyable.
These small tasks put you in touch with the people who keep the meetings going through their own free time and no ask for monetary compensation. These same people are the ones who get and stay sober, so they are an excellent foundation for building your network. Service positions put you among the best cohort in the rooms who usually lead fulfilling and exciting lives, which you want to become a part.
Plan Activities Outside the Meetings
It’s not a requirement that you only see your sober friends at meetings. You can have fun outside of formal gatherings. You have many options, and they are no different than planning a get-together with friends who aren’t in recovery. You can make small plans to grab coffee or lunch or a more extensive activity, such as a hike, kayaking, a movie, or karaoke.
Drudgery isn’t a requirement for sobriety. Many people are too self-involved to plan a few days in advance and are all too eager to jump on your suggestions. Pick a time and a place for something that used to be or still is fun for you outside of your addiction.
The numerous people in recovery are bound to be interested in your hobbies and recreation, even if it’s as “dorky” as Dungeons & Dragons. They will bring a new life to your hobbies, and you will have few reasons to participate in them alone.
It would help if you spent extra time outside the formal hour of the meeting time to introduce yourself to others, learn about them, and get phone numbers. It’s important to call those numbers regularly, even if it feels uncomfortable. Nobody expected you to keep up with a vast network of people. Still, there’s security in having a handful of (same-gendered) sober friends you can rely on, and they can depend on you and look forward to your calls.
Service positions build accountability to where you are obligated to appear earlier or later to fulfill your role. They also put you around the people who help run the Program and usually have long-term sobriety.