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One of the crucial components on the road to recovery is having a healthy support system. Why? Because who we spend time with can play an instrumental role in our healing journey. That adage, “You are who you surround yourself with” rings true on many levels.
Imagine of a barrel of apples. One of those apples grows moldy; eventually that mold spreads and infects the surrounding apples. Without any intervention, that mold will continue to colonize until the whole barrel is full of nothing but sticky, fuzz-covered apple-mush.
Similarly, when we spend our time with others who may not have our best interests at heart, or who may be a “bad influence,” it can have a negative impact on our wellbeing. We may start doing things that don’t align with our values or start slipping back into unhealthy behaviors. When I use this analogy with my clients, I will often say to them, “Don’t hang out with moldy people.” It’s important to be aware of who is in our circle, and even more important that those people are good for us.
A healthy support system can be highly beneficial to recovery, whether you struggle with addiction, mental health issues, or just the challenges of life. These are the people who cheer us on, give us an ear to listen or shoulder to cry on, and sometimes call us out when we aren’t taking care of ourselves. These are the people that help us not feel alone. Research has shown that a healthy support system can boost our self-esteem, improve our mental and physical health, enhance our resilience to stress, and provide a greater satisfaction of our lives.
But how do we know who is a “good” apple and who is a “moldy” apple? These are some characteristics of what a healthy support may look like:
• Listens without judgement
• Doesn’t criticize, belittle, or abuse in any way
• Wants the best for us
• Holds us accountable and doesn’t enable us
• Lifts us up and offers positive encouragement
• Gives us grace when we make a mistake
• Respects our boundaries
• Doesn’t apply peer pressure or guilt to talk us into things
• Accepts us for who we are, flaws and all
Our family and friends may not understand what we are going through, especially if they have never experienced something like depression, bipolar disorder, or alcohol abuse. The essential question is, are they willing to learn and try to understand? If the answer is yes, chances are likely this is a positive person to have in your life.
So how do we find a healthy support system if we don’t have one? Here are some suggestions for growing your circle:
1. Peer support groups: these are usually free support groups led by others who have been where you are and came out on the other side. AA is one example of a peer support group, but there are many others. You can google “support group for…” and include the type of group you are seeking, followed by your city. This will populate a list of options in your area. Support group topics range from addiction, to mental health, to grief, to children with disabilities, and more.
2. Church groups/ministries: If belief in a higher power is something that provides comfort for you, consider joining a group at church. Being with others who share your spirituality can really help you feel supported and loved no matter what you’re facing.
3. Activity-centered groups: There are lots of folks out there who love to hike, or bike, or try new foods. Finding a group based on a healthy activity not only grows your circle, but also gives you an opportunity to get out there and start enjoying life. Sites like Meet Up or Four Square offer various groups for activities and social events.
4. Online support groups: Sites like Facebook or Instagram, and websites like Psychology Today or Support Groups Central offer many options for connecting with others who have similar backgrounds or life experiences, all online.
5. Volunteer work: There is something to be said about healing through helping. Assisting animal shelters, Big Brothers and Sisters, the YMCA, the St. Vincent De Paul Society, or local soup kitchens and food banks can be a great way to make new friends. It can also help give us a sense of purpose and meaning.
6. Don’t forget your providers can offer healthy support too, including your therapist!
We are not meant to do life completely on our own. We were created for connection, and it’s something that can make a huge impact on the quality of our lives. No matter where you find your circle, remember that you don’t have to do this alone.
Written by: Maya Braden, LPC