I spent the last 2 nights with my closest recovery buddy, my sponsor. When I arrived at her house, exhausted, they fed me a fabulous Mexican dish. As we chatted afterward, I started listing to the left in my chair, and they promptly put me to bed.
The next day we had lunch on Walled Lake with my first sponsor and another dear friend. I fit in a quick dinner with a thriving sponsee, and then topped off the visit with a meeting at my very first home group, St. Paul’s of the Cross. Of course, we had to go out for ice cream after!
Thanks to all my wonderful recovery buddies. You enrich my life and teach me so much. Plus, we have SO much Fun! I treasure each and every one of you!
Gigi Langer has been sober 35 years, and holds a PhD in Psychological Studies in Education from Stanford University. Formerly crowned the “Queen of Worry,” Gigi resigned her post many years ago and now lives happily in Florida with her husband, Peter and her cat Murphy.
The relapse rate for women after substance-abuse treatment is way too high; some experts estimate 22-40% .
One of the best ways to maintain freedom from drugs and alcohol is to find SOBER friends .
Why New Sober Friends?
If she’s anything like I was 34 years ago, a newly sober woman has only a few friends, usually a male partner and a few female drinking (or drugging) buddies. Since these people likely will continue “partying,” she needs new healthy friends to hang out with. Also, she may have limited funds, making it difficult to pursue healthy, fun activities.
To fill this need, a group of us formed a non-profit corporation, the Ann Arbor Women’s Group (A2WG), to connect sober women through fun and informative events, workshops, and retreats. We sponsor low-cost monthly events in Southeast Michigan with ample scholarships and transportation.
A2WG’s Miraculous Beginning
Our founder noticed that newly sober women had no idea what to do with their weekends, so she asked them to join her at women’s professional basketball games. Afterwards, they’d go out for coffee and pie. Thus, the vision was born.
In 2006 we offered our first three-day retreat on the shores of Lake Huron, and many participants attended for only a fraction of the cost.
Later that year, while standing in line to buy a speaker tape at the AA International Women’s Conference in Detroit, our founder shared her vision with the young woman behind her who replied, “You’ve got to meet my mom! She’s gonna love this!”
Up they went in an elevator to the mother’s hotel room in the glass-tubed Renaissance Center. Upon hearing the idea, the mother asked for a proposal and soon sent us our first grant. This same foundation (along with many community and private donors) has supported our programs for almost 14 years. Amazing!
How We Operate
We have a nine-person Board of Directors and one part-time employee in charge of communications, social media, website, event coordination, and fundraising campaigns. Each board member works with our employee to organize one or two monthly events and to keep our organization running smoothly.
Many of our events are sobriety-enhancing workshops (e.g., meditation, journaling, staying sober during the holidays). Others are fun social activities (e.g., hiking, movie, horseback riding, family lake picnic, ziplining). We offer transportation to all our events for the many women who need it.
Our premier yearly event, a three-day retreat on the shores of beautiful Lake Huron, is facilitated by a professional recovery retreat leader. To maximize access, fully one-third of the 60 women attend on a scholarship, paying only a small fee. At these retreats, women forge lasting sober friendships and gain valuable tools to strengthen their sobriety.
One of our most expensive, but vital, services is providing childcare for two 12-step weekly meetings. We hire Red-Cross-certified child-care workers who offer parents a safe place for their children while attending recovery meetings (or some of our other events) .
Since our primary sponsor covers only a portion of our expenses, we work quite hard to raise money through grant-writing, bake-sales, Giving Tuesday, and our many generous donors. Finally, we engage in a yearly fundraising comedy show for the entire community.
In case you’re wondering, we honor the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Traditions by remaining unaffiliated with any particular AA meeting or structure. Our non-profit corporation is operated the same way a club rents out space for meetings, but is separate from AA. This independence allows us to raise money, receive grants, and perform other fiscal transactions.
You Could Do This Too!
If you want to help early-recovery women find new sober friends, here are a few ways to begin.
–Keep it simple by organizing a movie night, hike, or some other low-cost, fun activity. Then offer similar events every month or so.
–Advertise by sharing flyers and making “non-AA related announcements” at meetings. (You don’t want anyone to feel excluded; so it’s not “by invitation only.” )
-Have people register by calling the organizer. Get their emails and start a mailing list.
-As you get a core group of reliable volunteers, you might appoint a Treasurer and create a bank account.
-When your group is ready, offer a one-day local retreat to learn how to manage logistics, food, and other tasks. We usually present a recovery-topic in the morning, have lunch, and then lead a fun activity like drumming, yoga, or meditation in the afternoon.
-If you wish, you could offer a weekend retreat (Friday evening through Sunday noon) at a beautiful location. Select a qualified leader from one of your groups. Offer 90-minute sessions Friday evening, Saturday morning and afternoon, with a fun “No-Talent Show” on Saturday night. Conduct a healing ritual on Sunday morning, and have people share what they’ve gained from the retreat. And, voila! You’ve done it!
-If you want to register as a non-profit organization, you’ll need to form a Board of Directors, create by-laws, and apply to the IRS. This will enable you to do fundraising to sponsor scholarships for those in need.
Get Started Now!
With Covid-19 inhibiting face-to-face events, you have some time to begin planning activities to help women find sober friends. Perhaps forward this article to some women willing to work on this idea. Then meet at a coffee shop to decide which events you’ll plan for this spring or summer.
If your group turns out to be “higher-powered,” as is ours, you’ll be amazed by the joy you’ll receive from this service activity.
I’m SO grateful for the privilege of watching women who started out feeling disconnected and afraid grow into confident, productive mothers, citizens, and employees. It is a true gift!
To learn more about the Ann Arbor Women’s Group, check out our website at a2womensgroup.org. Maybe even make a donation while you’re there! We’re also on Facebook and Twitter.
Gigi Langer has been sober 34 years, and holds a PhD in Psychological Studies in Education from Stanford University. Formerly crowned the “Queen of Worry,” Gigi resigned her post many years ago and now lives happily in Michigan with her husband, Peter and her cat, Murphy.
In Worry Less Now, Gigi shares her personal journey as a prisoner of fear, worry, and substance abuse, along with practical techniques anyone can use. Award-winner with rave reviews. Amazon rating: 4.8 stars.
Get special offers on the paperback, e-book, and audiobook HERE.
Many people have asked my husband and me how we’ve stayed together for so long with my mental illness looming overhead.
It’s a fair question; I know many couples that have ended up divorcing because one or the other couldn’t handle the added pressure of mental illness. I think in our case, that added element of pressure only made our marriage stronger.
Hope During a Depressive Episode
I don’t doubt that some people with depression or anxiety say to themselves, “I can barely take care of myself during a bout of depression; how am I supposed to worry about someone else?” To that I say, “I understand, and I’ve been there,” because I was diagnosed nearly 25 years ago.
I know from experience that when you stick together during the bad times, the good times are so much sweeter. On the day we got married, my husband said, “Well, you’re stuck with me now.” But I didn’t always make it easy for him.
Of course, at the beginning we struggled. We struggled a great deal, but we knew that we loved each other enough to keep working on the relationship.
If you truly love your spouse, you can gather enough strength to show you care for them, even when you don’t even have the energy to get out of bed.
Communicating During a Depressive Episode
essential that your partner be made aware of what you’re going through. You
can’t just shut down and isolate. The next time you go looking for their
support, they may not be there because you’ve made them feel alienated.
Once I learned to utilize the seven methods listed below, we began to communicate better, even in the darkest of times. For many, these techniques may be common sense, but for those of us with a mental illness, sometimes we need to get out of our own way and just focus on the basics..
suggesting that you jump into the list with both feet. Take your time and find
what works best for you and your spouse.
Talk to your spouse and tell them what you are feeling. As soon as you feel yourself falling into a depressive episode, let them know, even if you’re having trouble coming up with the why and the how,
Assure your partner that they are not the cause of your mood. Sit down and tell them point blank that they have nothing to do with how you’re feeling. You have no idea how powerful something so simple can be.
Tell them that it’s okay that they can’t fix the situation. This was a big one for my husband. He loves me and he didn’t want to see me in pain. So, he often felt as if he had to do something to make it better for me. Unfortunately, most of us need to work through things in our own time before we feel better.
Offer them simple options to help you feel better. Maybe you’re having a craving for chocolate or you just really want a tuna fish sandwich. Ask your spouse to pick up one of these items for you. When they bring it home, genuinely let them know that they’ve helped, even if it’s just a little.
Try to make sure you don’t take anything out on them. One of the biggest stumbling blocks early on was my temper, and because my husband was the only one around, he got to feel the wrath. This goes hand in hand with communication. You might simply say, “Look, I’m not doing well right now and it may seem like I’m taking it out on you. I’m sorry if I do, it’s not your fault.”
Thank them for being there for you. Many times, the only real remedy for a situation is a “thank you.” It’s a rewarding feeling to know you’ve helped the one you love. Once your partner feels appreciated, they’re more likely to be supportive more often.
If you’re having trouble giving your feelings a voice, write put them in a letter. This is valuable on many levels. It can help the situation in the present, but if your partner is anything like my husband, he’ll keep it and read it when times get hard again. If you’re truly transparent and honest with your emotions, it could be the best thing to happen to your relationship.
Give It A Try
I hope you’ll consider trying a couple of these the next time you feel like you’re sinking into a depressive episode.
You can have a strong relationship with a solid structure while enduring mental illness. It doesn’t have to be a struggle.
Believe me when I tell you that having a stable partnership takes one of the heaviest loads off your back in a dark time. Suffering through depression is exhausting enough, but knowing that your relationship is falling apart around you makes it ten times harder.
yourself a favor and just try. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Rebecca Lombardo is the author of “It’s Not Your Journey” where she details two years of her twenty-five year battle with mental illness. As she recovered from an attempt to take her life, she wrote the book to purge her pain and raw emotions. Rebecca offers the reader support and guidance as she begs them not to follow her path.
When our survival instincts for procreation, security, and community exceed their proper function, we want what others have, lust for sex and power, and become exceedingly angry when our demands aren’t met. (Bill Wilson) *
Many of us have valiantly tried to satisfy our overblown needs through our own efforts. For example, my selfish search for emotional security drove me to sick relationships, overwork, and manipulation. In the end, I hurt both myself and others.
So, how then do we grow out of the patterns that threaten our romantic life, safety, and productive relations? First, we must sincerely want to find a better way to live. Then, we look at our own part in our unhappiness, and take actions to become the person we want to be.
Most important, we find like-minded people to give us unselfish support as we come to trust a loving, protective power to fulfill our needs.
What’s the Problem with Exaggerated Needs?
We begin our journey by listing each survival instinct, along with the personal cost of trying to force the world to fulfill it. See if any of these needs and consequences apply to your life (add to the list, if you wish).
Unmet Emotional Needs cause low self-esteem, perfectionism, addiction, self-harm, anxiety
Threatened Material Security causes inflated ambition, dishonesty, overwork, worry, stress
Dysfunctional Social Relations result in codependency, prestige-seeking, competitiveness, gossip, failed relationships, conflict
Dishonest Sex Relations lead to promiscuity, disease, selfishness
Driven by fears of losing what we so desperately need, we may have been selfish, dishonest, and resentful. To free ourselves from these patterns, we write about the following questions and share our answers with a trusted person (therapist, clergy, sponsor, or spiritual advisor).
In what ways did I hurt others or myself,? Where was I . . .
Selfishly seeking my own security, social needs, or sexual gratification; and ignoring others’ feelings?
Dishonest with myself and others about my motives to satisfy my security, social relations, sex needs?
Fearful of not getting my needs met, and trying to control people and things so I could feel .more secure?
Resentful about my frustrated demands for security, social relations or sex?
This work helps us see the futility of expecting the world and others to fulfill our needs. No matter how hard we’ve tried, it just hasn’t worked, as it’s caused harm to ourselves and others. After sharing our shortcomings with a trusted confidant, we go to work to overcome our negative patterns.
If we’re addicts, alcoholics, workaholics, overeaters, gamblers, or regularly numb ourselves from life’s disappointments, we need help. In my case, I found a skilled therapist and the 12-step programs of AA, Al-Anon, and ACOA.
As I met with others who had faced similar challenges, I realized I wasn’t the only one confused about how to keep myself safe and secure; that everyone’s instincts caused them and others trouble.
I came to see my old hurtful actions as misguided attempts to fulfill my own needs. For example, in my alcoholic home, I decided, “If I’m perfect, everyone will like and admire me, and I won’t feel so alone and afraid.” I went on to get good grades, advanced degrees, and professional awards. Eventually, those efforts led to anxiety, alcoholism, drug addiction, chronic pain, and three divorces. Clearly, my attempt to ensure my own happiness was failing.
Loving Supportand Security
As I joined with healthy others, I found I was not uniquely bad; I had been merely a desperate mess. Many of my recovering friends had done worse things than I had, and they had become good, reliable, caring people. Perhaps, with help, I could be a better person too.
Through the loving care of others, I began to own my strengths. For example, through my people-pleasing, I developed social skills that had to be balanced with self-care and boundary-setting. Ditto with my perfectionism; I certainly knew how to work hard–an asset–but only when I combined it with adequate rest and self-forgiveness.
Being immersed in groups of happy people who are healing their lives led me to my own source of security–a power greater than my fears. I was relieved that no one pushed me to believe in their definition of a “higher power.” Eventually, with guidance from my sponsor, therapist, and other spiritual teachers, I began to trust in an ever-present love that fulfilled all my needs.
These days, I often take a quiet moment to connect with this benevolent, caring power. In times of trouble, however, when I’m afraid my needs couldn’t possibly be met, I rely on my healthy friends to stream that positive power into my life and mind.
Knowing that love is always available gives me great security, and I’m ever grateful for that.
Gigi Langer, a person in recovery, holds a Ph.D. in Psychological Studies in Education and an MA in Psychology from Stanford University. Through her writing, coaching, and speaking, Gigi has helped thousands of people improve their lives at home and at work. She lives in Michigan with her husband and Murphy, her cat.
Get Gigi’s new book, “50 Ways to Worry Less Now: Reject Negative Thinking.” Available in audio, e-book, and paperback (5 Stars on Amazon). Click HERE
“This book is a winner.” –Karen Casey, Bestselling Hazelden author