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.