Last month, I did something that I am now more comfortable doing than I ever imagined I would be: I met a woman for coffee who I'd scoped off the internet. Like all first dates that originate on the web, we met in a public location, and had that first moment of awkward "Is that you?" recognition as we tried to match selfies to real life faces. We settled in to our conversation with some small talk based off the little pieces we already knew of one another. She was even prettier in person. We split gingerbread. Time flew by. By the time our date ended, I was SMITTEN, and as I walked to work I couldn't help but text my mom the big news: I had made a new friend.
This is not an abnormal occurrence. These days, I make friends easily, and celebrate some of the deepest connections of my life - some old, of course, but most of them new, post-sobriety friendships. My tribe of today sees me and understands me and knows me and gets me and loves me, dark and light parts and all. If I am rich in any way, it is rich in community.
It was not always this way. My first year in sobriety was one of the loneliest years of my entire life. Most of the friendships that had sustained me for the better part of my adulthood fell away, the ones that remained were in total reformulation as I was reformulating, and from October 2012 until January 2014, I made exactly one sober friend. ONE. And she lived in New York.
For that first year of sobriety, I felt like the only sober 30-something woman in San Francisco, or perhaps the world.
This is not an uncommon experience. When we get sober, not only do we tend to lose or outgrow some of the relationships that sustained us, but we also brush up against the very harsh reality that because addiction is stigmatized and because most of us recover in silence, there are huge barriers to finding a new tribe. And if you're like me and you skip the AA scene, the barriers are further compounded.
Here are some tips, tricks, and resources to help you overcome these barriers, and start forming your new tribe.
1. Look for friends that align with your spirit, not your sobriety.
One of the keys to expanding my tribe has been that I don't look for sober as a qualifier. More than that, I look for whether our life paths are aligned as a qualifier. Not everyone who is seeking the things I am seeking, or who cares about the things I care about, is sober. And that's okay - because sober isn't the most important thing about me. My love of photography, social justice, blogging, meditation, yoga, reading, addiction advocacy, health care reformation, entrepreneurship, metaphysics, risk-taking, Italy, music, creativity, and so on are the things that really make me come alive, and so friendships founded in a shared interest of these things tend to be highly rewarding. I look way more for the richness that the other has to offer and whether I am seen and valued than whether or not they abstain from booze. Oddly enough, most of the people I do attract these days based on this principle of spirit alignment either don't drink, or don't place a high value on it.
2. Consider ditching your anonymity.
From the moment I stopped drinking, I talked about. At first, I did this in my small real-life circles. My friends knew, people at work knew, my family knew. This didn't do much for me in the way of making new friends - and in fact cost me friends - but it did allow me to start owning who I was. A few months into sobriety, I started talking about it in conversation with people at professional networking events, and at one in particular I spoke up to a group of women about it. Out of the ten ladies present, one of them was also in recovery, and my speaking up gave her courage to speak up as well and claim her own sobriety - this was how I made my first sober friend. Soon after this, I came out on my Facebook page and LinkedIn profile (I can't link to it here, but if you search my Facebook page for February 4, 2014, you can see the full post). Coming out on social media allowed people I already knew who had suffered the same issues to find me (and find me they did, lots of them). Eventually, my story was passed on outside of my immediate network, and strangers got in touch with me to tell me they were sober, too. Ditching my anonymity was akin to sending up a flare in the middle of a black sky - the right people saw it, and from that many friendships were seeded. Bonus? Other people who didn't suffer from addiction but who suffered from other stigmatizing conditions or who also had big secrets came out of the woodwork - my courage to tell my truth gave many other people courage to tell theirs. And so it will be with you.
3. Use Instagram.
Unbelievably, Instagram has one of the better communities out there for sober folk. You can search hashtags like #sober, #sobriety, #soberlife, #soberissexy, or any combination of words dealing with recovery and sobriety, and find post after post from others who are walking the same path as you. The engagement rate on Instagram is higher than it is on Facebook (meaning that there is more interaction on posts), and it is not terribly hard to form bonds with other members this way. I personally have made dozens of friendships on the application, some of which have translated into real-life friendships - my relationship with my HOME podcast co-host and life-partner Laura McKowen started on Instagram when she and I got into a debate over Elizabeth Gilbert. If you are hesitant about coming out on your regular profile, create a second profile that is specifically for the purpose of being part of the sobriety community - you can do this anonymously or under your real name. And then engage and comment and follow and post and join in! Like anything else, what you put into it, you'll get out of it.
4. Try Meetup.
Meet-up.com is an online forum that enables people who share interests to find one another, and meet in person to partake in said shared interest. There are all sorts of Meetups (THOUSANDS), from yoga to hiking to professional networking to coding to baking. There are a large number of sobriety-themed Meetup groups - some with hundreds and some with thousands of members in them. You can simply go online and search your local area for such groups - try for a 20 mile radius, and search terms such as "sober", "sobriety", or "non-drinkers". If you can't find one close to you, think about starting one. I started a Meetup called Sobriety Club For Girls (now defunct), and hosted meetings at my apartment. They were awkward as hell (because I am socially anxious and I hate hosting anything) but they were also where I met my second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth sober friends. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Alternatively, you can use Meetup to find individuals with other shared sober-centric interests. For instance, if you search for something like meditation, hiking, outdoors, knitting, or running, you are likely to encounter folks who don't center their lives around a bar.
5. Splurge on yoga teacher training.
I signed up for Kundalini teacher training in 2013 primarily to become a teacher, and signed up for Vinyasa training in 2014 for the same reason. However, I quickly discovered in both trainings that the benefit was not in learning how to teach something I'm passionate about, but rather the experience of the training itself. Through the 400 hours of training, I not only improved my practice (and strengthened my recovery), but I also got something out of it that I didn't anticipate - lifelong friends and an impenetrable community. There are no words to describe these relationships and these people, other than to say when I am around them as a unit I am home. Yoga teacher training BREAKS you, and then builds you up, and when you do that in the arms of ten to thirty individuals going through the same thing over hundreds of hours, there is almost no way around making lifelong friends.
6. Go To Personal Development Retreats and Workshops.
If you can't afford an entire yoga teacher training, you can look for local workshops or retreats. Since 2012, I have participated in over 20 different yoga, meditation, and personal development workshops and retreats, all ranging in price from $50 a day up to $11,000 a week. I have yet to leave one of these events without a phone number, and many times I have forged bonds that have turned into some of my most fulfilling relationships, like my friend Safi who I talk with on a weekly basis. If you don't know where to start, you can look to She Recovers, Esalen, Kripalu, Spirit Rock, or Omega Institute, or you can also just look to your local yoga studio to see if they are hosting any events or workshops. If you follow spiritual teachers or personalities (think Marion Williamson, Elizabeth Gilbert, Tommy Rosen, Mastin Kipp, Gabrielle Bernstein), look at their websites to see if they are offering any sort of workshop or talk, or sign up for their email list to stay abreast of upcoming events. When you are at any of these types of events - be it a week long workshop or a 3 hour talk - keep your eyes open, strike up conversations, stay vulnerable. I've made many friendships at these things, some from just turning to the chick on the yoga mat next to me and saying "What's up, I'm Holly, and I like your leg warmers."
7. Sign up for online courses.
Typically these days, any sort of online course you do will offer the coveted Secret Facebook Group, so that members of the online course can meet and support one another. Tommy Rosen's Recovery 2.0 coaching program brought me into contact with hundreds of other individuals walking the same path with me, ByRegina's Blog-To-Profit school brought me in touch with 50 other bloggers, and my own first Hip Sobriety School made 14 women who had never met in real life a tight-knit tribe after 8 weeks together (and, we continue to support one another through today). If you have the opportunity to take a course and join an online community along with it, you will not only improve your chances of making that new learning stick, but most likely, you will make very good friends with the individuals you are going through the course with.
8. PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE.
Jane Sarasohn-Kahn is a healthcare economist with a huge following, and she's one of the individuals that helped get Hip Sobriety off the ground. She's also one of my dearest friends. We came to know each other after I spoke up at a professional networking event, and were introduced via email - Jane had just published this piece on Huffpost, calling attention to women's growing reliance on wine and opioids to get through. Some months later, we met in real life at an event I was volunteering at. After that real life meeting, I took the huge risk of being rejected, and asked Jane for help with Hip Sobriety. And just a few months after she said yes to that request, I was running around Florence, Italy with Jane, her husband Robert, and their daughter, Anna. Today, Jane and I muse about what life will be like when we are both living in Italy and are neighbors, and she is one of the most important humans in my world. Had I never put myself out there at that networking event, had I never ran with the introduction that was set up, had I never volunteered at that event, had I never sent that email asking Jane for help, had I not said yes when Jane asked me to come to Florence while I was in Rome - had I not so many things - I wouldn't have one of my most treasured friendships. And so it goes with so many of my other love stories - if I hadn't asked for a phone number, sent an email, gone to that brunch by myself, gone to THAT PARTY by myself (yep, gone to parties by myself), traveled by myself, or said yes to countless terrifying things, I would have missed out. We MUST take risks in order to further our lives and expand our worlds.
9. TALK TO THE ONES YOU STALK.
Some of my closest friends have come about through my stalking of them, or their stalking of me. In fact, the woman who now edits my blog posts and has become one of my most trusted advisors, started out as a reader who sent me a crazy long email telling me how much she loved my work, and also a bulleted list of what I needed to be doing better. She continued to email me over time, and because of the earnestness in her email, and the amount of care she had for me and Hip Sobriety, I was not only thrilled to hear what she had to say, but further interested in getting to know her. She came to my first workshop in San Francisco, and one day we exchanged numbers, and then over time we got to texting and emailing a few times a week. She's one of my closest friends today, and it started because she was a little audacious. If you see someone online that lights your fire and who you feel you might want a relationship with, go for it. You might start by asking for mentorship or complementing their work, or even offer to help their cause. You have nothing to lose by reaching out. I've done this with a few individuals, such as Bridget Trama who I met at a Gabby Bernstein talk.
10. Partake in recovery meetings.
I would be remiss if I didn't say that many MANY people I know on this path have made friends within the rooms of AA, and further, within the rooms of other in-person recovery groups, as well as various online communities. In-person meetings include SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, Dharma Punx (though this is not recovery based many people that attend are sober), and of course, AA. Online there is Women For Sobriety, Soberistas, In The Rooms, Integral Recovery Fellowship Meeting, SMART Recovery, and Refuge Recovery, and there are many Facebook pages dedicated to recovery such as She Recovers, Sober Senorita, I Fly At Night, and Hip Sobriety. There are also other types of recovery modalities (mostly based in 12 steps) - for instance, in San Francisco the Zen Center hosts a 12-step meditation group, and there are live yoga classes that incorporate 12-steps (Y12SR). Use your google skills and check out what is around you - and be brave enough to try as much of it as you can. I try to try everything at least once, and I have NEVER regretted any experiences, even if the meeting or online forum wasn't my jam (as in, I don't even regret that one terrible experience I had in AA when the Russian woman ran after me). We only find out what works for us by trying out as many things as possible and deciding from there - and even if the meeting or whatever isn't our thing, there is always the possibility of making friends.
11. Patience (and perseverance) pays.
Lastly, just remember all good things take time. That means giving yourself time to be alone as you ground yourself in recovery and not demanding an immediate banging social life and circle of besties, that means giving your friends time to adjust to the new you (or time to go away), that means giving yourself time to explore new avenues of knowing people, that means giving yourself time to seed things that may flower into big beautiful relationships. I was not a friend magnet to begin with. I went through periods of deep and crushing loneliness as one world fell away and another rose to meet me. Hang in there - do not write yourself off as the loneliest or most unfriendable person in the world just because it appears that way at a given time. Keep trying, keep faith, and most importantly, let it happen in due time. Because, it will. There are 7.2 billion people in the world. Your people are already out there. It's simply a matter of you (working your ass off and) finding them.