What are Sober Living Homes?
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Sober living houses are communal living spaces occupied by people who are in the early stages of recovery from alcoholism or another addiction. Most sober living houses are a business. The owner provides those who stay at the house with a safe, sober place to live and some level of recovery support (in the form of drug testing and regular house “check in” meetings). Frequently, a room in a sober living home costs much more than renting a room in someone’s house or apartment, and occasionally renting a room in a sober environment costs even more than renting an entire apartment to yourself. Depending on the house, you may find the rent is cheaper than other living options. You will likely share a bedroom in the house with at least one other recovering person. Some of the less expensive sober livings have rooms with bunks for up to four occupants or multiple beds.
What Are the Advantages of Staying in a Sober Living House?
Chances are that when you were using, you hung out with other people who were doing the same thing. The main thing you had in common with these people was an interest in using your drug of choice. Now that you’re on a different path, you need to connect with others who are on the same path as you in order to avoid becoming so lonely and bored that you go back to your old circle of “friends.”
Another reason to live in community with others who are on the same path is accountability. Your new friends and the house itself will hold you accountable to go forward in recovery by working a 12 step program. A good sober living home has rules, including:
- Not using alcohol or other drugs (and many require regular drug/alcohol screening)
- Working the 12 steps with a sponsor
- Going to a set number of 12 step meetings every week
- Seeking employment if you are able to work
- Respecting the persons and property of other residents
- Attending weekly house meetings
- Doing an assigned household chore
Safety Issues: How Can I Tell if the House is a Safe, Healthy Environment?
You shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that just because a house claims to be for people who are living sober that this is the case. Good sober living houses care just as much about helping people to recover from addiction as they do about making a profit. Some sober livings have another agenda. Signs that a house may not be the safest place to recover include:
- House managers who are disrespectful of residents
- No rules at all
- No regular house meetings
- Residents who are not maintaining sobriety
- Lack of any sense of community
- Residents who do not practice personal hygiene
- The house itself is not safe and sanitary
- Very high turnover of residents
- They ask you to attend their church instead of 12 step meetings
A good sober living home should be safe, stable, well kept and run by managers who care about residents and treat them with respect and dignity.
Relapse Happens, Even in the Best Communities
Even in the healthiest houses, some people will relapse. If you’re close to the recovering addict who has a slip this can be painful. You can view it as an opportunity to experience the anguish you put others through when you were using. A good way to be helpful to the person who has a slip is to try to show compassion while maintaining a healthy distance from the behavior. You can let your friend know that you are sad and worried and that you will be there if he or she chooses to get help.
Clean and Sober Living Means Walking Through Pain
Even in the best of situations, living sober means to experience your feelings instead of using a substance to shut them down. This is how people grow spiritually, and it frequently involves experiencing emotional pain. In his book, New Seeds of Contemplation, Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton wrote that we experience living in a community as the healing of “a body of broken bones.” This metaphor Merton coined is spot-on for the sober living experience.
Living with others is never easy. You are bound to disagree or even dislike some of the residents in a sober living home. This is a wonderful opportunity to practice the 12 step program and grow spiritually if you allow yourself to experience these feelings of discomfort without using. You could talk to your sponsor about how to cope with somebody you cannot get along with at the house. Your sponsor is sure to give you advice that is rich in the opportunity to grow in your recovery, to show tolerance, and to help those around you.