Factors Facilitating Recovery: A Sense of Belonging

I’ve emphasised the importance of hope, empowerment and self-responsibility in facilitating recovery. The fourth important factor is gaining a sense of belonging. Here is what I wrote in my new eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction.

“Recovery cannot be achieved in isolation. In fact, many people with serious substance problems have become isolated and alienated and this has a further debilitating effect on their already vulnerable psychological state. People who have had such problems need to belong and feel part of something. They need to feel the acceptance, care and love of other people, and to be considered a person of value and worth.

‘In the rehab, I began to feel hope and a sense of belonging. I began to believe that I could and would have a new life. I started to interact with people and make new friends, which reduced my isolation. I discovered that people cared about me and wanted to help me. I also started to learn how to live without using drugs and drinking as a coping mechanism.’ Adam 

‘The nurses in the rehab were also a powerful positive influence, as they made us feel important. As alcoholics, we had so little self-esteemI felt really crap about myselfand the nurses helped us to start to feel good about ourselves. Looking back, the empathy and compassion the staff showed to me was the single most important factor that helped me on my journey to recovery. People in the rehab, clients and staff, saved my life.’ Michael

Gaining a sense of belonging and acceptance can come from various sources, including a peer support group, treatment agency, workplace or volunteer group, sports club, or the church. Interacting with animals—be it with a beloved pet, during voluntary work at an animal sanctuary, or engaging in equine therapy—can also provide a sense of belonging and acceptance, and facilitate recovery.

The power of gaining a sense of belonging is emphasised by brilliant Guardian reporter John Crace in an article he wrote The Guardian in 2019 entitled How I overcame my heroin addiction – and started to live. 

‘If it was rehab that got me clean, it was Narcotics Anonymous that kept me clean. Without meetings, I would have been back on drugs within days. NA gave me meaning and hope… I felt an intense sense of belonging. Like a family I had never known, who understood my life, my shame, my darkness. Anyone who had been clean for more than a couple of years was like a god to me.’

In a qualitative research project Lucie James and I conducted focused on the RAPt addiction treatment programme in a male and female prison, we found that ‘Belonging’ was a key element identified by interviewees in changing their thinking, emotions and behaviours. I discuss this research, which also revealed the importance of ‘Socialisation’, ‘Learning’ and Support’, in more detail later in this chapter. Each of these four themes impacted on a fifth theme, ‘Personal Change’, which had two key components, motivation to change and self-esteem.”