When The City You Moved To Becomes Your New Home & Tips for the Transition
Four months ago, after more than a year of feeling like life wasn’t moving fast enough for me, I relocated to Carrboro to start a graduate program. And with that, my life changed completely.
New career. New city. New AA program. New lifestyle. New (lack of) relationship status. New (lack of) homeownership status.
Life swung right past “moving fast enough” and landed in “moving way too fast.”
All of a sudden, my sobriety, my serenity, and my very sanity hung in the balance.
I’ll admit, it was a bit of a bipolar kind of summer.
On the one hand, I was so excited to be starting a new career where I could really leave a lasting impact on people’s lives at a very formative time. I was excited at the prospect of meeting new people and maybe even finding love in the Triangle. I loved getting to explore my new city and experience different restaurants. I enjoyed trying out new AA meetings because I knew that everything that everyone shared would be brand me – no hearing someone’s drunkalogue for the millionth time for me! I also loved being a student because it provided me the opportunity to think deeply about issues and engage in meaningful discussions, which really is a luxury when you have to work a 40-hour a week job.
But on the other hand, I mourned the death of my journalism career, a career that I thought I would retire from. I hated meeting new people because we were starting out on such a surface level and I had grown accustomed to having these deep, long-time relationships with people back home in Charlotte. I worried I’d never feel hopeful about a new romantic relationship again after the spectacularly disappointing end to the relationship with the man who was supposed to be “the one.” I worried I would never find my niche within the greater Triangle area and I copped more than a few resentments over how AA groups in the Triangle weren’t doing it right. I also felt inadequate as a student because I felt like I wasn’t contributing to society as a whole enough. And I truly was terrified of relapsing because none of my classmates knew I was an alcoholic and the drinking culture is still everywhere when you’re a graduate student.
And while I earned the highest grade possible in all of my classes this summer, my personal life felt like it held on my strings for part of the summer. There were a number of outbursts and breakdowns, depression spells and showing-my-ass moments.
And I’m convinced that there are two things that kept me sober through it all:
- My pride. Because I was going to be damned if I became YET ANOTHER alcoholic who relapsed as soon as they relocated to a new city.
- But more importantly than that, the Grace of God. Because despite my behavior and, at times, utter lack of faith in God that he was even still with me, He protected me and carried me through to the other side. As someone once said, “This time in my life hasn’t exactly been graceful but it has been full of Grace.”
And because of His Grace, I’m super thrilled to report that I made it to the other side of this emotional summer as a stronger woman and a more faithful Christian.
Let me tell you about it:
I have found meaningful friendships up here in a number of surprising places: TennisRound.com (where you get matched with other tennis players in the area), Meetup.com (where you get involved with groups who share your interests, in my case hiking and games), Church life groups, and my classes (It’s amazing what you learn about someone when you dare to stop talking just about classroom assignments and really take an interest in getting to know about someone’s life outside of school).
I have also realized what a blessing it is to live close to my sister again. I was a little nervous when I realized she was going to be the closest family member to me because she and I have historically been like oil and water. But ever since I moved into her region of the state, I have found her and her husband to be such an amazing blessing in my life. They have really made me feel welcomed in the Triangle and – more importantly – into their growing family. And it’s wonderful to get to spend so much time with my niece and now nephew during the early years of their lives.
After a rocky start, I have also found my home in the AA program up here. No, they don’t all say the Lord’s Prayer like they do back home. Yes, they have service commitments that stretch way longer than seems reasonable through my Charlotte AA lens. Yes, they do ask you to raise your hand before speaking instead of just running meetings Quaker style like back home.
But, despite my initial resentments over all of these differences (which someone was kind enough to point out to me was actually fear), people in the program here still loved me all the same. Eventually, I started loving them. And ultimately, I found my niche. I got a home group about 2 months after I moved up here and that really kicked my program into high gear. People now expected me to show up when I said I was going to show up. People were starting to remember my name week to week. People asked me to get involved with service. I also found an incredible sponsor in a rather serendipitous way. I actually first asked her sponsee, who told me she couldn’t take on any more sponsees. Then she told me who her sponsor was and I decided to ask that woman. It turns out she had JUST had a sponsor move to California so she was in a position to take on another sponsee. It’s not odd, it’s God.
I also found the hope to love again. That sharp sting and earth-shattering pain in my heart became a dull ache overtime. And although I initially felt like I could never love again, there came the day when I realized I still did have hope. And I found myself excited about the possibilities of finding love with a new person whom I’d not yet met.
My mourning over my journalism career faded as soon as I started my internship at a local school. As I worked with high school students, I felt something in my heart that I hadn’t mostly lost touch with during my last year as a journalist. There was this overwhelming sense of fulfillment and purpose. I noticed that when I walked through the doors of the school each morning, I walked tall and proud, overcome with gratitude for the chance to touch even just one teen’s life that day. My work doesn’t feel like a chore, it feels like a privilege.
Tips for Your Next Transition to a New City
So, here are some takeaways from my experience of relocating in sobriety that I want to share with you:
- Push yourself to say “Yes” to invitations, even if your initial instinct is to say “No.” Time and time again, when I pushed myself to say “Yes” even though I really just felt like isolating at my apartment with Netflix and a box of cookies, I always felt better after the social engagement. I remember one night, a woman from church invited me over for spaghetti dinner at her house. I remember pausing before ringing her doorbell and seriously considering running back to my car before she realized I was there. I didn’t want to spend two hours in conversation with some woman I’d never met before. She was probably really uptight or awkward or judgey, I thought. But I did press the doorbell, and two hours later, we’re cutting up as we make homemade cookies and talking candidly about our journeys toward Christ. I left that night feeling like my heart was full and my spirit nourished. That woman is still a close confidante to me today.
- People will surprise you in the most positive ways. Over the summer, I reached a breaking point where I knew I just had to tell my classmates I was an alcoholic or risk a relapse. After all, without them knowing, it would have been all to easy to pick up drinking again during one of our social outings. I didn’t feel protected enough from myself. So one day I shared during a group session that I was an alcoholic. And as soon as the words left my mouth, I couldn’t stop crying. They were tears of relief. My classmates showed so much love and support to me that day and some even shared afterward that they had a loved one who was addicted or they themselves had struggled with their own alcoholic addiction. It was incredible and ever since that day, I’ve felt like I could really truly be myself around these people, which has been so liberating.
- People will show up to help you. But you have to be willing to ask for it. About two months after I moved into my new apartment, I discovered I had a mouse infestation. After some back and forth with the apartment complex, they finally let me move to a new apartment. My friends from back in Charlotte had helped me move into my new place and I felt bad asking them again so soon after they’d helped me. So I put out a blanket request to all the groups I had recently joined, although I fully expected to have to ultimately hire a moving company. Nope. I didn’t even have to rent a truck. These people who barely knew me showed up to help with dollies, trucks and trailers. I was blown away. It was one of the first times I realized that maybe this new community was becoming my new home after all.
- You will find your kind of people wherever you go. I honestly had my doubts about this. I am not one of those people who needs a lot of friends but I do need quality friendships. But as the saying goes, “A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet.” When I started taking chances on people and opening up to them, they started opening up in return. And pretty soon I realized that regardless of the zip code I’m in, I can find kindred spirits wherever I go.
- Don’t get bogged down in the minute differences between AA Programs in other cities. Little differences like the color of the chips or whether or not they said the Lord’s Prayer were seriously threatening to take me back out. How stupid would that have been? Yes, people are going to do things differently at their AA meetings but they’re still (hopefully) governed by the three legacies of unity, recovery and service. And they all still suffer from the same permanent, progressive and fatal disease as you. So really, what do the details matter when they’re still the best support network you have (after God, of course) at helping you stay sober one day at a time?
- Act like you just picked up a white chip in AA. I felt like I had just picked up a white chip when I started going to the AA meetings up here. Just like when I’d first gotten sober, I felt like an exposed nerve. Everything hurt and I was edgy as hell. Had I been prideful and thought, “Whatever, I have 3 plus years of sobriety, I don’t need to double down on my program,” I might have actually ended up needing to pick up a white chip. Instead, I humbled myself enough to start going to daily meetings again, to reach out my hand and introduce myself to as many women in the program as possible and to share when I was feeling squirrelly as often as those feelings came up (which was pretty regular in the beginning). Treat a relocation like a relapse so you don’t have to end up going through an actual relapse.
- Be patient with yourself and accept that mental breakdowns are just a part of the ride. At the beginning of the summer, I really beat myself up over the fact that even though my dreams had been realized, I was having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning because I was so depressed. My advice: Don’t be so hard on yourself. Change can definitely be exciting but it can also be scary. So it’s okay if you have spells where you’re really homesick or where you’re questioning your move or where you’re questioning your direction in life in general. Time takes time. Keep putting one step in front of another (even if you do so begrudgingly, that’s okay) and eventually, things will get better.
- Volunteer. This has a number of benefits. First, it puts you out there to meet new people who have similar interests as you. It also helps you get to know your community better. But more importantly than those things, it gives you perspective. Perspective that someone is having a worse day than you; perspective that you can be useful to someone else even when you feel bad yourself; perspective that it’s not all about you and that you have a purpose in God’s big and wonderful universe, even if you don’t always understand what that is. And ultimately, all of these things lead you to an attitude of gratitude, which will help you get through even your most homesick nights.
- Join organized groups. For instance, join a MeetUp.com group, a small church group or a club sports team. Just like volunteering, it will help you get out and meet new people. It will also give you something to look forward to each week and will help you maintain connections – however slight at first – during those early days after a relocation.
- Maintain a routine to keep going. I have come to find that some semblance of regularity in your schedule is key when you relocate. Otherwise, it’s just so easy to isolate at home and start feeling bad about your lack of connections in your new city. So get a routine: Read a devotional in the mornings, go to the same coffee shop each morning, go for a run each evening, etc. Even if you don’t do anything else that day, you’ll at least be able to say you accomplished those things.
- Remember that you can still connect with your old friends. This was huge for me. I honestly felt like when I relocated to Carrboro, that the proverbial bridge back to my Charlotte friends would burn. I just really didn’t feel like I could go back. And to be fair, many friendships did fall off once I moved. But the ones that mattered most remained in tact. And they still wanted to hear from me and know how I was doing. I remember one day, someone at the church I was attending really upset me by some insensitive comments she made. I ended up calling my friend from my old church in Charlotte. I told her what was going on and she was so sweet and reassuring. An hour later, we hung up and I realized that I really hadn’t been using my support network back home as much as I could. Yes, things are going to be different after you move but it doesn’t mean that those friends, the ones that really matter, aren’t going to always be there for you. All you have to do is pick up the phone and call them.
- Trust in God because He’s always there for you. I walk away from this summer with immense gratitude for God’s sovereignty and grace. While there were points where I felt like God had abandoned me, the truth is that I had been the one who had abandoned him. I was in so much pain and I was so determined to figure things out for myself that I neglected to include Him in my life through prayer, meditation and spiritual readings. But now when I look back, I realize he really was there the whole time. And despite myself, he carried me through one of the most emotionally turbulent summers I have had in a long time. God is good, y’all. He’s real good. So remember, when the enemy is tempting you and waging spiritual warfare on your heart, keep your eyes fixed on God. He’s got you and he’s never going to drop your hand. Trust him and you’ll make it through the storm.
Looking for even more tips on how to ensure your next transition to a new city goes smoothly? Here are some great resources I found online: