Moving might be the right choice, but examine your motives. When we were drinking and using, we were irrational, impulsive, and at the whim of our heartbreakingly horrible decisions. We get into recovery to be more than that.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lao Tzu
Wherever you go, there you are. – Unknown
We’ve all heard or tried the myth of the geographic cure: that we can change the unmanageability of our addictions simply by changing locations. The program suggests waiting a year to make major changes in our lives, such as moving to a new place or getting divorced. That suggestion directly contradicts another recovery recommendation: that we should change people, places, and things. And some of us, myself included, struggle for years or even decades to get to that one-year mark, and finally decide—maybe on our own, maybe after a psychic brings it up dozens of times—that the place we are living in isn’t working for us and it’s time to make a move. How do you know if it’s a viable idea? Here are five questions to ask yourself when considering a move.
- Do you have a safe, sustainable place to live?
I cannot stress this enough, especially for the dream cities like New York and Los Angeles. Success in one does not necessarily translate to success in another. This may seem like common sense to some of you, but something about Los Angeles, where I currently live, makes people think they can show up with a dream, a few grand, and a month in an AirBnb in Koreatown.
The feeling of home, sanctuary, and security is important for all humans, but it’s of paramount importance for those in recovery. The refrain I frequently hear is: “I never felt like I belonged anywhere.” Well, this feeling is exacerbated dramatically by a less than ideal living situation, so make absolutely sure you have a safe place. Is it as good as or better than where you currently live? And can you stay there for at least four to six months?
- Is this an impulse move?
I’ve wanted to live in California my entire life, so much so that when I partied at the University of Hartford at the ages of 14 and 15, I told everyone I was a student at UCLA. I exposed myself when someone burst into the dorm asking where the Bruin was and I stared blankly ahead, not knowing the mascot of the school I pretended to attend. However, there were other moves I made or contemplated that were pure fantastical escapism; in fact, for a few years while I struggled in fauxbriety (marijuana and/or kratom and kava kava, Adderall, Xanax if you’re holding, mushrooms in the summer), I seriously contemplated moving to nearly every place I visited. I travel for my job as a stand-up, and for a few years I traveled desperately trying to “find myself.” Each and every time, I was sure the move would solve the problem of myself. I am now grateful I didn’t have the money and agency then.
A lot can be said for waiting in recovery. Waiting for the miracle to happen, waiting to date, waiting to speak (so guilty on this), waiting to move. Most things in life that are meant for you will be there when you are ready. Unless you relapse. Sobriety is the only thing that is imperative to grab onto NOW.
- Do you know what it’s like to actually live in this place rather than be a tourist?
Visiting a place is often not a good indicator of whether you will like it as a resident. I really thought I would hate LA. When I got here, it hit me that what I really hated (other than myself and my fauxbriety) were all the costs and inconveniences of staying in a hotel, and not knowing anyone or where the good meetings were. In short, #touristprobs.
If you’re a person who goes to recovery groups or does a community-based activity like yoga, this is the time to use those resources and talk to other people. If for some reason you aren’t able to spend time in a place before you move there, get creative in searching out Facebook groups, Insta hashtags (actually maybe not that one) and message boards (Miami has an excellent resource for this: MiamiBeach411.com).
- Are you motivated by people, places, and things or is this a geographic trap?
This one is perhaps the trickiest question of all. For me, I don’t know if I would have been able to stay away if I hadn’t first moved away from my ex-husband. Moving away from a person can also lead you to the important but painful conclusion that the hate is coming from inside the house. Our external realities reflect our internal state of being. There are always more of that archetype waiting for you wherever you go. Even Thailand. Costs and benefits, baby.
Miami, for me, was a people, a place, and a thing. I can go there now if I have a reason to, and even enjoy it. At one year out, I went to meet with my divorce lawyer and send some stuff home that I had left at a friend’s. I relapsed off the plane on mojitos, which led to cocaine, which led to spending days holed up with my ex-husband, missing my meeting and flight home, and trusting him to ship off my journals and personal effects. Soon I received an email that said, “You wrote in here I was BAD IN BED, here are detailed instructions on how to hang yourself, I threw out your shit.” I guess what I am saying is: usually you don’t have to make a dramatic move, like crossing state lines, to escape people, places, and things. However, if you have been in an abusive relationship where you were using together, moving across state lines or even across the country may be the best thing to do—that is, if you have a safe place to live. Which leads us to the final question…
- Work, work, work, work, work, work?
It is a sometimes unfortunate fact of life that most of us must work, even in early sobriety. If you are lucky enough to not have to, I say hold off as long as you can. Your career isn’t going anywhere. Momentum is somewhat of a myth. It can be achieved later, from a more stable foundation. But if you can’t afford or don’t have time to scope out the job situation in advance of your move, you might not be able to make this move in a healthy and sustainable way.
Imagine this scenario: You are a sober bartender in New York to great applause. However, you don’t have a great online presence, which seems to matter here in Los Angeles. Pride keeps you from raising your hand when suggested, but eventually sharing outside of meetings gets you an offer with a sober-owned cater waiter company. It isn’t bartending, and doesn’t fit in with your idea of yourself, so you decline, deciding the problem is that you keep getting asked about your Insta followers at interviews. Soon you will know what it’s like to follow your dreams across the country; you’re gonna sleep in your car. My point is this: manage your expectations on the job front, and research as much as you can. Visit and meet locals. Ask them questions. Listen… If you are working on recovery, less than stellar work opportunities are SO temporary. I promise you that. So take them. And try to appear grateful.
I hope I’ve got you thinking seriously about your possible plan to move, or perhaps made you feel a little better about your lack of plan to move. Either way, amassing information and managing pride and expectations, otherwise known as willingness, stands at the forefront. It all comes down to love and fear. Examine your motives. Safety concerns are paramount. Talk to someone (you are welcome to email me: [email protected]) before you go. Get a second opinion. Nobody knows everything. Meditate on it. Make lists of pros and cons. Pray.
When we were drinking and using, we were irrational, impulsive, and at the whim of our heartbreakingly horrible decisions. We get into recovery to be more than that. Perhaps you are thinking, well, that just isn’t how I operate! Try it. I spent years wanting to move to California. Now that I am finally here, I am so grateful I didn’t move one moment earlier—had I done so, I’d be smoking meth in a tent in DTLA right now. I’m really glad I don’t have to do that. And that you don’t either.
Did you make a move in early recovery? Give us the details: was it a good or bad experience?