10 Reasons Why New York City Is the Best Place to Get Sober

Maybe you were born here. Or maybe you arrived in the Big Apple with a suitcase full of dreams. But either way—whoops!—you developed a raging drug and alcohol problem that took you to places your mama never told you about.

You didn’t plan to wake up one day with a floor littered with empties, a crippling hangover and a desire to kick substances for good. But that’s what happened. Luckily, you’re living in the best city in the world to get sober. And this is why:

1. Misery is welcome here.

After quitting drinking and drugs, you might hate everything for a while. You’ll fit right in here. New Yorkers love to hate: tourists, the MTA, dollar-store umbrellas, life in general.

New York City is a fine place to be happy, but it’s the best place to be miserable. Nothing worsens an already-dark mood than other people’s aggressive cheerfulness. Don’t worry about that here.

With the exception of cat callers, most New Yorkers mind their own business when it comes to your visible distress. Crying in public is acceptable, even encouraged, and some thoughtful stranger will probably hand you a tissue, no questions asked. New Yorkers understand and revere sadness. So dress all in black and walk around with a scowl for as long as you need to, you glamorous Wes Anderson character, you.

2. It’s an insomniac’s paradise.

Burning the midnight oil? Without substances to soften the segue into unconsciousness, sleep can seem like a literal pipe dream to the newly sober person.

Luckily, in New York City—aka The City That Never Sleeps—if you’re awake and restless at 3 am, there is plenty to do that doesn’t involve shoving substances up your nose. Grab a fellow night owl or a book (or an iPhone) and hit your nearest 24-hour diner. Go to a late movie. Or just stroll the streets in a safe, well-lit area. If you don’t feel like leaving your apartment building, you can probably find a fellow insomniac to chat with you.

If you’re into AA meetings, you can find one as late as 2 am! Just don’t expect them to be free of the occasional drunk who wandered in off the streets by accident. But, hey, at least it’s a nice reminder of what you’re missing—and it’s not cute.

3. There are support group meetings everywhere, all the time.

Speaking of 2 am AA meetings, New York City probably has the highest concentration of 12-step and alternative program meetings per square foot in the entire world. The New York City AA website lists hundreds, in every borough, all day long. There are meetings geared toward “special interests”: LGBT meetings, women’s meetings, atheist/agnostic focus, meetings in Spanish, meetings for veterans, meetings for newcomers, meetings for old-timers, young people’s meetings and meetings frequented by famous people (but no name-dropping, it’s the code!).

There are support groups for everything from overeating to cigarette smoking to sex and love addiction. Al-anon? Check! Compulsive gambling? Bingo! And growing numbers of alternative programs like SMART Recovery and Moderation Management offer support for those who are put off by the 12 steps.

The options are as plentiful and diverse as one of those multi-ethnic buffets in a Manhattan deli. If you look hard enough, you’ll find your support group version of a Cheers bar, where everybody knows your name.

4. This is the Holy Land of therapy.

Seeing a shrink in New York City is about as sensitive a matter as seeing a podiatrist, and way more common. It’s a progressive city where most people are waking up to the fact that mental health is just as important as physical.

If you don’t already have a therapist, now’s probably a good time to replace that liquid/powder/pill therapy with a trained professional (the latter won’t make you leave incomprehensible voicemails for all of your exes at 3 am).

Luckily, in New York City, there are about a million therapists to choose from, with a whole gamut of backgrounds and specialties. And many of them accept sliding scale payment, charging as little as $35 an hour (the cost of a few drinks and a baggie of blow).

Now you can go on and on about how angry you still are at your dad for missing all those soccer practices, for a good 45 minutes, without driving away your friends. Unless they’re in therapy, too, which is not at all unlikely—in which case you can go on and on about how angry you are at your dad and your therapist.

5. In New York City, you can be alone whenever you want…but you never have to be alone.

A lot of recovering addicts like to isolate. It’s not the best coping mechanism, but sometimes it’s what you need. New York City is a great place to be alone. Unlike a small town, it’s pretty unlikely that anyone will snoop around in your business. You can go shopping, take a long walk, take yourself out to dinner and go to the movies without crossing paths with a single friend or acquaintance. This is a godsend for those days when small talk seems like sandpaper on your every nerve.

But getting sober can also feel lonely, now that you realize most of your “close friends” were actually just drinking buddies who don’t even know your last name or, in some cases, your first name. If it’s human company you crave, you’ll have no trouble finding that in New York City. There are approximately 8.4 million people in this city. You can find some of them at meetings (see No. 4), at the gym, on Tinder, volunteering at your local homeless shelter or browsing the Ben & Jerry’s options at the grocery store (a sure sign of loneliness and/or early recovery).

It’s not hard to make friends here. Ask the lady working at the corner bodega about her childhood in Puerto Rico. New York is teeming with lonely people—you’re not the only one.

6. There are a million things to do other than getting loaded.

“What do you do for fun?” is a common question that sober people get asked by ignorant but well-meaning bystanders who think getting blotto is the only activity that this city has to offer.

They’re wrong.

New York City is basically an amusement park for grown-ups. There are so many things to do that most people complain about not having enough time to do them. So, now that you have an extra five hours a day you would’ve spent at a bar or passed out in your living room, you can go sing karaoke, attend book readings, check out free concerts in the park and try authentic food from basically any country in the world. Visit a new neighborhood. Rent a CitiBike. Skim the self-help section at Barnes & Noble.

Or just watch hours of Netflix in your bedroom until your brain implodes. The world is your oyster!

7. You don’t have to look far for a reminder of why you don’t get loaded.

New York City is full of ambitious, hard-working professionals who let loose like a bunch of animals as soon as they clock out. Happy Hour is an excuse to drink after 5 pm Monday through Friday, and weekends are an excuse to binge. It might seem like the city is awash in temptation—and sometimes it feels that way, on a spring afternoon when people are drinking wine in sidewalk cafes. But the city’s hard-drinking culture also serves as a constant reminder of what you’re not missing.

With plenty of access to cabs and an MTA that doesn’t breathalyze, drunk people roam the city at all hours. And because of the city’s intimate topography, it’s hard to avoid them: Some are passed out on the subway during your morning commute. Some are vomiting on MacDougal street at 1 am. Some are crowded into a noisy sports bar, screaming at each other over a loud rock ballad. Some might ring your doorbell at 3 am or get in raucous domestic disputes outside your window.

That could easily be you, stumbling through the Village on a Friday night with your dress tucked into your underwear or asleep with your face nestled in a half-eaten burrito on the subway platform.

This city never lets you forget how unglamorous drinking can be.

8. There are people on every block who are way worse off than you.

People in 12-step meetings often go on and on about this thing called “gratitude.” Grateful for what? a newly sober person might think. My empty bank account? My horrible job as a telemarketer? The PBR can that someone tattooed on my wrist during a blackout?

It’s OK to feel sorry for yourself in early recovery. Most of us do. But self-pity can spin into a sad, angst-ridden black hole that is better suited for teens.

Luckily, New York City is teeming with reminders that your life is not that bad. You could be that homeless man sleeping on flattened carboard boxes in the snow; you could be that lady trying to carry a double stroller up the subway stairs at rush hour; you could be the guy in the AA meeting who has one day sober. But lucky you: You have two!

A shift in perspective is actually a miracle cure for a bad mood. Go buy yourself a muffin, and be grateful for that muffin. And while you’re at it, buy one for the homeless guy on the corner, and help the lady carry her stroller up the stairs. Introduce yourself to the guy at the meeting with one day sober. It will make you feel good.

9. You are probably too busy for anxiety spirals.

OK, so the occasional anxiety spiral is inevitable. But if, like many New Yorkers, you have a full-time job, two side hobbies, a 12-step program to attend to and three dates a week with potential future baes from OKCupid, you might find yourself too busy to sit around thinking about how much you miss drugs and alcohol.

Also, subtract two hours from your day for public transportation. Everyone in this city is “crazy busy.” It’s what you signed up for when you decided to move—or not leave—the concrete jungle.

Being busy all the time can feel like a curse when you have to plan coffee dates a month in advance. But when you have an addict brain buzzing with high-voltage, self-destructive thoughts, it doesn’t hurt to have a hundred other things to focus on. And after eight hours at the office, book club, spin class, a 12-step meeting and your date with “BikeLover13,” you might even be able to sleep.

10. You can’t really afford a drinking problem here anyway.

New York City is one of the most expensive places in the world to live. Therefore, it’s one of the most costly places to have a drug and alcohol problem. Eight dollars for one glass of wine? Who drinks one glass of wine? A night out can easily cost upward of a hundred bucks, not including cab fare and a late-night call to your dealer. Plus, there’s all those times your wallet or bag or phone got mysteriously “stolen.”

Unless you’re a Wall Street banker or a trust fund kid, using substances can suck you dry. Once you quit, you might find a noticeable uptick on your bank balance. Now you can finally afford the best thing about living in New York City: leaving New York City! Take a vacation. Try being sober for a week on a beach in Puerto Rico.

You won’t miss New York City at all.


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