What does sober living really entail?

Talk show host Wendy Williams recently confessed on her show that she had been living in a recovery house. Her brave admission came as a surprise to many, but raised an important question: What happens in sober living, and why is it so valuable to people newly entering recovery?

To find out, we asked two members of the Retreat team who have experience managing recovery houses to shed light on what they are and how they work.


Brooke Shockley

Community Relations Representative

Sunlight of the Spirit 

Sunlight of the Spirit Recovery Houses are sober living facilities in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Our program is generally geared towards individuals who have completed inpatient or are continuing outpatient treatment and wish to live with like-minded people in a sober community.

The people who come to live with us are seeking structure and accountability as they begin their life in recovery. When I too was in the early stages of recovery from my addiction, I remember how challenging it was to leave rehab and go straight back to the same situation I was in before I went to treatment. It doesn’t work.

We go back home, find ourselves relapsing, and wonder where we went wrong. Sober living is designed to break that cycle by enabling us to go to a safe space where a diverse group of people are all working toward the same goal.

When new residents first arrive, they undergo Orientation, the most difficult but most crucial two weeks of their stay with us. During Orientation, patients attend treatment services, make 12-step meetings, and start looking for employment if they aren’t already holding down a job. Fortunately, we’re located in an area rich with employment opportunities, resume building programs, and a community college with scholarships for people in recovery.

We tell our residents that the key to success in this early stage is being thorough and dedicated. If you take advantage of all these resources, even if you’ve spent years in active addiction, have been in prison, and are just starting over, you can absolutely turn your life around.

Next, if Orientation goes well, patients move onto the bulk of their living experience, including working with a sponsor to stay on track and embracing their 12-step work.

On a daily basis, our residents also learn vital life skills they can rely upon to cultivate consistency in the outside world. These could be basic skills like cooking and cleaning, budgeting money, or learning to grocery shop for dinners that week. We all carve out time to eat dinner together and check in on one another.

On Monday through Thursday, it’s lights out by 9:30pm; on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, that extends to 10:30pm. We extend the curfew slightly as residents move through their stay and show demonstrable progress.

Once a week, the entire Sunlight of the Spirit community — which includes current residents, alumni who have lived with us in the past, and residents in the surrounding community — gather to read from the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s a ritual that involves copious helpings of laughter, tears, and plenty of introspection. Afterward, we reflect on how our step work is coming along and collectively set fresh goals for the week ahead.

Our mission is to provide our residents with trustworthy sober living homes that offer the highest standards of care. At Sunlight of the Spirit, we lift each other up when we are struggling, hold one another accountable, and take those first steps to a hopeful life filled with joy; fulfillment; and yes, sunlight, together.

Grace Shober

Community Relations Representative

The Grace House

After an inpatient treatment stay, choosing to take up temporary residence at a recovery house can be, for many people, a lifesaving decision. Sure, nobody grows up dreaming of living there, but nobody grows up dreaming of surviving addiction, either. It’s not about regretting the past: It’s about setting up a foundation for a healthy and bright future.

At a recovery house, you’ll room with five to 10 other individuals in similar situations — an environment that naturally cultivates accountability.

There are actual mechanics to this accountability: Drug testing, curfews at night, requirements to make your bed and do your chores and attend meetings. You don’t have to do it alone, and it doesn’t go on forever.

Here’s what a typical day looks like in sober living: First things first, you will wake up and make your bed. Afterward, you and your fellow residents will have breakfast together and name a few things you’re grateful for, to start the day on a positive note.

After breakfast you’ll get ready to go to an outpatient group, which will typically have been set up for you by the treatment center where you were staying before you came here. This could last anywhere from three up to five hours.

After group you’ll return home for a rest, perhaps grab a snack or relax for a few hours before dinner. After the evening meal, you’ll attend a recovery meeting where you will come across others who are walking the same path and can become uplifting role models to emulate.

Once all this is over, you’ll head home again and get ready for sleep, which might include some time enjoying an entertaining movie before bed.

Throughout the course of your first month in sober living, that’s a lot of what your schedule will look like, save for special ad hoc events like a guest speaker or special gathering every so often. You’ll see your family too, and, after a few weeks, might graduate to having an overnight away.

The first couple of months after inpatient treatment are the most crucial — and in some cases, they are when you are most delicate. The good news is, sober living is a step in the right direction so that you can navigate life’s challenges without relying on drugs or alcohol to get through.