What Birds Know About Mutual Support

Every autumn we look up at the sky and see birds beginning their southern migration. Often, they are arranged in V-formation which, today, most of us know is for aerodynamic reasons. One bird, positioned behind and somewhat to the side of a bird in front, is the beneficiary of what scientists call “up-wash”. Up-wash is a flow of air, generated by the bird in front, which reduces the energy expended by the bird behind. The energy savings is typically between twenty and thirty percent. It’s effective and efficient.

Let’s go another step. While making their long-distance flight in V-formation, the birds will periodically swap positions. Those in front move toward the back and those birds in the back will move to the front. They all get a chance to provide as well as benefit from the efficiency of the V-formation. They all get a chance to follow and lead.

If you think about it – it’s a lot like what mutual support groups provide individuals in recovery. Recovery is a long journey. In a sense, we migrate from a life of addiction and suffering toward a life of recovery and health. It’s a journey we cannot accomplish alone. We need support. We need “up-wash”. We need opportunities to be helped and inspired by others. We need opportunities to be helpful and inspiring to others. Sometimes we need to just follow and sometimes we need to lead the way.

As professionals in the treatment and recovery support field, we strongly encourage individuals and families to include mutual support group involvement as a component of their recovery process. Today, as opposed to years ago, there are many options for people to consider. AA/NA and related 12-Step Programs, SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, Celebrate Recovery, Women for Sobriety, LifeRing, parent support groups, and others provide individuals and families with opportunities to be helped, supported, and inspired by others who are experiencing similar things. As stated above, these groups also provide opportunities for individuals to help, support, and inspire others. These groups provide “up-wash” – just like the birds – flying in V-formation.

- Peter Brizick

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