Getting sober, as the old saying goes, most always involves changing “faces and places.” And often, that means a residential move.
Finding a new place to live is never easy. But finding a place to live when you’re sober – especially when you’re newly sober – can be even harder.
Enter MySoberRoommate.com. The website went live last October and already has more than 3,500 members. Remarkably, it has only one competitor, RoommatesInSobriety.
In an exclusive interview with DualDiagnosis.org, MySoberRoommate.com founder Jesse Sandler says he believes his website offers greater security for both renters and those renting rooms. While security and confidence in finding a suitable roommate is forefront in the minds of anyone roommate-shopping these days, it is especially true for the sober community.
“I’m a clinical social worker, and I work with people in recovery from all sorts of addictions,” Sandler told DualDiagnosis.org. Sandler works for a rehabilitation center specializing in co-occurring addiction and mental health disorders in Southern California. He previously worked in the partial hospital program at UCLA Resnick Neuropsychiatry Hospital.
The popularity of partial hospital programs has grown in recent years. Third party payers seem them as a way to discharge patients from psychiatric beds sooner to save money or to make room for new patients in communities where there is a shortage of psychiatric beds.
It goes without saying that the clients Sandler found himself working with could not live just anywhere. “I had clients transitioning out of sober living (complexes) or toxic living environments, and they were having trouble getting sober roommates,” he said. “Moving in alone isn’t really good for recovery, and moving in with people who are using definitely isn’t. And I thought, there’s nothing out there (like his website).”
Unlike RoommatesInSobriety, which requires posters to include personal information such as public telephone number and/or email address to be reached, MySoberRoommate.com uses an internal messaging system. That way, potential matches can chat privately, and then possibly agree to meet somewhere publicly, before exchanging personal information.
For some, getting sober can even mean having to change cities, states or regions of the country for the sake of personal safety. Such long-distance moves can be scary and difficult for anyone. With Sandler’s service, even the sting of cross-country moves can be easier to bear. You get to start a new life in a new place, already knowing at least one sober person who can potentially introduce you to other sober people. You may even meet several sober people in the process of searching for the right room for you.
Sandler said he himself is “not sober,” but adds that he “doesn’t drink or use drugs.” Interestingly, some posters on MySoberRoommate describe themselves in just that manner. They specify they are not part of the “sober community” of those in recovery, but that they simply live a “straight life” (as in straight-laced).
“There is a large population out there who don’t do any of that [drugs or alcohol]. I have a bunch of friends for example who are personal trainers, or have jobs in the sports world, and none of them drink or use.”
For people who are well established in their recovery, the idea of living with someone new in sobriety – perhaps those riding the “pink cloud,” as they say in AA – may not be a good fit. Some people after having several years of sobriety no longer attend AA meetings, for example, and have moved on to other interests. Maybe their lives have become so busy, or they feel so secure in their sobriety, that “the rooms” no longer feel right for them.
Other people flat out don’t care for the 12-Step program, even though they want a roommate who is in recovery. They may prefer to find a roommate who uses other recovery programs, such as SMART Recovery, LifeRing or other groups, or to simply live with someone who never has drank or used drugs and therefore never has developed a drinking or drug problem.
Sandler notes that it’s important to be careful when screening potential roommates, particularly for those who are newly sober whose sobriety may be fragile. He suggests bringing your sponsor along (for people in 12-Step programs) during that first meeting with the potential roommate.
“That way they may get a more objective viewpoint of who they are dealing with,” Sandler said.
While no site is completely fool-proof and private “we did use a web developer that used state-of-the-art security in terms of making profiles and passwords as secure as they can be,” Sandler said.
The website is completely free, whether you’re looking for a place to live or trying to rent a room. The rentals run the gamut, and you can search by price range, region, etc. The site originally launched in New York, Chicago and Miami, but has since added Minneapolis, Dallas, Austin…most major metropolitan areas and most college towns located in mid-size cities.
So how will Sandler make money with his site? Eventually, Sandler says he will begin accepting listings from sober living communities, and those advertisers will be required to pay.
In the meantime, Sandler wants people to reach out to him if they live in a community or would like to see one added. You can message Sandler at “Go Blue” on the system. Sandler, obviously, is a graduate of the University of Michigan.
Written by David Heitz
Integrated Treatment of Substance Abuse & Mental Illness