As humans, we have an innate desire to connect with others ⎼ to feel loved, supported, and understood. Healthy bonds not only enrich our lives but have been found to be as important as diet and exercise to our overall well-being. And while developing strong relationships is important for everyone, for those in recovery, human connection can often be the difference between long-term sobriety and relapse.
Loneliness in Recovery
As you embark on your journey to sobriety, you may have to cut ties with certain people: those who still use drugs or abuse alcohol, friends who don’t understand your new lifestyle, and family who isn’t supportive of your recovery. It can feel lonely at times. Loneliness can be dangerous, as it can leave you feeling isolated, overwhelmed, or even hopeless. Over time, these feelings can stifle your progress and put your sobriety at risk.
Side Effects of Loneliness
- Chronic pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Reduced life expectancy
While it may appear as if no one truly understands what you are going through, know that you are not alone. Many others in recovery have had similar experiences and combated their feelings of loneliness by forming new, meaningful relationships. Your addiction may have been isolating but your recovery certainly should not be.
Tips for Making Friends in Early Recovery
Social interactions can be intimidating during early recovery, especially when meeting new people. Where do you go to make new friends? Do you tell them you’re sober? How much of your story do they need to know? The truth is that there is no right answer. There will be some people that you instantly click with. Others won’t be a match, and that’s okay. Your goal is to form meaningful relationships with individuals who truly have your best interests in mind, not to surround yourself with fair-weather friends.
Try 12 Step
12 Step programs provide you with constant encouragement and support as well as a sense of belonging. It is not surprising that countless individuals credit their sobriety to the program. Attending meetings not only provides you with a safe space to share your feelings and emotions but also introduces you to people who have had similar experiences and won’t judge you by your past. This understanding, honest environment is great for forming long-lasting friendships.
Participate in Alumni Events
If the treatment center you attended has an alumni program, reach out to them and ask how you can get involved. Many addiction treatment centers hold special events for their alumni so that they can get to know each other, learn new recovery skills, and have fun sober. If your treatment center doesn’t have an alumni program or if you didn’t go to treatment, search for sober events in your area. There may be treatment centers holding sober events open to the public, or you may find sober meetup groups. While not all sober meetups are exclusively for those in recovery, you will meet individuals who have chosen to live a substance-free life and will therefore be supportive of your new lifestyle.
Get a Hobby
Not only do hobbies allow you to meet people who share similar interests, but they also help eliminate boredom, which can be dangerous in early recovery. By keeping your mind focused on the activity at hand ⎼ jogging, gardening, volunteering, woodworking ⎼ you reduce the amount of time that your mind has left to wander. Being present allows you to enjoy the small things and gain a more positive outlook on life.
No one likes rejection, which is why you may feel anxious about approaching new people or reaching out to old friends. But making connections requires you to move past your fears and discomfort and give others the opportunity to get to know you. Try to strike up a conversation with different kinds of people ⎼ of different ages, sexes, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations ⎼ you will be surprised not only by how much you can learn from each other but by how much you may have in common. Approaching a stranger in your yoga class or someone at the gym can be particularly difficult if you are an introvert, but the more you push yourself out of your comfort zone, the more likely you are to form meaningful connections. Just be sure to start slow, perhaps by making small talk about how much you enjoyed the yoga class or asking for some workout tips. Take your time, and if a friendship is meant to be, it will develop naturally.
The Importance of Friendship in Recovery
Having a strong support system is essential to maintaining sobriety. For those in recovery, particularly early recovery, forming strong friendships is key.
- Help you avoid loneliness, a common relapse trigger
- Keep you accountable
- Boost your happiness
- Encourage you to live a healthier lifestyle
- Allow you to share your ideas
- Encourage you to open up
- Help lower your stress levels
- Comfort you in your times of need
- Improve your self-confidence
- Provide you with different perspectives
- Improve your communication skills
- Keep you grounded
Just as addiction is more complex than simply using drugs and alcohol, recovery is much more than just giving up those substances. To be able to stay sober and lead a healthy life, meaningful connections are necessary. While some may have been able to get and stay sober alone, know that you don’t have to and that your recovery will be much more fulfilling with a loving, supportive network of people around you.