Lonely No More: Developing Friendships While Clean & Sober
More often than not as a substance abuser, isolation is part of our story.
Maybe we have a few 'using' or 'drinking' friends, but generally we harbor feelings of loneliness and social anxiety.
Some of us may claim that we're buddy-buddy with our dealer, our drinking/using friends are our road-dogs, and we've had heart-to-heart moments with our favorite liquor store manager. All of these claims may be true as long as we have a demand for a substance and they have the supply. Unfortunately, when you sever the demand, the supplier may not maintain his/her warm and fuzzy feelings for your presence.
We are then flung into this lonely space of sobriety where we feel as if being alone is our only option. We feel abandoned by not only the friends we had before we put down the drink or drug, but also by the substance itself. Whether it was still working to numb the pain, or it stopped working long ago, it was our friend and reliable source of short-lived sanity.
So we're sitting in treatment without our best friend and we feel a massive void. What do we fill this void with? Our automatic thought is generally: "I should relapse; I never felt this void before." But we think back to that first couple of days with our counselor when we really believed (for however long) that we were truly and irrevocably powerless over alcohol and drugs. "I said I would give this thing a shot, at least through treatment, so relapse isn't an option for today," and we are overwhelmed with loneliness.
What do we do now?
We have a few options:
- We sit in our loneliness until we literally go crazy and end up in the psych ward as a 51/50 patient
- We complain to our counselor and we share in groups about how miserable we are, and remain in self pity
- We start talking to people in our treatment center who said something in group that we related to, and we start off on the road to developing friendships
As an alcoholic/addict we are really good at self-pity. We love writing poetry that could easily be summarized by the phrase 'woah is me', and we absolutely love thinking the world hates us.
Why did we continue to use to such great lengths? Well, we either loved the feeling of booze or drugs, but what we thought was 'normal' using began pushing our friends and loved ones away leaving us alone and hopeless, OR we felt alone and disconnected our whole life, which pushed us deeper and deeper into our drunken depression.
Options 1 and 2 sound comfortable; they're familiar decisions. But, what we were doing obviously wasn't working and we ended up at this point.
So, we're left with option 3... socialization.
"Heck no, that sounds awful," "No one wants to be friends with me, I'm just a junkie," "I get so much social anxiety, there's no way I can make friends," are normal thoughts, friends.
The reality: establishing a community when you're kicking substance abuse is extremely important and worth every ounce of effort.
Without a sober/clean community, I don't believe I would be alive today. If not physically gone from this world, I most certainly would be emotionally and spiritually dead.
How do you choose friends?
It sounds quite silly to ask this question, but I had absolutely no idea how to 'pick' friends when I first got clean and sober.
How do I look at a crowd of people and determine which one of them I should spend my time talking to? How do I initiate a conversation? How do I get them to hang out with me?
All completely valid questions.
Coming from a past with very few friends (I could count the entirety on one hand over a 20 year span), I believed that a 'friend' was anyone who would talk to me; I don't choose my friends, they choose me.
"No, no, no sweetie," my first sponsor said to me.
"You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. So, you choose wisely," she said to me.
So, I'm sitting here with this new found power to choose my friends. The 5 people I spend the most time with will end up shaping me into the person I want to be or a person I am not really okay with.
What type of person do I want to be?
I didn't really feel comfortable answering that question, because I honestly didn't know. I knew what person I didn't want to be anymore, and that was everything that I was when I first put down the substance. I wanted to be anyone else but myself. Hopefully you relate to that statement; it's a great place to be.
The person I was when I first got sober:
- Miserable in my own skin
- A terrible friend
- A selfish daughter
- A nonexistent sister
- A 'nothing'
So, to become anyone but myself, I need to surround myself with people who are not those qualities. I need to find people who are:
- A good friend
- A giving daughter or son
- A present sister or brother
- Someone of value
If I surround myself with at least five people who have these qualities, I am sure to become these things.
So I shut my mouth and I started listening to people; it became a game: The Wheel of Friendship. I used the latter bullet points as a checklist before I determined whether they were going to lift me up or bring me back down to the person I was before I came in here.
I made a bunch of mistakes when choosing friends; trial and error became a routine. I found myself hanging out with people whom I thought were selfless, full, happy, kind, and more, but they turned out to be great performers.
It wasn't long before I heard a similar saying: "If you hang out in a barber shop for long enough, you're going to get a haircut."
Whatever 'haircut' meant, I definitely didn't want to be influenced to get one. I didn't want to relapse, I didn't want to go back to being a terrible person, I just didn't want any of it.
So I kept trying. I found people along the way who stuck with me, they lifted me up and inspired me to become my best self.
These days, I can't count how many quality, positive friends I have in my life on two hands.
Who would have thought someone like me: hopeless, lonely, and miserable, would have such a fruitful life?