“Addiction has an interesting effect on our interpersonal relationships. Even after we’ve gone through the process of becoming sober and repairing our lives after addiction, the scars of addiction can continue to impact the most important relationships in our lives.”
This is especially problematic considering how essential relationships are for ongoing recovery. In fact, some researchers have gone so far as to claim that the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, but connection. Sociologically, addiction can have a powerful impact on isolation, and feel “cast out.”
Addiction can make it hard to integrate back into normal life: getting a job, going on dates, making new friends, and being yourself with close friends and family. However, it is possible, and the benefits of building up your support network of friends and family are absolutely worth the investment that you put into it.
A support network doesn’t just empower your recovery after addiction, it also brings you moments and experiences that help you know that recovery (and life itself!) is worthwhile. Here are some tips to help you on your way:
1: Friends who have also experienced addiction are invaluable… as long as they’re as dedicated to recovery as you are.
Often, the new friends that we make during recovery are individuals who have been through something similar to us. They might be friends that you make in group therapy, a support group, or in residential rehab. They might even be people that you just happen to connect with spontaneously when you learn about your commonalities.
However, it’s important to remember to protect your sobriety carefully. Maintaining friendships with people who are currently involved in addiction, without any attempts to change, can be damaging to your own wellbeing. Tread carefully, and trust the advice of professionals and sober friends who have helped you in your own recovery process.
2: Do what you can to build family relationships wherever possible.
Family relationships are complicated. However, they’re also the best resources when you really need help. The family knows you best, and they’ve taken care of you in the past, and vice versa. That being said, sometimes those of us who have experienced addiction in our lives are more likely to have some family relationships that contribute to underlying causes of addiction, instead of healing them.
It’s important to utilize professional resources, in this case, to repair family systems when possible. Having an experienced third party looking at your family dynamics can help you to identify harmful patterns and communicate effectively, instead of falling into familiar, unfruitful arguments.
Besides utilizing professional help to repair family relationships, there are two things that you can do whenever possible in order to further support family connections. First, recognize when you’re responsible for something being difficult or hard for another person to bear, and apologize appropriately.
Second, express gratitude more often for the things that family members do for you. Many of these things will be small, and others will be large. No matter the size, show appreciation for those people closest to you that you’re otherwise likely to take for granted.
3: Some things need professional help.
If you’re leaning on your friends for weekly intensive, introspective discussions to support your ongoing recovery, it can be a lot for them to handle. First of all, your friend might not have the experience and education they need to really be helpful.
Second of all, a little help from a friend might turn into a lot very quickly. Make sure that you utilize professional resources where appropriate, including group and individual therapy, sobriety coaches, and sponsors (which aren’t professional, per say, but are still specialized.)
4: Make new friends too.
It’s important to recognize that during this period, you might be rather needy. Don’t rely on just one person to provide all that you need, or you could burn them out fast. After addiction, it’s easy to withdraw and only rely on a few trusted individuals who understand the whole story and have shown themselves to be supportive of you. And you don’t need to get into codependent relationships.
However, being active supports a sober lifestyle, and you will probably need different friends for different purposes. Go out and meet new people. They don’t all need to know your whole life story; some will simply be acquaintances. But acquaintances who encourage you to go out, be active, and do things that you love are also invaluable.
5: Give as much as you get.
I mentioned gratitude towards family members above; it’s important to infuse gratitude in all of your interactions with other people. When we recognize all the ways that others help us, it motivates us to help them, too. No friendship is a one-way street, and you’re never the only person out there who needs a helping hand. Acknowledge that most of the people around you are also going through something hard, although their challenges might look different from yours.
Find opportunities to be a true friend to them, just as they are to you.