Though they don’t always get as much media attention as other relationships, friendships are some of the most important relationships we have. They are especially important in recovery. Friends become a support network. They care for you—and just as crucially, you care for them.
Everyone is in a different place with friendships when they first get sober. Some people have a supportive network of friends ready to cheer them on. Some people realize that many of their friendships were based on using substances together, and have to make hard choices about those friendships. Others find that their friends are actively detrimental to their recovery. For some, it’s a combination of all of the above.
As different as those experiences sound, each of these people will notice shifts in their friendships. When you make a change as big as getting sober, it affects all of your relationships.
I was lucky to be in the first category when I got sober, finding out my friendships weren’t based in substance use (I was often the most intoxicated person in the room). Still, those friendships changed a lot.
I gradually grew closer to some people and less close to others. Relationships with people I stayed as close to radically changed; they became more based in mutuality, as I was able to give as much as I received. This made the bond stronger and ultimately helped my own recovery. Some friends later got sober themselves, changing those relationships again and adding a specific kind of connection.
If your friends are supportive, you can be lulled into the sense that you don’t need to work on that aspect of your life. But being in friendships sober is a whole different ball game. In treatment or therapy, you can work on communication skills that will help you deepen the connections already in your life.
This can also help you learn boundary-setting if the friends you have now are unhealthy for your recovery. Just like addiction, the first step is admitting there is a problem. This can be hard. Just because someone isn’t good for you doesn’t mean you don’t care about them.
Therapy can also help you work through grief, guilt, or other emotions that might arise when you decide a friend isn’t right for you. In treatment or support groups, you meet sober peers who can also support you through—and may end up becoming good friends.
Setting boundaries doesn’t necessarily mean cutting people out of your life, though that may need to happen in some cases. It could mean limiting contact with them, or only seeing them in settings that don’t involve substances.
But creating boundaries doesn’t only apply to people whose substance use triggers you. In sobriety, you may find that certain people are more emotionally draining to you. The more sober time you have, the clearer you will be on who you want to surround yourself with.
What if you go through all these steps and find you need to make all new friends? That can be scary. It’s hard for anyone newly sober to enter social situations, even if they’re surrounded by close friends.
So if you are trying to meet all new people sober, it might be overwhelming. A good place to start is by finding local recovery support groups or online sobriety forums that host local events. The people you meet will be sober as well, which can make it less intimidating. Once you click with someone, you can build a friendship based on encouraging each other’s sobriety.
Regardless of where you are in recovery and in life, you will always need friendships. Sobriety expands the possibilities for those friendships in wonderful ways.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is hope. TruHealing Centers across the country offer high-quality care for addiction and mental health. We will help you build the network of support you need to thrive in long-term recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.