Sobriety brings about many changes in a person’s life. The vast majority of them are improvements, but many people in recovery experience one negative change: loneliness. Loneliness in sobriety is common–and a risk factor for relapse. Fortunately, there are also many ways to address it.
Why Does Loneliness Occur in Sobriety?
As pointed out by our partners at Aviary Recovery Center, there are many reasons why people struggle with loneliness after they get sober:
- Lost contacts – While people who experience addiction may have once had plenty of family and friends, it is not uncommon for them to lose contact with these people while engaging in prolonged substance abuse.
- Unhealthy contacts – By the time they are able to get sober, people who’ve struggled with addiction may have isolated themselves from everyone except their acquaintances who also use substances. According to an article by a woman with 5 years of sobriety, friends who are still drinking or using may be inclined to:
- Pretend you aren’t getting sober
- Pressure you to drink
- Question your decision to get sober
- Say things that are generally unsupportive
- Stop talking to you completely
- No one who can relate – Even if they do have supportive friends and family, people who are now in recovery may not feel like their loved ones fully understand their disease, their lifestyle, or their struggles.
- Unsure how to make new friends – If social activities used to revolve around drinking or getting high, it may be difficult to know how to begin making new friends without also exposing oneself to triggers. People in recovery can no longer use substances to help them feel less awkward in social situations.
- Unable to embrace solitude – A person may need time to adjust to the notion that not all time alone needs to be lonely. They may need support in realizing that there can be joy and peace in solitude.
- Rejection for being sober – some people simply refuse to be in a relationship with a person who chooses recovery.
How Loneliness Endangers Sobriety
As discussed in a previous post, relapse has three stages, the first of which is emotional relapse. In this stage of relapse, a person is not actively using any substances or even thinking about doing so, but they are making choices that could lead them toward engaging in use in the future.
One such choice can be isolating themselves. In fact, loneliness is so dangerous to sobriety that it is included in the acronym HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired); when a person allows themselves to become lonely, they put their recovery at risk.
How to Fight Loneliness in Recovery
Perhaps the most important way to help yourself deal with loneliness is sobriety is to allow yourself to grieve your old, substance-dependent self. Recognizing that you’ve gone through a major change and letting yourself feel all of the emotions triggered by that change can help you begin to address your situation honestly.
To help yourself process these emotions, work with a counselor. Connecting with a support group can also help you feel less alone on your journey. The face-to-face contact is crucial. Social media connects people on a superficial level, but it doesn’t actually promote strong, meaningful interpersonal connections.
Just because you’re in recovery doesn’t mean your whole life has to revolve around that theme. Book clubs, exercise classes, church groups, cooking classes, and so many other opportunities can support sobriety without overtly addressing it. Focus on finding healthy ways to spend time rather than fixating on feelings of loneliness. You might consider helping other through volunteering or by adopting a pet–or even a house plant. Caring for a home, a garden, animals, or other people can add purpose and small joys to your life.
As one of the 12 steps dictates, make amends. Apologizing for the negative impact substance abuse has had on a relationship can sometimes allow you to regain a support system you value.
And finally, be patient with yourself and your journey. Rebuilding your life takes time.
How We Help
At Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, VA, we are proud to assist our guests in combating loneliness by helping them to reconnect with their support systems through the amends process, guiding them in finding people with shared experiences, and promoting healthy time alone.