Experiencing feelings of loneliness in early recovery can become almost overpowering, especially if the addict was forced to cut ties with their closest friends and loved ones in order to get and stay clean.
Unfortunately, this can leave the newly sober person feeling alone, isolated, and unsupported at one of their most critical sobriety milestones.
Research tells us that having strong connections to the recovery community can make a big difference, but why is this so important in early recovery?
The Power of Community and Connection in Early Recovery
Humans are inherently social – so much so that loneliness is in and of itself a powerful trigger for substance abuse.
In fact, many addicts report that loneliness is, or was, a big part of what drew them to drugs or alcohol in the first place.
Consider this: the very experience of being human is to belong to the human race, which is, in many ways, a community of sorts. On a much smaller level, we have a deep need to enjoy a sense of community in our everyday lives. We want to be included, appreciated, and cared for by the people around us.
When we lack community, or feel isolated, most of us become sad, depressed, or even suicidal. We look for ways to “fill the hole” left behind by missing friendships, parental relationships, and romances – a hole very easily stuffed shut by drugs and alcohol or even risky behaviors.
This becomes even more critical during early recovery, when feelings and emotions remain raw and the temptation to use is never far from the mind.
This is where the recovery community comes in. By forging new and healthy connections, addicts gain communal reinforcement, socialization opportunities, and even peer support from people who really understand and accept them for who they are.
An Alcoholics Anonymous quote reads, “I can’t stay sober – but we can.” It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to “raise” an addict into long-term sober living.
Your recovery community IS that village.
Finding a Recovery Community
It may seem strange, but the recovery community is all around you. Every single day, hundreds or even thousands of people work their programs right in your town, city, or state – and all of them have the same need for friendship and love as you.
Making Friends in Treatment
If you are currently in treatment, or if you plan to go to treatment, you’ll forge your first connections to the recovery community even before you leave. Take advantage of this time to meet people and re-learn how to socialize safely in a healthy, productive manner.
Not sure exactly what “healthy and productive” looks like? You aren’t alone.
Most recovering addicts have socialized high or drunk for so long, they can’t remember how to relate when they’re sober. Your counselors are available at all times to help you if you have questions, and they’ve heard everything, so don’t be afraid to ask for advice if you’re feeling lost.
Most inpatient treatment facilities structure programs to include socialization opportunities. Whether it’s just playing board games or going out for a bit of fun at the beach, you should try to seize the opportunity to make new friends.
You can also talk to your counselor, therapist, or medical care team. Ask them about support groups and meetings in your local area. Join at least one, if not more – and keep going regularly even if it feels awkward at first. Those feelings don’t last forever.
Go to recovery meetings – every day at first, and later, at least a few times a week. Strive to choose a home group full of people you see on a regular basis. If your home group has safe sober social events, attend them, too – they’re an excellent way to get to know really good people with the same common goals.
The Internet can be a great way to forge connections, too. Sites like Meetup can be a great way to find out what other sober survivors are doing to pass the time in your local area if you’re feeling a little intimidated to just show up somewhere.
Apps like Sober Grid and Sober.ly also make it easier to find others near you. Of course, you should always use common sense when you use these apps; never meet someone alone or in a private space until you’re sure you know them well.
Making Friends in Your City
If you’re in outpatient treatment, or maybe just trying to get well on your own, you may lack that initial connection or be confused about where to find it.
Maybe you graduated out of treatment, but still feel a little confused about how to meet your needs for socialization without triggering a relapse. Either way, we have some tips to help you find your way:
- Head to church! If you’re faithful, consider reaffirming your faith by attending church, synagogue, or temple again. Many churches are incredibly welcoming to addicts, even in the rough days of early recovery when you may be emotional, raw, or withdrawn.
- Spiritual, not faithful? Consider reconnecting with your inner self and your spiritual side via local meditation centers, yoga classes, and other non-denominational events. Nearly of these are drug and alcohol-free, letting you re-learn how to express yourself without taking unnecessary risks.
- Stay connected to past programs! If you attended treatment, ask your facility about alumni programs. Many host regular sober events – baseball games, beach parties, even sober nights at local bars without any alcohol present. It’s a great way to enjoy a little bit of lighthearted entertainment and meet new friends.
- Volunteer or give back. Early recovery is a great time to start developing new skills and giving back to the community. Offer your time and experience, or any skills you have, to nonprofits and organizations in your local area. This is an even better option if you can volunteer at a recovery-specific location, such as a women’s shelter, a rehab, or even your local home group.
- Join a club or learn a new skill. Always wanted to paint? Take an art class. Want to learn how to eat healthy? Join a cooking club or take cooking classes and get to know your classmates. Some locations may even have classes or clubs available specific to the recovery community! Going back to school is also an option – just be sure you’re ready for the workload.
Creating newer and healthier connections doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it won’t even happen over a couple of weeks or even a few months. It’s a long-term process, and some of it may be awkward, uncomfortable, or even challenging.
Know that if you stick with it and stay connected to the recovery community, you will quickly discover how much there is to celebrate in sober life. There’s a whole world of deep, meaningful friendships and relationships available out here. Won’t you come join us?