Maintaining Friendships in Recovery

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Entering recovery can be an exciting time, as we finally find help for our deadly disease and begin to feel hope again. It can also be a time of overwhelming change. So much of our previous lives that were lived in the disease will begin to fall away, and we will likely want to distance ourselves from much of our past life to secure a safe and thriving life in recovery. This can be a challenging process to navigate through, as we so often rely on friends to help us through times like these. But some of the friendships we had before might not be the healthiest thing for us — yet we likely don’t know many people in recovery as closely as we do our old buddies and close companions. This can make the transition into recovery a little scary or even lonely. There are several things we can try to make this period a little easier on ourselves.

A Clearer Perspective

Change happens to everyone — some say that change is the only real constant. Whether we are new to recovery or have been around a while, whether we are younger or older, sometimes things will just change. Our communities shift when people move away or start new relationships or simply outgrow each other. It is a rare and beautiful gift to have very close, lifelong friends. Sometimes jobs or family issues force people to move far away or we simply grow apart. This is a normal part of life, whatever stage of life we find ourselves in. Try to keep that clearer perspective in the forefront of your mind. If your closest friends drink heavily or abuse substances, it may not be the safest thing to remain close to them. After all, it could cost you your life. 

You don’t have to grow cold to those people, but you could begin to distance yourself with love. It doesn’t change the bond that you shared, it’s just that now your lifestyles are divergent. Keeping yourself alive and thriving in recovery is pretty darn important at the end of the day. People’s interests and priorities change as they grow, mature, and experience more of life. Sometimes these things pull us away from people we’ve known for a long time. But just as often, they also allow us to meet new people we have things in common with.

It’s Okay To Make New Lifelong Friends

Sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking that when things are the way we like them, they will always be that way. This simply isn’t true, which is really a blessing. Life is a vibrant, evolving thing, and we sell ourselves short when we resist the natural flow. That being said, most people (alcoholic, addict, or not) find it awkward to try to make new friends sometimes, especially when we are a bit more settled in our lives. Whether we have a steady job, a stable home, or neither of those things, most people experience some nervousness about making new friends.

This is one of the nicer fringe benefits of being active in a 12-Step fellowship. We find ourselves in a place with a whole bunch of very different people, yet we all have two very serious things in common — our deadly disease and our life-changing solution. It’s built-in common ground. We all have some level of common understanding in the 12-Step fellowship, no matter how different our details are. This makes finding new friends a lot easier, although making good friends usually still takes a bit of time. As we find our regular meetings, we will naturally find new people in recovery to become friendly with. We often find ourselves making brand-new lifelong friendships in the rooms of recovery, which can help with the transition away from our old lives in the disease. We may not always be safe with our old drinking buddies, or we may even find ourselves outgrowing our old friendships as we undertake the journey of recovery.

Maintaining and Building Friendships Takes Work

We all put effort into what’s most important to us. We prioritize what we value. Entering recovery can shift our values and cause us to grow apart from people or hobbies that we once greatly enjoyed. Growth changes us, but growth is also one of the most rewarding pursuits in life. Things that don’t grow become stagnant and nobody wants that. Of course, we likely have dear friends we do not want to lose touch with, even though we are growing and changing so much. We are also likely making new friends in recovery who understand and align with our new values like no other relationships we’ve ever had.

The way to handle both these things is the same. Maintaining something is a lot like building something. Both require time, attention, and effort. As we maintain old friendships and build new ones, we will want to give these relationships our time and attention. Whatever we do, we will want to put forth our best effort. Our old friendships were not made overnight, and our new friendships won’t be either. Some relationships will fall away as new ones take their place. But for the relationships, we are building and the ones we don’t want to lose, we must participate lovingly and actively.

Alcoholism and addiction are a destructive disease that can cause us to become isolated, combative, or too heartbreaking to remain close with. Losing relationships can leave us feeling alone, worthless, and seeking out unhealthy or enabling companionship. We may fill our social lives with people who also live in the disease. But in order to recover, we may have to distance ourselves from those who are still active in their alcoholism and addiction. Luckily, the 12-Step solution emphasizes making new relationships, restoring healthy ones, and participating more fully in all relationships in our life. We only need to be honest, open-minded, and willing to work the 12-Step program. We will find new friendships built on the foundation of recovery, even as we learn how to healthily distance ourselves from negative relationships and restore the positive relationships that were damaged by our disease. Jaywalker Lodge is here to help you firmly begin a life in recovery, no matter what has happened before. To learn more, call us now at (866) 529-9255.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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