Suit Up and Show Up: Fighting Isolation in Recovery

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Addiction and social isolation are closely related, often becoming a vicious cycle. According to the Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index, younger generations in America are experiencing higher levels of loneliness, which leads to many mental health and behavioral problems, including addiction. In recovery, isolation can become a temptation. This is particularly true now during the pandemic, with social activities decreasing to curb the spread of COVID-19. But for people who are in recovery, the danger of isolation cannot be ignored. Self-isolation is where old habits flourish, but recovery is designed to help you build new ones.

The Temptation of Social Isolation

Because addictive behaviors often disrupt social relationships, especially with family members, a person in recovery may already be used to finding ways to disassociate from people. Sometimes depression can also hinder a person’s social integration. Isolation often becomes a default mode or comfort zone that recovering individuals use to avoid interactions, disappointments, and confrontations in their lives.

Although many therapy and treatment plans use community-centered and group support approaches (including the 12-Step program), the temptation of self-isolation can still be present during your stay at a recovery facility. One might assume that if the triggers to relapse are removed, there’s no reason to self-isolate. But in reality, there are many reasons why people in recovery may turn to isolation for comfort. Entering a new community can be an intimidating experience, and you may have initial anxiety about not knowing what to expect or what kind of people you might encounter. Attempting to hide a co-occurring mental health disorder is another common reason for self-isolation.

The Dangers of Isolation

The dangers and downside of isolation during your stay at a recovery facility are vast. First, you’re not making the most use of the network that is already there to help you. You can usually find the most concentrated support at a recovery facility, and the rich experiences of staff (many of whom have recovered from addiction themselves) can be immensely helpful to you. Isolation cuts in the way of this support network, and you end up with a missed opportunity.

Second, depression and boredom might frustrate your progress, which may already be challenging due to your mental health. A sense of defeat or failure to connect with anyone might overwhelm you, increasing your urge to drink or use. Lastly, as a member of a recovery community, you can make great contributions to its overall well-being. But by self-isolating, you are missing another opportunity to make meaningful connections. Some people might enter a recovery program with the expectation of not opening up to others or not making serious friendships. But the truth is, this is THE place you need to open up. This is also THE place where you are bound to experience genuine friendships, some that may last a lifetime. And remember, once you are a member of a 12-Step recovery community, you are accountable for contributing to its common good.

The Benefits of Social Interactions During Recovery

To combat these issues, treatment facilities have intentionally built in many structures and opportunities for healthy social interactions. They encourage and support you to develop good habits and healthy routines. All you need to do is to trust and use their help. For example, learn to be open and honest about yourself in your 12-Step support group meetings. You can share about your urge to isolate — you might be surprised that others share that experience, too. By being vulnerable together, you can find a strong community.

In addition to group therapy, social interactions can also happen through outdoor activities and community service. These experiences help build your self-confidence, giving you opportunities to explore and discover a new fun-loving or service-oriented identity. Through these activities, you can regain a positive outlook on life and learn what meaningful relationships look like.

Rebuilding Your Community

When you lose access to drugs and alcohol (your old “best friends”), you might feel a sense of loss. Isolation may become a coping mechanism for dealing with that loss. But keep in mind that your old relationship was not a healthy one. In its place, you should try to rebuild new relationships that are wholesome and meaningful. Through life-giving social connections, you can break the cycle of isolation and addiction.

Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Expect to interact with people in a deeper way
  • Be open to therapists, counselors, and staff about your emotional needs
  • Allow yourself to have moments of peace-seeking solitude, but always be on alert for unhealthy urges to self-isolate
  • Be more intentional in making connections with others who are also in recovery
  • Try new social activities that might distract you from boredom and depression
  • Make full use of your support network by actively meeting with therapists, counselors, and staff
  • Remind yourself to be fully present as a community member with accountability
  • Repair relationships with family members and update them on your progress
  • Limit social media use and exposure to negative content

Overcoming isolation is a big step towards recovery, but every step of recovery is also a journey of self-discovery. You need to understand yourself more and practice self-care. It takes wisdom to know when you need solitude and rest rather than simply defaulting back to isolation. Own your emotions and find ways to fully express them. Reckoning with yourself is the first step towards sustainable change.

Do you have a tendency to withdraw from social interactions? Are you battling both loneliness and addiction? Has social isolation during the pandemic worsened your addiction tendencies? The vicious cycle between isolation and addiction is hard to break, but the recovery community at Jaywalker Lodge has the experience to help you through this journey. At Jaywalker Lodge, we can testify to the power of a recovering and healing community. Knowing how tempting isolation can be, we have built a full support system to help you recover and flourish. These include 12-Step support groups, outdoor expeditions, community service opportunities, and much more. We appreciate everyone’s participation and desire to make their recovery experience a meaningful one. Even when you are tempted to isolate yourself, our staff know the tricks to draw you out — because we have all been there. Jaywalker Lodge specializes in helping men find lasting recovery. Call us today 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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