We rely on our closest friends to provide us with comfort, joy and support. It’s these deep relationships that give us the sense of understanding and community that’s so important to our overall well-being.
These relationships become especially vital in addiction recovery. “We are social creatures,” starts Dr. Brooks, the Chief People Officer at Vertava Health. “Knowing how friendship and other social relationships can have such a positive impact on our lives makes them a core piece of the recovery process.”
Actively pursuing meaningful friendships in recovery doesn’t just provide you with support and guidance, they can also help you stay on track and prevent a future relapse. With so many benefits to be gained from engaging in a healthy social life, how can you begin to build those meaningful friendships in your recovery?
Why Your Social Life Is Important To Your Recovery
“The support, the accountability, the encouragement and the inspiration that you get from your social relationships is foundational for a healthy pace of recovery,” states Dr. Brooks. While these are all fundamental to sobriety, they describe only a portion of the full role that your social life plays in recovery.
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Not only can your friendships help you progress in your journey of recovery, Dr. Brooks notes that engaging in healthy relationships can also prevent a relapse.
“Addiction grows in the dark. When you are not connected with others, or you isolate, the potential for turning back to drugs or alcohol for comfort is much greater,” he says. Dr. Brooks believes that this is probably why support groups are so popular among those in recovery. While they can provide a great deal of counseling and advice, the connection with others is the greatest benefit.
Dr. Brooks also suggests that your social relationships can be a great indicator of when things are going off course in your recovery. If you begin to feel yourself pulling away from the people that you love, it’s a sign that there’s a deeper issue. Learn to recognize when you’re isolating and why before the problem spirals out of control.
Repairing Past Relationships
“The disease of addiction is a systemic disease,” starts Dr. Brooks. “It doesn’t just impact the person suffering, but everyone around them.”
While you may be ready to move on after treatment, your close friends may not be. They could still be harboring some feeling of hurt and resentment from your time in active addiction. “One of the things I see those in recovery struggling with is that they’ve changed, but they return home to relationships that have not changed. Their friends and colleagues still remember the old them,” Dr. Brooks mentions.
With this in mind, how can those in recovery start to repair these fractured friendships?
“To start repairing friendships, you first have to understand what you did wrong and take responsibility for your actions.” Dr. Brooks suggests. While this may sound easy, it can often be a painful process, especially when it requires those in recovery to recall memories of themselves during active addiction.
“After you’ve accepted your role in the breakdown of your social relationships, you have to show your friends that you’re creating a new and healthy path in life,” says Dr. Brooks.
As your friends start to witness your commitment to living a life free of addiction, they’ll begin to understand how serious you are about your sobriety. Dr. Brooks notes that taking these actions often plays a vital role in repairing broken social relationships.
“Your friends have probably heard you say ‘I’m going to stop drinking,’ or, ‘I’m going to stop using drugs,’ many times over the course of your friendship, and nothing’s changed,” says Dr. Brooks. “It’s time to show them that you’re serious about actually changing through your actions.”
Despite his emphasis on the importance of actionable change, Dr. Brooks doesn’t discredit the relevance of honest conversation. He firmly believes that in order to lay a strong foundation for recovery, you must apologize and make amends for the pain that you caused in active addiction.
Above all else, repairing your past relationships will take time. “You spent months and years destroying essential friendships. It’s going to take equally as much time and care to rebuild them,” Dr. Brooks concludes.
Making New Friends In Recovery
After participating in any number of toxic friendships during active addiction, it’s important to build new and healthy relationships in recovery. However, Dr. Brooks understands that this may be difficult after spending years cultivating relationships that only benefited your addiction.
“It needs to be a daily choice for those in recovery to understand what a healthy relationship looks like,” starts Dr. Brooks. To do this, he encourages those in recovery to evaluate the following statements:
- If I was in a healthy relationship, I would be feeling…
- If I was in a healthy relationship, I would be thinking…
- If I was in a healthy relationship, I would be doing…
“By having a really crystal clear picture of these things, you’re able to look at each relationship that you’re entering through the lens of what the ideal relationship would look like for you,” says Dr. Brooks. “If some of your relationships aren’t living up to your ideal picture, it doesn’t mean they’re hopeless. Instead, it might just mean that you need to put more work into cultivating something meaningful.”
Letting Go Of Toxic Relationships
While it’s essential to cultivate healthy and meaningful relationships in recovery, Dr. Brooks understands that not every friend along the way is going to like this. If you find that there is a particular friendship that is toxic to your recovery, it’s okay let that relationship go.
“Every experience and friendship we have is part of making us who we are today,” says Dr. Brooks. “With that being said, you don’t have to remain friends with someone just because they once played an active role in your life.”
Although it might sound harsh to cut people out of your life, Dr. Brooks reassures that there’s nothing wrong with prioritizing yourself and your recovery- even at the expense of a few friendships.
“A lot of times, those that have struggled with addiction have become passive in their relationships,” Dr. Brooks starts. “Every one of us needs to be intentional about who we’re letting into our lives, how that person is helping us, how we are helping that person and how that relationship is growing.”
“The reality is, we do life together,” concludes Dr. Brooks. “We were not created for isolation, we were created for community.”