Your community largely determines the quality of your sobriety.
Originally posted at usnews.com
Isolation is an underlying theme in addiction cases. There are two types of isolation: physical and emotional.
Physical isolation is often present in what we call “low bottom” addiction cases, when the addict has physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted all resources. The addict in physical isolation is alone, with the attainment of a drink or a drug as the only motivation to communicate with the outside world.
Emotional isolation is tricky to identify, as it takes place in the confinements of the mind. It prevents connection with others, despite their presence in one’s life.
The prolonged isolation that occurs in addiction poses a unique question to the newly sober addict: “How do I make friends, sober?”
Many addicts claim they were friends with their drug dealer or the people they used with on a frequent basis. These “friendships” can easily be explained by supply and demand; the dealer and the using buddies are the supply, and the addict is the demand. When you sever the demand for drugs and alcohol, the supply becomes obsolete. In sobriety, the addict feels abandoned by not only the “friends” he or she had when drinking and using, but also by the substance itself. Whether alcohol and drugs still produced a high, or they stopped working long ago, the substance was a friend and a reliable source of short-lived sanity.
This void, previously filled by a substance, is now a gaping hole. This hole is painful, and it causes many to entertain and eventually execute a relapse. Unfortunately, the relapse does not dissipate the feeling of loneliness; the only solution is connection. Establishing a sober community is an imperative step on the road to recovery.
So why do you need sober friends? One of my favorite quotes of all time is by American entrepreneur Jim Rohn: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
In order to establish a healthy and fruitful recovery, you must accept that your community largely determines the quality of your sobriety. So, if the quality of friendships is so important, how do you choose your friends?
1. Determine the type of person you want to be.
Sobriety provides you with a fresh-start. Though your loved ones may not as easily forget the ups and downs of addiction, you have an opportunity to set out on a journey of self-discovery that can lead to repairing these relationships.
In order to differentiate a “good friend” from a “bad friend,” you must first determine your morals, boundaries and the qualities on which you want to build your sobriety. This seems like a heavy workload, but luckily treatment centers generally place this process as a foundation of primary treatment.
It may be easier to identify the qualities you exemplified in your addiction and ask yourself the question: “Do I really want to live my life this way, sober?”
When you take an honest inventory of yourself, noting the positive characteristics you want to embody, you are easily able to identify these qualities in others.
2. Listen to others when they speak.
Addiction tends to bring selfishness and self-centeredness to the forefront of the addict’s behaviors.
The hardest, yet most powerful tool in sobriety is the act of listening. You can learn a lot when you listen to others – like their goals, the traits they hold near to their hearts, the quality of their sobriety and so much more.
When I treat clients at New Method Wellness, the treatment center where I am the clinical director, I always assign a listening task, which generally suggests making a mental note of five things they learned that week about their peers in our inpatient sober living home.
Listening is a powerful tool in determining who you want to spend your time with. When you listen, you give a person the opportunity to share a part of himself or herself, which is the only way to determine whether you want to invite that person into your sober tribe.
3. Watch their actions.
While listening is important, actions speak louder than words. As humans, we have the liberty to say anything we want about ourselves. We can fabricate stories or over-embellish parts of our lives for reasons only our ego knows.
A key question to ask yourself is: “Is this person living the life they say they are living?”
Living a sober lifestyle (treating the mind, body and spirit) on a daily basis is the only way an addict has the reprieve from alcohol and drugs.
For this reason, it’s crucial to ensure your sober tribe not only talks about quality sobriety, but also pursues quality sobriety on a daily basis.
4. Accept that sober friendships are a case of trial-and-error.
As with everything in life, we have to live and learn.
Sometimes, you can do all the right things in pursuit of friendship: determine the qualities you want to embody, listen to others and keep an eye out for their actions – and still end up in an emotionally draining friendship.
This has happened to everyone in sobriety at some point or another. It will probably continue to happen throughout your sobriety.
As you learn to live a sober life, you will encounter many things you don’t know how to do, and you will learn to do them effectively and efficiently. That is the beauty of sobriety: You have the world at your fingertips.
There will come a point in your sobriety – and you may not even realize it right away – but you’ll take a deep breath one morning and experience an overwhelming gratitude for the people in your life. In this moment, you will realize you’ve found your sober tribe.