Now that you’re in recovery it’s time to become even more intentional about the type of people with whom you spend time. As you seek to establish healthy patterns in your life — and to leave behind the destruction of the past — it’s essential to surround yourself with people who are supportive and understanding of your needs as someone in recovery. In other words, when you have rough days and are craving a drink, for example, you need people around who will remind you of your commitment to sobriety, not ones who are ready to serve up a cocktail, or tell you “just one won’t hurt,” if you’ve decided that sobriety for you means abstinence. Simply put, you need people who will support and encourage you to keep going rather than urge you to give in and give up.

In fact, you may well have two basic types of friends: those who enabled you to continue your addiction (or worse, enjoyed using with you) and those who didn’t and don’t. You may have expected (or at least hoped) that all of your friends would stand by you as you entered treatment and then recovery, giving you the support you really need now; many probably even promised to do so. The reality is, however, that not everyone is equipped emotionally to follow through on even the most well-meaning of intentions. And they may be using themselves and have no desire to stop. And while you can’t demand anyone’s support, of course, you can limit contact with those who don’t have your best interests at heart and may even seem to want to see you fail.

Do Your Friends Support Your Sobriety?

This is the time to think about the kind of friend you want to be and the kind of friends you want to have. Begin by asking the following questions:

  • Does this person allow me to make sobriety and recovery the most important thing in my life, without exception?
  • Does he/she threaten that mission?
  • How do I want my life to look?
  • Who do I want around for the journey to achieving that life?

It’s important to remember that some former friends are better left alone; there’s nothing that says you have to keep all your buddies from kindergarten to the grave. People and circumstances change and, as a result, so do relationships; this is a natural part of life. And, in fact, fondly reminiscing about the excitement and camaraderie of the “good old days” and believing that maybe you can go back to hanging out with pals who are still using is a red flag during recovery.

Cutting off some of your unhealthy relationships may mean temporary loneliness, but it’s crucial for recovery. In some cases, these friendships will fizzle on their own. But if a friend is being especially persistent – ranting and railing about how boring you’ve become, or otherwise trying to entice you back into the habits you’ve worked so hard to leave behind — a more direct approach may be required. Talk honestly, one-on-one, and let the person know that you’re working to improve yourself as a person and as their friend and that you need to be surrounded by people who are positive and supportive when it comes to your sobriety. Then simply ask your friend if he/she is able to do that for you. All you can do is state your needs and expectations clearly and then allow your friend to decide what place he/she wants to continue to occupy in your life.

Making Amends to Friends

During this time you will also likely need to repair some friendships that were harmed by your addiction. In these situations, your friends will need to see that you’re able to maintain your sobriety amid the stresses of life. They must learn to trust you again, to put it plainly. The best way you can rebuild a damaged friendship is to give the person time and show him/her that you have indeed changed and are maintaining your sobriety.

If you participate in a 12-step program, part of your recovery will involve making amends to the friends (among others) whom you’ve wronged. Your sponsor (if you have one) and new friends you meet in these support meetings (if you attend) will help you as you attempt to figure out your best approaches to making amends – but they can’t do it for you. What works for someone else in recovery may not be right for you, but others’ stories and support will prove invaluable in your quest to correct past wrongs.

Repairing every friendship is different, but you may have a number of fences to mend. Did you steal or lie, or were you simply unreliable, disappointing your friend time and again? Did you cause the person embarrassment or shame? Did you physically and/or emotionally harm them? The greater the harm you inflicted, the more unlikely it is that the friendship can be repaired. You may need to accept the fact that it’s gone if you make multiple attempts to reconcile and make up for the past and you’re met with consistent refusals to talk. Remember that making amends should be done only if doing so will not cause harm to others. So you can’t think only of your own needs in this process; you must also consider how your reappearance in your friend’s life will affect him/her.

If it’s not possible to see or talk to a friend to make amends — whether because it would hurt them, they don’t want to see you or the person is dead —write your intentions down on paper and speak them aloud to yourself. Then destroy the paper. This process sets in motion your intention to make amends without actually causing any more pain. So while you can’t keep or rekindle the friendship – at least, not at this time – you can relieve yourself of the burden of not having made the attempt at repairing the harm that was done.

Starting Over

If being in recovery means giving up all or most of your friendships, for whatever reasons, you’ll undoubtedly feel lonely. But being sober doesn’t equal a friendless existence, even if it may mean that it’ll take a little while to rebuild your social network.  It might help to approach others by wanting to be of service to them, rather than looking specifically for new friends. Putting the welfare of others ahead of your own needs feels good and may help give you perspective on your own troubles. By doing for others – helping Habitat for Humanity build a home in a community, donating time at an assisted living center, shopping for an elderly parent or neighbor or volunteering at your place of worship, for example –  you’ll work alongside others, making it easy to make new acquaintances that may turn into friendships.

As you’re finding a new life and a new sense of your sober self you might wonder how to present yourself in these situations. The best advice is to be you. Don’t try to project an outgoing personality if you’re more reserved by nature. And recognize that you’re likely to feel guilt, sadness and any number of other emotions over the loss of former friends. You’ve changed your life, but you can’t change the past or how others feel about you. Once you’ve made the amends you’re able to, it’s time for you to forgive — first yourself, then others. If some friends, family and others can’t forgive you, that’s also something you can’t change. But most people in recovery find that there’s a tremendous sense of relief when you’re able to unburden yourself of the guilt and shame over past deeds. Enlist the support of your sponsor (if you have one) and allies in your 12-step group (if you attend one), or talk with your therapist about how to forge new friendships. Most of all, give it time. Just as it probably took you years and even decades to forge your best friendships, it will take a little time to create new ones that support your life of sobriety.

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