Do You Have to Give Up Old Friends After Recovery?

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Now that you have successfully completed treatment, there is a lot of ‘new’ in your life. You may return to the same home, the same family and the same pet, but your life probably feels very different. Learning how to adapt to these changes and live drug- and alcohol-free is one of the greatest challenges of early recovery.

With any new transition in life, the best recommendation is to surround yourself with friends. They are your peers, they know what you’re going through and you can relate to them in ways that you may not be able to with family. But, it’s possible that the people you would typically call friends are people you can’t see right now. These were the people you used with, drank with and partied with. They are probably not a good influence on your recovery.

The idea of severing old ties only adds to the difficulties faced in early recovery. In fact, some addicts won’t seek professional treatment because they don’t want to stop seeing old friends. Fortunately, you made the decision to seek treatment and are now on your way to a healthy, sober-free lifestyle. You understood at the time that giving up old friends were part of the deal. Still, this may not be as easy as you had hoped.

Many recovering addicts go on to learn that the friends they thought they had were not true friends anyway. Others are able to rekindle certain relationships. Only you will know what is the best decision for you over time, but in the meantime, here are a few things you can do to help yourself with this transition.

Don’t Think in Terms of ‘Never’

One thing you learned in recovery is to take things one day at a time. Thinking in terms of ‘never’ can be stressful and make you feel like you’re giving up something for good. Instead of telling yourself that you can never, ever see a particular friend, take each day as it comes. It’s not necessarily true that you may never connect with that person again. There’s always a chance that one day you can repair certain relationships. For now, it’s best to focus on YOU.

Look Forward to New Relationships

Imagine all the new relationships that you’ll be forming with a clean start. New people will be coming into your life through your 12-step meetings and self-help groups. You can also meet new friends when you participate in new activities, such as signing up for a yoga class or volunteering at a pet shelter. Now is also the time to strengthen relationships that may have been failing before. When you think about the relationships that you will be gaining, it takes energy away from what you have to give up.

Surround Yourself with Positive People

Not everyone you cross paths will be positive, but when you meet someone who is, try to put them into your life. You’ll meet a range of people in your self-help groups, and there are some people you may ‘click’ with right off the bat. It’s important to make your life as upbeat and fulfilling as possible, so don’t limit yourself to people who share the same interests or thinking as you. Even though you may feel like people in your meetings are strangers, they won’t be for long.

It’s also smart to align yourself with people who have already gone through the early days of recovery. They know how you’re feeling, what emotions you’re dealing with and what routines worked for them. The goal is to build a strong network of people who are positive, uplifting and supportive. You’ll soon find friends in these people, even if you didn’t at first.

What if Old Friends Call or Stop By?

It’s possible that you could be moving in the right direction, and all of a sudden, the phone rings. You see an old friend’s number and you start to panic. You can’t keep old friends away completely, so it’s important to have a strategy for dealing with this situation if it does arise.

First, practice what you’re going to say if you run into an old friend. You can practice with your sponsor, therapist or a family member. Experiment with different scenarios, such as having a conversation over the phone or running into an old friend at the gym. You don’t have to force anything; think of responses that come natural to you. If you’re not comfortable saying them, then your words will end up getting the best of you.

No matter how you decide to handle the situation, it’s imperative that you are open and honest. You don’t want to leave room for old friends to come back in if they won’t be good for your recovery. Say that you’ve embraced a sober lifestyle and that drugs and alcohol have no place in your life anymore. It’s also acceptable to say that if/when your friend chooses a sober lifestyle, you’ll be glad to hang out with them again. But, don’t leave any room for debate. If there’s one thing that your old friend should understand, it’s that you don’t need drugs or alcohol anymore.

Photo credit: Martyna Senkowska