By Becca Owens
Many people who choose to get help for addiction come home to a celebration from friends and loved ones. But returning to normal life can cause a certain loneliness to set in. While everyone around you continues on with their own routines, you’re living life in a whole new way.
The early stages of recovery can feel particularly isolating and may even lead you to consider using again to soothe the pain. However, it’s important to remember that, just as you once found your life worth fighting for as you entered treatment, you are valuable and worthy, and there is hope in the midst of loneliness.
Why Does Early Recovery Feel So Lonely?
In many ways, life in recovery is a brand-new experience for you. Everything you encounter feels different, even if you’ve been in the same situation many times before recovery began. You may wonder how you’ll fit into everyday life and relationships again.
Here are just a few reasons you may feel isolated from others during this time:
- Damaged relationships – You may have hurt some people you love while you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These relationships will take time to mend as you work to earn trust back in recovery. Be consistent in showing that you’re dependable while giving them the space to respond in their own time.
- Toxic friendships – Before rehab, many of your closest companions probably used too. In recovery, those relationships are a slippery slope that will likely lead you back to addiction. It’s best to keep your distance.
- Single status – In the first year or so of recovery, dating relationships can feel exciting but end up being dangerous. From the temptation to develop codependent relationships to the likelihood of losing sight of healing as a goal, dating just isn’t a good idea during this time.1 It’s more important to focus on becoming the healthiest version of yourself so that when you are ready to date, you’ll be prepared for a happy, lasting relationship.
- New place in life – Many people choose to travel for treatment and may even relocate in recovery as a means of intentionally starting over. Others may be back home but in a new state of mind, mentally and emotionally.
Pay close attention to your emotional well-being, as loneliness can quickly lead to relapse if you’re not careful. The relapse process often begins long before you actually take a drink or drug. Feeling isolated and alone in recovery can make you feel so miserable you’d do anything for release — even if it means justifying drug and alcohol use.2
How Can I Thrive During Early Recovery?
If you’re in early recovery and are experiencing intense loneliness, it’s important to find ways to connect with others. Having a community of support is crucial in establishing long-term sobriety and happiness. Just keep in mind that how you connect with others post-treatment may be quite different than how you formed relationships in the past.
Many people choose to be a part of a 12-Step or similar support group following treatment. It’s a great way to make connections with other like-minded individuals. Many groups will connect you with a mentor who’s further along in their recovery than you are to provide accountability and encouragement. Having one or two people in your life you can share everything with also protects you from developing codependent relationships in unhealthy places.
Pursuing life-giving hobbies is another trick for expanding your support community. Reviving an old hobby or trying something new can be rewarding and help you meet people who share positive interests. There are lots of fun interest groups to look into — from sewing to cooking — while fitness groups, like running clubs and yoga classes, have an added bonus of promoting overall health.
Becoming the Best You
As you develop a new community of people — and work to restore past relationships — it’s a great time to invest in yourself as well. The following tips can help you become your best self in recovery:
- Refuse negative self-talk – When you feel lonely, it’s easy to talk down to yourself, believing something’s wrong with you. Make a commitment to speak uplifting words to yourself daily as you learn to let go of the past and love yourself in sobriety.
- Don’t keep score – Keeping track of who makes more effort in a relationship is a dangerous game. Pursue healthy relationships with people you enjoy spending time with — and who enjoy you right back — and leave it at that.
- Pursue self-awareness – In early recovery, it’s incredibly important to pay attention to your triggers for loneliness and temptation. Journaling can help you stay aware of your own emotional trends so you can keep on the path toward health.
- Have fun – Creating opportunities to make lasting and fun memories is a great way to invest in your mental health and develop relationships. Choose to be around people who live life like you want to live it: focused on joy, health and caring for others. It will be a great encouragement to you!
If you or a loved one is fighting loneliness and feeling the temptation to relapse, call our 24-hour, toll-free helpline today. At Black Bear, we’re here to help you continue in your recovery — or begin anew if you’ve relapsed — and we have a great alumni network for post-treatment support.
1 Castaneda, Ruben, “Why Newly Sober Alcoholics and Addicts Shouldn’t Date for a Year.” U.S. News & World Report, February 13, 2017.
2 Melemis, Steven M. “Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, September 2015.