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Dealing With Loneliness in Sobriety

Dealing With Loneliness in Sobriety, Loneliness, Setting boundaries, Recovery support,

There’s a difference between enjoying quality alone time and feeling lonely. However, even if you know this, it can still be a challenge to deal with loneliness in sobriety. If being in recovery has removed you from a previous social circle, take heart: there are ways to build new rewarding connections. 

First, Allow Yourself to Grieve 

It’s only natural to wish for the people, places, and activities that were part of your life when you were still using. Regardless of how dysfunctional circumstances might have been, maybe you felt a sense of belonging. Researchers study this concept with college students, coworkers, and other communities to understand why we indulge to fit in—especially if we already have reduced self-esteem. 

Conversely, some people associate some of their “best times” with alcohol or drug use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse points to how the brain’s reward centers are stimulated by chemicals, producing pleasure or euphoria. We might think we had more fun when we were using because “our brains are wired to increase the odds that we will repeat pleasurable activities. The neurotransmitter dopamine is central to this. Whenever the reward circuit is activated by a healthy, pleasurable experience, a burst of dopamine signals that something important is happening that needs to be remembered.”

So, loneliness in sobriety might stem from missing individuals and situations you once associated with belonging and pleasure. Grieving them may seem unusual, but it’s vital to acknowledge the loss of a lifestyle, the people you used to know, and the person you once were. A therapist should be able to walk you through some exercises that can help.  

Understand Why You’re Feeling Lonely

Loneliness is a complicated emotion, but simply being around others doesn’t automatically make us less isolated. The Greater Good Science Center followed up on some post-pandemic studies with results indicating numerous things including, but not limited to:

  • Feeling lonely might actually be a symptom of a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression, or possibly an indicator of boredom or a lack of life satisfaction. 
  • Desiring solitude might be good to a point, but if this feeling causes you to respond negatively in social situations and thus feel even more detached from other people, it might be necessary to examine this reaction more closely.
  • It’s important to take time to question automatic negative thoughts, such as “blaming ourselves for feeling bad or thinking no one wants to be our friend.” 

It might be helpful to discuss these and other points with a counselor so you have a greater perspective of what might contribute to feelings of loneliness.

Set Boundaries With People Who Don’t Support You

It’s possible that certain individuals aren’t really healthy influences for you now. Take a closer look at people in your life who: 

  • Refuse to be in a relationship with you because you’re in recovery
  • Pretend you’re not sober or question your decision to be so
  • Say things that are generally unsupportive of your efforts
  • Pressure you to drink or use drugs

One factor of a successful recovery—and all aspects of our interpersonal relationships, really—is to understand how to set healthy boundaries. As Positive Psychology states, “sometimes, adults have been raised by childhood carers who’ve taught them that expressing their needs is bad and selfish. However, not accepting the discomfort that comes from setting healthy boundaries in adulthood means settling for unhealthy relationships that can cause resentment, manipulation, and abuse.” The site provides many suggestions for creating boundaries. 

You deserve to be surrounded by caring individuals who respect and honor who you are and what you’re trying to achieve. While it might be uncomfortable at first to let go of people who don’t abide by these tenets, trust that you’ll find others who do. 

Expand Your Social Circle

To that point, find the courage to reach out in various ways to broaden your sober social circle. This doesn’t mean everyone you associate with has to be in recovery, but you’ll likely feel less lonely while engaging with other people who understand your current path. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthy social connectedness is defined by the following characteristics, which we provide verbatim:

    • Having meaningful and regular social exchanges.
    • Having more than one person to turn to for support. This includes emotional support when feeling down, and physical support, like getting a ride to the doctor or grocery store, or getting help with childcare on short notice.
    • The number, variety, and types of relationships a person has.
  • Feeling loved, cared for, valued, and appreciated by others.
  • Sense of support from friends, families, and others in the community.
  • Having close bonds with others.
  • Access to safe public areas to gather (such as parks and recreation centers).

Many people first establish new connections in different peer support groups. The key here is different, so try various 12-Step meetings throughout your community. Explore other types of mutual aid programs, too, such as SMART Recovery. Attend a spiritual or mindfulness event. Join a new reading group at your local library or bookstore. Volunteer for a cause that matters to you. 

And while online support groups are often helpful, do your best to seek out as many in-person activities as you can. In an article for PsychologyToday, licensed counselor and professor Suzanne Degges-White notes that moving online connections into the real world creates numerous advantages, including deepening connections. 

Find More Healthful Ideas at Ivory Plains

One of many advantages of sober living is the ability to gain a better understanding of yourself. At our addiction rehabilitation program in Adair, Iowa, we provide additional resources to our clients to help them manage sober living in meaningful ways. If you or a loved one is ready for this type of positive change, call us today to learn how we can help.

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