It’s not uncommon for people to feel lonely when starting out in addiction recovery. There are several reasons for this. If you’ve just come home from inpatient addiction treatment, where you were around people most of the time, you might suddenly find a normal amount of alone time rather stark. None of the people you are used to chatting with in the dining hall or rec room are around anymore. Second, when you’re starting recovery, it’s a good idea to distance yourself from friends and acquaintances who use drugs and alcohol. Even if they don’t pressure you to drink or use drugs, the association might trigger a craving. Feeling this avenue of socializing is restricted in this way might make you feel lonely.
This loneliness can have real consequences for your recovery, your mental health, and even your physical health. Loneliness and boredom often trigger cravings. Feeling both bored and sad is a bad combination for recovery. It’s important to remember that loneliness isn’t just the absence of companionship; it’s the presence of psychological stress. Studies have shown that loneliness is linked to a greater likelihood of high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and psychological distress. If you’re feeling lonely in recovery, here are some suggestions for what to do about it.
Accept That What You’re Feeling Is Normal
First of all, accept that it’s normal to feel lonely sometimes. We’re a social species and we depend on each other for survival. From an evolutionary perspective, to be isolated is to be vulnerable. Part of coping with loneliness entails acknowledging the feeling, accepting that it’s ok, and knowing that it will eventually pass. Just labeling the feeling can help you feel a bit better. So, if you’re alone and feeling restless, bored, or sad, think, “Ah, that’s loneliness; it won’t last though.”
Go to Meetings Regularly
The best way to beat loneliness is obviously to have regular social connections. For people in recovery, that often means attending regular 1Step or other mutual-aid meetings. This is a time to connect to other sober people and it may also be a good time to discuss your feelings of loneliness. Most of the other members will know what you’re talking about. Some people may even make themselves available if you feel like you need someone to talk to. Going to meetings regularly also gives structure to your day so that if you do feel lonely, you have a definite idea of when that might end. Keep in mind, especially if you’re relatively new, that engagement is key. While it might help just to be around other people, you still might feel lonely if you just sneak into a meeting and sit in the back.
At the moment, we’re all under quarantine from the coronavirus and that might put a damper on meetings in your area. If that’s the case, you may be able to connect with your group digitally. A lot of meetings are now being held on Zoom, Google Hangouts, and other platforms. Not only is this safer, but it also gives you a chance to get some different perspectives from different groups.
Work on Repairing Damaged Relationships
Another reason you may be feeling lonely is that you may have alienated some of your friends and family when you were actively addicted. If you’re feeling lonely, that may be an indication that it’s time to start mending those relationships. This may be a long-term project but it has to start somewhere. Reach out to the people you’ve wronged and who you want back in your life. You may have already done this to some extent while working the 12 steps. If so, great. Try reaching out to some of those people. Relationships are typically built through frequent, low-intensity contact. If you still haven’t apologized and made amends to some people, now might be a good time to do that. An apology and making amends won’t fix your relationship right away but it’s a good place to start.
Get Involved in New Activities
People are often surprised how much harder it is to make friends as an adult. When you’re younger, you’re around other people your age every day in school and other activities. When you’re an adult, you’re around other people at work--sometimes. However, people at work have their own lives and concerns and you may or may not have any points of connection. One solution is to get involved in some new activities. Join a cooking class or a yoga class. Find a running or biking group. Join a recreational sports league. Volunteer for a worthy cause. These are great ways to see the same people regularly and meet people who share your interests. Beyond that, these all aid your recovery by giving you a challenge and a sense of purpose.
Another important thing to remember about loneliness is that it’s really just in your head. Just because you’re alone doesn’t mean you are necessarily lonely. Loneliness only happens when you are alone and craving company. Being alone can also be an opportunity to do some things you can’t do when other people are around. It may be a chance for you to read, write, meditate, create, listen to music, and think about your values and priorities. Many of these things require deep, uninterrupted focus, which makes alone time perfect for working on them. Under the current quarantine, we’ve all been reminded several times that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while under quarantine from one plague and Newton invented calculus while exiled from another plague. While we all need to socialize to various degrees to be healthy and happy, we can also use alone time to think, focus, and work.
Loneliness is a common challenge early in recovery but it gets better. You can build a sober network pretty quickly if you make a regular effort and stay engaged in meetings. You may also be able to salvage some old relationships. In the meantime, it’s important to accept that what you’re feeling is normal and that it will pass, and to make what use you can of your alone time.
At The Foundry, we understand that a strong recovery is about treating the whole person—mind, body, and spirit. We incorporate many different proven treatment methodologies to help you stay sober long term. To learn more about our programs, call us today at 1-844-955-1066.