You can’t really pick up where you left off when re-entering life after recovery.
You might find yourself emerging from treatment with a lot of empty spaces that used to be occupied by addictive behaviors, substances, and toxic relationships. It is likely that loneliness will try to creep into those openings. While this is natural, isolation can lead to triggering situations for relapse or depression. If you are experiencing loneliness in sobriety, consider the following tips as you continue to navigate and create your post-treatment life.
Starting Over with a Blank Slate
Think of this as a chance for a blank slate. In any situation, cutting people out of your life can hold a bitter transition period; this is often intensified post-treatment since you would be going from a very controlled environment into freedom—a freedom that you have always known to be shaped by these relationships. While it is healthy and important to acknowledge this transition and to let yourself grieve, be sure to recognize the silver linings.
Consider what you originally—probably subconsciously—were gaining from or looking for in your old friendships: e.g., distraction, self-confirmation, social capital, material possessions, inner fulfillment, a sounding board, moral guidance (or affirmation of a lack thereof), encouragement, etc. How can you find these things for yourself? Can you find them in yourself?
What is a part of your life that is exclusively you? If that question puzzled you, maybe think back to your childhood and adolescence.
What were activities, events, or skills that filled you with joy, confidence, or purpose? Was there anything that made you lose track of time or that was a crucial component in how you identify yourself today? This new space in your life could be the perfect conditions for getting to truly know and love yourself.
This can also be a great time to pour yourself into others who could benefit from your time and attention. Maybe this looks like adopting a cat, offering assistance to an elderly neighbor, volunteering at an after-school mentor program, etc.
You Can Still Feel Lonely Surrounded by Others
It’s a common misconception that crowded spaces eliminate loneliness. Even people who are rarely physically alone or who are in long-lasting relationships can experience loneliness.
This pervasive pain seems to really be in response to an innate longing for validation, a strong self-image, and confidence in your life calling or purpose. These needs can be met through journeys of introspection, therapy, meditation, religion, self-expression, pursuing your passions, and/or building a stable support system.
Remember that life post-treatment should never be compared against idealistic expectations—sobriety does not have to be an entirely independent endeavor. It actually is probably for the best if it is not. Seeing a therapist, attending AA meetings or a similar group, finding a sponsor, or starting with a halfway house could all be extremely beneficial ways to deal with loneliness and to adjust to the transition out of a fully-controlled environment. The questions previously posed could become fruitful in understanding your sober self when brought to your support system.
Solitude Is an Opportunity for Independence
Although loneliness is more of a common denominator than we tend to think, there is often a stinging stigma (sometimes self-inflicted) that seems to follow in its wake. However, according to recent studies in an article from The Atlantic, it might not be as bad as society purports it to be: “Compared with both currently married and previously married people, lifelong single people stay in touch with their siblings and parents more and socialize with their friends and neighbors more. Single people are especially likely to be there when other people’s needs are the greatest.”
The Atlantic additionally explained that “many people who live alone excel at creating and nurturing personal relationships. Rather than forgoing relationships, they are redefining them in more expansive ways.” Similarly, living a sober life does not have to be a boring or isolated one (e.g.: Sober Date Ideas and Family Activities).
Remember, it’s okay to feel lonely—and remember that being alone does not necessarily equate to experiencing loneliness. View the idea of “being alone” as an empowering opportunity for independence—not something to be ashamed of. Yes, there might be a new emptiness in your life after recovery, but you have also left treatment with a slew of new coping skills and a clearer view of yourself and of your values. Let these additions fill the spaces as you explore what a sober life and self can hold.