Overcoming Loneliness in Addiction Recovery
After drug or alcohol rehab, those in recovery must build a new social support network, often from the ground up. This process is daunting and loneliness can creep in as you try to find the right support group, work on rebuilding relationships with family and friends, and weed out anyone who is detrimental to your hard earned addiction recovery.
But loneliness is more than a lack of companionship. Simply being alone does not always equal loneliness. Many people are seemingly alone, but do not feel lonely — just as many others will endure intense loneliness in a room full of people they know. Loneliness can be a pervasive and uncomfortable emotional state that persists despite being around others. While it is common to occasionally feel lonely in recovery, it should not be overlooked.
The Danger of Loneliness in Addiction Recovery
The root of loneliness is feeling a lack of connection to those around us. It is the strong feeling that you are separate or different from others that many people in addiction recovery experience. Loneliness is a complex experience, and if we look closely, buried under feelings of loneliness is often a sense of unworthiness. We struggle to connect because deep down we do not believe we deserve to. To truly overcome loneliness we have to look within ourselves as well as to outside companionship.
Loneliness is one of the most common addiction relapse triggers. It can lead to depression and anxiety, guilt and shame, social isolation, and ultimately relapse. In early addiction recovery, failure to make a new group of friends, combined with low self-esteem, can lead to intense loneliness which could make you question the value of life in recovery – a dangerous, slippery slope towards relapse.
Tips for Coping with Loneliness in Addiction Recovery
Do not ignore feelings of loneliness! Ignoring loneliness can put you on the fast track to relapse. Instead, try these tips to overcome loneliness and strengthen your recovery:
Grieve the loss of addiction.
It may seem counterintuitive, but after achieving addiction recovery you lose your former best friend — your drug or addictive behaviour, plus everyone you associated with during your using days. Allowing yourself to grieve this loss will help you move forward and through the resulting loneliness.
Talk to someone about feeling lonely.
The key here is not just talking to someone, but talking to someone about your feelings of loneliness. While calling a friend when you are lonely can be great, to really help alleviate the intensity of the feeling you need to talk to them about your loneliness.
See a therapist.
A therapist or counsellor can be someone you trust to talk to about uncomfortable feelings when they come up, such as loneliness. A counsellor will help you identify thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that are no longer serving you. They will support you and hold you accountable as you rebuild your life in recovery.
Volunteering will help you feel more connected to the world around you — combatting the sense of separateness – a main characteristic of loneliness. Whether it is at a local animal shelter or helping clean up the park, through volunteering you can meet new people and feel good about contributing to your community.
Join a support group.
Joining a recovery group after addiction treatment is always recommended. It may take time and regular attendance before you personally connect with someone, but attending a group will remind you that you are not alone in your addiction recovery.
Join a club or take a class.
Another great way to meet new people is through taking a class or joining a club. Fitness clubs offer a wide variety of classes from kickboxing to weight training. Whether it is yoga, cooking, art, or writing — many classes are available to help you re-discover your interests. You can even find special interest classes such as yoga specifically for people in addiction recovery!
You can access many recovery networks online. While connections online should not replace real life social networks, they do offer an option for combatting loneliness through recovery forums, reading about other people’s stories, and pointing you in the right direction to find a support group in your area.
Get a plant or pet.
Believe it or not, having house plants can help ward off loneliness. Keeping a plant alive puts you in touch with your greater connection to the world. Pets are also great companions, but only consider getting a pet if you know you can take on the responsibility. If you are up for the responsibility, pets can offer an unconditional love that will help immensely in warding off loneliness.
Practice mindfulness meditation.
An effective tool in addiction recovery, mindfulness meditation allows you to recognise your feelings as temporary thoughts, which in turn, reduces their power and effect over how they make you feel. Meditation takes repeated practice, but the positive benefits are worth the time for most people recovering from drug addiction.
Making amends can lead to rebuilding old relationships that are positive for your recovery. Even when it does not lead to that, making amends will help you gain confidence and feel connected to others. Be sure to learn the difference between an apology and making amends, and seek support from those who have made amends before you.
Learn to love yourself.
One important and effective way to combat loneliness is to learn to become your own best friend. Increasing your self-esteem and self-confidence will help you become more comfortable being alone, and will attract more positive people into your support network. And because often we feel separate from others because deep down we do not feel worthy of connection, this deep and underlying cause for loneliness can be overcome through working on building confidence and self-esteem.
Overcoming Loneliness with Patience
Regularly using drugs and alcohol acclimatises the user to experiencing instant gratification. Once in addiction recovery, former addicts often struggle to have patience with themselves and others. Social support is key to sustaining long term sobriety and overcoming loneliness, but also requires patience to develop. When you find yourself lonely, remember that forming close relationships in recovery takes time, but because loneliness is a strong trigger for relapse you should have a plan to cope with it. Take a deep breath and do something on the list above to take care of yourself.