By Pat Matuszak
Loneliness can be defined as feeling a loss of connection while experiencing a longing for relationship with others. It’s a common experience that most people have, and it may be universal when you have gone through a major life transition like living in recovery from alcohol addiction.1
Why you might feel lonely in sobriety.
During the beginning stage of recovery, it can feel like more facets of life have been broken down than have been built up. You may have spent every bit of your energy during recovery tearing down addiction and now have little in reserve for high-risk adventures like making new friends. The past relationships you could fall back on may no longer be an option — sober connections can be destroyed by the side effects of addiction and old drinking buddies are not the company you are looking for now. You may very well be facing the huge task of creating a completely new network of community around you.2
Building new relationships is like the process physical therapists help with as a person rebuilds muscles after an illness. Your social muscles must be exercised by going through a similar process. At first, exercising them can be tiring or uncomfortable because you are breaking down the damaged or atrophied muscle before new strength can be built. You need time to grieve the loss of old relationships, including the friend you had in alcohol that is no longer your go-to support. You may be discovering that it’s OK to feel sad or angry without medicating those emotions away.2
Small steps to begin building positive relationships may be best, just like simple workout moves begin a healthy exercise routine. Just walking down your street and smiling at neighbors could be plenty of social exercise to start out. Online chats with support group members that allow anonymity and light emotional investment can be helpful.3
You can set yourself up for success in overcoming loneliness.
Everyone experiences loneliness from time to time, but you can create a game plan to deal with it when you see it coming. Keep in mind some ways to grow your new network. Connect with an interest group or club that will involve you in a new hobby or revive one you enjoyed in the past. Focusing on an activity is a great way to discover new friends as it provides ready-made topics of conversation in a relaxed setting. You will find opportunities to reach out to others for their expertise and share your own. It’s a great place to practice active listening and shift your attention from yourself and your problems to others.4
As you look outward and develop interest in people around you, be aware of those who may be experiencing loneliness or isolation. You may see people on the fringe of your networks who need a friendly hand to pull them into relationship. There may be neighbors who are new to the area or elderly people who have been left alone near you. When you’re ready, go beyond a hello to extending an invitation to coffee or an offer of welcome or help. There are people who need you and the good qualities you are discovering in yourself.4
Travel may be another way to break out of loneliness. Sometimes we spend our lives walking in a circle around the same places where we have negative memories from the past — maybe experiences that led us down the path of addiction. Breaking out of the usual places can give us a new perspective on life. Experiencing a new culture or learning a new language can open doors to fresh thoughts about ourselves and others.
What to do when the loneliness comes anyway.
Loneliness can trigger relapse or it can be a signal you are craving more connection. Remember your game plan and take action when you find yourself longing for company. Inviting people into your life also invites joy and balance, even if there are risks to manage. People will disappoint you, and you will also disappoint them. Make peace with the imperfections in yourself and others. Some people will become your mentors and others will provide cautionary tales that teach you how to create healthy boundaries.
You are building a new you with a new circle of friends. You will make memories worth keeping and learning from.5 These positive experiences will comfort you during times of solitude. Meditating on them will make time with yourself enjoyable and give you a new story to share.
1 Bell, Brad, PhD. “Loneliness. ” PsychologyandSociety.com, Accessed May 30, 2018.
2 Sack, David, M.D. “10 Ways to Stop Being Lonely in Recovery.” Psychcentral, Accessed May 30, 2018.
3 Castaneda, Ruben. “9 Ways to Fight Loneliness.” US News, June 14, 2017.
4 Jordan, DeAnna. “How to Choose Friends in Sobriety.” US News, November 11, 2016.
5Forman, Howard. “5 Ways to Start Improving Your Mental Health Today.” US News, May 15, 2018.