One of the common challenges for the newly sober is finding new friends. It’s typically a good idea to distance yourself from friends who still drink and use drugs. They often won’t support your recovery and just being around them can trigger cravings. Furthermore, when people get sober, they often realize that drugs and alcohol were the only things they had in common with certain friends and they otherwise aren’t very interesting.
This can put you in a dilemma in the early days of recovery: You don’t want negative people in your life but neither do you want to be lonely. Loneliness itself is distressing and can increase your risk of anxiety and depression. Therefore, it’s helpful to try to make some new friends. If you’re the kind of outgoing person who makes friends easily, this won’t be a problem, but if you’re more introverted, guarded, or just socially awkward, the following tips may help.
Take the Initiative
First, if you want to make new friends, you may have to take the initiative. When you’re a kid, you just sort of end up being friends with people who you’re around all the time but as an adult, things are different. If you want to spend time with someone, you actually have to make a plan and follow through and you can’t always rely on the other person to get things started.
Don’t Push Too Hard
Although you may have to take the initiative, it’s also important not to push too hard. You’re basically just extending an invitation that the other person can accept or not. You can’t force someone to be your friend. These things have to happen in their own time.
Don’t Take Rejection Personally
One of the major problems people face in making new friends is fear of rejection. This is obvious when it comes to dating but less obvious when it comes to friendships. You think you would feel like an idiot if you invited someone for coffee and they just weren’t interested in spending half an hour with you. It’s important to keep in mind that rejection is not a value judgment on you, at least not an objective one.
Sometimes people are guarded and wary of new people. Sometimes they legitimately don’t have time. Sometimes they won’t like you for reasons that have nothing at all to do with who you are. The main point is that if you are willing to take the risk, you will probably end up making a few good friends. At worst, you may get a reputation as a friendly person.
Put Yourself in Favorable Situations
The other major component to making friends sober is to put yourself in situations where there are more opportunities to make friends. There are two main components to these situations: You see the same people on a regular basis and you share some common interest. Familiarity is perhaps the more important of the two because we tend to feel more comfortable around familiar people but sharing a common interest makes conversation much easier. The following are some common situations where you are more likely to make new friends.
For people new to recovery, 12-Step meetings are typically the best places to make new friends. These groups are inclusive and there are typically several meetings available in your area. There are also specialty groups in many areas. These may be men-only, women-only, gay, and so on. Some groups may have a sort of informal niche. The point is that you can probably find a group where you fit in pretty well.
One major advantage of meeting friends at a 12-Step meeting is that they will typically share your commitment to staying sober. And since you’ve had many of the same experiences, you will be able to communicate in ways other people might not understand.
If you’re not really a talkative person, joining a recreational sports league, an exercise group, or an exercise class might be the way to go. Exercise is already a great thing to be doing in recovery, with many mental and physical health benefits, and making exercise social compounds these benefits by adding social interaction and accountability.
You’re more likely to show up to the gym or the basketball court if people are waiting for you or if your friend comes and drags you along. Playing on a team or running in a group is an easy way to become familiar with people and get to know them. Since exercise gets your endorphins going, people who exercise together are more likely to have positive associations with each other, much like sharing a good meal.
It’s easy to make friends in school because you see the same people every day for years. While you probably don’t want to go back to school, you may enjoy taking a class. It doesn’t have to be anything too serious, although many friendships have been forged by cram sessions for organic chemistry and other challenging classes.
You can take a class in cooking or tennis or art. It doesn’t matter as long as it’s something you enjoy and something that will put you in contact with the same people for a few weeks or months. Learning new skills and getting into new interests is also great for recovery overall.
Finally, make use of “weak” social ties. These are people outside your immediate circle of friends and family, who typically mostly know each other already. This is an underutilized resource when job hunting and the same is true for making new friends. Ask about the friends and acquaintances of your friends and family. If someone sounds interesting or like you might have something in common, see if you can get together.
For example, your cousin has a friend who is a year sober and likes the same music you do. Maybe you arrange to have lunch with your cousin and ask him to invite his friend too. Sometimes these work out and sometimes not but these kinds of associative connections are easy to make and follow through on with lower than average risk of major problems.
Having a strong social network is one of the keys to a strong recovery. Feeling connected, feeling a sense of belonging reduces stress and gives you a sense of purpose and accountability. Making friends is mainly a matter of being willing to make the first move and putting yourself in situations where you meet people who share your interests and values. After that, you just have to be patient and let your friendships develop.
At Enlightened Solutions, we know that connection is crucial to a strong recovery. That’s why family and community are core principles in our approach to treatment. To learn more about our addiction treatment program, call us today at 833-801-5483.