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If you or a loved one is experiencing addiction, we’re here to help.

Everyone Has Someone: Getting Through the Loneliness of Early Recovery

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By Cindy Coloma

“People don’t realize this, but loneliness is underrated,” Tom Hansen, a character in the movie 500 Days of Summer, says.

His hand in hersThe process of working through sobriety looks different for every person. The decision to stop drinking or using drugs may come gradually over time, or it may come in a flash like the flip of a switch. Whether the decision is made suddenly or incrementally, one challenge is universally experienced by people recovering from an addiction: loneliness.

There seems no way around it: Loneliness is part of the recovery process. The surprising thing is that loneliness can creep in even when we are surrounded by people. “Please don’t expect to not feel lonely when this is happening no matter how many people you have around you, ”Holly Whitaker, Founder and CEO of Hip Sobriety, says of working through recovery.1

Most of us underestimate the power loneliness has on us. In order to come up with a strategy for dealing with loneliness, we need to understand how natural it is in the early stages of addiction recovery. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Disconnection: Leaving addiction behind can also mean leaving relationships — perhaps even your home — behind. If you’re accustomed to being surrounded by loved ones, you may suddenly find yourself with no healthy friends or family members to support you. Whether you’ve had to cut ties with dysfunctional relationships to move forward or are still making peace with estranged family members, it often means feeling very alone.
  • Fear: Once you successfully disconnect from unhealthy relationships and situations that could trigger relapse, it’s easy to fall into the trap of fear. You may fear going out in social settings or meeting new people because of the possibility of anxiety or a moment of weakness. It seems easier to stay secluded and hide out in fear rather than to go outside of your comfort zone and risk a relapse. This inevitably brings loneliness.
  • Isolation: Disconnection and fear can ultimately lead to isolation. While solitude can help you rediscover your identity and work on healthy habits, too much isolation can lead to depression and a sense of hopelessness. In fact, experts have found a connection between being in isolation and feeling the need to self-medicate with addictive substances. In one study, lab rats that were put in isolation and given the choice between clean water and heroin-infused water would uniformly get addicted and eventually overdose. However, when introduced to a “rat park” community with other rats, they ignored the heroin.2

Some experts say that the opposite of addiction may be meaningful connection with others.3 So what does that mean for those who are struggling to overcome an addiction disorder?

While recovery’s tough many times during the year, February might top the list. Valentine’s Day can leave you struggling to maintain your sobriety in the midst of acute loneliness, especially if you’re in early recovery and don’t feel ready for romantic relationships. You may have also distanced yourself from dysfunctional family or had family distance themselves from you.

The good news is, practicing the “4 Cs” can help you get through the month of February and other especially difficult days and seasons.

  • Connection: It’s important in the early stages of recovery to make meaningful connections with people who will support and understand the process. Reach out to a mentor or sponsor who will acknowledge your struggle and be a safe person to connect with during lonely moments.
  • Courage: Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s moving forward in spite of fear. Take some steps to make new habits and try new healthy things. Get out of your comfort zone, and try something new. It might be the fresh outlook you need to give you that boost of much-needed courage.
  • Community: In this age of social networking and smartphones, it’s never been more convenient to connect with others who are working through the same struggles you are. Use these tools to join a support group — online or in person — and have the courage to be transparent about your struggles. You just might help someone else be brave along the way. Visit our website for a list of community events available at Michael’s House.
  • Care: Care for yourself well. Recovery is a hard but courageous undertaking. It’s normal to feel lonely or sad from time to time. It’s all part of the process, and you will get through it. Be kind to yourself, and give yourself space to understand your own emotions. It may take time to develop social skills and self-confidence in this new world you’re creating for yourself. Don’t give up — your life is changing for the better!

To discuss the resources available to help support long-term recovery for you or someone you love, please call us anytime, and our admissions coordinators can walk you through your options.


Sources:

1 Whitaker, Holly. “How to Deal with Loneliness and Isolation in Recovery.” Hip Sobriety, April 24, 2017.

2 Weiss, Robert. “The Opposite of Addiction Is Connection.” Psychology Today, Accessed January 1, 2018.

3 Hari, Johann. “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong.” TED, Accessed January 1, 2018.

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