“Connectedness” – it’s a basic human desire. People need to feel connected to thrive in life. That connection can be to a family, a team, a group, a cause, a goal – it almost doesn’t matter who the connection is to, as long as it’s a healthy connection. And I’ve never seen a group that thrives on connectedness like those in recovery. Support groups provide accountability, share coping tips, and keep you aware there are people out there who understand what you’re going through and care about you. The support you can receive from the professional community who provide treatment for co-occurring mental disorders can also reduce the chance of a substance use disorder reasserting itself. Additionally, getting family involved in the recovery process means additional support and accountability, plus fewer “triggers” in your daily environment. Finally, if you do relapse (it can happen to the best of us), supportive understanding and encouragement will help you get back to recovery quickly.
Nonetheless, not all relationships will provide the support needed for your continued success in life and in recovery, some may have even contributed to feelings that increased your substance use. It’s important to take time to look at your relationships, consider each realistically, deciding which ones to cultivate further and which to leave behind.
Whom to Cut Ties with
Your heavy “drinking buddies” and people you used drugs with or bought drugs from are rarely supportive in your new-found recovery. Unfortunately, there are often people whose bad influence is subtler, they’re sometimes not even aware of the harm they may be doing to you and your recovery. If your loved ones or close friends, or colleagues fit into any of the descriptions below, and they don’t respond to discussions about how this undermines your recovery, it might be time to greatly diminish or even end your interactions and relationship with them:
- The Coaxer: This is the person who offers you “social drinks” and tries to reason with you “Oh, come on, one won’t hurt you.” “I didn’t think you really had that bad of a problem.” This is also the person who usually drank or partied like you and can’t believe you had a problem because that would mean they might have a problem! Eventually, you might want to ask, “Why is it so important to you that I drink?”
- The Belittler: This person makes light of struggle in your life, usually by implying something must be wrong with you or anyone who has these difficulties. They probably haven’t supported you before, and they aren’t likely to do so now!
- The Mean Guy: This person (guy or gal!) makes a habit of expressing their opinion that others won’t succeed in anything. This is the one who says, “It’ll never work” or “I know you won’t stick with it.” When we listen to friends like these, it’s a wonder we succeed at anything!
- The nit-picky stress feeder: This is person for whom nothing is ever good enough, everything must be done perfectly. This results in your feeling more stressed—not feeling supported. This person always finds something to complain or get touchy about.
If only your casual acquaintances fit the above descriptions, you can simply make yourself unavailable until they fade out of your life. If, however, the “human trigger” is someone you work with closely—or, worse, someone who shares your household—you may eventually have to make serious changes. Get advice and support from a good therapist, two or three sobriety peers, and weigh all the facts before you decide to find a new job or move out!
Another tough call comes if someone is associated with trigger situations through no real fault of their own: their apartment window looks out on a liquor store, they still work at the office you can’t stand to remember. If the relationship itself is worth keeping, explain your problem and ask to move future visits to your house or a neutral setting—and to keep certain topics out of the conversation. A true friend will understand.
Supporting them as they support you!
Of course, while you are hoping for all this support from your friends and others, make sure you think about how to support them as well. You can’t control every factor involved, and you shouldn’t be an obsessive people-pleaser (that may be what drove you to drinking or getting high in the first place), but you can get a long way with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s classic advice: “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”
Top tips for being a friend:
- Do your share of the listening. Be genuinely interested in others’ concerns, dreams, activities, and preferences.
- Always respect others and their opinions. Don’t ever be the one who constantly corrects others’ grammar or who blurts out, “You like that TV show?! You must be crazy!”
- Celebrate their achievements and commiserate with their struggles. No jealousy or minimizing allowed.
- Give as much as you take, but don’t make a big deal over every “I drove last time so it’s your turn” situation.
- Don’t be too proud to take help. Counterintuitive as it may sound, people find it annoying if you never let them do you a favor. Allow others the pleasure—and the satisfaction—of occasionally being the one to put out some effort on another’s behalf.
- Be your best, unique self. If you have to pretend to be something you aren’t with your friends, you’re not being a true friend—be genuine and you’ll attract the right people!
“Be your own best self” is good advice for anyone. Learning to love and respect yourself is a great way to weed out those toxic relationships be they with other people or even with your drug of choice.