How To Find Friends That Will Keep You Sober
Going through recovery is in many ways a kind of rebirth process: choosing to destroy old parts of yourself (the anxious, depressed, or insecure ones that drove you to drink) and manifesting a new self in their place. Some people might like the symbolic imagery of a Phoenix, although I always preferred the more brutalist imagery of ripping a building out by its foundations and building a new one on top of it—in my case, the things keeping me trapped in drinking were at my very core, and I had to face the fact that not much of me would survive unchanged.
One of the most painful yet inspiring parts of your world that will change is friendships. There will be hurt as you realize you must let certain people go, but also excitement as you rekindle friendships that may have dimmed while you were in active addiction and inspiration from new friends you haven’t made yet.
What kinds of friends will keep you sober?
Understanding Levels of Support
One thing you’ll see right away is that nearly everybody will say they “support” you. But scientific research has shown that “support” in the context of addiction is not a single blanket concept and actually manifests in different ways with varying levels of effectiveness.
“Stated” support is not truly support. There will be people who say they support you, insofar as it would be cruelly antagonistic not to say so, but will not change any of their own behavior around you or go out of their way to help you in any real way. (Remember: they aren’t under obligation to—the only person’s behavior you can control is your own, and you should never expect anything else! But all the same, if they won’t alter their life a little to make room for your change, then it doesn’t really count as supporting you, which is the topic at hand.)
“General” support is true and enthusiastic support from people who truly do want the best for you, but don’t necessarily understand or advocate that your path must run through abstention from drugs and alcohol. General supporters mean well, and really do want you to succeed, but they might not have the tools at their disposal to understand the mechanics of addiction or believe the situation is actually as dire as it is. They may do things like say how much happier you seem, yet continue to ask if you “ever think you might be able to drink again someday?“
“Specific” support comes from people who want the best for you and understand that this path must specifically run through abstention from drugs and alcohol. They may be people who possess the tools necessary to understand how the addictive personality works, or people who have a role in your life that puts them in a unique position to steer you clear of temptation. These can include addiction counselors, other sober friends, sponsors, or people who have been changed by seeing how your abuse has hurt you and/or them firsthand. Since specific support involves making sure you abstain rather than just seeing you be happy, specific supporters may at times have to express their support via opposing you!
Studies have shown that only “specific” support makes a meaningful impact on recovery efforts! In a 2010 study from DePaul University, patients in recovery who received only general support did not fare particularly better than those with no support at all, but patients with access to specific support were significantly likelier to stay sober.
When I got sober, I had general support from most of my friends, meaning that they were as happy as I was that I seemed to be losing weight and more in control of my life, but wouldn’t do a double-take if I ever told them I was recovered and had begun drinking responsibly again (which would have been a lie). Meanwhile, I had specific support from my roommate, who had seen firsthand over the years the special kind of drunk I would only get around the apartment and understood how deep I was into it—and he knew that once I committed to him the change was real, that no matter how bad I was hurting on any given day, alcohol could never be in the equation for me again.
Places To Find Friends
Rekindling Friendships Pushed Away During Your Time Of Addiction
As much as it might hurt when you realize that a certain friend was not a true friend but rather a “drinking friend”—somebody you might have had very little in common with other than that you could drink together—this same process also works in reverse! Think of friends you might have had before you started drinking heavily, who then either chose to spend less time with you because they didn’t enjoy your intoxicated company, or you chose to see less often because they didn’t have a role to play in your drinking life. Some of these people (if you didn’t hurt them badly—and if so, remember it is their prerogative to decide if they will forgive you—they are not obligated to!) might still be waiting on the sidelines, still ready to play a board game or marathon a Netflix show or knit a quilt with their old friend they remember used to be down for that stuff before they got preoccupied with alcohol-related activities.
Support Groups—Not Just For The Religious Anymore!
A 2008 study from Virginia Polytechnic Institute found that individuals who participate in the “traditional” faith-related support groups Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous were far more likely to remain sober than those who did not attend such support groups. The study also noted, however, that many individuals who don’t feel the faith strongly find their offerings problematic and unwelcoming. While the study came down on the side of recommending that these individuals grit their teeth and stick it out regardless of discomfort due to the success rate, there are more options for the nonreligious! Secular Organizations for Sobriety is a network of explicitly nonreligious organizations that focus on the comradery and community found in the faith-based networks without necessarily tying their teachings to a deity.
Pick Up An Old (Or New!) Hobby That’s Both Social And Doesn’t Relate To Drinking
As I’ve said in so many other pieces, you’re going to need to find some new hobbies—if only to fill up all that free time you’ve got now. While your pink cloud lasts, you’re probably going to be throwing yourself into those hobbies full steam, and knowing this, it might be wiser to choose social hobbies rather than solo ones: you might find yourself amenable to making new friends and meeting new people while you’re becoming invested in the hobby. Some ideas:
- Running is great, but why not join a running club?
- Take a yoga class, which is both social and also extra points for learning mindfulness (a key sobriety weapon, as mentioned in an earlier piece of mine).
- Take up a game that gets you interacting socially, such as Magic: The Gathering, an online gaming guild for World of Warcraft, or a local D&D group.
- Join a league sport such as tennis, racquetball, volleyball, or soccer (but be cautious about joining a bar league).
- Volunteer at a local SPCA and meet fellow animal lovers (plus animals in need of love!)
Consider Sober Living Housing
Sober Living Housing is a temporary residential facility one can live in after completing rehab that puts you in a living situation where you are surrounded by other newly sober people as well as supportive counselors. It can be a great way to make new connections right in the uncertain period following initially getting sober!
David R. Groh, Leonard A. Jason, Margaret I. Davis, Bradley D. Olson, Joseph R. Ferrari. “Friends, Family, And Alcohol Abuse: An examination of general and specific social support”. PubMed Central. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2010 Nov 10. Web. Accessed November 28 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2977912/
Atkins, Randolph; Hawden, James. “Religiosity and Participation in Mutual-Aid Support Groups for Addiction”. PubMed Central. National Institute for Health. Oct 2008. Accessed November 28 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2095128/