What To Do If Giving Up Old Friends Is Hard To Do

Posted on April 12th, 2012
Posted in Articles

Now that you’ve completed rehab and are beginning your new life in recovery, you’re probably filled with information and tips on what to do and how to begin living drug- and alcohol-free.

The trouble is, as anyone who’s made this transition or is attempting to do so, it isn’t all that easy. In fact, for many newcomers to sobriety, the whole prospect is more than just a little scary.

Not only are there things you know you shouldn’t do under any circumstances, but there’s also the long and sometimes involved process of psychologically weaning yourself of substances that are addictive.

Then, of course, there’s the issue of giving up your old friends. This can prove to be a deal-breaker for some individuals, those who are unwilling or think themselves incapable of severing old ties.

Here are some suggestions on what to do if giving up old friends is hard to do.

Stop Thinking in Terms of Ultimatums

What many recovery experts recommend is to begin to adopt a more positive outlook on recovery. This translates into transforming your attitudes and beliefs from thinking about how much you’re giving up to moving more towards embracing all the new opportunities and relationships that will be entering your life.

In other words, stop thinking of your life in recovery in terms of ultimatums you issue to yourself – especially telling yourself you absolutely cannot ever see so and so again. This does nothing beneficial for you. All it does is to remind you how much you have to give up, and that’s often too painful for individuals in the fragile state of early recovery to do.

What should you do instead? Read on to the next suggestion.

Surround Yourself with Upbeat, Forward-Thinking Sober Individuals

Maybe the last thing you want to do is spend your time with others who are in recovery, especially if this is your first time being sober and you have no experience participating in the 12-step rooms. The first time you set foot in an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous or other self-help group may be a bit disconcerting, and it is completely understandable that you’d want to shy away from such associating with these strangers.

But, guess what? They won’t be strangers for very long. Sure, they will remain anonymous, since that’s an integral part of the philosophy. Everyone will be on a first-name basis only. But that doesn’t mean that you cannot or won’t be able to strike up friendships with, or at least good acquaintances with, some of these people that you meet in the rooms.

Why is this important? Why can’t you just find new friends elsewhere to replace the ones you know you need to steer clear of from your addictive past? Well, you certainly will have plenty of time to meet new friends – after you’ve become grounded in the Principles of Recovery and are well on your way to being able to effectively deal with the stresses, cravings and urges and issues, problems and obstacles that so many people encounter in their first few months of sobriety.

It takes time to reach this level of self-confidence in your abilities. It helps, then, to be around others who have already gone through the early days of recovery, have established routines for themselves that worked, and are willing to share them with newcomers such as yourself who are seeking to enter this new world of sobriety.

Granted, not everyone you meet in the 12-step rooms will be upbeat and forward-thinking individuals, whether they’ve been effective in their sobriety journey to this point or not. Some will be just starting out in recovery as you are. But if the people you meet have the common goal of choosing to live a life of sobriety and are committed to doing what it takes to maintain that lifestyle, you’re in the right place and in very good company.

Dealing With Not Feeling Ready Yet

Suppose you just want to hide from everyone you know, to figure out how to come to grips with this new reality you’re embarking upon? What if you really don’t think you can face strangers right now?

Remember that every single person who ever walked through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous or any other self-help group felt the same sort of trepidation, uneasiness, fear, and a mixture of all sorts of powerful emotions. Some may very well have turned around and walked away from the self-help groups for a while.

If this is what you’re currently feeling, all is definitely not lost. What you could try instead is checking out A.A. and other 12-step groups online. It doesn’t matter what time of the day or night it is, there’s always information and help available online. You can actually get pretty familiar with the process of how meetings work, find resources that you can download and print or order online, get involved in online discussions or meetings, even do a telephone meeting that’s available in many locations.

This may be a good choice for someone in early recovery that is also still going to therapy on a regular basis. You get the opportunity to test the waters of the 12-step rooms while you’re gaining more confidence in your abilities to be clean and sober.

Naturally, when the time is right and you’re feeling more able to be with other people, getting yourself into the 12-step rooms is the next logical course of action.

What About Unexpected Calls and Visits from Old Friends?

There is another consideration that you may very well have to deal with and that is what you do when someone from your past shows up unexpectedly on your doorstep or calls and tries to encourage you to come back to your old friends.

This can be very disconcerting, especially if you’re not prepared for it. How should you handle such occurrences?

For one thing, you should practice what you’re going to say. Do this in a sort of role-playing exercise that you can share with your spouse or loved one, even your therapist. If you have a sponsor already in your 12-step group, practice what you’ll say with your sponsor. The point is to be prepared, or at least, as prepared as you can be.

What you say depends upon what feels right and normal to you. Some suggestions from recovery experts include telling your old friend that you’ve embraced a life of sobriety, that you choose to live clean and sober, and alcohol and drugs have no place in your life anymore. You might also say that when and if they choose to live drug and alcohol-free that you’ll be glad to reconsider your friendship.

Above all, don’t feel pressured or guilty about your chosen lifestyle. Recognize that old friends who have a vested interest in adhering to their using ways will try to do and say anything possible to get you to do what they want. Alcoholics and drug users are quite skilled in the art of persuasion, and the longer you’ve known such an individual, the more of your "buttons" they know how and when to push.

With your crib sheet of things to say firmly in-hand, or committed to memory, you’ll be better able to deal with these unexpected blasts from the past, whether in person or on the phone – or in email or text messages.

Be firm, but be pleasant. After all, this is your life you’re talking about. You should be able to live it in the manner you’ve decided is right for you.

Branching Out and Making New Friends

Let’s say that you’ve been going to 12-step meetings for several months, have gotten a sponsor and are actively working on the Twelve Steps. You feel comfortable at the 12-step meetings and wonder if now you’re ready to begin looking to meet people in other environments and situations.

You can and should discuss this with your sponsor, your therapist, your spouse or loved one who is committed to supporting your recovery. Maybe you are, indeed, at the point where you can handle meeting new people without coming unglued by an off-hand remark or an invitation to go out and drink with co-workers or others.

It’s probably best if you select a group where you’ll interact with people who have similar interests. This is especially true if the group focuses on doing a particular hobby or task, or is involved in a rigorous sporting or recreational activity that requires concentration and a certain amount of skill. For one thing, it will be an activity that you enjoy and you can immerse yourself in it. For another, the people you meet there will be similarly engaged, and that’s always a good thing.

This also gets to the concept of creating a balance in your life. You need to be able to relax, to find ways to reduce stress and ease tension, even to find new meaning to your life. Another point to mention is the opportunity to discover new directions that you find you may want to take – in your career, your education, travel or other pursuits. Getting involved with a group dedicated to certain goals can be an excellent approach to see if this is something you want to pursue long-term.

It also helps you if you’ve had a hard time giving up old friends from your past. Think of this as a bridge strategy allowing you to move toward where you want to go in your recovery.

Make a Plan and Keep Busy

Whether you think you’re ready to become more proactive in your recovery or are just beginning to consider what your short- and long-term recovery goals will be, keep in mind that you need to make a plan of some sort. Get help with this by revisiting the recovery plan you created during the preventing relapse portion of your rehab, and maybe talk it over with your continuing care or aftercare therapist and/or your 12-step sponsor.

It could very well be that what you thought you’d get involved in or what you put down then as your immediate goals have changed now. You may want to revise the plan you previously put down to incorporate new interests and directions that you’re now aware of and want to pursue. Nothing is etched in stone with respect to your recovery plan, not now and not ever. In fact, it should always be in some state of revision.

It is also vital that you keep busy, especially during the times when you’re under a great deal of stress and tension at work and at home. You need to know what your schedule is and pay heed to taking care of doing what you’ve committed to do for yourself in recovery at the appropriate time. This includes making room in your daily schedule to attend 12-step meetings, to eat meals at appropriate times, to get daily physical exercise of some sort, to devote some time to reading and learning about recovery and effective strategies for dealing with problem issues that may crop up, and, of course, making sure that you get an adequate amount of sleep each night.

Keeping busy, taking care of yourself, making and revising your recovery goals and sticking to your schedule will help you feel better about yourself and your footing in recovery.

It will also help ease you past the logjam of worrying about what to do if giving up your old friends is hard to do.

Time is On Your Side

Think of recovery as a lifelong journey. It isn’t a race or a destination that you have to reach or die trying. Recovery is a way of life, one that you’ve chosen for yourself. In essence, you’ve given yourself a tremendous gift, this new life in sobriety. And it is one that will continue to bring countless benefits and blessings your way for as long as you live.

You do need to put forth effort to achieve a lasting and effective sobriety. There will be pain and uncertainty at times. But there will also be joy and profound serenity, new friends, interesting and rewarding opportunities and a horizon that you could perhaps never before imagined for yourself.

Time is really on your side. As long as you are living in the present, concentrating on doing the very best you can for your recovery today, right now, you will be well on your way to feeling confident and secure in your sobriety.

Always remember that there is no right or wrong way to approach your recovery. There is only what works for you. Expect to make new discoveries along the way, and to decide that one method or strategy for dealing with certain issues or problems that may have worked in the recent past may no longer be effective now. Be willing to branch out, to explore new ideas, to give yourself the freedom to grow and learn and be happy.

Life is very precious, indeed, and your life in sobriety can be all that you wish it to be – and more that you haven’t even considered yet. Just give it time, forgive yourself, and decide to take the first step in this exciting journey of recovery.

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