Navigating friendships and finding people to support you in sobriety can be one of the most challenging parts of getting sober.
How did my friendships change when I ditched the drink?
I have long, complicated, painful, and layered stories of friendships that are now over. There are stories left unwritten. In truth, I still don’t have a full understanding of the endings or what could have been done differently. I am not sure if there’s anyone to blame. I’ve tried blaming myself and I’ve tried blaming them too.
I’ve had changes in friendships with people that I love and I always will. I have disconnected with people who have a shared history with me and hold my deepest secrets. There are friends from childhood, who I have drifted from, and these relationships can never be replaced.
Some of my friendships hold misunderstandings, limitations, and defenses. There is pain and protection on all sides. Nobody is right and nobody is wrong, and yet everyone is hurt by it. I have hurt people in my drinking and I have hurt people in my sobriety too. I have been hurt in both cases as well. The falling out with my friends in sobriety has been both gradual and also extreme. It has been subtle and it has been obvious. The constant is that it has been very confusing to me.
I have felt punished, used, manipulated, ignored, and undervalued. I have felt defensive, misunderstood, and mad as hell. I have felt pushed out. I’ve felt desperate.
To be really honest (and maybe a little dramatic), I have felt cracked open and left to bleed.
Perhaps I have been both a villain and a victim in this?
Losing friends hurts so bad.
I have a long history of gripping to friends and never wanting to let them go. I am still friends with my very first friend. We met at age 3. I want every single friend to be a steadfast friend for life. I have been gutted to realize this won’t be the case with every friendship. From elementary school through adulthood, the pain of losing a friend has never gotten easier for me. I have been crushed every single time there is an ending.
I grip and I cling. I find it very hard to lose people. It’s very hard to get over it. It’s very hard for me to walk away, even when something isn’t good for me. I am in recovery from codependency (a word I don’t like, but very much understand), as much as alcohol.
It sucks. It hurts. I am not the expert in letting go gracefully.
I am sober today. I am happier. I am healthier. I have a relationship with myself. I have a better relationship with my family. I also have a non-existent relationship or a pause or an ending with some friends. It doesn’t take the pain away, but given the choice, I’d choose sobriety and being surrounded with my loving family over friendships that couldn’t withstand the change every time.
Getting sober is a very lonely journey. I was very private about it. As a drinker, I wasn’t being honest with myself about my feelings, I was just pouring alcohol on every emotion. As I started to sober up, I started expressing myself through writing. I know a few close friends felt like they didn’t even know me. I was blogging, writing, publishing, and telling the world about my struggle when my own inner circle had no idea what I was going through all this time.
I’d like to think my friends are wonderful people with the best of intentions. They have always wanted to support me. They only want the best for me. They did what they could to be there for me, and yet I was defensive. I had so much blame. I had years of not speaking up for myself, not being honest with myself, and not telling them how I was feeling.
As I started to get clear, I started to get mad at my own lack of boundaries and my own passive behavior. I was angry that I stayed in relationships so long with people who weren’t treating me well. I wanted more from my friends. When I tried to speak up, I felt ignored. This was a clumsy process of coming to terms with my past and learning new ways forward. I wasn’t used to putting my own needs first and sobriety required that of me. It does for you too.
I didn’t want anyone’s pity or sympathy. I didn’t want to admit anything was wrong with me. In fact, at times, I wanted to point out what was wrong with everyone else. At times, I wanted everyone else to get sober alongside me. I wasn’t willing to see that not everyone was along for my sober ride. Some took it personally. Some tried to sabotage it. In some cases, I was completely cut off for I am not sure what reason.
Regardless, I marched on. I stayed my sober path. I started to need and demand less from my friends. I put my energy into taking tender loving care of myself.
My journey to sobriety was a mostly silent journey within. I had to gain my own clarity and confidence before I could share. The fear of failing (again) was always looming. It was much easier to write about it than to speak about it.
As a perfectionist I didn’t want to be judged or labeled for my mistakes and flaws.
As a people pleaser, I didn’t want to put anyone out with my new behavior. For the first time ever, I wanted the spotlight off of me, and yet my sobriety was taking up all the space, as the huge elephant, in the room. I wanted to talk about it but I didn’t know how to talk about it.
My friends and I didn’t know what to say about my alcohol problem. We were scared to say the wrong thing.
No one knew what I was going through. I was changing. It was hard to separate my relationship with alcohol to everyone else’s. I suffered in silence. I sometimes blogged about it. I tried to listen and be a friend to myself. I wanted to remain the fun party girl. I didn’t want a change in identity. I didn’t want to be looked at in a different way. I was protecting myself. I was trying to act chill, cool, and casual, when in reality, I was making the biggest transformation a person can possibly make, by beating addiction.
There were some existing friendships that thrived during this time. I had a handful of people I felt safe to share my story with as it was unfolding. Some of these people were my biggest drinking buddies, and they were also my top supporters in my sober journey. They understood how much alcohol was bringing me down and they were rooting for my health and happiness.
I specifically recall a first happy hour when my friend drank sparkling water and added an obnoxious orange slice as garnish, sipping right alongside me. We sat there cringing awkwardly for a minute before laughing our asses off as usual.
It’s not that sober people aren’t out there or I didn’t know where to find them.
I do. It’s that I have been scared. I have been judgemental. I have not wanted to be so needy.
It’s hard to ask for help. I have put myself out there and I have been rejected. It has been hard to let new people in because technically, I already have friends and limited time.
At first, I had very few people who understood my sober journey, because unless you’ve been there, you don’t really know. But all along, I have had friends. I didn’t feel a need for more. I don’t call myself “in recovery”. I didn’t want people to commiserate about addiction. I wanted to be free from it, not still living in it. I didn’t want to sit around a fire sharing drunkalogues.
As a sober coach, I get to be surrounded by sober and sober curious people every day.
I love it. I get to live in a world that I created, where I am surrounded by the gifts of sobriety and people working towards a more alcohol free life. I spend my time with incredible people who are working on self improvement. This is amazing and inspiring, and I pinch myself every day that I get to do this work. I am having daily conversations and connections in sobriety.
I have gone to sober networking events. I felt awkward, lonely, and out of place.
I started my own Sober Meet Up and felt stressed, strange, and terrified.
I have been trying to find my place, my sober people, my community, and my tribe. I have a few one off friendships and they have been a great relief. It’s been hard to get together with the pandemic and competing schedules. I haven’t found a group of friends. It’s been one on one individual relationships slowly built over time.
In part, maybe because of my job as a sober coach, or my history of not having to work that hard to find friends. I think I have felt different than others. That those sober people are not like me.
That I am in a different kind of recovery/discovery. I recognize this holds me back. I am not proud to say it. I want to be honest with you about my shortcomings. I, too, have lots of room for improvement. I try to stay humble and kind, but I am a work in progress and I hold my fragile ego close to my chest, as many of us do.
I haven’t felt comfortable in most recovery communities. For starters, I don’t even call myself in recovery, so I feel out of place upon arrival.
When joining other groups, I have a natural tendency to take charge. It has felt like work to me, before I know it I am selling and networking and not at all letting myself be seen for who I am.
Sober connection felt like a place for me to help others, and not a place for me to receive help.
I pride myself on my independence. And I simply don’t like it. I don’t like putting myself out there for fear of being rejected. I have joined so many events and activities for sober people that do not at all feel right for me. Sober people are not all saints. LOL. Some are mean or exclusive or whatever and I have felt that. I have wanted to belong and I have stuffed and shoved and demanded a spot at the table in many places where I will never belong and it left me feeling even more lonely.
I had to kiss a lot of sober frogs, but eventually I found a few groups that feel like home to me. Once I felt safe, I started to share. Not as a sober expert, but as a sober person. I showed the real me. I started to attend events more than once. I let people get to know me. I introduced my husband. Then I went on a trip with some of them. I hiked. I cried. I hugged them when they cried.
I met a wonderful group of people through a writing class. We show up, we share, and we support each other. Friendships are growing. Consistency builds friendship. Each time we get together we share a little more. Open up another piece.
Friendships in sobriety are challenging. Even with the hardship I have never once regretted getting sober. Even with the loss. The relationship I gained with myself through the process has been worth every tear I cried over lost friends.
My journey to sober friendship is still evolving and I am in my 5th year of sobriety. If you are in early sobriety, stay the course. Answers will come. Friendships will be found. Letting go as gracefully as possible is a welcome lesson.