Building Your Support Network: How to Make New Friends in Recovery
One of the best ways to stay focused in recovery is to surround yourself with positive people who are not only interested in helping you to live your life well but also actively working to create a happy and healthy life for themselves as well. It is inspiring to spend time with people who are genuinely doing their best in the world, living honestly and authentically, and interested in hearing about and supporting you in doing the same.
For those who are new to recovery, it is not uncommon to have the desire to connect with others in recovery but feel unsure of how to go about making it happen. Though there are a lot of great people who are actively in recovery, there are also a lot of people in recovery who are not necessarily the most positive people to be around, who may not necessarily be committed to staying sober for the long-term, or who may not genuinely care about and support you.
How do you know where to look and whom to trust as you build your support network and make new friends in recovery?
The process of creating a great support network in recovery begins when you are in treatment. Whether you opt for outpatient care or residential treatment, you will spend a great deal of time with others who, like you, are just getting started in recovery. In groups and during breaks, you will get to know them very well – their histories, their likes and dislikes, and their goals and hopes for the future. Bonding is inevitable, and here you will form some of the first friendships that will sustain you as you rebuild your life in sobriety.
- Exchange numbers, Twitter handles, and other communication forms to keep up with people.
- Pay attention to what your recovery friends post on social media. If it seems like they are in trouble, reach out and offer to go to a meeting or otherwise lend a helping hand. If they are actively using again and have no interest in staying sober, keep your distance.
- Make an effort to keep in touch after treatment. Ask them to go to a meeting or out for coffee.
- Introduce your friends from treatment to your new friends that you make in recovery after treatment.
Whether you are transitioning back into the home you lived in prior to entering rehab or into a new home that is better suited to living a sober life, you will need to look in the community to connect with others who are trying to stay sober. That means getting involved in 12-Step meetings, support groups, personal therapy sessions, alternative therapies (e.g., sports therapies, outdoor therapies, art therapy, etc.), and holistic options (e.g., yoga, meditation centers, acupuncture, etc.). Along the way, you will make friends with people you meet while doing those things.
- In a support group, it is easy enough to reach out and exchange numbers with other participants, but make an effort to connect at other places where people are living healthful lives but not necessarily in recovery.
- You do not have to limit your support network in recovery to only those people who are also staying clean and sober. However, you will need to limit your network to those people who are willing and able to be supportive of you in your recovery.
- Take it slow. People in the “real world” may not share your sense of urgency about hanging out, returning texts or phone calls, or scheduling meet-ups. Be patient and prepared to let these relationships unfold over weeks and months rather than days.
- Invite your friends from recovery to take a yoga class, enroll in your sports therapy, or go to acupuncture. Get the benefits of these activities and bolster your connections and support at the same time.
Not everyone you meet who is seeking treatment and recovery is going to be a positive and stable addition to your support network. Take your time and vet your choices. No need to be rude or judgmental. If it becomes clear that someone is not necessarily committed to sobriety, or is still living in a deeply negative place and you have a hard time maintaining a sense of positivity and focus when you are around this person, you easily step back a bit and find your connections elsewhere.
- When meeting new people, try to hang out with groups first. There is less pressure for you to connect one on one and less of a chance of hurt feelings if you find that you do not click with someone.
- Be forthright. If you don’t want to hang out, do not avoid calls or ignore texts. Instead, respond in a timely manner and just say it won’t work for you.
- Be honest as well as sensitive to others’ feelings. If you find that someone would like to be friends with you and you don’t feel the same, there is no need to be rude. This person, like you, is just trying to get by in recovery and needs help, but if you are not a good fit, there is no need to make them feel bad for trying.
- Avoid dating. Romantic attachments in the first year of any kind are a big risk. Too many things can go wrong. It’s a better idea to focus on making friends in recovery.
Don’t Give Up
It takes time to build authentic relationships in recovery that are sustainable and will sustain you for years to come. Allow people to come and go in your life without too much attachment. Invest your time in the people who are interested in being part of your life and who make you feel stronger in your ability to stay sober.