My best friend and I quit drinking at the same time. She quit because she was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis and I quit because I was a late stage alcoholic. The fact is, she got the liver I deserved, but she didn’t hold it against me.
It’s been almost four years now, and our friendship is stronger for the experience in temperance. It was nice to have someone to talk to, about the exigencies of navigating early recovery. We quit for different reasons, but sitting at a dinner party with gassy water instead of wine, strikes the same emotional chord. How wonderful it has been, to share the ups and downs with someone who understood.
I often wonder how our friendship would have been affected if we had not gotten sober at the same time. My friend was always understanding of my drunken foibles, but I had become sloppy in the final iteration of my alcoholism. And there is always a built-in conflict, when one person can’t drink and another overindulges (which I always did).
Advice, Caution and Concern…
There’s more to this sober thing than meets the eye. Getting sober is an individual pursuit, but there are so many interactions with family and friends to consider. So much new ground to cover and, of course, so much life-giving recovery to protect.
It is much easier to embark on a significant life change when you have the support, empathy and comradery of a select group of pals. As I see it, there are a few categories of great relationships you can (and should) cultivate in early recovery and beyond. It is unreasonable to assume you can keep away from all drinkers (and temptation) forever, but it’s always nice to have the haven of friendships, where you can let your guard down and be yourself.
Cultivating Sober Friends
- Friends you meet because you are sober: 12 step meeting goers, group therapy attendees and peers in addiction treatment are always good resources for new relationships. It’s natural to feel kinship, and that “been to war” mentality with veterans of the disease of addiction. These people have seen you at your most vulnerable, so you can short circuit the friendship process. Recovery years, are in many ways, as consolidated as dog years.
- Supportive friends from the old life: The support my best friend and I shared was coincidental, but what a joy to experience newfound sobriety with someone who knows you “from the old days.” You may have friends who just don’t like to drink. Or they may be fine with spending a day or evening without a fix of alcohol. Those are marvelous, long term relationships to maintain. And they will tell you how great you look; how much more fun you are to be around now that you have stopped swilling wine…
- Those folks who don’t need an explanation because they are athletes or health advocates: A friend of mine who is into yoga, says she loves to go to lunch or dinner with her yoga friends. She says, “It’s awesome. You don’t have to explain the reason you are not ordering wine or a beer. These people are healthy. They are going back to the yoga studio and wouldn’t think of smelling of booze. Or they know they have to get up fresh in the morning.” Jump on any opportunity to hang out with people who are passionate about exercise and wellbeing.
- Family members: Family members can push every button, but they love you. If your mother or sibling has been supportive through your recovery process, let them in. Way in. They can be some of the most empathetic listeners and advocates for your success!
- Your running, hiking or gym buddies: One of the most important aspects of recovery is rigorous physical exercise. If you find a group of people to bike with on weekends, or run with after work, they may not become your best friends. They may never know much about you other than your brand of exercise tights. The subject of drinking may never come up. And that’s the point – while you are with these people it is understood you will be doing things that occupy your body and mind. Love them!!!
- Those folks in your Spanish class, cooking group or book club: As long as you don’t join “Mommies Who Drink Wine,” a special interest group or class is another good way to cultivate positive relationships. Because your point of reference is the activity, there’s a lot to talk about (and do) that doesn’t involve drinking…
- Your dog, cat, gerbil or parakeet: Last, but not least, there is nothing like the nonjudgmental, mushy love of a pet to cure what ails. And animals have the added relationship advantage of being needy. It gets you outside of yourself to care for your pet. They don’t ask for anything of you, but love and food…
One of the things I have learned in four years of sobriety, is that I am not alone. I have also learned that keeping a schedule and being accountable is key. I have learned that the best way to stave off cravings and relapse is to cultivate excitement for those things that don’t involve addictive substances.
And I have learned that the right friends can make or break recovery. Choose them wisely.
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