"You Got Sober, Now Grow Up!" - Learn to Make Friends, Get a Sober Job, Go to School, Etc.
After I got through the initial 3 to 6 months of early recovery from my addiction, I was plagued with the question of who I was without substances. The question of who you are is something that most people figure out in their late teens to early twenties.
Developing Our Identity
Erik Erikson (1959) discovered that people go through certain developmental stages and that each stage has a task that needs to be completed. The ones I missed were adolescence and early adulthood. According to Erikson, adolescence is the time when we develop our identity separate from our parents. And he defined early adulthood as a time to develop relationships and start a family.1 I skipped over both of these stages.
Most people don’t mature during their addiction. Their mindset remains the same as it was before they started using drugs. This happens because addicts and alcoholics often do not grow psychologically or spiritually during their addiction. They stay stuck in the same pattern of using substances to cope with life. When you don’t have a substance to help you cope, you have to find other ways to cope. Through this process, you grow as a person.
As an addict, I never thought too deeply about anything. The only thing I wanted to do was use drugs and the only people I wanted in my life were the people who had drugs. As a result, I found myself in my thirties still trying to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be.
It’s Never Too Late to Grow Up
It’s never too late to go back and complete the tasks that were missed in addiction. In fact, I feel I did more growing up in the first few years of sobriety than I did the previous twenty. During this time of figuring out who I was, I matured rapidly.
These are some of the tasks that can help you reach maturity in recovery:
- Getting a first job in recovery
- Going back to school
- Making new friends
- Starting a relationship
- Finding fun things to do
- Buying a house
- Being financially responsible
- Starting a family
- Reuniting with family or children
The point is that all these tasks will help you find out who you are without a drink or drug. They will help you mature and become the adult you were meant to be before drugs or alcohol sidetracked your life. They will help you to learn and grow as a person. You are bound to make some mistakes along the way but if you learn from your mistakes, then you will grow from that experience as well.
Making New Friends
One of the hardest parts of recovery is realizing that you have to let go of the friends who were a part of your life in addiction. These friends may have been there through some tough times or you may have been friends with them since childhood. However, if they are still in active addiction, they will trigger thoughts and feelings of your addiction which could lead to relapse.
A part of maintaining abstinence is to reduce triggers and cravings so it can be important to stay away from many or all of the friends you have developed over the years. However, people are social beings. It can be just as unhealthy to isolate yourself and not have any friends. Isolation can lead to relapse just as surely as spending time with people in active addiction.
So, how do you make new friends as an adult? This is where attending recovery meetings can be a benefit. Twelve Step meetings such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous can be an ideal place to meet other recovering addicts who can become social support for your recovery. To develop support at NA or AA meetings, let people know you are looking for support. Ask for phone numbers of people with significant clean time of at least a year or more. Get involved in the meetings by going early to help set up and staying late to clean up. Get involved in other meeting activities like recovery picnics or anniversaries. This will help you get to know more people in recovery and increase the chances that you will meet some people who you really like.
To have balance in your life, you may want to have some friends outside of recovery as well. You may need to be more careful when making friends outside of recovery because it is important that you not be exposed to alcohol or drugs. They don’t all have to know that you are in recovery either as long as you are careful to not put yourself in a situation where drugs or alcohol will be present.
If you are involved in a church, you could participate in church activities to make some new friends. You could make new friends at work or school. If you have children, you could make friends with some of the other parents at your child’s school. Hobbies are a great way to meet new people with similar interests.
As you can see, there are many ways to make new friends even as an adult. Every friend you make does not have to be in recovery but it is important to have some friends in recovery. Your friends in recovery will understand and be supportive when you have a recovery related problem such as a craving. Your friends who are not in recovery can introduce you to new things and show you how they cope with life without the use of substances.
- Erikson, Erik H. (1959) Identity and the Life Cycle. New York: International Universities Press
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