“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection.” This quote from British journalist Johann Hari has become a popular saying in recovery communities over the past few years.
There’s a good reason for that. This quote reinforces what addicts in recovery have known for decades. Connecting with other people, especially other addicts, is essential to maintaining sobriety.
Why is it so important for addicts who want to stay sober to develop strong relationships in recovery? Here are a few good reasons.
Steering clear of that first drink or drug is the hardest thing to do once an addict leaves rehab. In rehab, they were protected from alcohol and drugs. They were also protected from the realities of their lives and the real world.
Once the addict returns to their regular life, the temptation to drink or use is everywhere. This is especially true if the addict is going back into the environment where they drank or used before rehab.
How can the addict who wants to stay sober avoid this temptation? The best way is to have another person who’s holding them accountable for staying sober. Without anyone holding them accountable the addict may think that they can get away with drinking or using and avoid the consequences. This mindset makes avoiding temptation difficult, maybe even impossible.
But if someone is present in the addict’s life to hold them accountable for their choice to drink or use, this person can provide a mental deterrent. The addict knows that someone is holding them responsible for their actions. And more importantly, they know that someone will care if they choose to relapse.
In 12-step programs such as AA and NA, people get sponsors. These sponsors help guide the newly sober addict through the rough early days of sobriety. They also hold them accountable for staying sober.
But getting a sponsor isn’t the only way to create accountability. Anyone can be an accountability partner for a new addict.
Any addict leaving rehab who wants to stay sober should find someone they trust to hold them accountable for their recovery. If that other person is another addict all the better.
Knowing that You’re Not Alone
Another popular saying in recovery communities is that addiction is the disease of loneliness.
And anyone who has dealt with addiction knows loneliness on a level that few others can comprehend.
Addicts are notorious for hurting the people they love the most. And even the most loyal family
and friends will eventually leave after being hurt over and over. So, the addict experiences the loneliness of being cut off by those they love.
Addicts also experience a kind of existential loneliness. This is created by the mentality that no one is going through what they’re going through and that no one understands what they’re going through. Most active addicts believe that they are the only ones facing the struggles they are facing. They also believe that they’re the only one who has ever felt as bad as they feel.
But this is far from the truth.
Addicts who go to rehab quickly find that everyone else there has been through very similar struggles and has felt very similar things. Addicts who choose to attend 12-step meetings as part of their recovery regularly hear stories from people who went through exactly what they went through. And they hear stories about people who felt the same feelings and thought the same thoughts.
In recovery communities, this is called identifying with others. For addicts who have felt alone and isolated, finding out that others have experienced the same struggles is a glorious reprieve from loneliness.
Identifying with other addicts provides the opportunity to build relationships based on shared experience. These relationships ensure that the addict will never have to go through anything alone. And these relationships provide the newly sober addict with people who can help them stay sober by sharing how they have stayed sober.
Addicts who feel like they are alone and that no one cares about them or their recovery are more likely to relapse. So, creating strong relationships in recovery based on shared experience is another way to help newly sober addicts stay sober.
Experience, Strength, and Hope
Rehab gives addicts a lot of good information about staying sober. Addicts who go to rehab learn new coping mechanisms that help them to avoid drinking and using. They also learn how they can change their lifestyle to avoid drinking and using.
But once the addict leaves rehab, putting the things they’ve learned into practice can be difficult. Without someone supporting them regularly and providing them with advice about how to stay sober, the addict is likely to succumb to temptation and use.
That’s why addicts need to create relationships with people who have stayed sober for a long time. These people with long term sobriety have a lot of experience with what it takes to stay sober. They’ve stayed sober through whatever life has thrown at them.
This “experience, strength, and hope” as it’s called in the rooms of 12-step programs, is essential wisdom for any addict looking to stay sober. When they run into a situation they don’t know how to handle, the addict can reach out to people with long term sobriety to get advice.
When you’re newly sober, it can feel like you have to relearn how to do life daily. People with long term sobriety can help newly sober addicts with this relearning process. This helps prevent relapse when the newly sober addict has to deal with something difficult. It also helps newly sober addicts deal with the sometimes overwhelming tasks of everyday life.
Creating strong relationships in recovery with people who have long term sobriety is one of the best things a newly sober addict can do for their recovery.
Sounding Board for Stinking Thinking
In recovery communities, the phrase “stinking thinking” refers to the constant, negative inner monologue that most addicts have. This inner monologue is like a broken record telling the addict that they aren’t good enough, that they’ll never succeed, that no one likes them, so they might as well drink and use. Many addicts drank and used to avoid this negative inner monologue.
When addicts get sober, they are no longer getting the relief from this inner monologue that drinking or using provided. For many, the negative broken record in their brain becomes overwhelming without a drink or a drug to silence it. Many addicts who want recovery relapse when they cannot overcome their “stinking thinking.”
Addicts are also masters of lying and denial. Most addicts have spent so long lying to themselves and others and perfecting their denial that they can barely distinguish what’s true and what’s false.
Creating strong relationships with other addicts can provide relief from the addict’s negative
inner monologue and a “fact check” on what’s true and what’s not.
When the addict is having a tough time with their thoughts, they can reach out to another addict and tell them how they’re feeling. The other addict can identify with them and assure them that they are valuable and worthy. When the addict is trying to justify bad behavior through lying or denial, another addict can help them distinguish the truth, so they can take a sober action instead of one that leads toward relapse.
When addicts are left alone with their thoughts and their own decision-making processes they are bound to drink or use again. Creating relationships with other sober addicts gives the newly sober addict someone to talk to and someone to help them sort of their thinking and decisions.
Learning to Have Fun in Sobriety
Most addicts believe that they’ll never have any fun again once they get sober. This makes sense because everything they’ve seen as fun for years has involved drugs or alcohol. They can’t imagine going to a restaurant or a concert or a work party or any event without drinking or using.
Since all their fun has been associated with drinking and using, the addict needs to discover ways to have fun sober. This is where sober friends come to the rescue.
People who have been sober for a while have learned how to have fun in sobriety. They’ve often learned how to do the same things they used to do while drinking and using without a drink or a drug.
Making sober friends who can show the newly sober addict how to have fun sober is essential to preventing relapse.
Creating Relationships in Recovery
For many newly sober addicts, creating relationships in recovery is extremely overwhelming. Most addicts aren’t used to interacting with others without the buffer of drugs and alcohol.
Talking to new people when you’re newly sober is very uncomfortable, but that discomfort is necessary for learning to live sober.
For more information about how addicts leaving rehab can build relationships that support their recovery, check out our blog.