In our family, my dad is famous for spouting infinite witty and, in my unbiased opinion, somewhat brilliant gems of wisdom. One of my favorites, although my dad can’t take credit for coming up with it, is, “A joy shared is multiplied. A pain shared is divided.” I work in addiction recovery, and I find myself saying this to my clients on a daily basis.
We humans are social beings. We are designed to live in communities, build networks, and interact. And doing so can be tremendously beneficial, particularly for people in recovery. But only if you’re smart about it. Here a few thoughts on how to create and maintain a healthy social circle for yourself.
Build a strong support network
Surrounding yourself with people with whom who you can share both your joy and your pain is important for everyone, but especially for people in recovery. This means keeping and adding people to your life who support you, your journey, and your clean lifestyle. It also means staying away from those who don’t. As you build your social community, be mindful of what you want from it. Look for people whom you trust, can openly communicate with, and make your life easier, not harder. We flourish from social interactions with people who support and understand us.
Set solid boundaries
Make sure to set solid boundaries—not just at home but in all aspects of your life. Old friends and habits will want to come back into your life, and at times it may be tough not to let them. But setting boundaries and distancing yourself from those toxic influences will greatly help you on your path. Remember that “no” is a complete sentence. And even though it’s not easy, the short-term discomfort that you may feel in the moment when setting boundaries is far outweighed by the longer-term wellness you will reap from caring for yourself and prioritizing your needs. And once you set those boundaries, stay mindful of maintaining them—it’s one thing to say no, it’s another thing to stick to it when the pressure’s on. But remember, you and your recovery are worth it.
Alone time versus isolation
Avoiding people who will bring you down is crucial, but make sure not to isolate. Now, I don’t mean you should never be alone. Alone time is important, but it’s distinct from isolating. They may look the same from the outside, but that’s where the similarities end. Alone time is restorative. It’s important for your mental health to actively seek solitude and give yourself time to recharge your battery. Isolation, in contrast, is the opposite. It’s depleting. It stems from avoidance, and the more you avoid and isolate, the more likely you are to dwell on negative thoughts, which, in turn, can lead to more negative behaviors. So, while it can be healthy to have time to yourself, be mindful of why you are doing so, and of what you are thinking and how you are feeling when you do. If you find yourself venturing into negativity when you’re by yourself, reach out to your support network.
Live with people who will lift you up
One of the key places where this applies is your living environment. Your living situation is an integral piece of your recovery, so make sure you set yourself up to succeed by living with people who will keep you on track. Living with a sober roommate can be very helpful in keeping you on your path. Indeed, research has shown that the more you surround yourself with likeminded people in recovery, the more likely you are to remain sober. Further, in my nine years as a therapist, I’ve seen that the people who tend to do the best in their recovery are those who live with other people committed to sobriety—they find support in their roommates and have someone to help them stay accountable. Conversely, returning to a toxic living environment can set you up for relapse because the same triggers that got you into trouble before will most likely be there when you return. And, because of the tendency to isolate, living alone can make it harder to stay on a healthy path. Instead, live with someone who offers you support, empathy, and accountability, and do the same for them.
Recovery can be tremendously hard. Why make it harder by going it alone, or by trying to stay clean while surrounded by people who aren’t, or by people who don’t support your efforts? Instead, build a healthy, positive, and supportive community for yourself, in all aspects of your life, and set yourself up to make staying on track as easy as possible.