When it comes to friendships in recovery, things can be a little tricky. Although we know that having strong friendships in recovery is crucial for many of us to stay sober, we don’t always know where to start. Meeting sober friends can be confusing and intimidating. Keeping old friends that you had while you were still drinking can be problematic. Building a strong foundation of friendship can take time. And where do you even start?
These are all of the questions we’ve heard time and again here at The Temper and at our parent company, Tempest. And to answer some of these questions, along with why friendships have been so important and the lessons we’ve learned about friendship since entering recovery, we decided to go straight to the source: People who have been there.
The truth is that you already know that your friendships are bound to change when you get sober; sometimes for the worst, but always for the better too. It may take time but you can, and you will, build strong connections. Below, twelve sober folks share the honest truth about how their friendships evolved when they went into recovery.
What was the state of your friendships before you went into recovery?
- “They were okay. I had a lot of drinking ‘friends.’ It took one close friend to tell me how concerned she is with my drinking to stop drinking” – Abbey, 29
- “They were disastrous and shallow.” – Kathleen, 56
- ” I just had a life of drama. I had a hard time maintaining friendships with females, which now feels like it was a form of self-hatred. I would loathe the way those who identified as a female would SOMETIMES act, and almost bring out what I disliked so I had an excuse to run. Safe to say, those friendships were mostly unhealthy and had zero boundaries.” – Nicole, 28
- “I have a few close friends that I see a couple of times a month. Although we are the same age, they have young kids at home and my kids are adults.” – Amy, 49
- “I have about a dozen, very good, long time friends, but not many in my daily life.” – Marissa, 53
- “I kept friends close before recovery in case I needed someone to rescue me. I didn’t understand that I was using them. I called on them to fight my battles and stand in front of my demons when I felt too broken to do it myself.” – Jennifer, 30
- “I had acquaintances that I thought were friends but weren’t.” – Josie, 51
- “I wasn’t able to maintain close friendships, though I really wanted them. I had a deep sense of unworthiness, coupled with a fear of abandonment or rejection that led me to keep my needs to myself and avoid getting truly vulnerable with people I cared about and wanted to be close to. Friendship was something that looked easy for other people but felt impossible to me; just another way I told myself I was a failure. In my heaviest drinking days, friendship was a lot more about quantity than quality… I had a lot of folks around me but still felt really alone. I knew that when the party stopped, very few of those folks would actually show up for me if I needed them.” – Lisa, 31
- “I mostly isolated so I could drink more, but I was rude — beyond rude. I was judgmental and condescending.” – Trish, 49
- “Solid. Some close friendships and lots of party friends. Felt like a big group.” – Mercedes, 30
- “Pretty solid. But most of my friends are heavy drinkers and I’m sure me choosing sobriety was shocking to them.” – Katherine, 28
- “Some were healthy. Some revolved around drinking.” – Catherine, 49
How have your friendships changed since recovery?
- “They are so much better! No more drinking friends. Many other friends have also been questioning their relationship with alcohol.” – Abbey, 29
- “Today, they are deeper and more authentic.” – Kathleen, 56
- “I have far fewer friends, but the ones I do… I treasure and feel grateful to the stars or whatever out there that gave me more people who I can be honest with and who understand me, or feel me on at least some level. My friendships are slim, but the existence of the ones I have are different in that they are transparent and healthy and supportive.” – Nicole, 28
- “I feel like I make others defensive by not drinking even though I don’t say anything about it.” – Amy, 49
- “Yes, as I don’t actively seek social outings with booze.” – Marissa, 53
- “I’ve definitely narrowed my friend scope. Many of those I used to consider friends were really just in the pain with me. There was camaraderie in that, but not a true bond.” – Jennifer, 30
- “Deepened. More honest. Most friendships didn’t survive because they weren’t friendships.” – Josie, 51
- “I am learning to open up more. It’s still hard but I try my best to take those walls down and show up as I am to my friendships, even when (and especially when) I am not feeling my best. I set boundaries around my time and communication so that when I show up, it’s as my whole self and not a depleted version. My friendships are everything to me in recovery. My friends are my mirrors and they show me what is possible. Every day, they gift me with joy, hugs, ears that listen, and kindness.” – Lisa, 31
- “I listen to hear and not to respond. My boundaries are now pretty solid!” – Trish, 49
- “Friends I once considered close definitely fell away — those who felt weird inviting me to things involving drinking or maybe who felt guilty about their own relationships with alcohol withdrew from me. It created distance with some friends who I still loved and wanted to be friends with but it felt like some of the magic was gone.” – Mercedes, 30
- “Some have been incredibly supportive (the ones who aren’t heavy drinkers). The rest have been supportive but also don’t really ask how I’m doing with it (I get we’re in a pandemic though, there are other issues going on) or tend to disregard it when bringing up drunken happenings from the past.” – Katherine, 28
- “Definitely lost some friends but not my closest friends. True friends have stayed.” – Catherine, 49
Did you make new friends in recovery? How?
- “Starting to, but finding it difficult during the pandemic and in my specific area that I’m living in right now. Definitely would love more of those kinds of friendships.” – Abbey, 29
- “I made my sober friends in AA.” – Kathleen, 56
- “Mostly through Tempest, as I quickly would learn those I had the same struggles as, I also had the same sense of humor, heart, compassion, and big love. In my real life, it’s been a slower process… I try to take stabs at it naturally. I’m not necessarily seeking out friendship currently, just because where I am personally, but it takes the pressure and allows me to have more meaningful connections.” – Nicole, 28
- “Not yet!” – Amy, 49
- “YES, definitely Tempest friends and in my other community on sober travel trips.” – Marissa, 53
- “Yes! Tempest has opened my world to so many new people. I’ve gotten more intentional about who I spend my time with, and what I do. That’s drawn in people on the same wavelength as me.” – Jennifer, 30
- “I’ve made my friends through the 12 steps, exercise, and work.” – Josie, 51
- “Yes, I did but I was also able to show up to existing friendships in new ways. Making new friends took a long time in recovery and I was convinced it would never happen for me. The internet was my friend here… I started opening up on Instagram and putting myself out there in the comments. If something someone said resonated or hit my heart, I let them know. I also started where I was. I opened my eyes to the folks around me and made an effort to let them in, to let them see the real me. Many folks I would have thought of as acquaintances turned out to be friends once I took the time to get to know them.” – Lisa, 31
- “I made new friends through a PTSD program I went to. Many of the women there were also newly sober and committed to both recoveries. We have made it a priority to keep in touch, which I wouldn’t have done before getting sober. Once the world opens back up, I plan to search out people with my interests.” – Trish, 49
- “I didn’t make new friends specifically, but my friendships with folks who didn’t care if I drank or not and were more aligned with my post-alcohol lifestyle became much closer.” – Mercedes, 30
- “No, because I haven’t left the house!” – Katherine, 28
- “Not in real life. Just online. They all live too far away.” – Catherine, 49
What lessons have you learned about friendship in recovery, or through your friends?
- “That friendship takes a lot of work, but are so worth it if both people are in it. It’s so much lovelier and gratifying to connect on levels not attainable when in the midst of addiction. Also, good friends call you out on your bullshit. I will be forever grateful to my one friend that pushed me to take a hard look at my relationship with alcohol.” – Abbey, 29
- “In recovery, I have learned tough lessons about setting and holding boundaries with friends.” – Kathleen, 56
- “I’ve learned that it’s okay to SAY the things you’re ashamed of once you’ve found those who are the good ones, who can hold it. I’ve learned how to actively listen to my friends, instead of immediately trying to solve a problem they may have. I’ve learned to differentiate when someone needs to be heard and when they need help. I’ve learned nothing is personal, we all arrive at our relationships with a whole unique history. That history is what makes my friendships full. In sobriety, I’ve learned that there are lots of people who want us to be exactly who we are. That last lesson has been an adjustment for me, trusting my friends to mean what they say and I can be open and vulnerable, while still safe.” – Nicole, 28
- “Although we have been friends for years, we may not have much in common anymore.” – Amy, 49
- “Vulnerability and sharing beget true connection.” – Marissa, 53
- “Despite what they say, people won’t ALWAYS be there for you. And that’s OKAY. When others set boundaries, it’s a sign of strength that should be celebrated and imitated. I’ve learned to respect, and stand in awe of, so many more people in recovery.” – Jennifer, 30
- “The best way to explain it is the way that Brené Brown talked about the marble jar building trust and friendship: Sharing little bits and overtime developing trust. In recovery, I’ve learned that friendships change over time. And some of my most important growth has come from recognizing when friendship relationships are no longer working” – Josie, 51
- “I have learned that when I don’t express my needs in a friendship, I am not being selfless (which I should never strive to be anyway!) but selfish. And being selfish is great in some situations but, in this particular one, it gets in the way of building a true connection with vulnerability and mutual care. If someone will only love me when I have no needs, they are not a friend. When I show up as I am, I deepen my friendships. I have learned that it’s okay to move at the ‘speed of trust’ as Adrienne Maree Brown says, and let my friendships take their time to strengthen and evolve. I have learned that you can laugh hard, dance hard, and be super silly sober with a little help from your friends.” – Lisa, 31
- “Not everyone has to be your friend. It is alright to let people go. I have also learned from friends that I am interesting, funny, and lovable. And also everyone knew there was a problem long before I did.” – Trish, 49
- “Sometimes, our friends and relationships hold mirrors up to us to show us where we need to grow. I was shown why I was ready to be sober by the same friends who retreated from me once I stopped drinking. We were seeing the same thing, and made different choices.” – Mercedes, 30
- “Still learning them, I think. But I take note of the ones who aren’t threatened by my newfound sobriety. I am also taking note of the people I haven’t chosen to reveal this newfound sober lifestyle to yet and noticing how I feel about those particular friendships in general.” – Katherine, 28
- “Real friendship shouldn’t rely on alcohol in any way to be maintained.” – Catherine, 49
What’s the role of friendship and community in your recovery?
- “It’s important, but I’m really wanting more connection in that area. I have a lot of friends that aren’t addicts, thankfully, but not many that are in recovery. Hopefully, that will change.” – Abbey, 29
- “My sober sisters are the key to my recovery, joy, and growth.” – Kathleen, 56
- “It is everything, I could have never sustained sobriety without the friends I made and the community at Tempest.” – Nicole, 28
- “I don’t have any sober friends in real life, but I follow a lot of sober people on Instagram.” – Amy, 49
- “HUGE! I’ve formed a great community of peeps on Facebook — Tempest Lab Warriors!” – Marissa, 53
- “This Tempest community has been huge. I was doing it ‘alone’ for what felt like so long. I didn’t realize the strength that I would find in others on the same journey.” – Jennifer, 30
- “Strong role. I’ll go to 12 steps to see my friends when I don’t want to go for me or my recovery. It worked when I was 27, and it works now.” – Josie, 51
- “Community is everything to me (which is why I still work in Community at Tempest!). Community is where I am seen, heard, and not just accepted but celebrated for who I am. Community is where I learn and where I share. Community is where I show up to support and care for myself and for others. There is a deep and special mutuality in our sober community that keeps me going, thriving, and sober.” – Lisa, 31
- “There are far more people who want you to succeed and are willing to help. The people who are not supportive have their own demons to slay and should be distanced from.” – Trish, 49
- “Knowing a lot of other folks in various forms of sobriety is helpful in reminding me that my choice is normal and you can be both alcohol-free and cool/fun/sexy/loved etc. It’s also played a big role in getting me to do more activities and engage with the community more. I’ve grown closer to friends who have full lives — they have interests and hobbies that we can do together, instead of lazily drinking because there’s ‘nothing else to do.'” – Mercedes, 30
- “So far, it’s been me, myself, and I. I’ve been considering joining Tempest although with the pandemic and being unemployed, it’s hard to commit to long term payments right now. However, I’ve been trying to follow and reach out to as many sober folks on Instagram as I can. I’ve also been reading Holly’s book, as well as articles from The Temper to get me through.” – Katherine, 28
- “Limited to online. The only recovery options around me are AA and Women for Sobriety — neither of which were the right fit for me. My life responsibilities don’t allow for me to drive over an hour each way to connect in real like with other sober folks at sober meetups. I wish I had some sober friends in real life. I think it would make a huge difference in my life. I live in a small town and the social scene revolves around alcohol, so I’ve mostly withdrawn from it. I’m ok but I’m lonely.” – Catherine, 49
Friendship in recovery can be a complicated mess, but they are also a wonderful part of staying sober. The connections we make after we stop drinking can be some of the most special, significant, heartwarming, and bonding of our entire life. In fact, those friendships can help strengthen your recovery. And isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day?