Social Connections Should Be An Integral Part of the Recovery Process
When most women think about sustaining ongoing recovery, three things usually come to mind:
- The first and most obvious is the need to remain completely abstinent from drugs and alcohol. It goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway!) that you cannot enjoy sobriety unless you are sober. Recovery from drug addiction and alcoholism starts with not putting mind-altering substances into your body. In the beginning, this is extremely difficult. It is usually (and appropriately) the main focus of early sobriety.
- Another thing women think of when it comes to recovery is meeting attendance. Those who wish to stay sober are encouraged to immediately begin attending mutual aide meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery, and Refuge Recovery just to name a few. (For those who don’t go to treatment, meetings are a way to get clean and stay clean). Meetings offer a source of support and encouragement.
- The third thing is to get a sponsor and work the 12 Steps. These steps are a spiritual and therapeutic model that shows women how to live and enjoy a sober lifestyle. After the fog has lifted and the pain of withdrawal has passed, women should complete step work as a part of the recovery process.
Yes! These three components are vital to the life of the recovering woman. However, there is a fourth aspect of sobriety that is often completely overlooked – social connections.
You Can’t Recover Alone – You Need Healthy Relationships in Your Life
Surrounding yourself with positive people in recovery is an absolute necessity if you want to continue to stay sober. There will be times when you experience cravings that are so overwhelming, you will want to give in to them. In these times, you simply MUST have people you can turn to and lean on to fight the good fight. You cannot achieve ongoing sobriety without help. It just doesn’t work that way. The disease of addiction exists in your brain. It is tricky. It will talk to you in the sound of your own voice and tell you things like “this time will be different” or “I can do just one.” In these moments of temporary insanity, you need the rational voice of another recovering woman to tell you the truth. From time to time, you will need to be reminded that if you give into temptation, your life will become unmanageable again. Of course, you should have a support system in recovery for many other reasons besides just navigating cravings. Let’s go deeper.
Addiction Isolates People Like No Other Disease
When we were using alcohol and drugs, our disease isolated us in a number of ways.
- For starters, addiction requires a great deal of secrecy. We didn’t want the people closest to us to find out what we were doing, so we drank or used drugs behind their backs. We also lied about our substance abuse. We were not truthful about where we had been, what we had been doing, or what we were spending our money on. Our dishonesty separated us from others and created a barrier where there should have been honest communication. We became spiritually bankrupt.
- We made sure of to isolate ourselves. Addiction consumed our lives. There was no room for anyone who might get in the way of us pursuing the next buzz. This created a physical void in our lives where there should have been human companionship.
- Finally, addiction creates a profound sense of loneliness. We desperately wanted to stop getting high or drunk, but we couldn’t. We were trapped in our own obsessive-compulsive cycle. We could be in a room full of people but feel completely alone. We were left to our own thoughts, which were utterly and completely self-destructive. This left us feeling emotionally isolated.
Indeed, addiction creates spiritual, physical, and mental isolation. It likes to hide in the shadows. This need to isolate often continues when we get sober. However, it is important to recognize that if we do not make social connections in recovery, we WILL relapse. The remedy to isolation is a social connection.
We Were Created To Be In Community With Other People
There is a scripture in the Bible that says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” You don’t have to be a Bible person to appreciate the wisdom here. As human beings, social connections are a critical component of our well-being. If left alone without human contact, studies have shown that we can go insane or die. “Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need — crucial to both well-being and survival,” said Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad in an article written for the American Psychological Association. “Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment.” Babies need love and attention to grow. It is critical to their development. Solitary confinement is used as a punishment because inmates thrive on connections with other inmates. It is what makes their incarceration bearable. Without daily interaction with other human beings, those locked away in a cell alone for an extended period of time quite literally lose their minds. Okay, we get the fact that you are not a baby or an inmate! You’re a strong woman and you may think that you are doing just fine on your own, thank you very much! But, we point out these extreme examples to prove that nothing great comes from being alone for too long.
Science Shows That Social Connections Are Vital To Our Health
According to Dr. Emma Seppälä, social connections have an incredibly positive impact on our lives. She has conducted extensive scientific research on the subject. Her studies have revealed the following about the importance of having healthy relationships:
- Lower levels of anxiety and depression
- Better emotional regulation skills
- Increased longevity
- A higher sense of self-esteem
- Empathy toward others
- Lower inflammation at the cellular level
- Enhanced physical and emotional well-being
- Faster recovery from disease (this, of course, includes addiction!)
In her TEDx Talk, Seppälä says, “When we think about taking care of our health, we think about going to the gym, and a healthy diet, but we don’t think about social connection. But actually, a low social connection is worse for us than smoking, obesity and high blood pressure.” Watch Dr. Seppälä’s Tedx Talk here to learn more about the science behind the importance of social connections: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZvUppaDfNs
From The Darkness Of Isolation Into The Light Of Recovery
We’ve talked about how addiction isolates us. We have also talked about the importance of social connections and the fact that it is not good to be alone. Now, let’s talk about the reality of reintegrating yourself into a world that involves other human beings. Even when you were using drugs or alcohol, you were a member of society. The thing is, you were essentially a prisoner of your own mind. The effects of addiction took their toll and you were locked away somewhere deep inside yourself. While you were absolutely a member of society, you were not really participating in it. You were a woman unto yourself with few (if any) authentic relationships. Rejoining society as an active member can be very uncomfortable at first. In fact, it can be downright overpowering and even take your breath away. It’s kind of like going from the darkness of solitary confinement into the bright light of activity and movement – it can overwhelm the senses. Connecting with other people can be confusing and difficult to navigate at first. This can cause extreme anxiety and make you want to retreat back into the darkness of isolation, which is completely normal. The thing is, you may have to force yourself to make social connections.
Give Yourself A Break And Do The Best You Can To Connect
If you are early in recovery, you are probably working to establish some new relationships in sobriety. This takes time. It can be awkward to reach out to people and make new social connections. BUT, do it anyway. In recovery, your life truly does depend on it. Remember that everyone who gets clean goes through that initial phase of getting to know people and establishing a support circle. You are not unique! Although it may feel uncomfortable, you can always reach out to women in recovery and say, “Hi. I feel weird doing this, but I am trying to make some social connections. Will you be my friend!?” This may sound silly. But, just think about how carefree you were as a child. You would walk up to a girl you didn’t know and say, “Wanna be friends?” She would say, “Sure!” and the two of you would go skipping off together on the playground. Recovery is a lot like this. Sober women stick together and they understand how you feel because they have been there before. They have a sincere desire to help you. Even though it might feel strange and unfamiliar to reach out and make social connections, give yourself a break. Do the best you can. Acknowledge the fact that your social skills and ability to interact will improve with time. Just remember – the only way to make new friends is to make new friends!
Social Connections In Recovery Are Rewarding For So Many Reasons
Many of us became completely shut off from the outside world in the course of our addiction. We were totally withdrawn and drank or used alone. We were lonely, spiritually bankrupt, and emotionally unstable. Today, isolation is not an option. We need strong women in our lives who are working a program of recovery. They give us inspiration. They motivate us to keep going when we don’t want to. They teach us how to work and live the steps. can lean on them when we are struggling and turn to them when we need someone to talk to. And, they show us how to have fun sober. There are a hundred reasons why you will benefit from having social connections in recovery. But, there is not a single good reason to stay isolated. While it may be easy to justify staying to yourself because it is comfortable and familiar, this will ultimately be a critical mistake. It will lead to a decline in your health and will put you on the road to relapse. Get out there and make some social connections in recovery. You’ll be glad you did!