Human beings are social creatures. The need for touch, affection, and closeness with other human beings is in our very nature.
If a newborn does not get enough love and affection, the newborn can suffer from “failure to thrive” syndrome. (This is when a baby or child does not grow as they should and they fall below the 5th percentile.) As we grow older, we sometimes like to believe that we do not need others as much as we did when we were children. But we do need each other, all the way to the end of our lives. Socialization plays an important part of our mental and physical health. Just as infants and children may suffer from a lack of human contact, adults and seniors can suffer, too. Seniors who spend too much time alone suffer more physical ailments than those who continue to have a rich social life. Adults who are lonely may be more prone to abuse drugs and alcohol, or suffer a relapse.
For whatever reason someone may have begun using drugs or alcohol, becoming addicted is a sign that substances are being used to attempt to fill a sense of emptiness. When an individual has spent a lot of time in their addiction, whether using with others or alone, the drugs or alcohol take the place of healthy interactions with other people. Once in recovery, without the crutch of drugs and/or alcohol and the people one used them with, the newly clean and sober person may feel lonely.
The first thing to realize is that there is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. Many people can be alone and be happy with very little interaction with others. Some people can spend most of their free time with other people and still feel lonely. Getting to the root of feelings is the first step to finding a solution and healing. Working with a therapist can help a person understand and process emotions in a healthy way.
If important relationships were lost due to addiction, this can be a cause for loneliness. Maybe it is not so much that you are feeling lonely, but that you are missing the other person or people that you hurt. The best way to restore relationships is to continue to stay clean and sober, and to try to make amends. If relationships are broken beyond repair, this is the time to practice acceptance. The serenity prayer also helps.
Making the decision to stop drinking or getting high is life-changing. Feelings of loneliness are most prevalent in early sobriety when we break away from old habits. As we begin to get clarity, it can be painful to face how we have hurt others and damaged relationships. Working through these feelings is crucial to staying sober. When loneliness strikes, having tools to get through it and continue our new way of life will help keep us from going back to substance use.
Here are some ways to combat loneliness in sobriety:
- Talk to people – This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is easy to get stuck in feelings, feel sorry for ourselves, and isolate. Pick up the phone and talk to a family member or a sober friend.
- Acceptance – Accepting where you are in your life, and believing that you are just where you are supposed to be, goes a long way in feeling better. Accept whatever feelings come along. Allowing yourself to feel them helps the healing process. As adults, we are accustomed to questioning our feelings, not allowing ourselves to cry, and so on. A baby or young child will allow themselves to cry and even scream when they are upset, and a few minutes later, they will be playing and laughing again. Let your feelings out. Feel them, and then go on with your day.
- Meditate or pray – Prayer and meditation are essential for building a better relationship with yourself. Drugs and alcohol steal our joy. Rebuilding our inner spirit gives us the resilience to handle life, no matter what it dishes us.
- Gratefulness – It is easy to fall into self-pity when we are feeling lonely. It is just as easy to turn it around and be grateful. Write a gratitude list. Every day, add a few more things to the list for which you are grateful. When feeling down or lonely, refer to your list. Life is never as bad as we make it out to be.
- Go to meetings – People are often advised to do 90 in 90: going to 90 meetings in 90 days. This helps the person in recovery to build new friendships and a sober network.
- Get a sponsor – Getting a sponsor is important for recovery. Not only will this person walk you through the twelve steps, but they will also often suggest that you call them every day for a period of time.
- Get a pet – if you live alone, getting a pet will bring some love back into your life. If you get a dog, you’ll also be more motivated to get outside and walk.
- Love yourself – This is easier said than done. Learning to love ourselves sometimes takes mindful work. Give yourself the okay to go out and have fun. Treat yourself to the spa or a new hair cut. Become the person that you would want to spend time with.
Overcoming feelings of loneliness in sobriety can be achieved. By getting to know ourselves, reaching out to others, and staying sober one day at a time, things do get better!