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Alone vs. Lonely, overcoming loneliness in sobriety

Overcoming Loneliness in Sobriety

Many aspects of sobriety improve your life in many ways. However, it’s not uncommon to feel a bit adrift if your healthier life choices take you away from certain people, places, and activities. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to expand your support network to overcome loneliness in sobriety.

Alone vs. Lonely: What’s the Difference?

The JED Foundation is a nonprofit that provides resources for emotional health and suicide prevention for teens and young adults. Its research indicates that quality alone time offers us many advantages—particularly a better understanding of who we are. “The better you know yourself, the more likely you are to do things that you love, learn things that interest you, and spend time with people who make you feel good. Knowing yourself also builds confidence that can help you navigate all types of situations.” 

People benefit even more when they use alone time to destress, recharge, and center themselves. They might do this in various ways, such as: 

  • Pursuing particular activities or hobbies they enjoy.
  • Deliberately seeking out moments of peace and quiet.
  • Taking time to reflect without the need for busy work.
  • Focusing on positive personal development.
  • Avoiding making unnecessary small talk with others.

While these characteristics are frequently associated with introverted personalities, anyone can find a balance between quality alone time and socializing.

However, when you feel lonely, there’s usually a reason. “Loneliness is unwanted mental or physical isolation that can negatively impact mental and physical health, sleep, and cognitive abilities,” according to PsychCentral

Here are some frequent causes, according to the nonprofit

  • “I’m choosing to live sober, so none of the people I used to know are in my life now.”
  • “Nothing is familiar because I live in a new place or have a different job.”
  • “I feel detached because there’s no one I talk to daily.”
  • “I believe no one understands me or my emotions.”
  • “I enjoy particular hobbies and activities, but there’s no one in my area who shares my interests.”
  • “My mental health condition isolates me, and makes it more challenging to connect with other people.”

All of these reasons are valid and require deliberate action to change, as chronic loneliness is linked to many emotional and physical health problems.

In the 1970s, Daniel Russell, a researcher at UCLA, discovered the importance of studying causes of loneliness and methods by which people could work through this emotion successfully. Here’s a version of Russell’s loneliness quiz. If your score is above 20, it might be helpful to consider what’s making you feel lonely and in what ways you can make connections that matter. Even people with the most reserved personalities come to life when they feel seen, heard, and valued by someone else. 

Tips for Overcoming Loneliness in Sobriety

Many people who enter recovery do so with the solid backing of dedicated family and friends. But even the most committed individuals in your life might not truly understand the scope of recovery and what’s necessary to maintain it. Addiction can be hard to talk about, so sometimes it’s easier to work toward developing relationships with people who know where you’ve been on this journey and understand where you want to go in the future. 

This is why one of your first steps to overcome loneliness in sobriety might be to reconnect with the community that understands your experiences, such as a 12-Step or another peer support group, some people you met during treatment, or a wellness collective. You don’t have to make excuses or apologies—and you don’t have to dwell on the negative, either. They get it, so you can move through how you feel more easily. Addiction science specialists believe accessible mutual aid support programs during addiction treatment, in aftercare, and in recovery “show much promise in potentially reducing substance use, improving engagement, reducing HIV/HCV risk behaviors, and improving substance-related outcomes.”

Researchers also recommend that to truly benefit from meaningful connections, invest in healthier relationship habits and widen your circle. Here are some ideas: 

  • Develop better communication skills, such as active listening (paying attention to what someone is truly saying and responding without judgment) and reflective listening (ensuring the person you understand what they’re talking about by “reflecting” some of their ideas and concerns in your responses).
  • Envision what types of positive relationships you’d like to have. 
  • Find people who share your interests and goals. 
  • Show genuine interest and enthusiasm in another person’s good news.
  • Find a balance with aspects of connection—you don’t want to overwhelm someone with text messages, for example, but sharing a laugh or asking how they are on a particular day helps keep you in touch.
  • Choose to invest time and share interests with individuals you really care about. 
  • Become more comfortable with extending invitations and accepting them from others.
  • Respect individual boundaries and be aware of different obligations people might have. 
  • Be willing to share your vulnerabilities in the right context, such as at a 12-Step meeting.
  • Express gratitude for what a person adds to your life.

You don’t have to do all these things with everyone you meet. But soon, you’ll discover that you’re in control of cultivating a balance between quality alone time and rejuvenating relationships with other people. 

Take Advantage of Great Oaks’ Continuing Care

At Great Oaks Recovery Center outside of Houston, Texas, we offer both vibrant alumni programs and the CaredFor app to keep you in touch with people as dedicated to sobriety as you are. These are just a few ways we help you continue to build a rewarding life in recovery.