Addiction is a complex brain disease that does not heal overnight or even within a few months. Rather, recovery is a lifelong process that requires a balance of therapy, healthy lifestyle choices, nurturing relationships and treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions. As you may know from experience, there are some things you need to give up in order to have a healthy, drug-free life. One of them is negative people or toxic relationships.
There’s a general rule in addiction recovery: you have to cut ties with negative people in your life. Not only are they bad for your recovery, but also they can put you at risk for relapse. You should never have to jeopardize your sobriety for someone else.
That said, cutting ties with people in your life isn’t easy, especially when you may lack essential social skills and coping strategies. So, how can you go about promoting a positive atmosphere while cutting out the drama? Here is our guide to doing exactly that.
Evaluate Your Relationships
It’s possible that you aren’t aware of the toxic people in your life. Some people are obvious, such as those who are still addicted to drugs and alcohol, but others are not as clear. And, if you have been in bad relationships for a long time, you might not realize what a healthy partnership or friendship looks like.
The first step is to evaluate your relationships and identify which people are hurting your recovery. Here are some examples of people you may want to cut ties with.
Friends from the past.
Don’t be surprised if many of your so-called friends are nowhere to be found once you are sober. Now that you’re not using drugs and alcohol, you may not have anything in common. However, it’s possible that some old friends may still hang around. These people are the biggest threats to your recovery because they make it easy to relapse.
Choose a new social circle that is not built on getting drunk and high or participating in risky behavior. You can make friends at your 12-step meetings or by joining an activity like a cooking class or book club. Or, spend more time with supportive friends and family who genuinely care and support your sobriety.
Some people seem to always find themselves in the middle of the drama. Stay away from friends and significant others who only focus on themselves. You don’t need to be on an emotional roller coaster this early in your recovery. Save your energy for yourself and staying sober and put this into attending meetings or trying a new hobby.
Do you have any family members who are extremely overprotective? It’s possible that they may turn to enabling, which is a huge trigger for relapse. Generally speaking, enabling relatives have their loved one’s best interests at heart. However, their enabling behaviors allow the addict to continue using drugs and alcohol with no consequences.
If you have a loved one who does this, you may need to “love” them at a distance right now. You don’t want to fall back into negative patterns. Family therapy can also help your loved one develop healthier behaviors that support your recovery.
In the end, all of your relationships should have your best interests at heart, be willing to support your new sober lifestyle and make you feel good about yourself.
Tips for Cutting Out Toxic People
There’s no clear-cut way to end a relationship with someone. Plus, the approach you take depends on the type of relationship you are in. It’s much easier to tell an acquaintance that you need to focus on your recovery as opposed to a significant other. Before cutting ties with people, speak with a counselor, therapist or mediator who can offer tips and guidance on how to make this process smoother.
In general, there are some tips that can be applied to most relationships. Here are some pointers we give to clients looking to end a relationship.
- Establish boundaries. The first thing to do is to create boundaries. Do you plan to cut this person out completely? Will you still have interactions with this person because of mutual friends or family? Establish boundaries that you can follow, such as blocking the person on social media or ignoring phone calls.
- Phase-out the relationship. If you’re not prepared to be direct with the person, it may be best to phase out the relationship. Reduce your interactions with the person, be less available and don’t return calls or texts right away. Eventually, the friendship should phase out on its own.
- Be honest and direct. Not all people get the hint when it comes to phasing out a relationship - they’ll just push harder. And, you never want to put yourself in an uncomfortable position to make someone else happy. So, you may have to be honest and direct. Tell the person that you need to end the friendship for your own good.
- Plan what you’re going to say. If you do plan to be honest, take some time to practice what you’ll say. This will make the actual discussion easier. Remember, you don’t need a long explanation. Stick to the basics - you’re starting on a new path and need a fresh start. A letter can also be effective.
Dealing with Guilt When Cutting Ties
As sensible as it sounds to remove toxic people from your life, this doesn’t translate to real life. We are complex human beings, and there are reasons why you were friends with these people in the first place. Many of the clients we work with have friends from the past who were there for them during tough times. They may have given them a place to sleep or money to eat. To turn their back on them because they are clean and sober feels wrong - and you can probably relate.
The problem is that people with substance use disorders have difficulty understanding the importance of sobriety. Even though old friends may say they’re happy for you, it’s going to be hard to continue the friendship when they are still active drug users. Re-engaging with these individuals makes it easy to slip up when you’re feeling stressed, anxious or sad.
Your true friends will support your recovery - even if that means ending the friendship for now. If your friends choose to get sober one day, you can be friends with them again. In fact, your courage to admit your problem and get help may motivate someone else to get the help they need, too. So, saying goodbye to old friends doesn’t have to be forever.
Rebuilding Social Connections
Early recovery can be tough for people. It’s normal to feel like you’ve had to give up everything to be sober - drugs and alcohol, the lifestyle you knew, the fun you had, the friends you kept and so on. But remember, these things were slowly killing you. Now you have the chance to live.
During your time in treatment, you have the opportunity to build relationships with other people who are in recovery. Group therapy is also an excellent way to develop social skills, practice active listening and share your fears and emotions. Outside of treatment, the goal is to continue building social connections by staying busy, spending time with friends and family and attending your 12-step groups.
Here are some opportunities to meet new people:
- Sports and activities. Join a softball league or sign up for a scrapbooking class. You’ll be putting your time to good use and learning new talents. You can find these types of activities at your local park district, community center or library.
- Volunteer opportunities. Pick a cause that’s important to you and find ways to help. For example, animal shelters need help collecting donations, walking the dogs, cleaning cages and fostering. You can meet selfless people this way.
- Skills classes. Want to get better at a particular skill like typing or coding? Take a class and meet others with the same interests. You can often find these classes for free or low-cost at your local library or park district.
- Part-time work. When you’re ready for a part-time job, check the online job boards or local listings. You can earn money, build up your experience and be part of a team.
Even though recovery is a fresh start in life, it's normal to feel like you're starting over. But, don’t let this stop you from moving forward in your journey. In order to stay on track with your goals, you need to cut toxic people from your life. The good news is that the world is filled with plenty of positive, uplifting people who will support your journey and love you for who you are.
Awakenings Treatment Center is an outpatient drug rehab in Agoura that offers a compassionate, supportive environment for all clients. Contact us today to start your journey to sobriety.