Advice /18th May 20

Loneliness in Recovery by Thomas Cashell, Rutland Centre

Share this Post

Loneliness in Recovery - Thomas Cashell, Rutland Centre

Most people in recovery will experience loneliness at least occasionally. Loneliness is a personal and subjective experience and can cause a great deal of discomfort. An individual can experience loneliness even when surrounded by lots of people. It can be described as an undesirable strong feeling of emptiness, discontent and solitude or as an unbearable feeling of separateness and isolation from others.

Being alone and loneliness are not the same thing. There are many who appear to be quite content even though they do not spend a lot of time with other people. Likewise, there are many who spend a lot of time with others yet still experience intense feelings of loneliness. It is a lack of connectedness with other people that is the real problem and not the absence of other people.

People who escape addiction and enter recover let go of not just a substance or a behaviour but also a lifestyle and a social support network. An individual in active addiction tend to surround themselves with others who engage in similar behaviours for example a drug users’ social network would be mostly made up of other drug users. In recovery there would be a high risk of relapse to continue to socialise with such people. If a person fails to build a new social network of recovery friends, it is highly likely that they will begin to experience loneliness. Loneliness is a particularly dangerous emotion for people in recovery because if allowed to fester it can leave a person vulnerable to relapse.

In recovery loneliness is considered as a relapse trigger. According to 12 Step programs there is an acronym HALT; which stands for hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness. They have found that when people feel continuously lonely, they can start to miss their drinking or drug friends and ultimately question the value of life in recovery. They may even begin to think that they were better off before they entered recovery. In one sense they were better off as they had a social network or people with common interests, but in reality that lifestyle lead them to greater feelings of desperation than the present loneliness. This can also apply to people who are a long time in recovery and for a variety of reasons have started to feel lonely and isolated.

The good news is that loneliness, although it is can be quite painful it does not harm you and there are simple ways that people in recovery can use to help themselves manage better. First, understand that loneliness, like all emotions, is intermittent, it will come and go. During a loneliness spell it may feel like it will last forever or that it has been going on for so long, try to have faith that it will pass as it has past before. To begin, the individual needs to take action, this may not come easy in the beginning, but every journey starts with one foot in front of the other, one step at a time. Here are some ways to help during a loneliness spell. Start to address your social network, are your needs being met? How can you connect more with a social network of people with common interests? Are there some areas in your life that is lacking? Can you add more to some areas of your life such as, recovery friends, a home group meeting, offering support to people, hobbies, work colleagues, a meditation group, family etc. Most importantly the individual needs to open up and talk to those close to them about how they are feeling and what their fears and worries are and allow people to support them through this. The recovering person is not alone and does not have to go through this alone. Little by little a new lifestyle and social network with start to form or be reinforced and the recovering person is learning how to manage and deal with difficult emotions.

Share this Post