It’s not uncommon to feel lonely during early sobriety or even years into sobriety. It was certainly the case with me. Loneliness is a negative emotion and can feel very isolating at times but remember there is a difference between being alone and loneliness.
I feel there are two main situations that can cause me to feel lonely.
- Not talking to, or seeing friends and family very often or in a long while.
- Being surrounded by people at a party or gathering, but I don’t feel I can relate to anyone there or I don’t feel understood, cared for, or heard.
I believe both these scenarios can cause loneliness as there is a lack of connection.
In early sobriety it is not uncommon to feel lonely. Think about it, you lose some drinking buddies, you don’t go to parties that may jeopardise your fragile early sobriety. You may have lost friends due to your previous drinking antics. You may not have anyone to confide in who understands your decision to quit drinking or you may be hold up at home getting your bearings, trying to figure out this whole sobriety thing. Whatever your reason for feeling lonely, I think this article can help.
I wrote about loneliness a few times on my sobriety blog but looking back, I don’t know if I realised that I was lonely at the time.
On Day 11 I expressed feelings of boredom and sadness
On Day 47 I talk about the need for real sober friends.
Even on Day 245 I talk about the need for further support. I describe my very emotional, failed 1st attempt at AA.
There are many reasons to feel lonely in sobriety and it can feel awful at times, it certainly did for me but as I look back at my own loneliness in early sobriety, I see it now as a necessary evil.
There are both dangers and benefits to feeling lonely in sobriety which I want to talk through with you now. Later, I will explain the many ways in which to combat the negative feelings of loneliness.
Benefits of Loneliness
Experiencing loneliness is a part of your recovery. Loneliness brings us back to our base selves, ready to explore what it is we want and need as a human being.
Before I gave up alcohol, I couldn’t even tell you what my needs were. I just numbed everything with booze. If I was lonely, I drank; I drank to fill most voids in my life. Little did I realise that drinking alcohol caused those voids.
Drinking can cause loneliness as it makes us withdraw physically and emotionally. It can cause us to feel isolated and alone. However, giving up the drink won’t magically make you feel less lonely. In fact, without the numbing powers of alcohol, you may feel your loneliness more acutely.
But, and this is a huge but. By giving up alcohol, you will give yourself the space to tackle the negative emotions of loneliness, instead of just numbing it and pushing it down.
Removing the alcohol left me feeling lonely. But this was a necessary evil because without my loneliness, there would have been no room for self-evaluation and then for growth.
Sitting with your feelings of loneliness, possibly for the first time, will allow you to feel what you’re truly made of.
Don’t try to minimise this feeling or dismiss it. Sit with the feeling, explore the feeling and accept the feeling. Only then will you be ready to explore what it is you want or need emotionally and spiritually, to abate your loneliness.
Loneliness has taught me that I need fewer friends in my life than I thought. I worked hard to nurture the remaining friendships I had after quitting drinking. I find people who fulfil me emotionally or who can challenge me intellectually are the most rewarding friendships.
Loneliness has also taught me that, even sober, I still love going to a party. I feel energised from getting dressed up, listening to good music and having interesting conversations. Though I also realise that I need balance. Too many parties can leave me feeling overwhelmed. After such a party I find contentment in quiet alone time. I now love my own company, reading a good book is bliss.
So, don’t hide from your feelings of loneliness, because without this starting point you won’t know which direction to head.
Dangers of Loneliness
Now that I have talked about the benefits of loneliness in sobriety and how it is a necessary part of your self-awareness and recovery journey. I do want to mention the possible dangers of loneliness if it is not addressed.
I believe loneliness is due to a lack of connection with others. In sobriety specifically, you can feel different from others and not feel understood. When I realised my drinking was getting out of control and I knew I had to do something about it, I thought I was the only person in the world who felt the way I did. Everyone else seemed to have it all together.
Buried under my feelings of loneliness was an overwhelming feeling of unworthiness. I didn’t really talk to anyone about my drinking because I felt like it was my problem, others wouldn’t understand and I didn’t deserve their support.
I now understand that to truly tackle loneliness you have to look within and reach out to others. The danger of not tackling your loneliness in sobriety is relapse. Loneliness is a major trigger for relapsing back to your old drinking habits. This is because loneliness can lead to depression, shame and further isolation, then eventually relapse.
I had rather low self-esteem when I first gave up alcohol. I felt like I had failed at drinking somehow. My low self-esteem made it very difficult to make new friends or even reach out to family. I think my previous failed attempts at sobriety were linked to not connecting with others and in my loneliness, I turned back to alcohol; the only crutch I knew.
This time round I opened up more. It took courage to speak openly and honestly with my husband about my drinking. But, when I did, I felt heard and understood. I also discovered the virtual sobriety world, in the form of sober blogs. Finding other people going through what I was experiencing was a relief and definitely helped me feel connected.
So now you know, loneliness has a positive function as it provides space for us to self-evaluate our needs. However, you also know to watch out for the dangers of loneliness because if left to fester, loneliness can lead to depression, shame, low self-esteem, further isolation, then relapse.
Given all of this, it is a good idea to have a plan for staving of those feelings of loneliness.
How to Combat Loneliness
Take time to grieve the loss of alcohol in your life. You may have lost some friends and certain social situations may no longer be viable for you right now.
There will be times you will feel like it’s just not fair. Why me? Take some time to evaluate your new situation. Feel your loneliness and accept it so you can look at what you need. It will help you move forward and through the resulting loneliness.
Look to Repair any Broken Relationships
There will be friendships you have to ditch because they no longer serve you. Yet, there will be some you want to hold onto. These are the friends who make you feel lighter, who you look forward to seeing, who builds you up and gives you energy.
I learned early in sobriety that if I wanted to hold on to these friendships, I shouldn’t hang around waiting for them to call me. Sitting at home whinging that I never go anywhere wasn’t helpful. I simply never thought to actually organise something myself; it didn’t occur to me that I could be the instigator.
The benefit of being the organiser of a social event or get together is that you are in control of what you do. I would always be the first to suggest a meal out, because eating give me something to focus on, other than drinking. You could organise a trip to the movies or lunchtime coffee. The point is to nurture these friendships. Keep in contact and suggest activities you’re comfortable doing. Let them know you are still here.
Don’t make your sobriety a taboo subject with friends and family. Be honest about the fact you don’t drink anymore (you don’t have to go into detail) and suggest things you enjoy doing instead. This will help make a new normal for you and them.
Create New Friendships
It can be difficult to create new friendships later in life. If you have low self-esteem or high anxiety it can be even more daunting. Nevertheless, it can be done. I found new friendships from joining a Pilates class. Regularly turning up every week meant I got to know the other people quite well over time.
If you have time, try volunteering or charity work. They will be grateful for the help and it’s a great way to meet new people. Likewise, find an activity you enjoy and join a group. Shared experiences are a great way to feel less alone. It can be anything, rambling group, book club, yoga, church, AA, anything goes.
Not a People Person?
Don’t worry, not everyone is a people person. Battling loneliness is about making connections. One of the first things that helped me in early sobriety was listening to sober podcasts. Hearing other people’s stories which echo my own, made me feel less alone, less different. I also enjoy reading books on sobriety for the same reason.
Connections don’t always have to be human connections. A pet or even a new house plant can help you battle loneliness. Taking responsibility or caring for someone or something other than yourself keeps you busy and creates meaning in your life.
Be Kind to Yourself.
Self-care is important though out your sobriety. Eating well, exercise and sleep are all central to feeling good and enhancing your mood. Feeling good physical and mentally increases your self-esteem and self-worth which is important when you’re dealing with loneliness.
Although, loneliness is a negative emotion brought on from a lack of connection in your life; not feeling understood or feeling heard. Don’t minimise or dismiss it as loneliness creates the space needed to explore what it is you are missing, so you can build a better more fulfilling life.
Connections don’t have to be human connections. Caring for something other than yourself can give your life meaning and make you feel less alone. Also remember, one good friend or family member can easily replace ten old drinking buddies. Focus on quality not quantity.
Being alone does not mean you are lonely. Try to find the balance and learn to enjoy your own company too. Find peace in the quiet times. There are plenty of ways to combat loneliness.
Start small if needs be, but don’t let loneliness be the trigger for your relapse. If you are struggling, try one of my suggestions above or for further support check out my article Sobriety Toolbox Tips.
Photo Credit: Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash