How to Overcome Loneliness in Recovery
By Deanna deBara 12/28/17
The intense feelings of sadness and loneliness mirrored the feelings I had in my drinking days.
A person walking down a road, alone, facing away.
The way I drank was isolating. No one wanted to be around me. Photo by Jacob Ufkes on Unsplash
When I was drinking, my life was a practice in loneliness.
The way I drank isolated me. No one wanted to be around me; my friends, sick of my increasingly embarrassing behavior while under the influence, stopped inviting me out (and eventually stopped calling altogether). My family, saddened by the drastic change in my demeanor, kept me at an arm’s length – and in the times we were together, the distance between us was palpable. And even when I was around people, like when I was at work or grabbing drinks at the bar, I still felt completely and utterly alone.
Needless to say, it wasn’t the happiest time.
After six long years of loneliness, I finally made the decision to change my life. I put down the bottle, packed my bags, and flew 3,000 miles from Connecticut to California. I got a job, got an apartment, and started my new, sober life. I was determined it wouldn’t be a lonely one.
And it wasn’t! Since I wasn’t blackout drunk all the time, I was able to form meaningful connections with the people around me. I made friends at work and at recovery meetings. I began to patch things up with my family and slowly but surely rebuild my relationships with them.
In addition to connecting more with other people, I also started connecting more with myself. I learned to separate the feeling of loneliness from the experience of being alone, and eventually started to enjoy my own company.
During my seven years of sobriety in Los Angeles, the intense loneliness I experienced while I was drinking became a thing of the past.
But a few months ago, I moved. I said goodbye to the friends who had become family and the city I called home for a new house — and a new life — in Portland, OR.
There were a lot of things I expected to happen when I moved. I expected the process of moving my life from one state to another would be stressful. I expected unpacking would take longer than I wanted it to. And I expected that — like every other time I’ve moved — I’d lose at least one of my favorite shoes.
But what I didn’t expect was the loneliness.
Because making connections had been so seamless when I moved to Los Angeles, I assumed I’d have the same experience in Portland. But it’s been much harder to meet people this time around. I work from home, so I’m not meeting people at work. A few years back, I decided 12-step programs weren’t for me, so I’m not meeting people at recovery meetings, either. And the transition from having a tight-knit group of friends in Los Angeles to not knowing anyone here in Portland has been a challenging — and lonely — one.
At first, the loneliness was overwhelming. The intense feelings of sadness and loneliness mirrored the feelings I had in my drinking days, and for the first time since getting sober, I felt just as alone as I had during my active addiction.
I stayed in a pretty dark and lonely place for about a month. Back in the day, I drank to deal with those feelings of loneliness, and since that was no longer an option, I knew I had to figure out a way to accept my current situation and find a way out of the loneliness.
And I’m happy to say that I did. While I still struggle with occasional feelings of loneliness and missing the comfort of being surrounded by my friends and support system in Los Angeles, I’ve found ways to embrace being alone in my new city– without feeling lonely.
Here are some of the strategies I’ve used to help me deal with my feelings of loneliness without a) talking to the wall, b) feeling like I’m losing my mind, or c) picking up a drink:
Carve Out Time to Connect with Yourself
When I’m feeling intensely lonely, I used to think it was because I wasn’t connecting with the people around me.
And while I definitely feel lonely when I don’t have any friends or family around, I’ve realized that the intense loneliness is more a result of feeling disconnected from myself.
Carving out time to connect with myself has been so important in my struggle with loneliness. Fostering a connection with myself has given me more insight into my emotional experience and has allowed me to offer myself a lot of the things I’ve been missing — like love, compassion, and understanding — being in a new city and not knowing anyone.
I take 30 minutes every morning to meditate and write in my journal, and the practice has helped me feel more connected, even when I’m alone.
Do Things on Your Own
When I lived in Los Angeles, my friends and I were always out doing things. And when I moved to Portland, because I didn’t have anyone to do things with, I just kind of stopped doing things – which completely magnified my feelings of loneliness.
But then I realized I didn’t need other people to do the things I wanted to do; I was perfectly capable of enjoying activities on my own. So I started to explore the city solo. I tried new restaurants, went to events and concerts, and checked out some great hiking trails.
By getting out there and exploring on my own, I began to feel more a part of my new city and that made me feel significantly less lonely.
Put Yourself Out There in New (and Sometimes Uncomfortable) Ways
After a month of sitting in my house feeling sorry for myself, I had the (obvious) realization I wasn’t going to make any meaningful connections while sitting on my couch.
If I wanted to meet people and stop feeling lonely, I was going to have to put myself out there in new — and sometimes uncomfortable — ways.
I’m usually a social person, but I had a lot of anxiety about putting myself in new social situations where I didn’t know anyone. But I knew it was the only way to start knowing anyone, so I pushed through the discomfort and put myself out there.
I went to writing groups, to meditation MeetUps, and to group fitness classes. I joined a co-working space. I reached out to friends-of-friends and set up get-to-know-you dinners. I made a commitment to myself to put myself out there in a new way at least once a week.
And, slowly but surely, it’s paying off. I’m starting to meet more people and develop friendships. These new relationships have been more than worth the initial pangs of discomfort I felt about putting myself out there.
Pick Up the Phone
When all else fails and I feel overwhelmed with loneliness, the best thing I can do is pick up the phone, call a friend, and ask for support. Just being reminded that I’m not alone — even in the moments when I feel completely and utterly lonely — is sometimes all the comfort I need to pull myself out of the loneliness and feel better.
As Dr. Seuss once said “All alone! Whether you like it or not, alone is something you’ll be quite a lot.” But these past few months have been a much needed reminder that just because I’m alone, it doesn’t mean I have to feel lonely. Because the most important, interesting, and significant relationship in life is the relationship you have with yourself. And as long as I have that, I’ll be all right.