Sobriety, Recovery and New Social Skills

Contributed by editor and writer Melissa Hall.
 

Recovering From Recovery – Learning To Socialize With Sobriety

In a typical Hollywood setup, a character admitting to an addiction problem and entering a recovery program is viewed as the end of the story – the self-realization and transformation around which all stories turn, and the precipitant of the ‘happy ending’. In real life, it doesn’t work out quite like that. While admitting to addiction and making a commitment to change is certainly a pivotal moment in your transformation into the person you feel you should be, it is not an end in itself. The process of recovery is complex and ongoing – and it involves a lot of coming to terms with who you are and how you must be from now on. One of the major hurdles which any recovering addict must overcome is that of shame. While any addict must take a certain amount of responsibility for their actions, and feel a measure of remorse for them, feelings of intense shame relating to one’s addiction have been proven to exacerbate rather than diminish the chances of relapse occurring [1]. To recover successfully, an addict needs to own and assimilate their past. One of the areas of life in which problems arise with this process of assimilation is during social time with friends and family.

Coming To Terms

Admitting to an addiction is difficult. Often, one’s addiction doesn’t just encompass the substance itself, but is intrinsically wrapped up in the entire life of the sufferer. Given the place of alcohol in our society [2], this is most true for alcoholics. Admitting to an alcohol addiction does not just mean giving up alcohol – it may mean giving up (or feeling like you must give up) your entire social circle and way of life. It is frequently the case that other people may come to the realization that an addict has a problem before they do – and even when they are told of the concerns of others they may well brush them off. Admitting to oneself that one has an addiction is thus a major part of the recovery process, and this step may well come long after one’s nearest and dearest are well aware of the problem. However, introducing one’s recovering state to one’s wider social circle is a different story. One may well feel that one has come to personal terms with one’s state as a recovering addict – but when it comes to telling other people, a whole lot of unresolved issues can emerge.

Being In Control

Often, an addict will feel intense shame and discomfort when disclosing their addicted status. Such feelings, as already discussed, can prompt relapse, so it is important to choose the context of any disclosure very carefully. While honesty is undoubtedly always the best policy, you must also feel in control of your status as a recovering addict, and confident and comfortable about disclosing such a personal piece of information. Given that many addicts already have problems with feelings of powerlessness and lack of control [3], and may well experience increased emotional turbulence in the early stages of recovery [4] it is absolutely imperative that an addict is not made to feel powerless, out of control, and shamed because of their recovering status with others. For many, admitting to being in recovery is tantamount to admitting to being a societal failure – it’s admitting to being an out-of-control addict, which society frowns upon. In fact, admitting to being in recovery is admitting to being strong and controlled enough to face up to yourself and defeat your demons. That’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.

Owning Your Addiction

Admittedly, societal attitudes towards addiction really do not help people to make a calm, collected, and unabashed declaration of their status and intent to recover. Given that we demonize addicts [5] to a disproportionate degree, it can be hard for people to accept that their friend (who may well not in their eyes fit the stereotypical ‘addict’ image we’re led to expect) is really having problems. It’s not at all uncommon for alcoholics to be told that they’re over exaggerating their case, that they don’t have to give up completely, that they’re really not as bad as they think they are, that they should not refer to themselves as alcoholics and so forth [6]. None of this, for obvious reasons, is particularly helpful. On the other hand, people may start to view their recovering addict friend with suspicion and trepidation – as though they’ve become a different person, when in fact they’re the same old friend that they’ve known and loved. The only difference is that they’re trying to make an active improvement to their life. If others reject one’s intent to recover and try to pressure one into using again, or make them feel like a shameful demon, and if one cannot convince them of the reality of the situation then – hard though it may be – it is probably time to move on from that group of friends and find people who will be supportive of one’s recovery without shaming one for their past. Recovery is something to be proud of, and it should not involve having to completely blot out one’s past and personality. In order to truly recover, an addict needs to be in control of their recovery, which means being in control and comfortable with disclosing one’s recovering status. Social disclosure can be one of the hardest parts of recovery, and should not, therefore, be done in the wrong context. However, if it’s done correctly, with confidence and ownership of one’s past and future, to people with whom one feels safe and supported by, then it can be a greatly empowering step forward.

[1] Maia Szalavitz, “Being Ashamed of Drinking Prompts Relapse, Not Recovery”, Time, Feb 2013

[2] Social Issues Research Center, “Social and Cultural Aspects Of Drinking”

[3] Rita Milios, “Control Freak: How to Stop Trying to Change Your World and Change Yourself Instead”, Recovery.org, Jun 2015

[4] H.C. Fox, K.A. Hong, R Sinha, “Difficulties in emotion regulation and impulse control in recently abstinent alcoholics compared with social drinkers”, Yale University, 2008

[5] Matthew B Stanbrook, “Addiction is a disease: We must change our attitudes towards addicts”, CMAJ, Feb 2012

[6] Rachael Lander, “How Not To Be A Dick To Your Recovering Alcoholic Friend”, XOJane, Apr 2013

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