One thing we don’t often think about when getting sober is what we’ll do with our friendships. In the beginning, we’re just trying to live one day at a time sans drugs and alcohol. Then we move on to dealing with our emotions and coping with day-to-day life – showing up for our job, our personal responsibilities, and paying our bills. If we’re in a relationship they’re either repaired or let go. But what about friendships?
When I was drinking and using I had many different groups of friends. Friends that I grew up with who didn’t know much about my drinking and drug use, friends who I met at the clubs in the middle of the party scene, friends I only hung out with to use cocaine with, and friends who I knew would always be down to go out anywhere just to party. I used people and I’m sure many of them used me. Many of my friendships were not healthy, or they only served one purpose and it had to do with alcohol and drugs.
Early on in sobriety I kept in touch with some of these people. I naively thought that keeping all my friendships was normal. I didn’t know that I was going to have to do a complete overhaul of my life, including my friendships if I wanted to stick with sobriety. When I got sober it started to become difficult to keep up the façade from my former drinking life. I didn’t get along so easily with everyone like before. It wasn’t as easy as taking shots with strangers and doing lines of coke in the bathroom with girls who had cool outfits on. Socializing was no longer all about drinking and drugging.
In early sobriety, I realized what true friendship was – connections between two humans based on similar life experiences, goals, and morals. If that is my definition, it made sense why I had a ton of different friends when my life was all over the place. It also made sense as to why when I got sober, I felt like I didn’t know these people. I felt like we didn’t have much in common because when you remove the toxic substances and partying habits, we don’t.
So, what do you do with your old party friends? Some of them I had to distance myself from because they were still out using and drinking and I didn’t want to be around that stuff. Others I kept in distant contact with, but didn’t necessarily see in person. Some of these friends ended up getting sober themselves. Other friendships I let go because we had nothing in common left. It was difficult, but in the end it was the best decision for me.
I am not advocating for cutting everyone off from your old party life. Even when I had the urge to do this in the beginning of my sobriety because I thought it would make things easier, I didn’t. I let things unfold in a natural way. I lived through a few uncomfortable situations. One where a lifelong friend offered me wine even though she knew I was six months sober. Another one where I attended a boat party for a friend and I was the only one not drinking, I ended up watching people get very drunk and almost everyone puking over the side of the boat! I also was estranged from an old roommate for my first year of sobriety. Eventually she came to me and apologized and she ended up getting sober herself. We are still great friends until this day. Some friendships can endure.
There isn’t one way to deal with old party friends, but you must stay true to your new sober self. Be aware of situations and people that trigger you or send you bad energy and stay away from them. But also, be open to change and compassion. Be open to new friendships with old people. Find empathy for those who are still sick and out there using. You used to be one of them. They may change too. You can still find love and compassion for old party friends, while sticking with your healthy boundaries and your sobriety.
My advice is don’t get angry, don’t shun them, but don’t put yourself in harm’s way anymore. Once we know better, we do better. In sobriety, I pick friends that are good for me and fun to be around. I get to know people for who they are and what their moral compass is like.
Just remember, people change. We did. Be willing to keep your heart and mind open. Get to know people who support your new sober life and who you want to support in return. New and old friendships are out there waiting for you.
Author: Kelly Fitzgerald
Kelly is a sober writer based in Cape Coral, Florida, best known for her personal blog The Adventures Of A Sober Señorita. She has been published across the web on sites like The Huffington Post, SheKnows, Ravishly, The Fix, and Buzzfeed. She is currently writing a memoir.