Recently I celebrated my third year of sobriety, the day after my thirtieth birthday. Yes, I am the guy who wanted to go out with a bang and party hard for my last day of drinking. It was a day full of day drinking and night drinking, followed by smoking weed and waking up in someone else’s clothes the next morning. But, that’s not the point of this particular post. This one is more about the hard decisions we have to make when we start our journey in sobriety.
I, like a lot of other newly sober people, had to make some hard and fast decisions when I decided to sober up. All of them were life altering, but in varying degrees. Some more serious than others. The biggest difficulty I found in having to make these decisions to better myself, I would inevitably lose people along the way.
I knew this going in but, like others, I didn’t want to believe it. I had this illusion that I would somehow be able to retain my friend bank and still get healthy. We have all read those lines in the Big Book, the Bible, and other recovery paths. No need to repeat them, we all know them. Three years later it still hasn’t gotten easier to lose people in your life.
We are conditioned as children to hold on to relationships and not let them go if you feel, if YOU feel, they are beneficial to your life. By YOU, it could mean your idea that it is beneficial to your life, or how other people may portray themselves to lead you to believe they are beneficial to your life. There are definitely snakes in the grass.
Part of being sober is letting go of toxic relationships. By far I have found this to be the easiest part. Doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt, but it’s relationships I know aren’t good for me. The ones that really hurt are the casualties that happen along the way as you make major life decisions and people either don’t understand, don’t want to understand, don’t agree, or take them personally as if we made the decision to better ourselves specifically to hurt them.
It is the unexpected losses along the way that still get me to this day. Three years later and I still cry when I lose someone, who I thought was my friend, because I have made decisions to better myself. Now, I know, the next thing said is, “well, they just weren’t meant to be in your life and you’re better off without them.” Although this can be somewhat true, it doesn’t make it any easier to see someone who you have grown to know and thought supported your decisions to be better and healthy, drop right off when you make one decision that they take personally.
I hurt. I grieve for the relationship. I try to figure out if I really made a good life choice if it resulted in the loss of this friend. I get angry. Basically I go through the five stages of grief.
But it’s that anger, sadness, feeling of loss that makes you human. I have a hard time believing it each time it happens to me, even to this day. But, it’s true. It meant that you truly cared about the relationship, and letting it go and moving on from it will make you healthier, happier, and smarter about who you let in.
After I go through the first four stages of grief, I end up at number five, acceptance. Right back where we started. Accepting that we have a problem and doing something about it to make our lives better. In this case it would be to accept that that person wasn’t integral in your path through recovery and you now have new knowledge and experience going forward while making new friends.
I grow from each loss and each gain. I know what to look for a little bit better each time. Maybe the person who scoffed when I first told them I was in recovery isn’t the best choice of a friend. Maybe the one who complained about other people getting healthier but never making a move to make themselves healthier isn’t the best person to support your decisions down the road. Whatever the case may be, there is knowledge from each relationship that can be used to better your life and those you choose to surround yourself with.
All of this to say, it is human to feel grief and pain over a lost relationship. Here I am three years later and I am grieving over a friendship that I just lost today because I made a conscious decision to separate my work life and personal life via social media. Know that you will lose people along the way, but know that if the reason you lost that friendship was because you made a decision to be healthier for yourself, and you didn’t cause harm to anyone else in the process, then you are on the right path. You will find new friends. Ones who support and love you through recovery and all.