A man stands alone in the snow with a dog, surrounded by thin trees.
Photo By Alexander Lyubavin

There is an element of sobriety that I think is often overlooked: The loss of friends. 

Over and over again I’ve heard stories about people having to stop associating with their friends who continue to use drugs or drink. So here you have a person who is trying hard to stay sober and can sometimes be genuinely fighting the hardest battle of their life to overcome addiction and suddenly they have no friends and feel more alone than ever. 

At least a moment should be allowed them to grieve that loss of human connection. It doesn’t matter that those people weren’t working in the benefit of the sober person, there is still quite a profound loss. 

The same is true when in our own journeys of healing we look around and realize that we have left friends behind or that friends have distanced themselves from us. If you choose what is good for you and set boundaries around your progress it can feel bound to happen. You reach a point where you feel like you’ve been doing things “right” and are painfully alone.

One of the more painful instances from this year was consciously letting go of a friend I’d had for a long time. It took a big conflict, but I realized that there were things about that friendship that routinely made me feel awful about myself for no good reason and I didn’t like the person that I was when I was in their company. In fact, the person they described me to be at the end wasn’t at all who I wanted to be. 

I told them, “If I really am all that you’re describing, I wouldn’t advise you to be friends with a person like that.”

It was eerily similar to a conversation I had at the very end of my marriage.

At the end of the day, part of being a healthier version of yourself means not just breaking away from people that have been treating you poorly, but sometimes leaving the company of people who say you treat them poorly too. It could be that they trigger you to be codependent or fall into old patterns. Admitting it’s a toxic relationship and getting away, even if they are your friend is critical to making healthy choices that last.

I’ve had friends come back into my circle in the last several years once everyone got their head on straight. It took time and distance, but I can happily say that sometimes people do find their way back into your life. 

Yet still, there have been losses in my life in the last year that I still can’t wrap my head around. Regardless of why, I have been looking around and feeling as if the weight of my loneliness would crush me.

While most people are excited for autumn, I am anxious that the holidays are coming and I don’t have a family anymore. Each year I end up getting tacked onto someone else’s plans and feeling out of place and even more alone than if I was actually alone.

I have been making new friends and acquaintances, but the kind of loneliness I’m feeling isn’t just from not having a human around. It’s the pain of not being known. It’s the pain that stems from lack of intimacy in friendships and relationships. I am not sure that anyone near me at the moment even knows my favorite movie or the name of my favorite musician. Not to say that they won’t eventually, but starting over means that the clock starts over too.

There is something to being known, to having a place at the table, and to being expected. Not to say there aren’t those who don’t find me a delightful addition, but it’s not quite the same as having been on the guest list all along.

When you have to walk away from family and friends to be healthy it feels like a shit trade off to be honest. In the long run it is always worth the pain, but when you’re in it it feels as if a fine mist has settled over everything that lies ahead and everything that you lived through before. You can’t see which one is really the best option because everything feels terrible. You think you made the wrong choice to stop talking to that person or to end that friendship. If feels so awful to be alone that you consider that all this healing stuff might just be bullshit.

You don’t know what to do, so you just kind of feel your way through the mist and hope it hides the fact that you’re sobbing.

However, there is another side to this mist. 

The real trade off is that you learn how to forge healthy relationships. Relationships that allow you to be yourself and underscore your value as a human. You learn how to love and respect people without in turn feeling as if their acceptance of you is based on how you serve their interests or appease them or vice versa.

Which is why it’s important to talk to people who have been there and have a good map.

This loneliness is real and unfortunately common, but if you keep going, it will eventually subside. 

I have people on my side who have navigated this mist before and I have a therapist who reminds me to get out of my head and stop going in circles. Even with all these tools and all this support, I ache. I ache deep, deep down in a place that feels like it can’t be comforted. This place doesn’t respond to reason or even being invited to the table. I hope it goes away with time and I hear that it does. That fact doesn’t help the here and now, but it does spark a glimmer of hope for tomorrow.

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