Dear John,

I am an alcoholic and recently got sober this month. All my old friends are drinking buddies, so I feel like I no longer enjoy their company like I used to. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but I think I need new friends. How do I go about changing my social circle?

Sincerely,
Sober and Social

 

Dear Sober and Social,

Thank you for sharing this amazing transformation with me. It is challenging to let go of friends and start over. You are not alone in this kind of a search, so your query will resonate and, hopefully, benefit many who are in the same boat.

Before I delve into my response, I would also like to encourage you—if you have not already—to connect with a licensed substance abuse treatment expert. Embarking on significant personal development work can be stressful and bring up a lot of emotions, which could contribute to relapse. I strongly urge you to consider this recommendation. Whenever I teach mindfulness courses that involve intense meditation practice, I ask that participants have at least one year of steady recovery before taking the course due to the potential relapse risk.

Next, I’d like to discuss how critical positive friendships are for our well-being. In fact, researchers suggest that the nature of our relationships matter a great deal for our physical health. For example, positive relationships can stave off the adverse effects of stress. Researchers have also noted a link between one’s social ties and their healthy habits. If you hang out with friends who enjoy healthy food and do not drink, for instance, then you are likely to also engage in those good-for-you behaviors.

The opposite may also, generally, be true. Friendships with risky individuals may contribute to our own risky behaviors. In adulthood, a diminishing social network or adversity in close relationships may have links to health risks, such as hypertension. When considering just these samples of scientific evidence, we can conclude that you are very right in thinking it is time to switch up your friend group.


Related: How to Know When You Need to End a Friendship


There are many possible ways to go about forging new friendships. I can only discuss a few possibilities within the scope of this article. Therefore, I will draw from my background in contemplative practices to offer you a brief and straightforward exercise to engage in as an initial step forward.

The first step in evaluating current and future friendships involves getting clear about your personal values. Values refer to a quality or characteristics, or activity/behavior, that has significant meaning for you in your life. By defining your personal values, you can then seek out values-based friendships. I recommend giving the activity below a try, and if you find it difficult or want to deepen your work, you can consider working with a local licensed therapist who is qualified in both substance abuse treatment and recovery, and contemporary psychotherapy approaches, such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I recommend these modern approaches because they emphasize values clarification and interpersonal effectiveness training.

I suggest completing this activity in a quiet, comfortable space, where you will be free from distractions. You can either sit comfortably in a chair, lay down on the floor, or stand up to do this practice, really any posture is beautiful, if you are comfortable. See if you can let your breath be easy and natural. Notice whatever mental or emotional objects may be flowing through your awareness and see if you can get those to settle down as well. It’s OK if they do not.

When you feel settled enough, you may consider placing your hands onto your heart, and asking yourself, “What matters most to me right now?” You can get even more specific and ask: “What matters most to me in friendship right now?” Typically, the answers will come to you in words or images, emotions, physical sensations, and memories. This is all data for you to analyze and to put into values that matter for you. Examples of values might be honesty, kindness, compassion, loving, generous, loyal, fair, generous, and empathic. I suggest writing down a list of all these different values, and then place them in a ranked order to clarify further what is essential for you.

Once you feel you have completed your list and the ranking of the values, the next step will be to do research on how you can meet others who share in some or all these values. You can research online, on social media, web forums, or go to places that you enjoy in your community and see who is there or if there are bulletin boards or event calendars. I think the key is you must be willing to put yourself out there in the world and be prepared to explore different possibilities and to practice repetition with it. Forging new friendships is a process, not a single event, so stay committed to the process and your values in the process.

As human beings, we all need love and support from others. We are beings who give and receive love. My wish for all people is to discover in their own heart how universal this need to give and receive love is and to see how love is one of the many ways in which we are all here together on this planet.

I would like to close with a few lines from the mystical poet Rumi. He speaks of what we might think is romantic love, but I think he means to love beyond any definitions.

“The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,
they’re in each other all along.”
Many blessings,
John

 

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