Ask Katie: How Can I Stay Connected with my Non-Sober Husband and Friends?

Ask Katie: How Can I Stay Connected with my Non-Sober Husband and Friends?

By Katie MacBride 12/27/16

Alcohol use is so central to our culture that many of our friends and family won't know how to support a newly sober person. 

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Ask Katie: How Can I Stay Connected with my Non-Sober Husband and Friends?
Are you supposed to lose touch with your spouse and friends in sobriety?

I feel so lonely. I have been sober from pot for one month and from drinking for two weeks. My husband is supportive of my sobriety but he’s not sober himself. That makes sense, he doesn’t have a problem the way that I did. He’s cut down on the drinking since I got sober, but he still smokes pot. He is in a band and he goes out with our friends on weekends; they all go see him play at various bars and I have just been staying home. I’m not ready to go to bars but I also feel isolated from ALL of my friends as well as my husband. And I know he doesn’t want to say anything, but I can tell that it bothers my husband that I’m not going to see him at shows. I’m afraid now that I’m sober, I’m not going to be happy in this marriage. Is there a way for me to stay sober, not lose my husband and friends, and get over this loneliness?

From,

Alone

Congratulations on your sobriety and I’m sorry you are feeling so isolated. 

As I was reading your letter, it occurred to me how often I hear something along the lines of “this person/group of people claim to be supportive of my sobriety but they aren’t actually supporting me as a sober person.” I know it’s something that I have felt at times throughout my sobriety. Part of the problem is that our culture is so focused on substance use (especially alcohol) as a normal part of life, that people don’t always know how to support someone who is sober. This puts you in the role of having to teach the people in your life how to support you in your sobriety.

You’ll probably want to be selective about this. Being the 24/7 How To Support a Newly Sober Person instructor to everyone in your life is exhausting, and you have other things you need to focus on right now. But for the people closest to you, like your husband, you may want to sit down with him (probably several times) and have some really open conversations about what being sober is like for you and how you’re worried about the level of isolation you feel. Explain to him that you’re torn between wanting to support his music and feeling uncomfortable in bars. He’ll probably appreciate the fact that you are thinking about how you can support his music, even if you can’t do it in the way that you did before you got sober. You may want to include a couple’s counselor or therapist in these conversations to help you get through the sticky parts.

I usually believe that being totally open and honest is the way to go, but there are some things that are best kept to oneself. I think your fear that now that you’re sober, you won’t be happy in your marriage is one of those things. It’s an understandable fear; there’s always going to be uncertainty when one person in a relationship undergoes a significant change (even if that change is for the better) and the other person has not. That’s not a judgment against your husband; you’ve said that neither of you feel he has a problem with substances. Before you worry about a potential outcome down the road, it might be more productive to focus on the issues that you’re currently having: how to support him without going to bars, feeling left out of your activity with friends, etc. I think there are folks with whom you can share those long-term concerns with (more on that in a minute), but if it were me, I’d hold off on sharing them with your husband.

You mention that your friends are also going to bars and that’s part of what’s making you feel isolated. I wonder if you’ve approached them to do things outside of bars: getting coffee, going to the movies, things that are not associated with your substance use but also aren’t specifically about recovery. One of the most challenging things about sobriety is learning which of your friends are supportive of your recovery and which ones were only drinking/using buddies. If it turns out some of your friends fall into the latter category, it doesn’t mean they are bad people or bad friends. We all fall into repetitive patterns with the people in our lives. Now that you’re sober, however, it’s going to be important to maintain friendships with the people who are supportive of your sobriety, and let go of the ones who only want to hang out if it includes drinking or using.

Regardless of whether all of your friends are on board with your recovery, or if none of them are, it’s going to be crucial that you develop a network of sober friends and acquaintances. I mention this in the column frequently and that’s because it’s one of the primary things that keeps me sober (actually, it’s the primary thing that keeps me sober). As I’m sure you are realizing, getting sober is no small undertaking. Ironically, it’s a process with incredible highs and lows. Very few people will be able to understand those highs and lows and how to navigate them than people who have gone through the same process.

Your letter didn’t mention if you are in a specific recovery program—but it sounds like you aren’t actively involved with a support group. This is absolutely my number one recommendation. I know that this can sound extremely daunting and also not at all fun. I understand. Here are a few things that crossed my mind (and stubbornly stayed there for quite a while) when it was first suggested to me that I find some sober people to hang out with:

  • As long as I don’t drink with my friends, why should I have to get new friends?
  • My old friends are supportive of my sobriety.
  • All sober people do is talk about being sober, and that is boring and also makes me want to drink.
  • I don’t want to do any of the things that are required to find sober friends.
  • The only thing worse than leaving the comfort of my home is leaving the comfort of my home to interact with strangers.

Maybe you are having all of these thoughts, maybe you are having none of them. I had all of them and to be honest, I probably only interacted with other sober people because I was in inpatient treatment and didn’t have any other option. I’m so very grateful that I was forced out of my comfort zone. Nothing quelled the loneliness I was feeling more than interacting with people who were going through the same thing. When I got out of treatment, I started attending a support group that offered me the same thing: people who were either sober or trying to be. These were the people with whom I could relay my long-term fears—in your case maybe the fear that you won’t be happy in your marriage. These folks have gone through all kinds of similar struggles and will be able to help you navigate whatever comes up. I didn’t necessarily become close friends, or even more than acquaintances with the majority of the people in my support group, but being able to talk with them—even just knowing they were out there and where to find them—was invaluable. Almost nine years later, it still is.

Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most well-known support groups, but it’s not the only one out there. SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, and LifeRing are all other options you can explore. Take a look at the websites and see what might be a good fit for you. Try a couple meetings of each type to see if you connect with one more than the others. Whatever you choose, I hope you stick with it. Recovery doesn’t have to be lonely and it’s so much better when there is a network of people supporting you. 

Regular Fix contributor Katie MacBride is not an expert or a mental health or medical professional; she is a sober person offering her experiences and advice about sobriety. Every other Tuesday she will answer one recovery related question posed by our readers, based on her experience. If you have any general advice questions email her at [email protected] with Ask Katie in the subject.

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Katie MacBride is a writer and the Associate Editor of Anxy Magazine. In addition to The Fix, her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, Quartz, and The Establishment. She writes an advice column about recovery for Paste Magazine. Follow her on twitter at @msmacb; find her work at www.katiemacbride.com.

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