Nic Sheff on Friendship and Sobriety

By Nic Sheff 12/21/11
Some people in sobriety have no problem being social, but I feel like I'm on the outside looking in. Am I the problem, or is recovery?
Really, I'm happy alone. Sort of. Photo via

Growing up, I always wanted a ton of friends. And, mostly, I guess, I had a ton of friends. 

In grade school and high school, I had them and. In rehab and Sober Living, I did, too.

Actually, it was maybe even a little compulsive, you know? Like I really couldn’t handle being by myself. Like I felt this sort of panic when I was by myself even though I was surrounded by people who knew me.

I went to meetings pretty much every night and then out to coffee or to some sober party. But it was never enough. I wanted more. 

I had this girlfriend back then who had so many friends and knew everybody and was getting like 500 phone calls every two minutes. Her contact list on her phone was ridiculously long (and included a lot of very exciting and important people). And, to tell you the truth, I wanted to be like her. I wanted to be cool and exciting and popular like she was. 

The truth is, I don’t know how to be social with people without drugs and alcohol. Or, no, I do know how. I just don’t know how to like doing it.

But the problem was—well, without drinking or drugs, I didn’t (and don’t) really like hanging around with people. Even when I was with that girlfriend and we’d go out to some party, I always found myself pretty quickly wanting to go home. I guess I’d get bored or…well, I’m not sure what it was.

When I was drinking and using, I wanted to hang out with people all night long—you know, just talking and doing nothing.

Now that I’m sober, though, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

I try as best as I can to be a, uh, good sport. But going to parties and talking to people, for some reason it’s so…unfulfilling to me. I just find myself wanting to hide out. I tell myself I’d rather be writing or reading or watching a movie or something. But I’m pretty sure that just an excuse.

Because, honestly, I feel like a total freak/loser/hermit for not wanting to go out with people.

Or, well, it’s not that I don’t want to go out with people. I do want that. I want that super badly. I want to be able to socialize with people and have fun doing it. I want to want to go to dinner parties and Christmas parties or out to a café with friends.

I’m married now. My wife has all these friends and relatives. I want to want to hang out with them. If not just for me, then for my wife’s sake. I don’t want to be her reclusive, weirdo husband who spends all his time writing or out hiking with our two dogs. I don’t want to be like I am.

But, the truth is, I don’t know how to be social with people without drugs and alcohol. Or, no, I do know how. I just don’t know how to like doing it—how not to want to run back home at the first chance I get.

This is a consequence of my alcoholism I definitely never saw coming—and one I don’t hear talked about all too often. But maybe that’s ‘cause I’m unique in my social ineptitude. Or maybe it’s because I never learned how to be social without drugs and alcohol. Because I was always stoned or drunk. That’s how I socialized with people. Even back in grade school, that’s what we would do when we got together: we’d smoke weed. And then, as I got older, it got worse and worse. I couldn’t hang out with anyone unless we were sharing a pipe or a bottle—or, later, a syringe.

So, what? Did I totally destroy my ability to socialize sober?

Like I said, there was a time, when I was involved in 12-step groups real heavy, that I had a whole lot of friends. And we all did hang out sober. When I look back on that time, though, it still seems like I never truly felt connected with anyone, or satisfied. But maybe I did. It’s hard to remember.

Either way, now that I don’t have any connection to meetings and I’m not in outpatient and I’m living my life, I find myself growing ever more reclusive.

It’s not like I’m battling cravings when I go out with people; it’s just that I feel bored and unsatisfied. 

And, truthfully, it’s not that I’m sitting there thinking how much better I am than everybody. It’s not that at all. Hell, if anything, it’s the opposite.

It’s like I’m on the other side of an invisible wall—some barricade—and I can’t break through. So while everyone else is talking and laughing together, I can’t seem to drop in or something. It’s like I’m on the outside looking in. Like I’m watching it all take place on a screen projected above me. 

I’m not sure if it’s the drugs that have done that to me, or if it’s part of my mental illness stuff they say I have. I’m not sure if it’s normal or not.

Actually, no—that’s not true. I know it’s not normal.

I see other people in sobriety going out and having fun and living their lives and they don’t seem as completely stunted as I am. 

They go to meetings.

They go to sober parties.

Sometimes I run into old friends I used to know from recovery and they say, “Hi,” and then it’s always like, “Hey, we should go to a meeting.”

So is that the answer?


When I was in rehab, that’s what the counselors and other patients would always tell me.

Go to a meeting, go to a meeting, go to a meeting.

But then I do go to a meeting.

I go and I sit there and I listen to the speaker along with everyone else. But I always end up feeling even more isolated and alien. I end up watching everybody watching the speaker as they all laugh in unison and nod in unison and it’s like that scene in Carrie where all the kids are laughing and her mom’s voice is echoing in her head, “They’re all gonna laugh at you. They’re all gonna laugh at you.”

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