“Your loneliness will always be there,” a friend once said to me. Those words hit me hard when I started at BriteLife Recovery for substance abuse treatment. I felt so alone, but I was never actually alone. I had a group of dedicated staff members, a professional team, and other program attendees around me all day to support my recovery. The loneliness I felt was something different. Somehow, I felt alone, even when I was surrounded by a bunch of people in the same facility. It was as if I achieved levels of loneliness that people couldn’t even think were possible.
What Does Recovery Look Like At BriteLife Recovery?
My recovery took a turn when I tapped into that feeling. BriteLife taught me to identify and recognize the feeling of loneliness. What I began to realize was that feeling was driving a lot of my addictive behavior. A significant realization I came to was that I was treating the causes of what drove my addiction, in addition to treating my actual addiction. One of those causes was loneliness.
Data from this NIH study says, "That people suffering from loneliness can suffer from serious health issues." Another study by the NIH says, "That recovering addicts report loneliness being a reason many people choose to do drugs in the first place." The emotions can be overwhelming. When I was in the thick of my addiction, I began to isolate myself from others. I didn’t want to be around anyone when I was as messed up as I was.
In turn, I would surround myself with other struggling alcoholics that found my behavior acceptable. The thing I learned living in a big city, or really anywhere, is you can pick your crowd of people. In other words, if you are struggling with addiction, it is not difficult to find others struggling as well. That’s what I did.
Isolation in Addiction
I was isolated in my group of addicts. Then, I felt isolated going into a program because I didn’t know anybody. And the thing that had been my best friend all of these years was suddenly taken from me. It was taken out of my system. My old best friend was gone, and the new friends in my brain and physical surroundings were invading my privacy. There were feelings I hadn’t experienced in a long time that came flooding back. The most unwelcomed visitor of all was the feeling of loneliness.
The whole time I was an addict, I avoided feelings, especially uncomfortable feelings associated with social anxiety. Why? Doing drugs and drinking alcohol made me unlearn how to be social. I had been social before I did drugs. I felt a normal level of anxiety for a teenager -- nothing out of the ordinary. It was that doing drugs made being social so much easier in my mind. It loosened things that seemed to be stuck inside of me. I was able to function in ways I had never imagined. But then after a while, I needed drugs to socialize; or I no longer felt like I wanted to or could socialize.
Learning How to Deal with Isolation and Loneliness
A study by the NIH states that 80% of Americans experience loneliness. Loneliness is a normal emotion to experience. It will pass, similar to most emotions. The problem is it can feel overwhelming and drive you to do things you normally wouldn’t. I found a few keys tips useful when I was in recovery to grapple with feelings of loneliness. These helped me to cope in recovery while I was in rehab and when I returned to my life outside of rehab.
1.) Loneliness doesn’t mean you are alone
You are almost never alone unless you go out of your way to be. There are moments when you may feel alone in whatever you are feeling. That is perfectly natural. But when that feeling overwhelms you, there is always a way to connect. The program I went to at BriteLife taught me feelings are normal. They are a part of life. I already knew that. When I started to rely on drugs, I forgot how to just be. BriteLife got me back there. I learned how to cope with loneliness, isolation, and addiction. I also learned that you could connect with almost anyone with a smile. It’s all about you feel inside.
2.) Create with your feelings
We had a lot of great exercises in BriteLife Recovery that taught me how to channel my feelings. I like to write. There are many different options. You can play music, draw, dance, cook, or whatever it is you are passionate about. Learn to channel loneliness and other overwhelming emotions through these activities. When I was sober, I had the energy to be curious again, and I wanted to find new hobbies and activities I used to enjoy again.
3.) Stay away from social media
You don’t need to see what everyone is up to. You need to focus on your life and not how your best friend from high school got married and had kids. And oh look, there is her brand new house with a garage. And her husband is so handsome. They really look like they have it all. What happened to you that you are sitting at rehab looking at this picture of a perfect family? You don’t need to worry about other peoples’ lives on social media. Leave your social media accounts behind and focus on yourself. You are exactly where you need to be and taking the correct steps in recovery.
4.) Get outside
Nature can heal in various ways. It is a way to connect with something larger than yourself. Whether it is going on a hike around the beautiful grounds at Britelife Recovery or taking a trip to the beach, there are plenty of ways to connect with nature to avoid isolation and addiction. The reason I loved Britelife was because of the water and beach access. Water is healing to me.
5.) Practice gratitude
During recovery, Britelife Recovery taught me to experience gratitude again and forget isolation and addiction. Once I started to tap into gratitude, it filled my heart in all spaces where addiction had once been. Loneliness is a natural part of the human experience, leading to isolation and addiction in many cases. Don't isolate yourself or try to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. There are support groups and dedicated professionals waiting for you. It will allow you to give back in gratitude.