Earlier this week, I was at a discussion meeting where the topic was “having fun in sobriety.” Very quickly there were a number of shares that centered around making friends and doing activities with other members of a home group. Stories about coming into the rooms and quickly developing friendships with people who had common interests came up. People talked about going to a variety of activities including football games, movies, dinner, dancing, etc.
Very quickly, I felt uncomfortable as the tone of the meeting seemed to be moving towards two fallacies common in the rooms — the only people who you can be good friends with in recover are other people in recovery and the only way to have fun in recovery is by making friends with others in recovery and doing lots of social things with them.
I’ve heard versions of these two myths over the years. Here’s a common story I’ve heard over and over again in the rooms that encompasses both:
“When I came into the rooms, I had a lot of friends, but they were all drinkers. Today, I don’t associate with them anymore, I found out that they weren’t really friends. Today, all my friends are in the program. We do a lot of things together that I might have done with my drinking friends in the past, but we just don’t drink.”
There are two things that make me uncomfortable with these two myths. Firstly, some in recovery conflate introversion and/or social anxiety with isolation. And secondly, some in recovery seem to advocate that it’s important to have friends in recovery to the exclusion of friends who are not in recovery.
I sometimes think that because addiction leads to isolation in many cases, we mistake introversion for isolation in the recovery community. Introversion is a personality trait and it is defined not by whether or not someone is outgoing or social, but rather by whether or not one gets their energy by being around people or not. There are many introverts who are outwardly social, but who find that they are worn out after socializing rather than energized by it.
As an introvert, I find getting together with a group of people tedious and tiresome. I would prefer to meet up with a few good friends in a small intimate setting rather than go to a large party or sporting event. Don’t mistake me, there’s nothing wrong with a party or a sporting event, I take part in them from time to time, but I know that the social dynamics of these events aren’t best for me.
We also tend to conflate introversion with social anxiety. Whereas introversion is a personality trait, social anxiety is a mental health condition. At the same meeting, I heard a woman talk about how she suffers social anxiety and that this was not looked at as isolation by her sponsor. She told us that her sponsor made her attend Christmas parties and actually timed her attendance with a stop watch. I was horrified. No one should be forcing another person to do anything that they aren’t comfortable with in the name of recovery.
Introversion is not a “bad” thing that need to be corrected. While an argument could be made that social anxiety might be treated as a mental health issue, it is not something that we need to “fix” in others. Most of us in recovery are not medical or mental health professionals. Still, I sometimes feel that there is a sense in the recovery community that both are problematic “character defects.”
I believe this stems from the fact that connection between humans is so foundational to recovery. It is fundamentally true that we need connection in recovery, but connection comes in many forms. It doesn’t always look like a group of people doing something together. Sometimes it’s a one on one meeting over a cup of coffee. That’s the way this introvert prefers his connection.
Secondly, I find it disturbing when I hear people say that the only friends they have are in recovery. While I can certainly understand the rationale behind the old adage of giving up “people, places, and things,” one isn’t required to abandon their old lives when they enter recovery.
To be fair, there are some people who one may not associate with after getting sober — I have a few of those friends of convenience myself who I no longer see. I suppose that if all of my former friends fell into the category of being friends of convenience (just drinking buddies), then, perhaps, I’d feel differently about this. But I also know that my life would be forever changed if I’d abandoned all my friends who are still drinkers when I got sober.
I have some very good friends who are not in recovery. Friends that I’ve known for more than half of my life. They are just as capable of listening to me when I have a tough topic that I need to talk about as a friend in recovery. I think my life is richer for the fact that I am able to have good friends who are in recovery as well as good friends who still drink.
I enjoy hanging out with my long time friends from my college days and I’m comfortable with them drinking beers around me. I’m also conscious of the fact that there are limits and at a certain point, it’s time for me to check out and leave the party. It’s all about boundaries that I’ve set.
All of this is to say that it’s not only possible to have fun in recovery, but that having fun in recovery can and will look different for different people in recovery. How an extrovert chooses to have fun will necessarily look different from how an introvert has fun.
What are your thoughts on this? Do we conflate introversion and social anxiety with isolation in the rooms? Do you have friends in and out of recovery?