You can’t recover alone.

Of all the axioms about recovery, this is one of the most important and widely accepted. The road to a new life is a difficult one. Trying to work a program, monitor your own transformation, set and maintain boundaries, all on your own? Nearly impossible. Friendship in recovery is key to maintain a life in recovery.

Standard Support System Structure

You might say you know this, that you understand you need a sponsor to guide you through the recovery process. That’s true, but you need more than that. When I was first in recovery, I was told I needed to talk to at least three people every day: my sponsor, who had more recovery than I did; a newcomer, who had even less time; and someone who was a peer, with about the same amount of time in a program.

Redefining Friendship in Recovery

What I didn’t understand is that that third group would turn out to be the most important.

When we’re drinking or using, friends often come quickly and easily. Your drug of choice bonds you together; anyone who’s seen two drunks outside a bar, telling each other “I love you, man,” knows that what looks like friendship flows so easily when you’re acting out together.

A healthy friendship in recovery may come easily, but more often, it won’t. Without the bond of a common addiction, and with honesty an absolutely essential component, making new friends or rebuilding trust with old friends can be scary. I remember complaining to my sponsor that I didn’t know if I could just hang out with guys and talk sobriety all the time. I’d feel awkward.

My sponsor rolled his eyes. “You talk sobriety by doing sober things together. Go play pool. Go lift together. Go get coffee. Talk football.”

You’re looking for friends who are sober, not just a friend to talk sobriety with. The key, he explained, is to surround yourself with a community that is invested in keeping you clean.

As With Most Things, Take It One Step at a Time

As with everything in sobriety, the key to friendship in recovery is to be patient. Take small steps. “Hey, you want to grab a coffee sometime?” is a short sentence to say or text. I know it sounds easier than it is. But your sobriety may hinge on an hour’s chat over a latte.