Loneliness as a Trigger in Recovery 

As recovering addicts, we know that certain emotions can be especially triggering for us, emotions we’re particularly sensitive to, that make us feel increasingly depressed or anxious, that make us want to seek comfort and relief in our drugs of choice. For many of us, one of the strongest of these emotions is the loneliness we feel. We might have isolated ourselves throughout our struggles with addiction, so much so that we now feel we don’t have friendships or relationships to turn to when we feel lonely. We might have alienated people when we were at the lowest points of our addictions. We might have been burning bridges all these years, holding grudges, creating conflicts, and losing relationships that were important to us. We might feel the normal, common loneliness we all feel at one point or another, but as addicts, we’ve come to rely on substances and behaviors to try and escape our loneliness and other feelings we don’t want to experience. Loneliness can be a powerful trigger for us and can cause us to default back to old patterns, to regress in our recovery, and to undo some of the important work we’ve done in our lives.

When we feel lonely, we have a hard time sitting with our loneliness and accepting that it’s there. We want to fill it with attention and validation from someone else. We want to use someone to fill our time rather than giving ourselves space and solitude to work through how lonely and alone we feel. We use drugs to distract ourselves from the thoughts we don’t want to face. We focus more on our unhealthy relationships than on the issues we’re having a hard time confronting within ourselves. We’ll do anything to avoid being lonely because it is in those moments we’re reminded of our unhealed pain. We remember the issues we’ve been suppressing, denying and avoiding. We hear the voices of our inner demons that we’ve been trying so hard to drown out.

 Loneliness can make us feel deeply sad. We can panic at the thought of being alone or of ending up alone in life. We might be grieving the loss of a loved one. We might feel the loneliness of feeling disappointed in ourselves and defeated in our recovery. We might not have the family, the community or the support system we need. We might be experiencing heartbreak. Whatever the cause of our loneliness, many of us instinctually try to run from it and avoid having to feel it. It is when we sit with it and accept it when we can get to the point of embracing it, that loneliness loses its power over us. We can say “I’m feeling lonely at this moment, but I don’t have to be afraid of my loneliness. I can sit with it and allow its energy to move through me rather than reacting to it with fear and resistance.” We can let ourselves feel the full weight of the loneliness rather than fighting it and trying to avoid feeling it. 

We might think to be lonely means we’re not good enough. We might feel undeserving of love if we’re alone. We might assume no one cares for us. We might feel as though we’ve burned all our bridges and missed our chance at having happy connections and healthy relationships. We might feel ashamed of ourselves for being in this place. We want to allow ourselves to feel all these painful emotions, all the sadness, fear and shame we feel. We want to let them wash over us, like a wave, and rather than react to them, we want to just let them be as they are. We can journal about all our feelings. We can meditate to stay calm and centered as we’re having this intense emotional experience. We can ask a therapist or coach to help us make sense of our feelings.

The more we can sit with the pain our loneliness brings up, the more it naturally tends to recede and dissipate on its own. It starts to feel lighter and much more bearable. We no longer feel the debilitating heaviness of how lonely and afraid we felt. Our loneliness can begin to feel like any other emotion that we can just move through and not allow ourselves to be overpowered by. When we do move through our loneliness without using a drug, toxic behavior or unhealthy relationship to try and fill it up, when we sit in the space created by our loneliness, we give ourselves the time and solitude we need to work on our healing and to reconnect with ourselves. We begin to see that we have far more courage and resilience than we thought we did. We begin to enjoy our own company more and to see the tremendous value in spending time alone. We learn to love ourselves, to accept ourselves as we are, and to appreciate ourselves for all the gifts we have to offer ourselves and the world. We reconnect with the things we once loved about life and about ourselves. We’re reminded of our strengths, gifts, and talents. We learn that by embracing our loneliness, we strengthen and empower ourselves to stay the course of our recovery and to fuel our willpower to stay sober. We no longer feel the sense of inadequacy and brokenness that we associated with feeling lonely. We might actually start to look forward to moving through our loneliness alone. We might feel a sense of happiness and inner satisfaction knowing we’re not incomplete or unworthy just because we’re feeling lonely.

Riverside Recovery understands all of the emotional challenges of addiction recovery and is here to support you. Call us today for more information: (800) 871-5440.

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