Navigating friendships in recovery and learning to let go

I have a saying: ‘Getting the balancing act right is a balancing act in itself’, and the same could be said for friendships or, should I say, people to whom we attach or align ourselves.

Over the years, I have witnessed how friendships and relationships can negatively impact someone’s recovery journey, especially in early recovery, partly because people in early recovery are still figuring out how to have a relationship with themselves.

So, I just wanted to share some of the challenges I encountered based on my experience navigating new friendships in my early recovery, hoping it might help someone else.

Looking back, I now realise that before I became dependent on drugs, I depended on all my friendships, including the toxic ones. The fear of social rejection used to scare the shit out of me. As a kid, I was like a social butterfly and would flitter from one friendship group to another in my quest to feel accepted. I would give 100% in all my friendships even though I might have got zero back in return, hoping my friendship might be reciprocated someday. My whole identity was wrapped up in those friendships and activities associated with my lifestyle.

Walking away from those peer groups in my early recovery was hard, and I have to say, hand on my heart, it was one of the loneliest periods of my life. Part of me didn’t want to walk away; I was stuck between wanting to grow but was frightened that the connection we once shared would be lost. I also feared for my future and often wondered who would want me as a friend, especially after spiralling into addiction. I missed my community and the familiar banter and excitement of the lifestyle I’d become accustomed to.

But I was also hurting. At some of the lowest points in my life, I realised that some people in my friendship circle who I had considered good friends had let me down when I needed them. Some were as toxic as the drugs I was digesting at the time. Anyone would have thought I had contracted leprosy, the way some of them avoided me when my world came crashing down.

I sat alone #havinawordwimisen for hours, dissecting all my past friendships, and eventually, I saw a pattern emerge. I realised how, for years, I’d been floating through life like a barnacle, trying to attach myself to someone/anyone in the hope that they might complete me or even save me from myself. It was a harsh life lesson to learn and accept that no one was coming to rescue me and that I could rely only on myself.

My early recovery was all about self-preservation, and apart from a small number of people (I could count on one hand) I was adamant that I would never attach myself to another human being for them to take advantage of me again, nor would I allow myself to rely on another person to make me feel complete.

That was before I started to mix with other people in recovery, and my attitude changed.

I finally felt like I’d found my tribe of peers, the same ones that had been eluding me for years. Bound together by our shared past lived experience of addiction and trauma, the connection with many was instant. Like a moth attracted to light, I would sit and listen in peer support groups and hear people talking openly about their internal thoughts and feelings, which resonated with my own. Their openness gave me the courage to share my own deepest fears. I became like an open book and revealed chapters of my life I’d never revealed before to anyone. And in time, I slowly started to drop my guard and let people in.

I took everyone I met at face value; who was I to judge? But then things started to change, and I sensed a familiar pattern emerge.

Before continuing, I will insert a Disclaimer here: I have made fantastic lifelong friends during my recovery. I am only referring to a small minority of people. This is NOT a reflection on the whole recovery community.

One of the main ground rules in the peer support groups was ‘Everything that is shared in the room stays in the room.’ Sadly, not everyone abided by this spoken and unspoken rule.

Occasionally after a group session, in the fag corner, I might overhear someone else discussing something or having an opinion about something someone else had previously shared in the group. Gossip and rumours were rife. For example, if someone lapsed, some people could be supportive and understanding, whilst others could be critical. Some even seemed to revel in other people’s demise, which was sad. Some of these people were someone I thought I could trust, but I was wrong, making me question the attachments/friendships I’d made.

Some days I felt like I was being sucked into a drama vortex, sometimes against my will. But I was getting so wrapped up in other people’s shit that I wasn’t making the time to deal with my own shit. It was like being back in the school playground, only we weren’t kids anymore. We were supposed to be grown adults. But what was worse, I could feel myself losing myself once again. Instead of being my authentic self, I’d started slipping back into people-pleasing mode, which was dangerous because all this was doing was distracting me from my recovery.

So, it was time. Once again, to have another #wordwimesen, it was time for some self-preservation. It was time to sieve through my peer group to help separate the negative from the positive people in my life.

This time, however, I knew cutting all the toxic people out of my life wasn’t realistic. That would have been impossible. There were some people that I couldn’t avoid, but what I could do was limit the emotional and mental energy I had previously invested in them.

I had to accept, once again, that I needed to stop wanting people to like me or relying on people to fulfil my needs or desires and had to work harder to meet my own. I stopped wasting my energy and being there for people who weren’t prepared to help themselves and instead decided to focus my energy and time on those who were.

I decided to surround myself with people I didn’t feel like I had to compete with but with people who helped me complete myself and wanted the best instead of taking the best of me.

I also considered that some people might never be able to meet my emotional needs because they weren’t in a place to meet their own. And that was okay because I knew deep down that they had a good heart, even if it was a confused heart.

Over the years, I have come to acknowledge and accept that all friendships can be complex and complicated, and that’s perfectly normal, but what’s important is how YOU manage your friendships. As seasons change as humans, we constantly evolve; therefore, our friendship needs will also naturally evolve and change. And guess what? That’s okay too…

I love, love, love this famous poem written by a guy called Brian A. “Drew” Chalker, you can read it HERE 

The opening line starts with

‘People always come into your life for a reason, a season and a lifetime, and YOU will know exactly what to do when you figure out which it is.’

It’s taken me years to learn to trust again and how to figure out a lousy friend from a good one. But what I have figured out and what I am still working on is to trust my judgment more.

There is nothing more I love than being around like-minded people who share my passions and values, but I have realised that I don’t have to attach myself to them like a barnacle and have learned how to let go. We are human, and by nature, we need relationships/friendships. But ultimately, regardless of who you have around you, it doesn’t matter. It means diddly squat if you don’t have a relationship with yourself?

So, if you are struggling with peers/friendships or feeling torn, perhaps it’s time to #Haveawordwitheesen

I have come across some links that might help you figure shit out.

How to spot a toxic friendship?

What makes a good friend? 

Remember – I don’t write for financial reward or gain. I want to help share my lived experience with others, hoping it helps. I love to write, so if you fancy getting the occasional email (NO SPAM) with the most up-to-date blogs from yours truly, please feel free to subscribe at the bottom of the main page.


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Love Fordy


AKA Unapologeticwriter

8 thoughts on “Navigating friendships in recovery and learning to let go

  1. Unfortunately, all that rings true. Yes, not all people in recovery change their spots – they were toxic before and are toxic now. You’re right – don’t get sucked into the vortex. If you have two lumps of manure: one you wrap in plain paper, and the other in glittering and sparkly paper. At the end of the day, it’s still manure however you dress it up. Much love xx

  2. Thank you Tracey for such a very well written and insightful piece of writing. A great deal of which resonates deeply with me. If I’m honest I could probably count on one hand the amount of real friends I have. Nowadays I look at friendships as an unwritten soul contract to provide each to the other an equal amount of mental, emotional & spiritual support. I think it’s about time I reflected on certain relationships and maybe have an Autumnal spring clean. Thanks again Tracey. Extremely well written.

  3. Such a great read…you’ve put into words just how I’m feeling & learning , it’s sad accepting that ‘friends’ who I once thought were genuine people are in fact just interested in the ‘drama’ & love a good gossip. I’m lucky & truly thankful for my handful of real friends who quietly have my back ❤️. Since starting my recovery journey a year ago I’ve met lots of lovely people who I would have probably never met ….I know without a doubt without these lovelies in my life I wouldn’t have made it this far ..for me personally ,I feel true friendship will follow. Much love xxx

  4. Thankyou auntie Tracey, you are really helping me make it easier for me to deal with mum, I’m thinking about cutting her out of my life for a while. she’s not doing me any good and its best to cut the bad things out of your life. Your websites and pep talks help me a lot 🙂 love you

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