Avoiding Toxic People During Recovery

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You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.
— Anonymous

“Out with the old, in with the new.” That’s a simplified way to look at your recovery journey. As you’re leaving your past behind, you’re creating new habits, building new relationships and finding new meaning in your life.

One of the most difficult parts of this journey is to let go of old relationships. But, toxins from substance abuse are not the only harmful part of addiction—just like drugs or alcohol were bad for your physical health, toxic people are bad for your mental wellbeing. Especially your old “friends” who were a negative influence and could become a hindrance as you’re trying to start fresh.

Removing toxic people from your life is often much more difficult than removing toxins from your body. Don’t feel bad about breaking up these relationships.

Recovery is all about your ability to successfully negotiate new aspects of life. You don’t have enough energy to worry about hurting those individuals’ feelings. It’s OK to be selfish and focus on your own future.

Eliminating unsafe people from your life

These are some of the categories of toxic peoples to avoid:

Past bad influences: These are your old “party” buddies, the people you hung out with when you got drunk or high. Don’t count on your will to counteract their harmful influence— and really, why would you want to take a chance?

Nonsupportive friends and family: When you’re working on recovery, especially in earlier stages, it’s important to surround yourself with supportive people. It doesn’t mean your support network shouldn’t keep you accountable for your new actions. It just means that these individuals need to help you rebuild your life, not criticize your past mistakes or judge your present decisions.

Negative personalities: It’s tough to completely avoid negative people when you’re entering the labor force and other life situations. Try to keep interactions to a minimum with anyone who exudes negative energy. As you become more resilient, you’ll need to learn how to deal with various circumstances and different types of people — but it’s best to leave these experiences for later.

How to recognize toxic people

Sometimes, recognizing a negative influence is not intuitive. You can probably easily identify an individual who leaves you feeling down or emotionally spent, but there are many other red flags.

Here are some:

  • Constantly criticizes or puts you down
  • Is unreliable and undependable
  • Is completely self-absorbed and self-centered
  • Likes to create drama or overdramatize situations
  • Is dishonest or disrespects you
  • Makes you feel unhappy or bad about yourself
  • Tries to control or manipulate you

It’s not always possible to completely disengage from a relationship, particularly if this is a family member or co-worker. In these cases, set clear, healthy boundaries and firmly maintain them. Try to disengage temporarily, if possible, and in the meantime seek input from your support network, including your recovery counselor, on how to deal with the situation.

Creating healthy relationships

Building a supportive network will take time and work, but these are some things you can do as soon as you start your recovery journey:

  • Identify a couple of family members or close friends you can use a sounding board and accountability “partners.” These individuals will be your backbone; choose people who will stick with you through thick and thin.
  • If you don’t have anyone in your life who can be your primary emotional support, reach out to your faith leader, use a recovery coach or find a sponsor through an addiction recovery program.
  • Attend events and programs geared to people in recovery, such as the Olalla Birthday Meetings, group counseling or community-based programs like a recovery café. You’ll meet other people who are going through the same things as you are, and you can support as well as inspire and motivate each other.

As you’re nurturing new, positive relationships, make sure to leave plenty of time for yourself. Meditate, garden, take a walk in nature, curl up with a book — do whatever helps you recharge your batteries supports a balanced lifestyle.

     Gig Harbor Chamber  CARF  Washington State Dept. of Health 

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