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It’s Time: How to Divorce Toxic Friends in Recovery

March 19, 2018

violence on campus
Recovery is all about making huge shifts in every part of your life.
From where you live to where you work and what you do in your free time, nothing is safe from extreme change when your focus is on staying sober. Avoiding triggers as much as possible and removing contact from the usual sources of high stress can help you to avoid relapse, but if there are toxic people in your life on a daily basis, it may be time to go beyond avoidance and cut ties completely.

When Is It Time to Go?

It is easy enough to put some distance between yourself and the guys on the corner who get high every day or old friends you used to get high with who live in another part of town. What is not so easy is to find the distance you need from family members, spouses or partners, and close friends who are in your life – and potentially in your home – every day.

It is not a simple or easy decision to cut ties from someone completely, but there are a number of indications that it may be the best choice even if that person is a parent, sibling, or spouse. Culturally, we may feel compelled to maintain an active involvement with people to whom we are married or related, but the fact is that if it is not a healthy relationship and interactions with this person cause you anxiety, anger, high stress, or other emotions that make it more difficult to stay, it is time to move on.

Signs that it’s time to break ties include:

  • A spouse or family member has an alcohol or drug use problem of their own or drinks and/or uses drugs regularly and it is difficult for you to be around them.
  • There is constant fighting, accusations, mistrust and/ or volatile emotions between you.
  • There is physical violence of any kind, either by you or against you.
  • Your loved one is emotionally manipulative (e.g., crying, withholding, lying, guilt tripping, etc.) in order to enforce their will upon your choices.

While you may feel concerned that you are losing “support,” the fact is that if a loved one is toxic, it is far healthier for you to take your space and focus on your recovery.

Do You Need to Have a Formal Conversation?

Once you have made the decision to let go of your relationship with the toxic person in your life, the question becomes how to make this clear to them and follow through. If you live with the person in question, it is an unavoidable discussion and one that will mostly likely heavily focus on when you will be moving out.

Though there is really no way to make this a smooth and simple process, you can make it a bit easier by doing the following:

  • Discuss the issue in the context of a therapy session, if possible. Having a therapist there, especially if you have both been working with them for a while, can help you both to stay focused and productive in your communication.
  • Otherwise, have a neutral third party present for support.
  • Choose a time when everyone is calm. Avoid times of high stress in which the conversation will just add to an already tense situation and inevitably be poorly received.
  • Opt for a venue in which both of you feel comfortable. Similarly, choosing to broach the conversation when both of you are somewhere you feel safe can help to keep stress levels lower.
  • Stick to “I” statements. As in “I need to take a step back for a while” rather than “You are too hard to be around.”
  • Stick to your convictions. It is likely that the person may try to change your mind or argue that any separation or time away is unnecessary and/or your fault and not theirs.
  • Follow through. It is hard enough to have the conversation about putting space between you and someone to whom you are close, but it’s even harder to have that conversation twice. Make sure that once you have made your intentions clear, you follow through and make the changes necessary.

Can You Ever Consider Reconnecting?

Maybe, but that is not the concern and focus of the conversation at this time. What the future holds for either or both of you is unknown, and it is not productive to put a time clock on it or a “wait and see” that will cause both of you to feel pressured and stressed. If it is time to take a break, take a break, and if things naturally evolve such that it is appropriate to try a tentative reunion, then you can both address your needs at that time.

What relationships in your life are stopping you from having peace in recovery?

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