Previously, we looked at common types of toxic relationships that can threaten your recovery, especially in the first few months after treatment. Now that you have an idea of what kinds of people might serve as roadblocks to you sobriety, we’ll look at some strategies for letting go of these relationships.
It’s important to keep in mind that cutting off toxic relationships doesn’t have to be forever. Needing some space from a friend or relative doesn’t mean that you can never return to a healthy, close relationship with them. In fact, taking time away to work on yourself can help you learn how to repair relationships that you’d like to return to and give you skills for communication, honesty, and vulnerability that can lead to stronger and healthier relationships in the future.
One of the most important skills you can learn in recovery is developing healthy boundaries. In relationships, boundaries allow you to be close to others in a way that is healthy, mutually beneficial, and co-supportive instead of co-dependent. 12-step recovery programs focus on areas like self-evaluation, accountability, and developing healthy perspective that are essential to creating positive boundaries. With healthy boundaries, you can let people into your life in a way that supports your recovery, even if you initially needed some space from them.
Letting go of a toxic relationship doesn’t have to be a major ordeal either. There is no need to make an official proclamation or completely cut someone out of your life in order to get some distance from them. Saying something general like “I really need a chance to put my recovery first right now, so I won’t be able to attend book club for a while…” can gently let a person know that you need some space, and many people who care about you will be willing to give you anything you need in order to get better.
If you get pushback or anger for needing space from a friend or relative, further disengaging from them might be the best initial response. In general, if a person who threatens your recovery pushes to stay close to you, they are showing you clear evidence that they are not who you need to be around right now. Especially while you are in early recovery, it’s ok to be unapologetically protective of your sobriety. You worked hard to get to the point where you were ready and willing to get better, and if someone is a threat to that, it’s best to walk away for the time being and reassess the relationship once you’ve gained a solid foundation in recovery.
It’s also acceptable to draw a boundary through actions without informing someone of what you are doing or why. Sometimes just stepping away and politely declining invitations can give you the space you need without requiring a confrontation with the other person. In many situations, you may wish to say something to the person about why you need some space, but this will likely not be necessary in all cases. Talking with your 12-step sponsor and recovery friends is always a great idea in deciding how to handle each individual scenario. Getting some perspective from people who understand your needs and have faced these issues themselves can help you sort out how you’d like to proceed. Learning how to draw healthy boundaries and navigate interpersonal conflict are skills that take time and experience to develop, and asking for help from recovery friends, a sponsor, or even a therapist can help you maintain a healthy outlook as you uncover ways to let go of toxic relationships.