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How to Get Rid Of Toxic Relationships in Sobriety

September 04, 2022

One of the more difficult things to face in sobriety is getting rid of toxic relationships in your life. After we seek services, many of us come into recovery with these lingering relationships, and throughout the course of our Steps and early sobriety, we have to learn how to shed ourselves of them. But getting toxic people out of your life is not always as simple as it seems. It isn’t always a matter of just saying, “Hey, I no longer want to be with you, or I can no longer have you in my life” and if you are like me, a chronic people pleaser, cutting people out is always difficult.

There are a ton of emotions involved in this and I usually feel very guilty about having to remove people from my life. Many times in the past I found that I would keep these people in my life in order to avoid confrontation, but by doing this I only caused myself pain. So one thing that I have worked on since I have gotten sober is how to do this in a manner that is okay for me.

The first toxic relationship that I had to remove from my life was with my ex-husband. This one was particularly tricky, and technically he isn’t really removed from my life because I have children with him, but the same applies because I got out of the relationship. Getting out of this relationship was the precursor to me getting sober and by leaving him I was able to get the space necessary in order to finally get sober.

This wasn’t really an easy decision though. I had spent years with him and I had two children with him and so deciding to leave was a very tough decision, but I knew that it was something that I had for myself and so I did it.

Since that time there have been other relationships in my life that I have to cut out and I’d like to tell you that each one got easier, but they haven’t really. In early sobriety I made a lot of friends with people that I was in treatment with. Of those people not many have remained sober and in the beginning as they began to trail out of the program I had to cut some of them off. Once a person relapses it is fairly easy to cut them out of your life, especially if you haven’t known them for that long, because they won’t really want to be around a person who is sober, but cutting people off who stop working a program but haven’t relapsed yet was a little more problematic.

I found that being around some of these people just made me feel bad. I would at certain times feel weird for being excited about sobriety and so I knew that I had to cut them out of my life otherwise I might follow them down the wrong path. Often times with people like this I just started to distance myself from them and that did the trick. I would maybe get a little bit of backlash and the standard question of, “Where have you been?” but for the most part they just stopped calling and in time they disappeared like many other people from early sobriety.

I can’t say whether or not this was the best way to handle these situations, making myself scarce so that I didn’t have to deal with a conversation with them, but it worked and I am still sober today.

There is another form of a toxic relationship in sobriety that can occur after some time of being sober. You may develop a very close relationship with someone but after a period of time, you may find that that person is taking more out of the relationship than they are giving and they are draining you of your energy. I personally haven’t experienced this, but a friend of mine told me a story about how he went about dealing with such a situation.

He told me that his best friend in recovery was an emotional vampire. It seemed that every week there was some new calamity that he was facing and he’d always involve my friend some how. He said that for the most part his friend wasn’t even really involved in AA and he’d call him and just lay all of his problems on him. This went on for a couple of years and my friend told me how he went back and forth with whether or not he wanted this guy in his life anymore. On the one hand he was a good friend, but on the other hand, it was just too much.

It finally reached a point where he knew that his friend was going to relapse and he didn’t want to be involved anymore and so he decided to just have a frank conversation with him. This didn’t go over particularly well and his friend was angry at him, but it was the right thing to do and within the next few months his friend relapsed.

I only offer these scenarios to show that you are not alone in having to deal with getting rid of toxic relationships in your life. I am not an expert on any of these things, nor do I pretend to know exactly what you need to do in your own particular instance, but if you have reached a point where you believe you need to cut a relationship out of your life, then it is probably better to do so sooner then later. From my own personal experience, I find that it is better, once these relationships are done, to leave them in the past, especially if they are romantic in nature. Going back and forth in a toxic relationship is the definition of hell on earth, each time thinking it is going to be different but getting the same results and in the end, more pain is caused with each iteration.

So if you have relationships that need to go, talk to a friend, sponsor, or therapist, chart a course of action, and pull the plug. It isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it.