“Distance has the same effect on the mind as on the eye.” – Samuel Johnson, English author, poet, essayist, lexicographer (1709-1784)
Think of looking at something that’s off in the distance. You feel safe, because you are far removed from its presence and not affected by its action or inaction. Your eye transmits the image to your brain and your brain interprets and assigns meaning or perspective to the situation. When you look at the recommendation to avoid association with former friends who are still abusing substances, it’s perhaps helpful to think of yourself as looking at something off in the distance.At least, this helps some people to avoid the triggers associated with former friends.
What, exactly, is a “safe” distance? What if you’re not able to avoid some individuals at all? You may live with them or work with them. They may be your neighbors or someone with whom you regularly come into contact where you live or work. A safe distance generally means that you arrange your travel route and social activities so that you are not in close proximity – not in the same room or space – with people you no longer wish to be associated with. But as for those whom you can’t avoid, keeping a safe distance means that you don’t engage in conversation with them, don’t take part in activities with them – unless you’re required to as part of your job or have to because of family obligations. In short, you curtail interaction with them as much as possible.
Of course, this won’t go unnoticed by your former friends, especially if they continue to abuse substances. After all, they want you back in the action, drinking at the bar, smoking, injecting, snorting dope, popping pills, whatever. You will need to have a conversation with them at some point. What should you say? Be precise, keep it short, and mean what you say. You could, for example, say that you have chosen a life of sobriety and drinking/drugs no longer have any place in your life. You could say that you appreciate their friendship but you can no longer continue a relationship as long as they are actively involved in drinking/drugs.
It won’t be easy at times. It may even feel like you’re wrenching away an important part of your past, some long-held and perhaps quite dear relationships. But you have to think about your own recovery, how far you’ve already traveled, and your overall commitment to continuing sobriety. You will need friends, certainly, and you can begin by joining groups where people share your interests – and refrain from drinking or doing drugs. Your 12-step groups are a good start, but you will eventually want to broaden your social contacts to include people you meet during recreational activities, at school, while you’re engaged in hobbies, travel, and other encounters or groups.
Keep focused on strengthening your recovery. Keep busy each day making plans and taking steps to fulfill them. After a while, keeping a safe distance from friends from the past that continue to abuse substances won’t be troubling to you. You’ll be actively engaged in the present and your continuing recovery.