Encountering Addicts From Our Past
Posted Jun 9, 2022
I was six months clean when I ran into my old using buddy Dillon. Twenty minutes later, I was high.
Using buddies are people that we used to get high with. For recovering addicts like myself, running into our old using buddies can put our sobriety at risk.
Once we get clean, we typically leave those who are still using drugs behind. We do our best to avoid them because we understand it’s not healthy for us to be around them.
It can be a jarring experience for us to encounter these people unexpectedly. If we aren't prepared, these encounters can damage our recovery and lead to relapse. I learned this the hard way during my first attempt at sobriety.
To protect ourselves and our sobriety, we should know what to expect and how to handle running into an old using buddy. Let’s get into it.
What to Expect If You Run Into Somebody You've Used Drugs With
I felt good about my recovery and had no intentions of getting high. It’s crazy how quickly that changed when I ran into Dillon.
The first step in preparing ourselves for an unintentional encounter with an old using buddy is to be aware of what to expect.
Seeing people from our past can bring up a lot of intense emotions. When I saw Dillon notice me in that grocery store parking lot, I immediately felt panic.
It is not uncommon for a recovering addict to feel the following emotions during this situation:
The type of emotion you experience depends on your past relationship with the person you see and where you are at in your recovery.
Here are some examples of how these emotions can manifest in thought when you first see an addict from your past:
- "I am not supposed to be talking to this person.”
- “Do they have drugs on them right now?”
- “Are they going to ask me to get high?”
- “What if they ask me to get high? I don’t want to relapse,”
- “I am not strong enough for this. I am going to end up using.”
- “This is bad, what am I going to say.”
- “How am I going to tell them that I am clean, what will they think?”
- “They are going to think I’m lame now.”
- “I just won’t tell them I’m sober.”
- “I was able to stop. I must be stronger than he is.”
- “I’m clean now. He’s so beneath me.”
- “I am doing something wrong. I shouldn’t be talking to him.”
- “I didn’t even tell him I was going to treatment.”
- “Maybe I could help him get clean.”
- “He looks like he’s struggling. I should give him some money.”
- “We were never friends. He just used me.”
- “Why does he think he can talk to me now.”
It is important not to listen to the voice in your head when you are experiencing these intense emotions upon first seeing somebody from your past.
We will talk more about dealing with these feelings in the next section.
When I first saw Dillon, my heart started pounding. It was like I wasn’t even sober anymore, my mind was laser-focused on the possible outcome of getting high.
A trigger is an event that causes a sudden desire to get high for a recovering addict. Bumping into somebody that we’ve used drugs with can be a trigger.
There are several things about bumping into old using friends that can cause us to become triggered:
- Seeing someone that you used to get high with can bring up memories of "fun" times you had with together. You may start to miss these moments and suddenly desire to experience them again.
They are high
- If the person is noticeably high it can remind you of the feeling you got from doing drugs. Once triggered, you will crave that feeling for yourself.
- You may experience Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) when you see somebody you've used with. You may become envious of their lifestyle and suddenly desire going back to using drugs.
Depending on where you are in your recovery, becoming triggered is a possibility when you run into an old using buddy.
We will discuss how to handle these triggers in the next section.
How to Handle Running Into Somebody You’ve Used Drugs With
I was new to recovery when I ran into Dillon. I didn’t know how to handle the situation, and it ended up costing me.
Now that we know what to expect from an encounter with an old using buddy; let's talk about how to handle the situation should it arise.
Here are a three rules that you should try to follow if you do bump into an addict from your past:
- Avoid conversation
If you can avoid talking to this person, you should. By engaging with them you are taking an unnecessary risk.
If you see them from a distance, turn in the opposite direction and keep walking. Run and hide if you have to; it doesn’t matter what they may think of you. What matters is your recovery.
Pro tip: Try faking an important phone call. Acting irritated on the phone can discourage the person from approaching you.
- Have an excuse ready
I understand you may not always be able to avoid conversation with this person. If you find yourself in this predicament, have an excuse for why you can’t stay and chat.
It can be as simple as saying, “Hey, I can’t talk now. I’m in the middle of something.” Make sure that what you say is blunt and doesn’t leave much room for a response. The quicker you get out of the conversation and away from the person, the safer your recovery will be.
- Keep the conversation short
- If you do find yourself talking to an old friend you used to get high with, keep the conversation short and simple.
- Try not to let the other person ramble because they are probably going to try catching you up on all the druggy drama and nonsense you missed while you were busy saving your life.
- The longer you speak with them, the greater the chance of becoming triggered by something they say.
Those are three general rules of thumb for when you bump into a using buddy from your past.
Now let’s talk about handling the emotions and triggers that you might experience.
Handling Emotions and Triggers
I mentioned earlier the list of emotions to be expected when we encounter someone from our past whom we used to get high with.
No matter how you feel, you must try and calm yourself down when you are in the moment.
Try viewing the situation as a challenge. If you can make it through the encounter without getting high, your recovery will be stronger for it.
If you do become triggered, remove yourself from the situation immediately. It doesn’t matter what you say to the person; get away from them ASAP.
Once you’re no longer around the person, call up someone from your support system to discuss how you are feeling.
It could be a family member, sponsor, therapist, or anybody who understands your situation in recovery and can help you talk through your feelings.
Being triggered can cause us to think about drug use in a positive light. For instance, we may focus on the feeling we got from using or the fun times we had in addiction.
Forcing yourself to think of the misery and pain that drugs caused you can help snap you out of this skewed thinking.
Dealing with intense emotions and triggers becomes easier with time.
Running into Dillon that day taught me a lot.
When you get clean, running into people from your past is a possibility. This seemingly harmless interaction can have devastating effects if we aren't careful.
Be prepared to experience intense emotions when you come across an old using buddy. The range of emotions you may feel is vast and can be extremely uncomfortable.
If you start feeling like you want to get high after seeing somebody from your past, remove yourself from the situation immediately.
Remember, if you see one of your old using buddies, try your best to avoid having a conversation with them. It can be helpful to have an excuse ready, to be able to quickly distance yourself from that person.
If you find yourself in a conversation, do your best to keep it short. The longer you chat, the greater the chance of becoming triggered and relapsing.
It is crucial to think about these things when you get clean. You don’t want to be caught off guard and do something you may regret.
Eric Anderson is a web developer and recovering drug addict. By sharing his experience in drug addiction and recovery, he hopes to help families who have been impacted by this disease.Learn more about Eric