Peer groups are very interesting. They are, simply, the people we surround ourselves with: the people you spend the most time with, including your family, friends, colleagues, and in particular, the people with whom you drink.
Peer groups reflect back to us who we are.
My peer group, when I was drinking, was mostly people who were just the same as me. To be honest, I didn’t even like most of them.
I just pretended I did.
Some of my ‘friendships’ were based on fear of being alone, and they were just with people to do ‘stuff’ with (i.e. drink with), so I could convince myself I wasn’t a ‘lonely loser’.
Others were with people I used for my own purposes, and other people were ‘fair weather friends’ at best. All my relationships felt uncomfortable or ‘icky’. They never felt completely truthful or genuine. There were always hidden agendas in my friendships.
Abusing alcohol and drugs was the basis of most of my relationships. I drank and used drugs with people who drank and used in the same way I did. We colluded with each other.
I justified my behaviour through theirs. My peer group was mostly full of insincere, selfish, insecure, shallow, manipulative people – because that’s who I was.
However, I was also lucky that I did have some genuine friends who saw something in me that I couldn’t see.
Their friendship kept me alive.
By some miracle these people stayed in my life and are my dearest friends today. They saw past my crazy behaviour to the real me and loved me despite that behaviour. I was an inconsistent and unreliable friend, but somehow they persevered with me.
I remember from time to time meeting people who were genuine, interesting and authentic. I found these people very attractive and tried to form friendships with them. However, because I was insecure and frightened, not to mention chaotic and unreliable, I usually destroyed these friendships or pushed the people away because I was so ashamed or embarrassed about who I’d become. I never wanted anyone to get close.
That’s why my friendships were always changing. My sole criterion for friendship was, ‘Did they drink? And did they drink the way I did?’.
If so, then I could spend time with them. When I got sober I had very few friends left.
The longer I stayed sober the more I knew that I couldn’t risk hanging out with people who drank the way I used to.
Getting sober may mean changing your peer group. This isn’t something you necessarily have to do consciously.
When I stopped drinking, my social life stopped dead in its tracks. Nearly all my friends were fair weather drinking friends. I realised we had nothing in common and it was really too uncomfortable for us to see each other.
As I began to become emotionally well, my peer group changed very naturally and I began to attract people into my life with whom I had always wanted to be friends, but had always been too scared of in the past.
I attracted people who saw the world as I did, who had a curious mind, who had a thirst for life, who wanted to live their lives to the full.
People who lived their truth. People who weren’t perfect, but who were always striving to be the best version of themselves they were capable of being.
Now, my relationships feel genuine. I don’t feel uncomfortable and I don’t have to hide anymore. I can be honest and reveal my true self, imperfections and all, with no fear, because I know I am loved and accepted. My peer group lifts me up. They celebrate my successes and support me in my challenges, and they inspire me and guide me.
I am truly honoured and blessed to attract such incredible people into my life.
When someone within a peer group changes, it upsets the balance of the group. People generally don’t like change. If you are part of a peer group which drinks like you do it will disturb them greatly if you stop. This is because you have stopped reflecting back to them who they are and are now reflecting back something they may not want to see yet.
It’s not uncommon for a peer group to try to influence someone by telling them they can’t be an alcoholic and that they don’t drink enough for that to be true – just remember that it’s nothing to do with how much you drink. You may be frightened that they will laugh or ridicule you for getting help.
Remember who is sleeping in your head.
You are not them.
Your peer group will be uncomfortable when someone changes; they may not be ready to change yet – certainly they don’t have to, they are free to live their lives as pleases them – so a peer group may try and get you to change back to how you were because it’s easier for them. This is because by getting sober you’ve upset the apple cart.
We need other people around us, but choose wisely who is going to accompany you on your journey through life.
Remember your peer group reflects back to you who you are.
This is an exclusive extract from my book ‘Why you drink and How to stop: journey to freedom’ available on Amazon, iTunes and Barnes & Noble.