friendshipWhen I used to try to kick heroin by the second night my brain would be up caught in a video loop of every terrible thing I ever did to anyone who ever cared about me.  I’d never been held accountable for the majority of it. Only I knew how far I’d fallen from being the kind of person I wanted to be. I loved my family, my husband, and my friends yet at the end I was alone. It was my form of damage control. I hated what and who I’d become and I couldn’t stop using. I was truly hopeless. Nothing stirred the heart-sickness in me more than replaying the ways I’d behaved with the people who’d cared. The pain this caused was so unbearable that I could never stay clean through it. I always picked up on the third day.

I’ve watched countless addicts go through this exact same process while detoxing.  Witnessing their despair while the unrelenting disease of addiction kept replaying these old tapes, I was able to make a connection between these specific feelings and the addict’s overpowering obsession to use again.  Despite all the other major destruction we create while using, it is the shame, remorse, guilt, and regret from the pain we have caused others, from seeing the evidence that we are no longer the person we know we can be, are meant to be, that causes us the most grief when we are getting clean and in early recovery.

When we get clean we usually aren’t aware of when we bring old behaviors into new friendships until there are consequences. How many times have you canceled plans with a friend at the last minute because something more exciting came along or because you just didn’t feel like doing anything never considering that it showed a lack of respect for someone else’s time? Or worse, lied to get out of a commitment and got caught? When have you given an honest unsolicited opinion and not realized how hurtful it was until your friend stopped calling you back?

Each of us have our own moral compass that guides us to live in accordance with our higher self. We usually know when we’re off course by a feeling in our gut that tells us something is not right. This is a good thing. It teaches us how to be the person we truly want to be. In recovery we learn how to be a better friend – and this matters because when we hurt people in recovery, not only do we feel shame, guilt, remorse and regret, our disease will start to play the old tapes of a lifetime of bad behavior to others and amplifies our shame. These feelings have the power to trigger cravings again.

What qualities do you value most in a friend? Do you value loyalty, trust, support, a sense of humor, someone who accepts you without judgment? Someone who is forgiving? What else is important to you? Does this describe you?

To get an honest appraisal of your friend-skills ask yourself these questions. Also note  when your behaviors line up with what you’ve listed as qualities you value in a friend.

Do you play different roles – strong with some and helpless with others?

Are you a people pleaser continually brushing aside feelings of resentment or anger?

Are you a giver or a taker or do you fall somewhere in the middle?

Are you a fixer or the friend always asking for advice?

Do you strategically seek out friendships that get you closer to the dream job or a person of romantic interest?

Do you have friendships of convenience but you never get invested emotionally?

Do you sustain long-term relationships, and if so what do those relationships look like.

The difficult part is to see where your behavior benefits you in some way.  When you are giving is it because there is something you want in return? Do you manipulate others to get your own way? Do you use guilt or the silent treatment rather than communicate how you feel?  Do you keep score? Do you ask for advice to avoid personal responsibility?

Some of you will be pleasantly surprised to discover that you are what you seek. Anyone new to recovery may find this exercise very uncomfortable – but don’t despair because there is a solution.  List every behavior that you want to eliminate and for the next week make a conscious effort to take the opposite action. Put in some effort and change happens. You’re worth it.




Patty is a nationally recognized certified recovery coach and writer. She lives in New York City.

1 comment

I really enjoyed this post a lot! I found that I could relate to a lot of what you were saying about the guilt, shame and regrets we addicts often feel early on in our recovery. I liked the end and being able to really consider what type of friend I am and how much I have changed since my recovery almost two years ago. Thanks for the wonderful insight on this topic!

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