This week I’m taking the lead from my Facebook friends’ topic suggestions. Laurie CS wrote: How about respecting your recovery when others don’t (or just don’t have the understanding). I may have gone off-topic but it inspired me.
I was the only one in my crowd to get into recovery. Until then, I thought not shooting dope meant I was clean. Every now and then, a few of us would decide to get clean. We’d hurry off to a bar so that we could drink enough to make it through the day without using. Sometimes I’d go to Amsterdam to kick my habit. Drinking and smoking hash didn’t count. I’d arrive back in New York clean (as far as I was concerned). A few went on the methadone program to be clean. It’s not that we rejected complete abstinence. It simply never occurred to us.
I ended up in a treatment center outside of New Orleans and at 69 days clean boarded a Greyhound bus destined for Los Angeles. I arrived with $100 dollars and a desire to stay clean. In my heart I knew I couldn’t go back to New York – not yet. I started my life over from scratch, which included building relationships. I spent my first year clean surrounded by recovering addicts. We were young, crazy, clean and enthusiastic. Twelve-step meetings were our life. Together we learned how to expose our true selves to one another and the level of intimacy created a bond that I still have with those people. Our lives were about recovery – it’s all we talked about. I chuckle when I imagine what it would have been like to have been stuck in a restaurant booth behind us. One step short of Scientology is one way I’ve heard it put. I’m sure we were a bit fanatical and over the top but we were having a blast and the alternative – well, I probably wouldn’t be here to write about it.
At a year clean I flew back to New York City anxious to see my old friends. I knew it was a dangerous move but I loved these people and they were the only evidence that the stories I told had actually happened, that my past was real. Although I hadn’t really thought too much about it, I’d spent a year existing only in present time with people who only knew me clean. My old friends had lived through my relationships, my marriage, had known my dog, and met my family. I wanted that connection back. I hadn’t considered what they would think of the “new” me.
After a few drinks, they startled to dismantle my belief system. “All that happens is that they get you addicted to God” was a major point with them. I said that I wasn’t a believer but they didn’t want to hear this as they laid all their opinions of 12 step programs on me. And no – they had never been to one. “We’re worried about you Patty. They’re brainwashing you.” I was caught between wanting to cry and wanting to laugh. “You’re right. It probably is brain washing but I guess I needed my brain washed.” That sort of ended it for a while. I knew they loved me but I knew they did not want recovery. The funny thing is, I did not go to New York to get them clean. Truthfully, the lack of support was upsetting and my expectations on my homecoming had been shattered. I was experiencing so many feelings from heartbreak to disappointment to anger to shame that I knew in my gut that if I stayed in that apartment the entire week I could get loaded so I found somewhere else to stay for a few days. As soon as I was away from my old friends, I was able to get grounded again. When I called LA and rehashed the events, my friend Ron summed it up, “I guess you forgot you were powerless.”
Fast forward to four years clean. By now my life was full. Recovery was at the core of it but there was a lot of other stuff going on. I was writing again, performing, working. I had friends both in and not in recovery. I didn’t wear it on my sleeve anymore because the “inside job stuff” had happened. I’d matured and so had my recovery. I now had other things to talk about. I was married to a musician who’d had a long career in Europe so there was a never-ending stream of touring musicians coming through our house. These were his old “using” friends. I was enjoying the company of one in particular but after a few drinks he started spewing all of his opinions about the idiots who end up in recovery. “They are nothing but weak sheep who lack willpower”. Naturally, this led him to the God-addiction and brain washing argument. I laughed and asked if he was calling me a weak sheep. “Is that what you think of me and – “ I listed five of his closest, most respected friends who were now all in recovery. He was on his back staring at the ceiling, silently watching his cigarette smoke curling upward. “That is what I don’t understand. My friends are brilliant – yet everyone is doing this thing. It doesn’t make any sense to me.” The silence between us was filled with pain. He was surrounded by friends who were in recovery but it was not going to be for him. He drove his car at sixty miles an hour into a brick wall two months later.
Here’s some advice for anyone who is having a difficult time with friends not fully understanding or supporting their recovery:
Make sure you have a lot of other friends who do support your recovery.
You have to know why you are in recovery – what it means to you. Be unshakable. And you don’t have to defend it – just live it.
Check your side of the street. If you’ve been unintentionally trying to recruit them, lay off. If people want what you have they will ask you how you did it and if they don’t, they won’t.
Active addicts and alcoholics are uncomfortable with friends who have gotten clean. They are most likely the ones to start up these discussions. Avoid all conversations about recovery with people who are loaded. They will keep up the argument for days if you let them.
If you are too early in recovery to have boundaries, you shouldn’t be there. It is easy to change the subject or to cut out early. Save your recovery talk for people who want it.
Remember, if you are new, your foundation is still fragile. Don’t take unnecessary risks.
Recovery is YOUR path; every human being is entitled to choose their own path.
Expectations lead to disappointment.
Today I still get people telling me that after all these years I should be able to drink now if I want to. I used to have clever answers like “Well, if I have a drink now, I’ll probably rob you later.” Now my answer is, “I don’t want one”.
Oh – and my old friends that I mentioned – they’ve been back in my life for years. In fact, when I held a party for the premier of Relapse, they were the ones who stayed closing the bar, long after everyone had left, discussing how great the show was.