As active addicts many of us had friends who were that in name only. Our mutual interests in acting out, trying to prolong our adolescence, and using each other for one end or another were often the sole basis of those “friendships.” How many of our using buddies tried to encourage us to continue our addictive behavior? “Hey, everyone does it!” “Oh, you’re not that bad.” “You just need to ____. You don’t have to ____!” Any of those sound familiar?
And just as tellingly, how many of our willing partners in excess stuck with us when we showed that we were serious about changing? Not too many, I’m guessing.
Perhaps we found we had less in common than we’d believed, or perhaps we made them nervous by underlining the discomfort of their own behavior. In any case, few addicts of my acquaintance have come through early recovery with many old “friendships” intact. That was certainly the situation in my case. My former best buddy avoided me like the plague (and eventually died from his addiction).
Superficial relationships were easy for most of us, but few people really knew who we were. We thought we were being sincere, but we weren’t even being honest with ourselves. As a result, in recovery most of us addicts have trouble letting others through the walls we built over all those years and difficulty developing honest relationships. That’s a shame, because relationships are the real basis of recovery: sponsors, supports, family, those who share our spiritual paths, and acquaintances inside and outside of the rooms of our fellowships provide the context in which we build our new lives.
Friendships provide comfort, strength and affirmation of worth. Just as importantly, they teach us how to be good friends, skills in which most of us were sorely lacking. We learn to lower our guard and let others know us. We learn to accept others for who they are, without judging them. What’s more ridiculous than the idea of a judgmental addict, and yet we’re experts at finding other people’s faults while trying to ignore our own. These things develop over time, but only if we let them, and make an effort on our own part to be someone who people want to befriend.
The friends we make in recovery are different in many ways from our fair weather friends of earlier times. One of those ways is in the willingness to forgive unintentional slights and allow us to forgive. In return we do the same, showing the humility of people who no longer need to have their own way all the time. The attitudes of acceptance we develop in these experiences are important in our learning to forgive and accept ourselves – the real selves that we kept hidden from others, the selves that our addictions and other issues kept hidden from us. Friendships allow us to recognize the genuineness and self-worth that are beginning to define us in our recovery and to develop the skills that we will need in order to move on in our sober lives.
The reward of friendship is itself. The man who hopes for
anything else does not understand what true friendship is.
St. Ailred of Rievaulx