When we leave a chemical dependency treatment center and begin our new life of freedom and sobriety, communicating with family and friends can be difficult. By the grace of God, I survived a 28 year battle with addiction, but along the way, I had severely damaged most of my relationships. Some people had “written me off”, as a loser and a lost cause. It was easier for them to pretend that I was dead, than to deal with the monster that I had become and to deal with their own feelings.
The phenomenon of denial affects both the addict and the addict’s family and friends. While I was denying that I had a problem with chemicals and my manic depression, some people in my life were either denying how bad my situation was, or they were simply separating themselves from me to protect themselves. They were denying their own emotions. Frankly, I don’t blame them! I had been to 13 treatment centers, I was homeless for a time, I had been arrested repeatedly as a result of my drug use, and I was totally insane.
When you combine chemical addiction with any mental illness, like the manic depression that I had, it is a “Perfect Storm” for bad things to happen. At the end of my drug and alcohol use, I was living outside of society and I was not following any of the rules. I was wild, reckless, selfish and living with a death wish.
I purposely pushed away anyone who was close to me, so that I would not hurt them, and more importantly, so I could use chemicals at will. You know when the disease of addiction is closing in for the kill, when you are completely isolated and completely alone. Family and friends get in the way of the disease, and its mission to destroy the addict. So in the end, I was alone and homeless on the street and dominated by fear and rage.
When I graduated from five months of treatment in 1998 at Hazelden Foundation in Minnesota, I felt great, but my relationships were hanging on by a very thin thread. I was still dominated with fear, shame, guilt and remorse for what I had done with half of my life. I went to a half-way house for another four months because I needed more time to heal. I had gone so far down the scale of addiction, that I needed every day of the nine months that I spent in treatment.
My confidence that I could get sober and stay sober had been shattered. I was being constantly bombarded by whispers in my ear from the devil, such as: “You do not deserve to be sober, you will always be a loser and soon you will be using drugs and alcohol again. You have been to 13 treatment centers, so what makes you think that you can ever get sober? Why don’t you go get high, so you don’t have to deal with the pain and the work of getting sober? You know that all of this pain will be gone as soon as you get high, so what are you waiting for?”
In early sobriety, temptations like this filled my mind every day and every night. I was staying sober an hour at a time. Remember, addiction is characterized by three vicious weapons—the mental obsession to use chemicals, the physical craving to get high, and powerful denial. I was not free of these three demons until I was sober for about one year. Today, Jesus has blessed me with 18 years of contented sobriety, and I want to encourage and help others to enjoy this new life. When I first got sober, I depended on 12 step meetings, my sponsor and new sober friends, to keep me sober and alive. Fellowship, meetings and working the steps with a sponsor saved my life.
The three demons of the mental obsession, the physical craving and persistent denial, continued to pursue me over the course of my first year of sobriety, but they became weaker and weaker. AA provided protection, companionship and hope that I could recover like others had. I began to actually work the 12 Steps with the help and guidance of an experienced sponsor. My faith in Jesus Christ was re-kindled and slowly, the flame was getting stronger. Gradually, I began to see and feel God healing my body, mind and spirit.
Simultaneously, my family and friends were most likely confused, scared, nervous and anxious about how I was going to be, as I emerged from my chemical hell. When a person gets sober, they are fragile, on-edge and in my case, nervous, restless, irritable and discontent. I really needed to pray for patience and love and forgiveness. I had done enormous harm to my family and friends, and so I was tentative, and they were also leery and somewhat distrusting of me. They were waiting for “the other shoe to drop”.
I don’t blame them, I had lied and broken many promises, and I was completely crazy when I used chemicals. They were also very angry, frustrated at not being able to help me, and totally shocked at my life. My family felt powerless over my addiction, just as I was powerless over my drug use. The disease of addiction negatively affects both the addict and the addict’s family and friends. Both are sick and are in need of healing. Alanon is designed to help families and friends of addicts and alcoholics.
As the recovering addict, I had to monitor myself and use “filters” in my communication, so that I would not cause more harm. For us addicts, building trust was the number one most important task at hand to repair our relationships. Little things like saying, “I will be home for dinner at 6 pm”, or “I will fix that broken window” or “I will pick up the kids today”, and then keeping those promises, went a long way in re-building trust. One successful promise, stacked on top of another then another, helped to gradually rebuild my relationships that I had shattered during my using years. I used to lie and break my promises, now it is time for me to keep my promises.
Addicts and alcoholics are notoriously selfish and self-centered, this is the root of our spiritual disease. In order to get out of myself, I had to offer to do work around the house or do volunteer work, or do errands, or do acts of kind service for my family and friends. This is how I began to re-build my relationships and to get out of myself. When I freely gave of myself, my relationships were strengthened and I felt better about myself. My self-esteem began to improve. AA meetings gave me several opportunities to do service work. Helping others was one of the most powerful and effective ways for me to become more spiritually healthy and happy.
Now of course remember, our family and friends may not be too enthusiastic about repairing the relationship. They may want to keep us at a distance, until they can experience some healing. We must respect the other person and recognize the pain they have endured because of us. “Easy Does It” (but do it). When we were using, “Pain was a great teacher”. Now in recovery, time can be a great healer, so be patient. No doubt, forgiveness will be needed on both sides of the fence. For the addict, completing a Fourth and Fifth Step and then an Eighth and Ninth Step will go a long way to feel better about ourselves, and to open some doors that had been closed for years by anger and resentment on both sides.
Addicts and alcoholics that stay sober for the long term, usually build their foundation of sobriety by working the 12 Steps under the guidance and direction of their sponsor. Any question you have about relationships can usually be answered by working the twelve Steps and by building a very close relationship with your sponsor.
Never hesitate to bring any of your questions to your sponsor. When we get sober, our minds, emotions and our spirits are still healing, and we need a good listener to help us. Your sponsor is the one to go to. If you want to supplement the help that you get from your sponsor, you can get a counselor who can also be helpful. As several old timers told me over the years, and as the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states, “We must be willing to go to any lengths to get and stay sober”.
Grateful addicts and alcoholics almost always stay sober. Addicts that help other addicts to get and stay sober also stay sober themselves. I am here to encourage you and to give you hope and faith, that if Jesus can get me sober and free, He can get you sober and free too! Surrender to God and give Him your life just as it is now, stay forever grateful, and work with your sponsor to live all of the 12 Steps. Read the “Promises on page 84 of the Big book of Alcoholics Anonymous. You will enjoy the privilege, honor and joy of helping others. Peace, Love and Blessings to you!