Monthly Archives: March 2018

Over My Head

Stepping into the rooms…

Walking through the doors…

Beginning the recovery journey…

If you’re anything like me, those words come with a lot of baggage. Emotions and anxiety are bound up in memories of what it was like to begin. The entire ordeal can be a little surreal; it’s overwhelming.

Right now, in an attempt to keep working my twelfth step, I’m serving as the secretary for my 12 step group. That means that all inquiries about the group come to me via email and telephone.

I am reminded time and time again how difficult it is to reach out – to be vulnerable – to be honest – to make an effort – to admit to myself, let alone others, that I have a problem, and this is it.

People with no experience are often scared and feel like they’re going through this all alone.

I remember the first time I walked into the rooms. I dressed in such a way as to make myself feel invisible. Hoodie. Ball cap pulled low on my face. Hood up over the cap. If I could exist in the shadows, maybe I din’t really exist at all.

I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t have an option. I wasn’t really given an option – at least, not one I was willing to live with.

I was thinking a lot of the things many of us probably experience at this point.
“What if somebody sees me? What if somebody recognizes me? What if I know someone there? What if I have to face them at work or school or church or at a sporting event?”

People tell me all the time, either directly or indirectly, that they have no idea how to go about doing this thing. I mean, that makes sense. When we’re just starting out, we don’t know anything. “Do I come alone? Do I have to register? Can my spouse or significant other come with me? Is there a place for them?”

“I’m just kind of lost on how to go about all this.”

Of course, those questions just morph when someone actually starts the program. “Who do I call? When do I call? When can I call? Will you call me? Why not? Do I need one of those books? What are the 12 steps? People keep talking about working the program, working the steps – what does that mean? How do I do that?”

“Will you be my sponsor? What even is a sponsor? What is a temporary sponsor? Why will you only be my temporary sponsor? How do I get a “real” sponsor, a full time sponsor?”

From the get go I was in over my head. Of course I was in over my head. If I weren’t in over my head, I wouldn’t be here in the first place.

That’s where trust comes into play. That’s where the experience, strength, and hope of others comes into play. That’s where we have to rely on and borrow from the faith and strength and prayers of others to get through another day, another hour, another moment of temptation.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. This program is not about cessation. It’s not about stopping. It’s about starting. It’s about doing things differently. Change is less about letting go of certain behaviors and more about latching onto new ones.

The first step is the only step that talks directly about our disease. The first step mentions alcohol, or addiction, or lust, or whatever it is we struggle with, but that’s it. The rest of the steps teach us how to take on new behaviors.

In much the same manner, our literature pretty much universally says that  the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop, but then it goes on to say virtually nothing about stopping. The steps build on one another, and with each new step comes the challenge of facing or tackling some new task or thought or idea.

The trick to living life when you’re already drowning is learning how to not bite off more than you can chew. This is why we shouldn’t attempt to go through recovery alone. We walk together with accountability partners and sponsors and a home group and meetings and literature and phone meetings and treatment centers and a whole plethora of resources that are available if we’re willing to tap into them.

I’ve been walking recently with a kid in early recovery, and it hasn’t been easy.

First of all, I know this kid way too well. We’ve known one another for years, but this is different. I’m struggling. I want to do it for him, but I know I can’t.

He has to do the work.

He has to want it.

He has to own his part in all of this.

Watching him go from denial to what could potentially be rock bottom has been hard.

I’ve tried to force it. I’ve threatened him. But in the end I’ve been reminded time and time again by people who love me that his success is dependent upon his recognition and his willingness to do the work.

I’m trying.

I’m trying to just be here for him. I’m trying to let go and allow relationships to form which will help him in the way similar relationships have helped me.

My sobriety and my relationship with God are at their best when my program is the most active. When I have sponsees and others who desire to use me as a resource to impart wisdom and help hold them accountable, I am more likely to seek counsel and touch base with God and my sponsor as a result thereof.

I’m also working actively to get over my desire for strict definition of roles. My mind is quick to say that when I sponsor people, I am supposed to be the voice of knowledge or authority. The reality is that we’re just two people working our way through recovery. And when my sponsees take time to check on me rather than in with me, I should value that and take advantage of it rather than dismiss it as inappropriate. Instead of continuing to see the reciprocity of care as a blurring of boundary of roles, I am learning to let go of the lies that fear and pride tell me.

Today I’m still in over my head, but I’m not alone. No longer do I feel like I’m the only one who has ever struggled with this in this way. I know better. I know that life is difficult for everyone. I realize that everyone I bump into is just trudging through life, and some of us are lucky enough to be “trudging the road of happy destiny.”

My friends in 12 step fellowships are quickly beginning to outweigh the other friends in my life, and that’s okay because we’re all just people. And we’re all in this together.

We understand one another.

That’s what makes these rooms so invaluable.

Life is, after all, nothing without relationships.

– Alex Walker

Q&A Part 4: From the Outside Looking In

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part four of our series, Questions & Answers. This series will attempt to cover topics and/or questions which have been raised by readers. Feel free to submit your own questions, and we’ll see what we can do about addressing them.

When is the appropriate time to seek healing in dealing with the recovery of a loved one? What can I do to help my loved one or friend as he/she goes through the pain associated with addiction and recovery?

Let’s start with the easy question here: When should I seek help? When should I seek healing? When is it appropriate to take care of myself?

The answer is simple, and it’s always the same: right now. There’s no better time than right now to experience the first day of the rest of your life. There’s no better time than right now to take care of yourself. There’s no better time than right now to realize and understand how impossible it is to be present for someone else if we don’t first figure out what our needs are and work diligently to meet them.

Addictions and compulsive behaviors do negatively affect the friends and family members of those whose lives are consumed by them. As a direct result thereof, loved ones often find themselves facing real loss and real pain. It’s not unusual for those close to addicts to experience financial, physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual setbacks as a result of simply being in relationship with someone whose life is consumed by something outside of their control.

That’s why it’s important to seek help and healing even when the addict in your life is unwilling to do so. Twelve step groups, therapists, religious organisations, and other engaging environments are all means of receiving help and working toward a healthier life. It’s never too early to begin the process of claiming your life and escaping the grasp of chaos and rot that come with the entangled nature of an addictive life.

As for the extremely more difficult question, there is no simple answer. What can I do to help my loved one or friend as he/she goes through the pain associated with addiction and recovery? 

To begin with, recognize that recovery is both a journey and a process. It’s going to take time. We’re not talking about an overnight transportation. Think about how much time over how many years were dedicated to living into active addiction. There is no elixir or overnight remedy that’s going to make all of that go away such that everything is all better now. The addict in your life is going to have to invest a lot of time and energy into working on his/her sobriety. Let them do so. Give them time. Give them space (if they need it, or if you need it). And work on yourself.

Remember this: You didn’t get them drunk, and you can’t get them sober.

What you can do is learn to recognize what role you might be playing in their life. This is not a blame game; it’s merely an awareness that how we act and react to others in our life takes its toll. None of us exist in silos.

Here are just a few models for understanding the roles we might play in the life of an addict:

Al-anon talks about a Merry Go Round Named Denial which identifies four major (types of) players in every alcoholic relationship: the alcoholic, the enabler, the victim, and the provoker. “One person drinks too much and gets drunk and others react to her drinking and its consequences. The drinker responds to this reaction and drinks again. This sets up a Merry-Go-Round of blame and denial, a downward-spiral which characterizes alcoholism.”

“The Enabler is a person who feels he must not let the alcoholic suffer the consequences of her drinking when he can so easily prevent this by a simple rescue operation.” This person may have a savior complex and definitely qualifies as being classically codependent. Professional helpers, those driven by anxiety and guilt, and those in it to meet their own needs often find themselves in this role.

“The Victim is the person who is responsible for getting the work done, if the alcoholic is absent due to a hangover.” These individuals feel that they are helping by covering the ass of their friend time and time again. They are not. Facing real consequences can be a driving force to push people toward recovery.

The Provoker tends to be “the person with whom the alcoholic lives…Hurt and
upset by repeated drinking episodes, [sic] he holds the family together despite all the trouble caused by drinking…Also [sic] called the Adjuster; he is constantly adjusting to the crises and trouble caused by drinking.” This role might best be described as the scapegoat because all of the addict’s bad behaviors find their blame laid here. This person will attempt “to be nurse, doctor, and counselor” but will ultimately fail because doing so does little more than add undo stress to an already stressful situation.

Family systems theory is another model which helps us understand how we relate to the addict in our life. In addition to the addict, this model has five other major player labels within the family: the caretaker (chief enabler), the hero, the scapegoat, the lost child, and the mascot.

The Chief Enabler reduces tension in the family by smoothing things over and believes that he/she is simply being helpful and acting to hold the family together.

The Hero (aka the parental child, superstar or goody two shoes) is the source of family pride and often excels in academic or athletic pursuits, but their successes are driven by perfectionist tendencies rooted in an underlying need to make the family look good.

The Scapegoat tends toward rebellion and anti-social behavior to the point of mimicking the behaviors they identify with in the addict/alcoholic because of a perceived emotional bond with that individual. Often the object of misdirected frustration and rage, this is the person who both holds and voices anger and frustration on behalf of the family at large.

The Lost Child, seeking to avoid conflict, tends to come across as forgettable and shy. A follower not a leader, this person has few (if any) friends outside the family system and has a high likelihood of developing mental health issues.

The Mascot is likable and fun to be around. think of this person as the family clown and the one member of the family nobody has any real complaints about.

For more information on this system and the general qualities of codependency, check out this pdf for the signs, symptoms, and general characteristics of codependency. This document does a good job of helping people identify whether or not they might be codependent as well as speak to what codependency looks like as it progresses.

So, what you can do is recognize what roll you play in the life of your addict or simply in the live’s of the ones you love. Codependency is not limited to those tied to addicts or alcoholics. Codependency can exist all on its own. Let’s remember that the goal of recovery is holistic health for all parties involved, but the only person I can work on is me.

Do what you can, but understand that a lot of what we might be inclined to do is going to do more to keep someone sick than it is to urge them on toward health and healing. Sometimes the best thing that we can do for someone is nothing.

Life hurts.

God heals.

[God] said, “If you will obey me completely by doing what I consider right and by keeping my commands, I will not punish you with any of the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians. I am the Lord, the one who heals you.”

Exodus 15:26

– Alex Walker