By Ken Wells - 01/07/2022


Series Two: Blog Ninety-Five

Don’t walk in front of meI may not follow

Don’t walk behind meI may not lead

Walk beside me… just be my friend” — Albert Camus

Sometimes recovery is a very lonely road. The radical change required to end addictive behavior is dramatic. Addicts in recovery must change how they see everything. Addictive thinking becomes so pervasive that it infects every experience of living. There is no geographical cure in recovery from addiction. However, recovery creates a geographical transformation in the environment an addict lives. There is radical change in family relationships. Non-negotiable boundaries are established that dictate how you relate to others and who you allow to be your friend. For recovering addicts, old act-out partners have to go and new healthy relationships must be formed. For some who have destroyed all their friendships with destructive behavior prior to recovery, it is daunting to create new friendships without their drug of choice present.

Friendships can be fickle and fleeting. When you are at the top of the world and things appear to be going your way, friends seem to be everywhere. But when the juggernaut of fun stops and the mojo of action slows because of accusation, consequences of addictive behavior, or your own serious illness, those you thought were friends may disappear.

Some friends are not willing to accept your commitment to recovery. They ignore your boundaries, shame and ridicule your position in recovery, and minimize your high-risk situations.  You may cling to their relationship because you have become dependent upon them to prop you up. You tell yourself that you can’t live without their approval and do things that you would never otherwise to please them. But, it never works. You remain in constant conflict with yourself, trying to not let go of what was never there. The only “friend” that doesn’t let you down is your drug of choice that consistently helps you numb out until you see that this friend has become your greatest enemy to body and soul that leaves you empty. 

Friendship and family can become entangled with dependency. Sometimes with friends or family you tolerate what you wouldn’t put up with others. I recall my relationship with my next to oldest brother who died from addiction. I admired him and would tolerate behavior that would not be acceptable from others. I remember trying to connect time and again but he would put me off. He lived 50 miles away from me and I would try to drop in to say hi. He would either not answer his phone or not come to the door. There were always excuses not to connect. I lent him money that he never repaid. I always made it about me. I would tell myself it was just money! I determined to never let money get in the way of my relationship to my brother. I always made up that somehow I was not enough nor worth hanging out with. The truth was that I was emotionally needy and my brother was an addict who was emotionally unavailable.

Recovery requires letting go of what you cannot control. You cannot control your friends or family. You have to let go. You must set boundaries. You must grieve what used to be or what you hoped for but never was. Letting go of the opinions, attitudes, and behaviors of friends you love is difficult. It is tempting to want to circle back and figure out how you can make your friend understand you.  They are such good people. Why are they so insensitive to me? If I just explained myself or if I just did this one act of kindness, they would get me and they would be the friend I had always hoped for. At some point, it just doesn’t work. You have to let go. It’s not a healthy dynamic in relationship. Back off and let go. If your friend adjusts and accepts you where you are at, then fine. If not, you must be willing to move on. Don’t let one friendship relationship define or determine your well- being.

Boundaries are a prerequisite to friendship. Without boundaries you become enmeshed. You lose sight of where you stop and your friend begins. You lose yourself in the friendship so that you fail to recognize your own values, limits, and expectations. This is what happened to me in my relationship to my late brother. When you or your friend do not recognize and honor boundaries, the relationship will soon vaporize and become non-existent. The intensity and attraction for connection won’t last without boundaries that are respected by both parties. There are no boundaries without consequences. When you have suffered abandonment throughout much of your life, it is difficult to employ consequences to boundaries that are crossed by a friend because you are afraid of being left alone. You must become your own best friend in order to courageously enforce consequences when a friend does not honor or respect your boundary. Grieving the loss of friendship is a most difficult experience. Most people do not manage grief very well. Setting boundaries and letting go means that you must embrace disappointment and the reality that what you once hoped for in relationship to another person will no longer be. You will need to engage your sense of vulnerability of sadness, regret and remorse. Letting go and grieving the loss of possible relationship with my late brother was a gut-wrenching and painful experience. When I asked him about the $2500 that I had given him, he went dark and refused to talk to me. When I reached out to him and told him that I forgave the debt but I simply wanted to connect with him, he remained dark toward me until the day he died. Letting him go involved excruciating pain. I could not control my brother’s journey. I had to let go. I still practice letting him go even though he has been gone for 22 years. Boundaries are essential to friendships. Letting go daily of what you cannot control in friendship relationships is crucial. Recovery requires that you practice grieving what is beyond your control daily.

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