Creating meaningful and lasting relationships, without the junk
Active addicts may believe they have plenty of friendships. And indeed, many people suffering with addiction seem forever surrounded by adoring fans. But take away the charm-inducing common ground of their drug of choice, and those in recovery often find themselves void of true connections.
“Most people, by the time they are in recovery, find they are more isolated than ever before,” says JoAnn Campbell-Rice, spiritual care coordinator at the Dan Anderson Renewal Center on Hazelden’s Minnesota campus. “Alcohol and drugs were a way of feeling connected.”
Kim B., a recovering alcoholic, can attest to that sense of isolation.
“As soon as I got sober, I realized there were very few people I knew who would be supportive,” she says. “Most of my friends were drinking buddies.” Kim discovered even her relationships with family members were superficial. “You start to see how little of your time with them was spent having meaningful conversation,” she says. “I avoided it all by being the life of the party.”
Karen Casey, best-selling author of dozens of books on relationships including Fearless Relationships, has been in recovery from alcohol addiction for more than 35 years. She believes one of the reasons we turn to alcohol and drugs to begin with is due to an inability to connect.
“We’re always comparing ourselves with others or feeling separate from others,” Casey says. “I started drinking at age 13 because I felt distant from everybody else. When I began to drink, the glow of alcohol gave me a sense that I was OK. That’s a primary reason why people begin using. They feel inadequate. They use something to feel better or to numb those feelings.”
According to Casey, the best way to begin building lasting relationships in recovery begins with establishing a relationship with yourself and your Higher Power. “Recovery is about helping you really find out who you are and know that you’re primary relationship needs to be with your Higher Power,” she says. “That relationship gives you a sense of well-being.”
Casey’s spiritual beliefs have taught her that the people and experiences in her life are what she needs in order to grow as a human being. “But I can’t do that without my Higher Power,” she says. “I think that people who turn to alcohol or drugs are really looking for a Higher Power relationship. They don’t realize it. The emptiness is that lack of connection.”
Campbell-Rice agrees that forming authentic connections with others involves connecting with ourselves and our Higher Power. She quotes Alcoholics Anonymous’ Big Book that states, “In finding God, we find ourselves,” and underscores the value of working a Twelve Step program. “[Twelve Step] meetings expose people to sharing at a very honest level,” Campbell- Rice says. “People have to be willing to be honest with themselves. The Steps really give us the tools to get connected.”
Consider Steps 1 through 3, which teach us to explore that Higher Power relationship. Step 4 asks us to honestly assess ourselves. Step 5 offers a means for us to be truly honest and vulnerable—or authentic—with one another.
“Step 5 is often their first real encounter with someone who loves them unconditionally,” Campbell-Rice says of Twelve Step first-timers.
“Showing up is the first part of it—daring to trust that you’re in a safe place,” says Casey. She emphasizes that full disclosure and vulnerability take time. “You don’t go off to your first meeting and reveal everything about yourself,” she says. “It’s a process.”
For Kim, who is still working a 90 days, 90 meetings schedule, the relationships she’s made in Twelve Step meetings have given her a “higher standard for friendship” and taught her what true authenticity means.
“It’s just so liberating and so self-affirming to be able to be yourself completely, be loved by others and be present for them,” Kim says. “I was afraid to do that before. I thought that if anybody truly knew the real me, they’d be horrified. Turns out, everybody’s got that fear.”
Casey may sum it up best. “Two people can have a wonderful relationship, but it relies on both people showing up equally and being willing to compromise, willing to love each other’s flaws and to come together in the relationship because of the potential of what they can learn from each other,” she says. “There is a divine reason for [two people] being together. To recognize that, it makes every relationship kind of an adventure.”
– by Kelly O’Rourke Johns for Renew