People in recovery speak often about difficulties with family and friends, but the fact that most of us still have these at all speaks to us of deep love. Thank you for loving us so much. Thanks for being our partners and friends, our parents and our children. We know you don’t understand us, and we don’t understand you, but love tries so hard to cross gaps. Without your love, our lives would be a colder and more meaningless place.
We know loving us has caused you pain. We’ve hurt you with our selfish or desperate behavior, and it’s been painful to watch us suffer when you wish you could stop it from happening. We’ve probably said before that we’re sorry, or even promised to change. We probably meant it at the time. But you’ve learned better than to trust us based on anything we say. Only time and action can show which path we are on.
We are not asking you to forgive us, or excuse the things we’ve done. We’re not asking you to refrain from being angry or hurt, or to trust us again, or to let down your guard when you don’t feel right about it. You should protect yourselves from us when it’s necessary. But if you can try to imagine why we act the way we act–to imagine the illogical–perhaps it will help you do what needs to be done without holding bitterness that will poison your life.
Try it, if you choose to, not for our sake but for your own. Imagine that there’s something wrong inside you. Always wrong, every minute of every day. Fear like a second skin, or anxiety that never lets you rest, or shame so deep you are hardly aware of it but live your entire life according to its dictates. Pain that never stops; frustration that cannot be appeased, a shriek of distress grating in your ears.
Now imagine that you have something that you know will take it all away. Give you relief and peace; pleasure, a sense that all is well. Through some mystery of your brain chemistry, doing certain things has the ability to take you to a place you have never visited in any other way. Whenever you are suffering, whenever you can’t sleep or you hurt or you’re angry, sad, hopeless…your addictive substance or behavior is right there. Like a button you can press to end the torture.
Can you say no? Can you keep your hand away from that magic button when it appears? Can you consciously choose to continue to endure the hell you’re in?
Of course you can. You’re strong. You have integrity.
Can you say no ten times?
Of course you can. You promised you’d stop that behavior. You sincerely want to be a better person.
Can you say no one hundred times?
Of course you can. You’ve done so well all day. It will get better. There must be something else that will help.
Can you say no one thousand times?
Of course you can. Your family’s counting on you. You don’t want to see that disappointed look in their eyes.
Can you say no ten thousand times?
Of course you can. Your health depends on it. Your job depends on it. Everything depends on it, so stop thinking about how good it would feel to stop hurting…just for a moment.
Can you say no one hundred thousand times?
Of course you can. You don’t want to go back to jail. You don’t want to risk losing your children. You know how bad it will get. You know, you know…so keep screaming that at the part of your brain that just wants relief.
Can you say no a million times?
Of course you can. Just keep talking back to your brain. Don’t stop. Don’t you stop for a minute, not even when you’re sick or tired or heartbroken, don’t stop reminding yourself of what would happen, don’t stop thinking about your reasons to hold on…
Can you say–honestly–that if this were your life, you would always prevail when that million-and-first choice comes along?
Can you imagine–for a moment–that someone could really try and still fail?
Can you feel–in a small way–why an addicted person might do things that just don’t make sense?
If you can, it can help you by making it easier to understand why those of us in recovery have to take such drastic measures to get and stay there. Why such life-changing crap has to happen. Why some of us start waxing spiritual and analyzing ourselves and hanging out with recovery folks so much that you feel neglected again. Why we’re not “fixed” when we come out of treatment, or after a certain amount of time.
We know that living with us in recovery can be a whole new set of frustrations for you sometimes. If we’ve been lucky enough to get onto a path that has let us put together some real clean/sober/whatever time, we might still not be meeting your expectations. Perhaps you wanted things the way they were, or you wanted us to change our recent problem behavior but nothing else. Maybe you thought your life would feel right if this problem were gone, and it doesn’t.
Even having a little empathy with us doesn’t change the fact that you have feelings to deal with and choices to make. We can try to show up honestly for our part, but our attempts to make up for the past are unlikely to balance the scales.
It isn’t fair to you.
It isn’t going to be fair.
Nothing about addiction is fair.
Whatever you decide, and whatever you need to do, you still have our gratitude, even if we’re not giving it consciously at the moment because our attitude has gotten screwed up again. Your love wasn’t wasted, not in the grand scheme of things. We hope ours wasn’t either.