Wednesday, December 16, 2009

“A New Kind Of Friendship”

In my active addiction, I was a big isolator. A lot of my time spent loaded was by myself, and it was time that I guarded jealously. I hated the world and couldn’t wait to get away from it. Responsibilities were something to do as quickly as possible with the minimum amount of effort—if I did them at all. Do the bare minimum, then go get loaded and retreat from the world. It hated me, after all. Or so my thinking was at the time.

I never had many friends. Some people, when loaded, become social butterflies. Not me. I was never one of those who loved to get loaded then find my new best friend. I never had more than a handful of people I spent time with, and that number had dwindled down to practically zero by the end of my using career. At the end, I had only two people I ever saw who I would even consider calling my friends: my main using buddy, who I’d usually go in on a bag with, and the dealer.

When I first started using, and for a while after, it was a kind of gateway to friendships for me. I’d already been a loner, always feeling that no one would ever want to talk to me or find me interesting. It’s a little difficult to describe, though. Hanging out, getting loaded with others, I felt more included than I had before, but I still felt that I didn’t belong. I still felt like others were always looking down on me, that I wasn’t good enough. In the program, we talk about feeling ‘less-than’ and I definitely did. Even when I splurged and shared my stash, I could never shake the feeling that I still wasn’t fully welcomed. I wasn’t ‘a part of’.

Other people had always let me down, so it didn’t occur to me that there was anything unusual about my using friends letting me down. That was the concept of friendship that I had: people who let you down. When I was loaded, I could convince myself that they really cared for me. I was very good at justification, making up excuses for them for why they were never there for me. And, after all, I didn’t think I was worth being there for anyway.

Looking back on those ‘friends’, I see now how little I had in common with them. Every once in awhile I’ll run into an old using buddy. We’ll talk, and the feeling is reaffirmed for me: they were people I hung out with to get loaded or be loaded around. There were no other reasons. I may not have thought so at the time, but looking back it is abundantly clear to me. They were addicts as well. When we are in the grips of active addiction, we aren’t capable of genuinely caring about others. When our connection to the spiritual is being blocked because we’re loaded or consumed with trying to become so, we are locked inside ourselves and the only thing we can conceive of or care about is us.

We’ll love you until you learn to love yourself.

For myself, I had no concept of what a real friendship was like. I had never experienced it, never known what it was like to be truly accepted for who I am just as I am. I had never felt that kind of love. I didn’t get it from others growing up; I didn’t get it from my family. It wasn’t until I found my way into the rooms that I began to learn about what real friendship could be.

Now I have people in my life that I know genuinely care about me, and I about them. They are people who I share common interests with, who we enjoy doing things together or talking about subjects that matter to us. The people close to me are close because we have a love for each other that is not based on being loaded. When I ask them about what’s going on in their lives, it’s because I actually want to know. How they are doing with work, family, their relationships, matter to me. Subjects for discussion are talked about because they interest us, not as small-talk leading to who makes the call to the dealer.

Early on in my Recovery, I received some very good advice: that I get to be choosey about who I spend my time with. For the first time, I began to act on the belief that I deserved to have people in my life who are good for me, and that I didn’t have to keep others in my life who weren’t. After so many years of feeling less-than, after always taking what little scraps of so-called friendship I could find, this advice was difficult to follow at first. But as I built more and more actual friendships, the false ones became easier to let fall away. As I began caring about myself, accepting that I was worth having people in my life who truly cared about me, it became easier to let go of those who didn’t.

Change your people, places, and things.

This is one of the big suggestions that so many newcomers have a hard time with. On the face of it, changing the people we spend time with makes sense for one very simple reason: don’t hang out with the people you used to get loaded with and your chances of not getting loaded go up astronomically. In reality, this suggestion is about getting yourself away from people who are incapable of caring about you. They may think they do, but it’s because they don’t have any concept of what it is like to genuinely care about someone else. We may think they care about us, but it’s because our ideas of what it means to care about someone else have been twisted by our disease. More often than not, we don’t feel we deserve to have people in our lives who care about us. How could we? We don’t know how to care about ourselves.

When we feel our selves are worthless, that we don’t deserve to be treated with love, dignity, and respect, we attract others into our lives who fail to treat us with love, dignity, and respect. When we don’t love ourselves, when we feel that we deserve to be treated badly, we attract people into our lives who treat us badly. Giving up this feeling of worthlessness is one of the greater challenges of Recovery. For many of us, we have spent our entire lives thinking of ourselves this way. It was definitely like that for me.

Meeting people in the program who loved me was the beginning. At first it didn’t make sense, and like so many others, I had difficulty accepting that love. In time, and with practice, I learned how to love myself. I’m still learning. I hope I never stop. And I have people in my life now who I can genuinely call friends to thank for it.

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