“How rare and wonderful is that flash of a moment when we realize we have discovered a friend.”
—William E. Rothschild
After a few years in addiction, we often come to value more than the substance itself. In many ways, we become equally addicted—perhaps even more so—to the lifestyle. This rings especially true for those who felt as if drugs and alcohol increased their popularity. How will we replace our using buddies if they aren’t willing to stop using around us? More importantly, what if they agree to stop using around us but abandon us anyway because they simply don’t like us when we’re sober? Must we really choose between sobriety and friendship?
Of course not. If anything, sobriety improves our social lives quite a bit. We set aside unhealthy friendships in favor of less dysfunctional ones. Sometimes we even regain friends that we lost during our addiction. And just as sobriety can improve our friendships, we often find that friendship enhances our recovery efforts.
The following are just nine of the countless gifts bestowed upon us every day by our friends in recovery. Note that a healthy friendship mustn’t necessarily exhibit every single one of these traits at all times. Even the healthiest friendship may occasionally fluctuate. But any friendship from which you reap even half of the following rewards will do wonders for your sobriety.
Friendship Eases Our Isolation
“A friend is somebody you want to be around when you feel like being by yourself.”
Addicts and alcoholics rarely possess secure attachment styles. In fact, many of us start using as a direct result of anxiety or insecurity. We feel that drugs and alcohol make it easier to socialize, that people even like us better when we perform under the influence. Sometimes, there might be a grain of truth to this. Other times, it is sheer delusion. Either way, the other shoe tends to drop before long.
Over time, as we push more and more people away, we find ourselves isolated. Upon entering recovery, we don’t always know how to cure this. We cannot remember how to make friends and influence people without a drink in hand. And if we can’t attend parties, where can we meet new people in the first place?
Not only does sobriety introduce us to 12-step meetings teeming with people who understand us, but dedication to the spiritual principles of recovery will inevitably make relationships easier to maintain. During our addiction, few trusted us enough to pursue anything like real friendship. In addition, those around us usually shared many of negative traits, to the extent that we could not easily consider them trustworthy friends. But the friendship we find in recovery has greater substance. We find meaning in it. And we know that as long as we stay the course, we need never feel lonesome again.
They Accept Our Differences
“A true friend is one soul in two bodies.”
Similarities in history and personality make it easier to relate to those we meet in recovery. More than this, however, we find that those who practice spiritual principles tend to exhibit greater acceptance. We may clique up with people who have a great deal in common, but we may just as easily forge a friendship with someone who would seem our exact opposite outside of the disease that we share.
This happens every day in recovery. Two people from different age groups, social classes, ethnic backgrounds or political ideologies form a fast friendship and become inseparable. They care not for the differences in their labels. After all, they know from their own experiences with addiction that addicts and alcoholics tend to hide our complexities. For someone to allow us into their life, they must give us the benefit of the doubt. Why wouldn’t we do the same for others?
Friends Validate Our Success
“A true friend is someone who thinks you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.”
During much of early recovery, we spend a lot of time beating ourselves up for the past. We led very chaotic lives, and it hurts sometimes to revisit the sordid details. By the time we finish cataloguing our resentments and listing people who deserve amends, we sometimes find ourselves in a dark place. Can we really get through this? Or do our past failures define the people we will always be?
Fortunately, recovery gives us more than just basic friendship—it gives us a true support system. With each little success, such as a new job or simply another month sober, we find ourselves surrounded by people willing to help us celebrate. And for those of us with families who still struggle with trust—as many are understandably prone to do—the joyous celebration of friendship gives us something to hold on to. We know that we can succeed, because we see the light within us reflected back in the eyes of others. Faith comes in many forms, but the feeling we get when somebody else expresses faith in us tops them all. Friendship helps us to experience that.
True Friends Always Speak Up
“Only your real friends will tell you when your face is dirty.”
Despite our successes, we sometimes take a step or two backward. We stop attending meetings, or our character defects begin to resurface. At these times, we might need a little boost from those who care about us. Friendship does not mean pretending that everything is hunky-dory when it isn’t. Sometimes, friendship means the willingness to speak uncomfortable truths.
In recovery, we make friends who do just this. When our actions require confrontation, they step up to the plate and deliver it. They let us know when they feel we should apologize to someone for something that we said or did. Perhaps we simply need to make slight adjustments to our routine or our general attitude. Fair-weather friends will not enlighten us to these needs. But those with whom we share a true friendship will always risk falling on our bad side if it means helping our recovery.
They Also Accept Our Flaws
“Real friends are those who, when you’ve made a fool of yourself, don’t feel that you’ve done a permanent job.”
—Erwin T. Randall
Do not misunderstand the above entry. We are not saying that true friendship should be laden with constant criticism. A good friend understands that not all shortcomings are created equally. For every character flaw that we can address immediately, there is usually another that will take more time. Our friends will motivate us to make these changes and try to support us through them, but will also accept us in the interim.
Say, for instance, that we struggle with social anxiety. A friend in recovery might introduce us to other people, and invite us out to eat with them. But if we spend the night feeling awkward and struggling to make conversation, they will exhibit patience and understanding. They will not judge us for failing to come out of our shell, because they know that we are likely already judging ourselves. Instead, they make us feel accepted. And when we experience this acceptance, our faith in the friendship grows stronger. Thus, our faith that we can develop a similar sense of friendship with others may grow stronger as well.
In this way, friendship often begets friendship. For the faith and acceptance we receive from one person will invariably influence the way we perceive others. This enables us to develop confidence, inspiring us to put our best foot forward at all times. The way that other people see us may just become our reality.
Friendship Keeps Us Steady
“With merry company, the dreary way is endured.”
Even when putting our best foot forward, life sometimes throws us a curveball. No matter the quality of our best intentions and spiritual principles, we will still experience hardships. When this happens, we need support more than ever. Fortunately, our friends in recovery will often provide it in at least one of two ways.
First, they can offer us their experience. Friendship develops empathy, as does recovery due to the sheer volume of experiences many of us share in common. This combines to form a strong bond of understanding, and our friends will often let us know—without stealing the spotlight—that they understand our pain in a very intimate way. And while this won’t always make us feel better, it at least helps us to feel less alone.
Second, our friends in recovery often show a great willingness to hear us out. They know they can’t fix our problems for us, even if they might love to. But they can be there for us when we need someone to listen. Sometimes, that’s all we really need in the first place.
We Can Tell Them Our Secrets
“The road to a friend’s house is never long.”
Everyone has secrets. While we often find honesty necessary to our recovery, we don’t generally go around spouting off about every dark corner of our past. Yet some secrets present a greater burden than others. Some of us did terrible things in addiction, things that made us question our worth as human beings. The human heart can only carry that sort of weight for so long before we need some type of relief.
Friendship helps us relieve this burden by giving us someone who understands. Much like they did when we experienced hardships as discussed above, our friends help us here by either sharing similar experiences or by simply listening and responding with love and acceptance. Sometimes the greatest fear associated with our secrets is that we might lose people if our shadowy history came to light. Letting go of our secrets and seeing our friendship remain steadfast therefore means the world to us. It lets us know that, no matter what we did or had done to us, we are still worthy of love. Everybody needs to feel that once in a while.
Friends Increase Our Self-Worth
“Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”
—Sir James M. Barrie
Many of the above rewards share one great commonality. Think about them for a moment. Acceptance of our differences. Celebrations of our victories. Forgiveness for our flaws and our secrets. Assurance that we can overcome our hardships, and that we are deserving of the effort to let us know when we are in the wrong. All of these boil down to one thing—self-worth.
When we embark on a new friendship, we generally do so because we believe the other person worthy of our time and effort. The same holds true for the other party as well. Those who would call us “friend” give us the greatest gift known to man. Every time they ask us about our day or express an interest in our lives, they are really saying “I believe that you are worth getting to know better.” We may not know it consciously, but it helps account for that warm feeling we experience in our core when we feel that someone truly cares about us. What we really feel is that the warmth we feel toward them, the value we place upon the people we love, has been reciprocated.
To clarify, you shouldn’t need another person’s approval to feel self-worth. And those who lack it entirely may not receive it so easily from others, despite our friends’ best efforts. But friendship helps us to tap into the part of us that knows we deserve love. That alone makes it worth pursuing.
One Good Friend is Always Enough
“A single rose can be my garden…a single friend, my world.”
According to recent studies, growing up with a best friend can improve our overall health and well-being. Even developing a close friendship later in life often produces similar benefits. But those of us who know the joys of a best friend do not need these studies. We already know that it only takes a single person to make all the difference in our lives.
When we enter recovery, we can easily find friendship in abundance if we so choose. At every meeting, we find the potential to create new bonds. But every so often, a lucky individual may find that one person whose friendship provides just a bit more than the others. Not to say that this is a better person, but simply that we relate on a level indescribably more meaningful to us than that on which we place the majority of our social interactions. This person gives us more than self-worth and acceptance. They even give us something that feels more vital than love. We find, every time we enter into this person’s company, something we may only describe as a place to call home.
For those of us who sought recovery out of state due to treatment or other circumstances, this transcends any sense of quantifiable value. We feel displaced, wondering if we may ever go home again. Then we learn, in the most remarkable way possible, just what it means when they say that home is where the heart is.
Our greatest wish for you, whether you’re already in recovery or seeking to enter treatment soon, is that you will discover this most remarkable gift for yourself. And if you’ve yet to seek recovery, feel free to contact us for information. Many of our own staff discovered the gifts of friendship within these walls. We hope that we can help you do the same.