Addiction is a disease of isolation. Recovery cannot occur in a vacuum. These opposing forces are what make getting and staying sober so hard. Addiction robs us of our healthy relationships, isolating us from those who love us most, while convincing us that we are okay.
A man in recovery tells this story: He was homeless, living out of his truck as the result of his addiction. Every morning he would find a public bathroom to wash up in. Looking at himself in the mirror he would say, “Who’s the man? You’re the man!” while pointing at himself. That’s denial - and it’s that denial that keeps us from reaching out for and accepting help.
Very few chronic alcoholics and drug addicts reach the end without being offered some kind of help. In fact, ask just about anyone who is sober to reflect on his life. Most will find many instances where families, organizations, employers, friends and even the court systems have tried to help them.
Often the hardest part of recovery is allowing others to be a part of our lives. This is funny, considering the types of people we allowed in when we were drinking and using! Our first task is to go to a meeting and be surrounded by people who have done what we’ve done and found a way out. Once we have been to a few meetings, we relax a little. When we realize that no one is out to get us, there are no hidden agendas, and no one wants our money, we realize this isn’t so bad. This is not enough, however. Attendance is not the goal. Change is the goal, and that is where the sponsor comes in.
Sponsors are a guide through the Steps, nothing more. Sponsors are not the change itself, the Steps are. The sponsor is that person who connects the theory and the action. Sponsors are also one of the first real relationships inside 12-Step recovery. From this relationship a seed is sown that will yield many fruits. Trust and hope replace pessimism and fear, making new relationships, healthy relationships possible. Then the real magic happens; you become a part of a group that supports you well beyond simply staying sober.
This concept of being a part of a group is often overlooked, yet some would argue it is just as important as the sponsor relationship. To use street vernacular, you become part of a crew (a healthy one). The crew becomes the bridge where we transfer what is learned ‘in the rooms’ to the outside world. After all, recovery is pointless if we practice principles only inside the rooms.
Our new friends push us to be better people, better husbands, better employees, better citizens, better sons and better neighbors. Ask any person with twenty-plus years sober who helped/encouraged him to lose weight, quit smoking, go back to school, be a good father, get a better job or get through a particularly difficult time in his life, and he will tell you it was his friends in recovery.
We love to talk about faith versus fear. This is a very broad brushstroke of a theory that many never get right because they leave out an important component: our fellow travelers (disclaimer: this is an opinion and your experience may be different). When we have the support of a group which cares about us, wants the best for us and which shows up in our lives when things go bad, we can tackle anything.
There is a man whose son was caught with a large quantity of drugs in his house. The police became involved and it felt as if the world had crashed around him. The old feelings of isolation, fear, anger and hopelessness returned. Here was his youngest son, faced with very real felonies, about to be taken from him. He was paralyzed. His friends stepped in and helped his son because they had been through the same thing. Some had sons who had been through similar situations and some had been in the son’s predicament in their youth. They supported the man and his son and worked with the police to develop a plan that helped get the son treatment while taking legal accountability for his actions.
Life happens. No amount of work in recovery can avoid that fact. How we handle life is the real test, and the best way to navigate it is with others, supported and guided. This assumes that we have enough humility and willingness to allow this to take place. Willingness and humility do not just happen; they are achieved through actions (the Steps and service) and must be maintained, for they are perishable.
Allowing ourselves to be ‘a part of’ has many benefits, like staying sober and leading a fulfilling life. The strongest argument for being part of a group is seeing what happens to the lone wolves in recovery; they go back out. How many times have we seen a guy get involved and make a good start at recovery only to slowly let go of the very things that were making life better (meetings, sponsor, friends) and return to the old life? It happens every day!
The possibility of a life full of promise lies before us if we commit to taking the actions necessary to remain ‘a part of.’ We owe it to ourselves and those who love us to examine the current state of our recovery and identify where we stand – with others, or alone.