In one of the drug classes, they had an exercise that would be interesting for all of us to try. It is set up to take a look at our social support network. There are three tasks:
Identify several people who support, encourage and empower you.
Name the ways in which each of them help you.
Name how you nurture each relationship.
Most of us could fill volumes, couldn’t we? Just take a moment to think of your top ten, your top twenty, your family and friends, your colleagues, those who share your interests and concerns. Your special circle. Think of people who helped you at school, or helped you get a job, who introduced you to those who became your dear friends, and think of those friends, too. People who share music, art, money, knowledge and food with you. Who freely give you the vital gifts of compassion and healing. Who trust you. Such an incredible web of interwoven people and such a circle of love that can hold us up in our darkest, most painful struggles. We are so blessed in ways we cannot even begin to quantify.
If I take just one person in my life, and start to mention some of the ways in which she has supported me, it would make movie plots to last a lifetime. Love, support, encouragement, respect, gifts, meals, mowing my lawn, babysitting my children, and thousands of other things. Thousands upon thousands, during decades of uninterrupted friendship. Sharing books, film, philosophy, spiritual ideas, conversations, adventures, nature hikes, hugs, and laughter. Being brave and vulnerable, trusting me, showing me honesty that invites my honesty, and helping me to see my life through a new lens. Having sleepovers and giggling and falling asleep and waking up to talk again, cooking meals together. Vacationing on a tiny budget, and saving us when we got seriously lost in a foreign country. Keeping me out of harm’s way and caring for me when I have been at my life’s lowest points. Listening with an open heart. Caring through thick and thin, uninterrupted. Showing up whenever I needed her, no matter how inconvenient. Making me feel safe. This is just a snippet of one person. There is more, and there are more loved ones. Treasures untold.
I have no doubt that this reflects the experience of most of my readers. The details will differ, but most of us have at least a couple people we can fully rely on. People whose trust we have earned, and whose respect we deserve. But this is the not the typical experience for an addict. Because while we have likely disappointed some of our loved ones in small ways, addicts have disappointed every single person who has ever loved them ever since they first started using – usually as a young teen. Addicts have betrayed their best friends and their most natural allies, their partners, their parents, and most of all, if they live long enough, their children.
Many addicts in the workshop could not think of one person. They were told to dig deeper and even consider their child self, their future self, or someone deceased. A public figure or a famous person. A religious figure. Anyone to admire or draw upon for strength. Most of them ended up mentioning either the paid staff of court, or their addict cohorts. A social worker or housing coordinator, or the judge. No one who had known them through time, because they had burned all those ties to the ground, and when they made feeble attempts to reconnect after just weeks of tenuous sobriety (for the umpteenth time) all they found was scar tissue.
One of the participants named his sister. She was the only person in his family who would still talk to him.
His example of how she helps him? She lets him sleep in her garage.
What he plans to do to nurture that relationship? He couldn’t really think of anything, so the drug counselor suggested a two things:
- Tell her the truth.
- Don’t use in her home.
When we did circle and he was asked if he trusts himself to nurture that relationship, he looked sad and admitted, “I don’t know.”
More proof that addiction is not the opposite of sobriety – it is the opposite of connection. It is isolation, and broken cords. For addicts who have repeatedly disappointed and betrayed everyone who ever trusted them, these connections are very hard to come by. They are as fragile as cobwebs.