Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

Those Awkward Recovery Moments

My recovery has nothing to do with other people, what they say or how they act.  It has everything to do with me and my reactions to it.  I know that.  I walk that walk every day.

However, there are those occasions when I need to remind myself to grow up and act as an adult and not as the emotional child-like mess I was before I got sober and became nutritionally healthy.  In those moments, I need to remember one thing and one thing only.

People don’t think about me nearly as much as I think they do.

For example, last Thanksgiving, my family was sitting at the table chatting after we’d all eaten.  At one point, a close relative was refilling the wine glasses of the people sitting near him.  He was doing this while simultaneously telling a story.  Surely without thinking, he began filling the wine glass which had sat properly, yet empty, in front of me during the entire meal.  As he was going through this initial motion, I just stared at him trying to hold back any sort of comment for his oversight, forcing him to acknowledge I’m an alcoholic.

Yet within a second or two, without any provocation from me, he began stumbling over his words and apologizing for his mistake.  In that moment, I simply smiled at him, speaking the unspoken message, “It’s OK…don’t worry about it.”   I then passed the glass to another family member without ever considering I’d drink it.  It wasn’t about him or his simple mistake, it’s about me and how I handled that awkward recovery moment.

Or there was the recent occasion when a very close family member was reiterating the time when she had to force herself to eat as a result of an appetite suppressing illness.  She went on and on and on about how hard it was to have to eat when she didn’t want to and couldn’t image anyone she knew relating to such a difficult experience.

I sat staring at her absolutely dumbfounded.  How could someone forget the tearful phone conversations I had with her reiterating every painstaking moment I spent in treatment for anorexia?  How I struggled for weeks on end, sobbing as I put forkfuls of food into my mouth when everything inside me wanted nothing of it.  We talked about what would happen if I didn’t do what was required of me.  I wouldn’t get well.  How could she forget all that?

My knee-jerk reaction could have been to point out how my struggle trumps anything she dealt with.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t because I know there’s no rational reason to do so.  The irrational reasons would have been to “one up” her or to push her into recoiling in shame for even saying something that insensitive.

In that moment I said, “Well, actually, I do know how that feels.”  And I let it go at that.

Unfortunately she did not.  She responded by saying, “Oh, honey, you’re over that now.”  Once again I thought of all the recovery educational words I could have used.  I thought about explaining that no matter how many consecutive days I string together of continuous healthy recovery, I only truly have today.  I could have gone on about how although I’m healthier and sober, not a day goes by I’m not reminded it could all go straight downhill if I am not attentive to what I need to do to stay in this healthy and sober state of mind.

But I didn’t.  Instead I felt comforted in knowing that in her eyes, I’m not the person I used to be.

The bottom line is this, it’s not about them, it’s about me and how I react (or don’t react) to what people say (or don’t say).

So when those awkward moments arise, there’s no reason to make them awkward for anyone else.

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