Holding hands at the end of a recovery meeting is a symbolic reminder we are not alone. The circle we form means there’s no beginning and no end, no hierarchy and no judgment, we’re just everyday people doing our best to stay connected and hopeful. The other day I stood in one such circle uttering the last few words we often say. When I would have normally let go of the hands I held, the one in my left clung a bit longer. I turned to look into the tear-filled eyes of a woman about my age. She very softly said the words I always welcome, “Do you have a minute?”
We found a quiet corner and a box of tissues. I patiently waited as she did her best to move past the tears in order to form a complete sentence. When she looked to me for reassurance, I suggested she try taking a few slow, deep breaths. I shared with her how my father would ask me to do the same thing when he found me in similar emotional moments. I’ve since learned if I can slow my erratic breathing down a bit I’m able to slow my racing thoughts and find my voice.
When she found hers, she talked in rapid fire about how she was new to all this and although she had some problems at home, at work and a few discrepancies with the legal system, she thoroughly believed her drinking and other unhealthy behaviors weren’t that bad.
In bits and pieces she recanted conversations with others over the last few days and while she thought they were out of their minds, she figured if she showed up at a meeting they’d get off her back. After doing some research about recovery she sat alone in her house feeling miserable about how her life was unfolding and how unfair she be asked to give up drinking forever. Soon the tears fell again and in broken half sentences she told me of how much she feared what others would think of her and that she could never show her face in public again for the things she’d done. All she wanted to do was be alone and figure things out but couldn’t. With nowhere else to go and no one she could turn to for validation she came to the meeting hoping she’d feel better but instead felt worse.
I took a deep breath and told her how much I admired her courage to walk through the door and sit through the entire meeting. The choice she made to ask we sit and chat for a while was further proof of that courage. I explained no one will ask her to do anything forever, only for today. I then told her a bit about what took place for me to find a meeting of recovery and although others shared similar stories during the last hour, from the look on her face I made an assumption much of what others said went unheard.
Yet I think what I told her next is something heard loud and clear. I told her she was grieving. Most of us go through feelings and states of mind during the initial days in recovery that parallel well-known stages of grief. People often only associate grief with the loss of a loved one yet isn’t our relationship with alcohol or food or drugs or gambling equally passionate? Therefore I asked she reconsider what she’d just told me in relation to the stages of grieving. The mention of problems at work, home and the legal system coupled with the belief her drinking and other unhealthy behaviors weren’t “that bad” was nothing less than denial. I suggested she consider if she’s angry with others for expressing concern about the manner in which she was managing her life. Certainly her choice to attend a meeting of recovery to somehow get them off her back was a form of bargaining. Then the state of mind she fell into after searching for a meeting might be a form of depression and finally, hearing more similarities than differences during the meeting and sitting here with me might very well be a kind of acceptance that she does belong here. I reminded her acceptance doesn’t mean she agrees with everything she’s hearing but what’s necessary if she wants to move forward.
I went on to say addiction, like grieving, is really patient. When we find ourselves feeling vulnerable for one reason or another, any one of the feelings associated with grief can ease into our minds thereby convincing us a drink or some other form of self-soothing behavior will alleviate that uncomfortable feeling. The vicious cycle is quite real and can show up no matter how many days of continuous sobriety one strings together. Yet if we build a strong support system with those who walk the same recovery path, we have options to fend off lapsing back into old ways of feeling better.
We sat together for quite a while talking about the program of recovery and what she might be willing to do in the next few days. I told her just like when grieving the loss of a loved one, she try to go easy on expectations of herself and others and that if she was open to the idea, she find her way to another meeting within the next 24 hours.
As we walked to our cars I saw my new friend smile briefly reminding me how important giving back what was so freely given to me keeps me grounded and grateful.
A Moment to Breathe… Are you in any relationships with people or situations you can’t walk away from yet know deep down you need to? Are you hanging on out of fear you can’t handle the emotional separation or are you willing to try? Sometimes if we associate what’s behind our need to hang on to what’s not good for us we’re better able to make sense of why we must let go. If we turn our backs to what we feel, we’ll stay stuck. What has been your experience with this process? Feel free to offer a reply here or as a comment when sharing on your favorite social network.