Last week I had the honor of celebrating 33 years of sobriety with my dear family friend, who shall remain anonymous. I joined him at his meeting and heard him and the other honorees speak. Much of what I heard resonated with me, as while we have different vices, their origins are the same.
My friend has a brother, who I care a lot about. For now let’s call him Johnny. Johnny, like his brother, struggles with addiction. I debated a lot about telling Johnny that I went to his brother’s meeting. I didn’t want him to rob me of my joy, thus marring my experience. But I did. I called him. And, surprise surprise, he couldn’t have cared less. At least that’s what his tone conveyed.
I’ll admit, I was disappointed by his reaction, but I noticed a flaw in my intentions. I wanted to gain something from him by telling him, perhaps acknowledgement, attention, or praise. I wanted an emotional reaction: gratitude, pride, and respect. But he hardly seems to care about his own brother’s sobriety. Which is…I would say shocking, but it’s not; it’s a facet of his denial of his own addiction. Some part of me deep, DEEP down wanted him to say, “Oh! I should be in the program.” I wanted him to think, “this is important to Bella.” I wanted to trigger an epiphany for him, which I simply cannot do. He may never accept his alcoholism and that’s out of my control.
Johnny’s a smart man, and he knows (?) how I feel about his drinking. He likely did have the thoughts I wanted him to and just couldn’t access them out of self-protection and fear. He’s living a false existence, and I feel sorry for him.
I forgive myself for calling him seeking a specific reaction. I forgive myself and I work to forgive him and I must let this go. Every time I reach out symbiotically—every time I “interfere,” overshare, and beg for his attention—I’m reminded that I shouldn’t and I wind up full of guilt. This lesson is taking a while to learn, but I’m learning it, and I feel today that I have some new clarity. I’m starting to distinguish healthy dialogue from symbiotic discourse. I’m observing my intentions and strengthening my boundaries.
I’ve also observed a second motive in telling Johnny about the meeting…I was trying to strengthen his own relationship with his brother. I’m playing “peacemaker” again. I love my friend. And I’m so unbelievably proud of him. 33 years in recovery is astonishing. I wish his brother could experience that, but it’s not my job to force it.
Many months ago, Johnny said to me, “you’re going to be recovering the rest of your life,” and just now I had a thought: “Why won’t you, Johnny? Why won’t you?” I’m angry and sad and hurt. But I did stop myself on the phone from sharing my plan to go to AlAnon. (The passive aggression in that comment could start a fire). I guess I’m one step closer to healthy boundaries!
I’ll leave you with a pearl of wisdom from the meeting: “Each day when I wake up, I’m an untreated alcoholic” (anonymous). Each morning when I wake up, I’m an untreated anorectic. For the rest of my life I will be. Although I no longer identify as anorexic, it’s still in me, and like sobriety, recovery requires constant work. Every day I meditate on why I stay in recovery, because it’s easy to forget. And the days I don’t do so are rough days.
Today, I’m grateful: grateful to know myself, grateful for resiliency, and mostly, grateful for my army of support.
Every day is an opportunity. Every day is a gift.