As a drug addict and alcoholic in recovery for twenty years, I spent at least the first ten years thinking everyone else in the world was a secret addict as well. What a bummer to learn I was wrong, and that there actually are people out there for whom moderation comes naturally, and doesn’t have to be learned and re-learned with every new day.
Comfortable in the twelve-step environment, my social life at first consisted mainly of other recovering addicts. I felt safe surrounded by other twenty-something women with the same issues as mine, but I also felt cut off from the rest of the world. I slowly started letting “normal” friends in, workmates, family friends, etcetera, and found that the right kinds of friends enhance my sobriety greatly, whether they understand addiction or not.
Non-addicts, for me, tend to fit into three categories: 1) Those that understand addiction, 2) Those that think we’re all a bunch of whiney coffee-drinking morons who just lack self control, or 3) Those that don’t understand addiction, but don’t judge it and are willing to learn.
If you’re in group 1, you must either live with one of us or have a child or parent who is an addict (my condolences). Group 2, we will just have to agree to disagree. Group 3, we could totally hang out. And, here are a few things that will make you an awesome friend to your favorite addict:
1) Be curious and ask questions. Some of my dearest friends are the ones who have just come out and asked what I need from them (if anything), in relation to my sobriety. Sometimes I just need them to know that I am a sober person in recovery. An addict trying to pose as a “normie” is a lonely, miserable addict just waiting to slip up.
Sometimes we need actual support, and it’s nice to know the door is open for that conversation. When a friend is willing to ask questions, it shows that he or she cares, isn’t freaked out, and isn’t making assumptions.
2) Do what you would normally do. Other alcoholics may disagree, but I’ve never been comfortable watching social drinkers change their behavior because they’re afraid that drinking around me might trigger my addiction. If I’m feeling vulnerable, it’s my responsibility to remove myself from the situation. This doesn’t mean I want to be your designated driver, necessarily. It just means I don’t want to be responsible for whether or not you had a good time. Drink, don’t drink… I’m not your mom (insert smiley face here).
3) Be willing to have misunderstandings. No friend in the history of friendship has ever been able to say or do everything right at all times. If you find the average person confusing, wait until you get close to an addict. If your addict friend expects total understanding of all quirky/disturbing behavior at all times, then run, don’t walk away from that mess. You can’t win.
4) Don’t get all codependent. Sometimes, addicts relapse. (Actually, something like 90 percent of addicts relapse in their first four years after getting sober. Whoa.) When this happens, it is so very NOT your fault. We all make choices. Thinking you have control over whether your favorite addict relapses is a miserable trap people called codependents fall into, and I can’t say DON’T enough.
5) Be flawed too. Anybody willing to tell you he or she is an addict or alcoholic is admitting to being deeply flawed in a way that many people look down on. My dearest friends like me for and despite my flaws and, more importantly, are willing to share their flaws with me.
“I don’t like to drink a lot,” a woman told me at a party once. “But, I once ate two whole pizzas all by myself.” It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.