“In family relationships, love is really spelled T.I.M.E.” – Dieter Uchtdorf
When I was relatively new in recovery, it was pointed out to me I would do well to choose wisely who I spent time with, in order to more readily heal and strengthen—certainly not toxify or stress out further—my mind, emotions and spirit. This made sense to me, given I’d spent years frequenting the company of-… well, let’s just say “less than integral” people. And the fact is, this had contributed to the diminishment and degradation of my capacity for healthy thinking and feeling. Indeed, as my addiction progressed, I’d let go of most, if not all, of my values in pursuit of another drink or drug, eventually becoming a “less than integral” person myself! In hindsight, I can now see lying, cheating and stealing to get what I wanted had replaced principles I’d been raised with, valued and grown to appreciate in others.
Counselors, therapists and fellow people in recovery (with substantial clean-and-sober time under their belts) all conveyed to me if I wanted to maintain my recovery and freedom from active addiction, I needed to begin adopting new standards for who I spent time with and new approaches to how I related with others, including family members and friends.
So yes, I cut off communication with all the “less integral” people I’d occasionally hung out with, and began making connections and developing friendships with a whole new network of people in recovery.
But one of the main problems I found myself confronting—again, mostly in early recovery, but it persisted for a good while—was trying to communicate with people in my family or close friends who just didn’t understand addiction or told me they didn’t think I was an addict.
“Look, you’re not sleeping underneath a bridge! You’re a college professor, not an addict! You’ve just gotta’ slow down some! Or just quit for a while, if you think that’ll help.”
These words (and many like it) that flowed from the mouths of both family members and friends were hard for me to hear. Sometimes, I’d try to convince them of my point of view or get them to see addiction differently. Other times, I’d get confused or frustrated (and sometimes angry), because—in my mind—I didn’t seem to be capable of sufficiently describing to them what I’d experienced in active addiction and what I was now experiencing in recovery.
I wanted their support and appreciated they were “doing their best” to be helpful, but often enough it would get contentious between us and I’d feel upset as a result.
What unexpectedly saved me was something my 12 Steps sponsor said to me, after he’d heard me explain what I was dealing with.
“Stop trying to explain addiction to someone who hasn’t experienced it themselves. And there’s no need to convince anyone you have the disease of addiction and are in a program of recovery from it. Instead, before you start in on any conversation with those particular people with whom you end up in frustration, set yourself a time limit of 10 minutes. That’s how long you have to talk with them. After 10 minutes is up, make sure you have an ‘exit strategy,’ a place you’ve got to go, a phone call you need to make, whatever. That way, you’re setting a healthy boundary, you’re more able to control the situation and you’ll be ending the conversation on a more harmonious note.”
It may sound simple, but (for me) it worked like a miracle! I tried it first with my dad, who never believed I was afflicted by the disease of addiction. The next time I spoke with him, we talked some about professional golf and baseball, then how his gardening was coming along, and when the 10-minute mark came up, I just said, “Hey, Dad, I’ve gotta’ call a client now. But I’ve really enjoyed talking with you and I’m glad you’re well.”
Boom. No more long, drawn-out, frustrating debates about addiction or recovery! In one fell swoop, I’d been given a tool to free myself from the intense scrutiny and labyrinthian arguments often associated with someone I loved who just didn’t understand.
I’m deeply grateful for being given such a simple, yet powerful way to deal with a previously challenging recovery-related problem. Hopefully, it’ll prove to be of some help to you (or someone you know), as well!