Most of what we hear at recovery meetings (whether at a treatment center or 12 Steps meetings) is people sharing their “experience, strength and hope” about the recovery process, expressing it in their own words and from their own points of view. And generally speaking, there’s value that can be derived from the majority of it.
Sometimes, though, we hear someone share something that’s disturbing to us or makes us uncomfortable in some way. Maybe they go into way-too-graphic detail about a drinking or using dream or a past wild or horrific experience they’d had “back in the day.”
Or perhaps they share their “opinion” about some topic so intensely, like a fiery preacher, you come away feeling as though they were either consciously or unconsciously saying theirs is the “right way” to view it, leaving you feeling if your perspective differs from theirs, you’re somehow wrong or “less than.”
I experienced something like this at a meeting recently, and was so disturbed I called my sponsor for some input about it.
After describing in detail what had happened, what had been said by this particular fellow, and how it had affected me, my sponsor asked me a few questions, each of which was intended to make me reflect on what’s really important for me to take away from this.
I should add here, I certainly was not wanting to carry around any ill feelings toward this person, nor did I want to blame him in any way – my sponsor and I agreed he was “doing his best with what he’s got.”
However, in answering my sponsor’s insightful questions, I came to realize a few basic points or principles of recovery relating to making healthy responses or setting healthy boundaries when it becomes necessary:
- I don’t need to defend myself or my feelings to, nor confront, debate or argue with anyone who has mistreated or disparaged me in any way. I don’t need to make them “see my point of view” and it’s not my job to help them “do” recovery better. I’m responsible for my recovery, nobody else’s.
- If I need to put some space between me and another person in recovery, it’s up to me to do so. Whether it’s finding another recovery meeting to attend, starting to associate with new people in recovery, or even letting the person know you’re “needing some space,” it’s wise to be proactive about it and not assume that person can read your mind or cares about your needs.
- Don’t expect others to make swift substantial changes in their behaviors or attitudes. The fact is, most (if not all) of us require time to come to new understandings or begin adopting new behaviors, whether from seeing the positive examples of others or simply “learning the hard way” and eventually discovering less painful, better ways of acting and thinking. If you come to recognize someone is acting offensively around you or just not “where you’re at,” find new people to spend time with.
- Just because you make a healthy response to someone in (or outside of) your recovery network who’s been abusive to you in any way, don’t expect them to just “roll over.” If you find they engage in overreacting, retaliation or “gaslighting” you (attempting to cause a person to doubt their own point of view or feelings through the use of psychological manipulation), you may need to block them from contacting you, seek legal assistance to keep them from harassing you, or get professional help and/or counseling to navigate forward in the best way possible.
Two of the most important takeaways for me, from talking with my sponsor about these matters, were: 1) recognizing not everyone in recovery has my best interest at heart, and some people—for whatever reason(s)—are simply unhealthy to be around; and 2) my job is to be responsible for my recovery, nobody else’s, which means taking simple proactive measures to protect, preserve and safeguard my sanity, my serenity and my daily recovery routine to the best of my ability, one day at a time.