“A man’s friendships are one of the best measures of his worth.” Charles Darwin
Several ancient maps, such as the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, have illustrations of mythological creatures for decoration. The term Here be Dragons is on a globe engraved on two coupled halves of ostrich eggs, dated 1504. “Here be dragons [is] a very interesting sentence,” writes Thomas Sander, editor of The Portolan, the journal of the Washington Map Society. “In early maps, you would see images of sea monsters; it was a way to say there’s bad stuff out there.”
In recovery, wherever we are receiving support, we are warned of the need to break with negative friendships and avoid places which may trigger a relapse. This is a very short sentence to describe one of the hardest parts of recovery from addiction. Walking away from a friendship, relationship or social scene is never a simple process; in recovery, it can lead to bitterness and judgemental feelings on both sides. The question hangs like a sword of Damocles before every addict seeking freedom from addiction. I have already lost so much; do I have to lose all these people from my life?
This question provokes regular conversation at the recovery group I run at The Edge Café. Frequently, participants are angry and resentful at former user friends and others miss the social occasions they no longer enjoy in the same way. Only today on an online recovery forum, I read the question, “Who has very close friends they can rely on to understand you and your journey?” The response was varied. Many spoke of having little in common with old friends and others, like me, have received nothing but understanding and support. Declaring you are in recovery is one way to truly discover who your real friends are.
Temptation lurks at every turn. Many malevolent and unthinking people and much “bad stuff” is waiting for us out there. A person in recovery must be guarded, as we have everything to lose. From the outside, addiction is a mysterious condition. It can not be explained in a rational way. People with the ability to put the top back on the bottle must find it unfathomable that people like me can not have just one drink or drug. We use until the bottle is empty. “Go on. Have a drink, one’s not going to hurt” is phrase we have all heard, whether uttered maliciously or unknowingly, we are presented with the same test.
Here be dragons
Many people I have spoken to have related that old friends have maliciously tried to undermine their recovery by attempting to entice them back to drug or alcohol use. Dealers hate to lose good customers. Some partners like to keep their spouse in addiction to control them and to be in a position of power. Here be dragons. The future can seem to be a bleak and lonely place when you are sacrificing friends and loved ones for the sake of your recovery. I can state, without hesitation, that sobriety is definitely worth it!
There is an old Tommy Cooper joke: A man walked into the doctor’s, he said “I’ve broken my arm in several places”. The doctor said, “Well, don’t go to those places”. Funny as this is, it is the only available advice. It is true, in the early stages of recovery, we must avoid all potential triggers, be they people or places. A recovering addict never knows where the next relapse is coming from. The trigger may be celebrating good times or drowning bad times. It may be an elusive, inexplicable idea that pops into your addict brain, seemingly from nowhere.
Then there are festive occasions, minefields of seductive temptation, like Christmas, birthdays and weddings. Families of ex-addicts are left not knowing what to do in such situations. Everyone walking on eggshells can make things more difficult for the recovering addict, who invariably just craves normality. The person in recovery needs to have an exit route planned, however well-meaning families are. Every addict in recovery must draw their own boundaries, they alone know what is safe for them.
As for losing friends, if someone prefers for you to remain addicted, the last thing they are is your friend. If you immerse yourself in recovery and attend groups, you will meet many new people, build new friendships with people who want nothing from you and only wish to support and encourage your recovery. These are the people you must surround yourself with. When people find the freedom and simplicity of sobriety, all they want to do is pass it on. In our support group at The Edge, there is much support, love and laughter. After all, ex-addicts always have the best stories!