I’m Finally Playing the Role of the Sober Friend

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I know he’s at the bar. I know from his pattern of not returning texts. He’s at the bar where we met – when we were both relapsing.

I know how I would feel in his situation – the shame and guilt and desire to hide. I want to tell him that I understand…all too well. But I still want to respect his privacy. And I know when someone wants to drink, you can’t stop them.

It’s a strange feeling to be the sober friend. Suddenly, I had empathy for all the friends who tried to be there for me when I was struggling. I now understood their anger and frustration as they watched alcohol destroy my life, while I just couldn’t seem to stop.

A Glimpse Through the Looking Glass

I was gripped by a fear that my friend would hurt himself – we both had a long list of alcohol related injuries. I couldn’t get the image of him lying bloody on the street out of my mind.

I wanted to go to the bar to just drink a seltzer water and be with him…to let him know I was there to talk, even if he was still drinking. The stigma and shame around alcohol or other substance use is so isolating; when you’ve relapsed, it’s almost impossible to reach out.

I remember all too well sitting alone at bars, no one to talk to but the bartender who knew me by name, watching bad TV while I got that next drink into me. The feeling of knowing my friend was there again was overwhelming.

But I knew that, if I just showed up at the bar, he would feel like I was calling him out on his drinking. He would distance himself from me. So I sent him a text message – one that I knew he might not read for a while. I told him I’d been struggling with some issues and, if he had some time, I’d like to talk.

Removing the Problem Label

Sometimes moving someone from the “problem” into a position where they can help you is the most effective strategy. It can help change their self-image from one where they feel like a failure to one where they have meaning in helping others.

Whether we’re in active addiction or recovery, we can all reach out for help. Helping someone struggling with substance abuse change the frame in which they view themselves is more helpful than getting angry or demanding change. Change has to come from within; anger and lectures will only push a person farther away and often inspire more self destructive behavior.

It wasn’t long before my friend texted back. We talked. Thankfully, he’s sober again – and determined to stay that way.

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