By: Marilyn L. Davis
“Share with others what is working and not working and watch the magic happen in your life as you help others.”― Richie Norton
Who Shares Matters – Or Does It?
The addicted population is one of the most shortsighted groups regarding who we listen to and learn from in early recovery. The idea that “Only someone who has been in my shoes can relate to me” misses the point that others in long-term recovery have faced similar if not identical situations and didn’t relapse over them.
Even when someone shares what’s worked for them, sometimes people get hung up on how much time they have and can’t relate, so they tune everything out. Again, this is shortsighted.
I’m not proud of my attitude in early recovery about who I listened to:
- Only people who spoke correct English
- Never people who butchered the English language
- Only people who looked like me
- Never people who probably lived under a bridge at some point
- Only people with a higher education
- Never people who were laborers
- Only people on the right side of the law
- Never people who’d been to prison
Lessons in Learning from Listening
“Indeed, there is a deep melding of our humanity around a shared experience, and in that melding, we find profound comfort knowing that we are not alone in the experience of it.”― Craig D. Lounsbrough,
I went to two meetings a day as a requirement for keeping my job. Two old men sat in the back and rarely talked. But each day after the noon meeting, men and sometimes women would flock around them and ask questions. I watched their faces light up, and they moved the group to the front porch.
I had some time one day before I had to return to work, so I sat on the steps of the porch and listened. Both of these men had over 30 years in the program. They drove 45 miles to come to the meeting in Gainesville. That day, a woman asked them why they drove that far to go to a meeting. Did they still want to drink after all those years?
Ed laughed, a big joyous sound, and said, “No, I’m no longer thirsty for the poison, but maybe I can help a newcomer realize that recovery happens.”
We’re All Different, and That’s Okay
I started hanging out on the porch when Ed and Clarence held court. They would never consider it as such, but they each had so much knowledge, understanding, and concern for the newcomer that we all just sat, asked a quick question, and waited on them to speak.
Clarence butchered the English language, had no teeth, and his tattoos marked him as a prison graduate. Ed’s formal education ended at 13 when his, “Ma came down with the Big-C and me, being the oldest had to work the fields.”
With only four months in the program, I wasn’t even sure what to ask, let alone have any answers, but I now understood that language, teeth, tattoos, prison, and no education didn’t matter at all.
What did was how to stay in recovery, and these two generous men knew how to do that. I listened.
Expanding my Knowledge
“While our roads might be markedly different, the fact that we are both walking a road intimately unites us. And if we each dare to step onto each other’s road for even a moment, we can profoundly enhance the journey for both of us. And so, might I invite you over.”― Craig D. Lounsbrough
Once I realized that people who were different from me could teach me how to stay in recovery, I started actively listening to everyone who shared. I realized that our differences weren’t that important; what was vital was the shared experience of one addict helping another.
So now, I listened to the people brought over by the detox center. They reminded me of withdrawals and how I never wanted to experience them again. They talked of alienating their families, and I could feel gratitude for my family’s support.
Creating a Network of Support
Besides the old-timers, there were people with only a few months like me who didn’t have a lot of friends who didn’t use. We started meeting about twenty minutes before the meeting and sharing our day.
One night, a woman said, “I can’t relate to those old-timers. They didn’t use like I did.” Another man spoke up and said, “Why does that matter?” And it made me realize that relating was great but having workable solutions to problems was better.
Someone with time can tell you how to get through the problems and issues.
Which then is more valuable for long-term recovery? Probably someone who’s managed to get time in the program.
But this doesn’t mean that peers don’t have their purpose, too. By discussing issues in a mutually supportive environment, I began to rely on peers for solutions, feedback, and reinforcement of objectives and goals. These shared experiences opened up the possibility of help and friendships in recovery.
Now, I’m the Old-Timer
“One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.”― Shannon L. Alder
A woman in my group last week said, “You’ve got thirty-three years in recovery, and I bet you can’t remember how it feels to be in withdrawal. You probably don’t remember the sleepless nights. I’d be surprised if you remember a time when you couldn’t identify your feelings.”
I smiled and told her, “Yeah, I’m old, but I clearly remember when I was in withdrawal. My skin crawled with imaginary bugs. I couldn’t sleep more than a few hours before waking up from night terrors. And as far as my feelings were concerned, they were all over the map – crying when others were laughing and snickering when it was a serious topic because my numbed emotions came back to life.”
Then I asked her, “Does that help you understand that the only thing that separates us is I have time in the program?” She apologized and said she was just jealous of my time and rude. I assured her that I had lashed out at people with time for the same reasons, too.
Listen to People Who’ve Made Progress
Recovery is progress, not perfection. When we seek directions, suggestions, or information from people with time, we need to remember that they experienced many of the same things in their early recovery. That’s the nature of addiction and recovery.
It’s difficult to give up drugs and alcohol, there are physical problems when we do, and early recovery is stressful for everyone. So, old-timers do remember and can give you suggestions to get through those times.
Outcomes of a Shared Experience
“When you can share the lessons, you learned through tears and heartache and others find life in it and are better off for it, then beauty has come out of those ashes.”― TemitOpe Ibrahim
I started sharing more about my feelings when I could identify them and working through some of my guilt about separation from my children. Several women had less time than me and were estranged from their children, or DFACs took custody. We supported each other when we cried or were proud of someone when they got visitation rights.
Sharing our pain and progress showed all of us that recovery and reunification were possible.
What else can you expect from shared experiences?
- Increased optimism that recovery is possible
- Decreased isolation
- Increased resources to sustain recovery
- Accountability Partners
- People to hang out with who don’t use
What You Share Matters, Too!
“Your heartache is someone else’s hope. If you make it through, somebody else will make it through. Tell your story.” — Kim McManus
Remember that woman in the group? After our conversation, one of the other women spoke up and said, “I have trouble listening to people with time because I don’t think they struggled as much as me.”
So, I asked her who she listened to in the group. She picked a woman with about eighteen months in the program. Always has every hair in place, manicured, speaks calmly, and is kind. When I called on this woman, I said, “Were you this together when you came into the program?”
She laughed and said, “Not at all. I’d lost custody of my kids; my husband was divorcing me, probation had a warrant, and no one in my family was speaking to me.”
While some in this group knew this, the new woman didn’t, and she was shocked. She said, “But you talk about everything you do with your kids, family, and husband!”
Responding, she said, “I turned myself in, did my time in jail, and realized I wanted a different life. I started attending meetings in jail. When I got out, I still went to meetings and groups and went into therapy with my husband, we reconciled, reunited with the kids, and my family could see my progress, too.
And I’m able to tell you these things today because I listened to the old-timers for advice and the newcomer to remind me what I didn’t want anymore, so thank you for sharing, too.”
Marilyn L. Davis is the Editor-in-Chief at From Addict 2 Advocate and Two Drops of Ink. She is also the author of Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate and Memories into Memoir: The Mindsets and Mechanics Workbook, available on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, Indie Books, and Books A Million.
For editing services, contact her at email@example.com.
Your Turn to Share
How we say something is just as important as what we say. How you write about addiction and recovery will differ from mine. That’s okay because the more voices say, “Recovery works,” the more people we reach.
Consider a guest post today and help someone struggling with addiction or recovery. Here are the guidelines.