November 27, 2014

White Flags and Making Friends

Recently someone wrote to me asking, "I sincerely want to get sober; but what do I do about all my friends?  I don't want to lose them."

Sobriety is not for the sincere.  It is for the desperate.  No one ever quit any habit based on sincerity.  There is a kind of death that the ego must suffer in order to be humble enough to enter the gates of salvation.  The person who desires change must reach his physical, spiritual, emotional and mental bottom.  A good candidate for salvation is one who has no more answers and no more plans.

It was always with the utmost sincerity when I made a promise to myself or to others that I would quit drinking or at least cut back.  It was my ego that would say that it saw the light, saw the error of my ways, saw how harmful my actions were.  My ego saw and understood perfectly, and it wanted to change.  My ego wanted to be loved and admired, and so it was very sincere when it promised that it would take whatever steps were necessary to change.

Sometimes I would last quite a while not drinking and using drugs.  However, as long as I had the ego-strength to plan and to form a rational, sincere strategy of cure, I was in a state of civil war.  Part of me against another part of me.  This didn't work.  In order for me to stay sober, there couldn't be any part of me that resisted. My ego had to give up, throw in the towel, raise the white flag, admit defeat.   I had to hit that bottom of desperation that comes when being helpless crushes all attempts at self-control. So, what happend?  All the good intentions, the health clubs, healthy diets, the substitute hobbies, the public pronouncements about having turned over a new leaf... all those attempts to control my drinking and drug use failed.  The civil war ended.  There was no "other" part of me that had the strength or the egotistical delusion to form a plan of attack.

As to what you can do about your friends, well, this really depends most upon the kind of friends you have when you do finally decide to commit yourself to a life of sobriety.  In my own case, before I decided to get sober, I had all the friends that money could buy.  Getting high and stoned costs money and these friends were only friendly to me when I could afford to pay for what they wanted.  My personal welfare mattered to them only when we were getting high or on the way to the bar.  Of course, I couldn't see this.  It was too painful for me to realize that my friends were drunks and druggies interested in only one thing, the same thing I was interested in....getting high.  To admit to myself that this was all they cared about would be to admit that this was all that I really cared about.  I wasn't ready to admit that I was "that bad" yet.  Also, I felt very close to my drinking buddies.  We had shared so many experiences together and I was afraid of what my life was going to be without them.  It wasn't that every experience I had ever had with my friends was bad but that every bad experience I did have with them involved drinking and drugs, and that's what held these friendships together.   Without them, I'd be alone.  We had formed a society; and while it may not have been a good society, it was the only one I had.

Finally I ceased trying to be sincere in my attempt to curtail my drinking.  I realized that I had hit bottom.  I had no more strategies.  I was desperate.  I couldn't go on the way I was.  I went to an AA meeting and in a sense, I sent up a white flag.

At first I found it difficult to stay away from people I drank with and places that I drank in; but  I knew that if I continued to hang out with my old friends I was definitely going to succumb to temptation and go back to the life of drugs and alcohol.  I also reached the mistaken conclusion that I would never have any fun again. Yet I was desperate enough to accept the bleakness that I thought would envelope the rest of my life.  (You know you're desperate when you prefer a zombie's existence to a drunk's life.)

I had reached that bottom and if there was any way at all for me to move, it had to be up. I had come to that turning point. So instead of my old friends, I went to AA meetings and got to know the people there.   It wasn't much fun at first.  Actually, I was miserable.  But eventually I was able to make a few new friends and to my amazement, I began to enjoy life.  It was in those AA meetings that I learned how to live sober and actually like it.

So don't be afraid of losing your old friends.  Friends are people with whom you share experience and identity.  When you find a new life, you'll find new friends.