“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” – Bob Marley
I was at the Tucson Zoo a few days ago with our little 4-year-old granddaughter Mo Jelly. She’s in a stage of social development where she finds a slightly older girl who might even be a stranger and then will follow her around like a puppy dog, mesmerized by the other girl’s every move. She then will try to mimic whatever the girl does. I watched this unfold at the zoo. Mo Jelly noticed another little girl. When the other little girl grabbed her mother’s hand, Mo Jelly reached out for her grandmother’s hand. Wherever the other girl went, Mo Jelly would follow. When the other girl rode the carousel, so too did Mo Jelly. The other little girl got off the carousel and gave her mother a high-five. Mo Jelly gave her mother a high-five too. It was amusing and typical to a little girl’s social development.
Mo Jelly made up a fantasy relationship about another little girl she did not know. This happens in the recovery world. People make others to be a figment of their imagination. They make up that others work a solid recovery program or have a cool personality. They put people on a pedestal and make them up to be what they are not. They are disappointed when others do not meet expectations.
I have often heard people complain that their sponsor is not responding as expected. Frequently, I hear others bemoan that their 12-step group is disappointing and less than anticipated. Just like Mo Jelly, they have made their expectations about a recovery community to be a figment of their imagination. People are simply human with flaws and disappoint others with their shortcomings. This is true of every organized group. Developing healthy relationships in a 12-step community involves the same dynamics as establishing good relationships elsewhere. Listed are observations about utilizing a recovery community to learn how to cultivate friendship and connection.
1. Friendship relationships take time to develop. This observation is familiar and well-worn. Most addicts who seek recovery do not put in the time to cultivate connection. They settle for intensity and do not do the work of intimacy. In a 12-step group there are interesting characters with personality flair. Frequently, addicts are enamored by the intensity of personality and the mantras that are shared during a meeting without internalizing the principles of recovery. This is the work of intimacy. I have listened to addicts complain about not being able to relate to 12-step meetings after attending one or two times. What they are really saying is that they are not willing to invest the time to connect. The value of a 12-step community is the space it provides to be vulnerable. Vulnerability requires time to unfold. When you invest the time you will create the deepest friendships.
2. Friends are just who they are. There is a tendency for people to idealize and make their friends what they are not. But, friends are never a perfect fit. They won’t change your life or make whatever has been wrong, all of a sudden right! You won’t like everything about your friend. They will irritate and disappoint you. They don’t entertain or make you laugh all the time. You learn to let your friends be just who they are.
3. Friendships share space. In a friendship one person cannot have all the power, make all the decisions, and dominate the space. When this is true friendships don’t last long. The relationship morphs into codependency or some other form of dysfunction. Addicts are oblivious to how much space they demand in a friendship relationship. They think their space includes other people’s space. As long as they relate to others in this way, they sabotage their potential to deepen friendships, if they have any. Friends are curious about the interests, needs, and expectations of each other. Between friends, there is mutual respect of boundaries. There is never demand, that is a one-way street. Friends are willing to share space.
4. There are cycles to friendship. There is ebb and flow to friendship relationships. There are times of much conversation and times of silence. Just being in the presence of your friend is meaningful. Friends don’t fuel chaos or turn each other’s lives upside down. They go with the flow of life issues. There are times that a friend will have an issue and need time to address a challenge and you let them have their space. Friends don’t have to be in each other’s presence 24/7 to be close. There is space and time for each to go his/her own way. True friendships are both close and distant in the course of time.
5. Deep friendships don’t personalize the issues of the other. Don Miguel Ruiz taught us not to personalize other’s behavior and actions in his acclaimed book The Four Agreements. Friends work to recognize each other’s flaws. There is an ongoing willingness to make apologies when actions or behaviors have been personalized. This is a lifelong process and deepens relationship between two friends.
Henry Nouwen framed the journey of true friendship in a beautiful description. He said “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing, and face with us the reality of our powerlessness—that is a friend who cares.”
Monkey-minded friendships have a limited shelf life. Embracing the long journey of deepening relationships through vulnerability and perseverance creates the richest experiences in all of life.
This new post was written by Ken Wells. In Dare to be Average, Ken’s new book, you can embrace healing, peace, and self-acceptance through meaningful insights to discover purpose and fulfillment in everyday life.
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