For people in recovery, one of the most important issues is finding safe, genuinely intimate relationships. Many addicts have built walls of isolation around them, and don’t know where to turn for support and authentic friendship. Obviously, getting involved in recovery groups and finding friendships there is ideal. But even within a group of like-minded, recovering people, some are more likely to be supportive and helpful than others. Discernment is called for.
And what about other relationships, beyond the confines and relative safety of a 12-step or LIFE group? What about old friends, neighbors, or family? Some people have very limited access to recovery groups, and must develop safe and intimate friendships with people who don’t have the shared experience of a recovery journey. How can you discern who to trust? How can you recognize “safe people” who are candidates for genuine friendship?
In his excellent book “Living the Truth,” Keith Ablow has this to say:
Love everyone, but trust those connected to truth. While everyone is worthy of your concern and empathy … only those who have recognized the source of their suffering, examined it, and grown from it are trustworthy. This is because putting down one’s shields, looking in the mirror, and facing the early complicated chapters of one’s life story is the only way to feel pain and grow beyond it.
People who continue to deny their suffering, insisting all is well with them and always has been, can draw you into highly charged, unresolved dramas recycled from their past. And those unresolved dramas can contaminate any story you try to write with them.
How do you recognize those who are trustworthy? Look at how much they rely on shield strategies to get through life. Do they drink excessively, ceaselessly pursue fame or riches, use drugs to get through life, gamble, take inordinate risks, change the topic constantly to avoid addressing anything emotional? [I would add to this list: Do they rely on excessive religiosity, and spiritualize every situation?] Do they say everything’s ‘great’ for them now, that they have the ‘ideal marriage’ or ‘perfect children’ or ‘wouldn’t change a thing’? Remember, people carrying lots of shields can’t embrace you. They can’t really love you. They’re too busy running from the truth.
Being open and vulnerable with people involves taking risks. Your honesty may be threatening to them, because it exposes their charade. But having a few authentic relationships is worth the risks! Again, I quote from Ablow:
Keep this in the front of your mind: whether you are embraced or isolated for living the truth, the price is always lower than the cost of running from that truth. Shared fictions – within families or among friends – are false, temporary comforts. The emotional toll of avoiding reality only gets steeper over time. And the last thing you can afford to lose is your authenticity, yourself.
Living the truth will attract those who welcome honesty and will provoke or frighten those who fear it. But sometimes those who are fearful can be inspired to overcome their resistance and put down their own shields when your communication with them is open, understanding, and forgiving.