Updated: Nov 9, 2020
One of the hardest aspects of growing is understanding and accepting you may outgrow some of your relationships. At first glance, this may come across as snobbish or even haughty, but in reality, it's just reality. Something the addict rarely understands is the concept of surrounding ourselves with people who make us better people, who challenge us, and who are doing what we want to be doing. Even to the addict, this concept makes sense, but when it comes down to it we struggle because the reality is we do not want to be challenged. We are too busy finding our next drink or high to worry about becoming a better person. Having someone in our lives who reminds us of all we are not doing is not only unwelcome but also downright annoying. Our answer is to surround ourselves with people struggling in the same ways as we are. We seek out people who do not make us feel bad about who we are. I would go so far as to say we even seek out people who make us feel better about who we are. Now, of course, this is not to say we do not have good friendships and people in our lives. We do, but ask yourself this question: with whom do you spend more time?
As with any relationship, over time we experience ups and downs; highs and lows; good and bad memories. All of these characteristics in a friendship leave lasting impressions, and they create loyalties that are not easily forgotten or left behind. Bonds are formed. Pacts are agreed upon. Promises are made. Homages are stated. At the time, all of these actions made sense to us and our friends. Whether these actions were healthy or not was unimportant. We simply knew we needed those people in our lives, and we did what we could to protect those relationships. It never occurred to us anything could ever change the way we felt about our friendships. There were no scenarios we could conjure powerful enough to change our perception of the people around us. We did the best with what we had and nobody could expect anything more from us.
With Positive Change Comes Growth
Something very powerful happens almost immediately following the first real steps away from addiction. I say the first real steps because when they are not the "real" steps, we know the difference. The difference is in the conviction. It is either present or it is not. If it is present our first steps toward sobriety bring with them a certain amount of confidence and growth. The confidence comes from knowing we are actively engaged in a successful journey. The growth comes from the learning we have always been capable of doing so. It was never outside our reach. We have always been strong. We were never incapable of anything. We just told ourselves we were, and some of our relationships backed up those sentiments.
When we successfully make the emotional and physical changes necessary to walk away from addiction we see and feel the changes in ourselves. We begin to think differently. We begin to act differently. Our perceptions of ourselves and the world around us changes. The world's perception of us changes too. We no longer feel trapped in a life of submission. We want to take control of our actions, our behaviors, and our thinking. We feel an increasingly strong desire and urge to finally take back control of our lives. As we do this, we inevitably begin to feel the ramifications of our own growth and change. It is not only us who are changing. Our growth and changes affect everyone around us. Some will grow with us, others will not. Some will support us, others will attempt to suppress our growth and keep us down. Some will join us on our journey. Others will let us go. This is a natural progression of change and growth. The problem, however, lies in our ability to let go of those who do not want to join or support us.
At what point does a relationship become toxic? How do we know and what do we do when it occurs? Unfortunately, the answers to these questions are subjective. It is up to us individually to define at what point this may occur. Toxicity is defined as the quality of being very harmful or unpleasant in a pervasive or insidious way. When we are engaged in relationships while actively using our addictions, our relationships feel beneficial. We rely on our friendships to get through our difficult lives, and our friendships rely on us too. We try to be there for each other when are struggling. We encourage the use of our addictions because we know they help us deal with life. We even thank each other for that support and lack of judgment. We do not know the difference, so we continue to trudge down the rocky road of our addicted lives with our friends in tow, or vice versa. We do not know it or see it, but those friendships are not only harmful but also self-perpetuating.
While our relationships in addiction can be defined as toxic too, the real toxicity begins when one party attempts to deviate from the confines of the relationship boundaries. The reason relationships can work in addiction is because both parties support the other's behaviors, actions, and needs regardless of how damaging. Knowing our friends are suffering in the same way as we are, affords us the ability to not feel alone. Misery really does love company. As long as both parties support each other's misery, life goes on. When one person decides misery is no longer an option for their lives, the other person has to make a choice, and none of the choices are choices the other wants to make. They can choose to change and grow with their friend. They can choose to let their friend go. Or, they can choose to try and prevent their friend from growing. It is in the latter choice where real toxicity sets in.
You have all heard me talk about my sobriety using terms like easy and positive, but this has been the one area I too have struggled to grasp. I believe it is difficult for everyone because it's a known fact that connections help maintain a positive human condition. We seek out and develop connections, and we hold on to those connections whether they are healthy or not. In sobriety, we know we are changing and growing in unexpected and positive ways, but the idea of letting go of the relationships we have built and fostered over the years is nearly impossible for us. It should be. Even bad relationships offer connection, support (on some level), and the comfort of not feeling alone. Walking away from those relationships feels scary, lonely, and like an uncertain future. Aren't we dealing with enough in sobriety than to have to also deal with the loneliness often associated with sobriety? You would think so, but there is a silver lining.
The good news is most of our dysfunctional relationships tend to naturally dissipate once our changes and growth begin to take shape. It is obvious to everyone, and those not wishing to support our growth generally move on to find others who better support their needs. This is not meant to suggest our old friends are bad people or we are better than them. They are just on a different track than us now. The bad news is, it is much easier for them to leave than it is for us to let them go. We hold on to the positive memories and connections associated with the relationship. They tend to feel let down, jaded, and angry about our new direction. Replacing us becomes the forefront of their motivation, and we see this. It doesn't feel good.
I remember hearing at some point how people come into our lives for specific reasons. Sometimes, those reasons are long-lasting. Other times, those reasons may be short-lived. The point is we have to discern those reasons before we can adequately move on with our lives. It's okay to realize a relationship with someone was short-term. They may have helped us get through a very difficult time in our lives while we were using, and we probably did the same for them. In that way, the relationship was positive and mutually beneficial. It's okay to realize a relationship with someone may have been based on loneliness and fed by our addiction. For whatever reason, at that time, we needed that person, and they needed us. Regardless of how or why a relationship took place, the important thing is to appreciate it for what it was and understand when it is over. Moving on from a relationship that has served its purpose does not negate the positivity that may have surrounded the relationship. In fact, holding on to a relationship that has served its purpose may be more damaging than letting it go.
Part of growth is knowing our limitations, strengths, weaknesses, and needs. It is virtually impossible to grow without positive connections. In sobriety and life, we need these positive friendships and connections to continue working forward and toward our goals. Positivity is the catalyst for growth. The first positive relationship that occurs in successful sobriety is our relationship with alcohol. Once we understand and believe it is no longer wanted in our life it is time to move on to personal connections. It may be beneficial to take stock of our current relationships in sobriety. I would even say make a list and determine the value of each one. What benefits does the relationship hold for you and them? What costs are involved? If the cost to benefit ratio is skewed, it may be time to let go of a relationship. It sounds harsh, but what is more important? Ultimately, it is up to us to make these decisions, and it is important to know our success may hang in the balance.
Once we know where we stand in our personal relationships, and we narrow them down to the ones most beneficial to all involved, it is time to start thinking about finding new ones. If you have found the right path, it usually involves new ways of thinking and goals. While pursuing goals we have to be open to the possibility of finding new connections that support our new direction. In the past, we sought people who made us feel better about ourselves. Now, we have to find people who make us want to be better versions of ourselves. We need to find relationships that push us, challenge us, and make us strive to continue to grow. This is intimidating at first, but once we begin to see the difference in the quality of these relationships, it gets easier. It's contagious too. Others see our growth and our determination to succeed. They, in turn, seek us out for help to push them to be better too. It's arguably the most positive cycle of human interaction available, and it all stems from one simple change.
See yourself in the people you admire. Believe you are already the amazing person you are striving to be. Act from a place of greatness, and you will attract greatness all around you. Be open, aware, and ready to grab ahold of what you need when you see it. Once you have it, never forget what drove you to find it. Hold on to it but also share it with others. Perpetuate positivity and be the friend to others you need for yourself. Share your story and listen to the stories of others. Trust in yourself. Believe in others. Follow your dreams and only look back when you need to remember why you are moving forward.
Never forget those who helped you get here. Whether positive or negative, they all had a reason to be in your life and you in theirs. The only thing that really matters is what you did with or learned from the experience associated with those relationships. That choice is up to you, too.