Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life

~ 2012 Form ~


CHAPTER SIXTEEN
Relationships

Relationships keep us aware of the fact that we really do need each other. Meaningful and fulfilling relationships are possible. Although isolated by the disease of addiction, we long for friends, companions and lovers. We want to trust and to be trusted. With practice, we learn that taking healthy risks, letting down our walls, and being vulnerable are assets rather than liabilities. Each success strengthens us and each failure instructs. Any time that there is trust between two people a positive relationship can result. Honest communication and respect for one another enhances these relationships. We develop these virtues by working on ourselves with the Steps. We come to know and love ourselves. Our expanding definitions of love cause our relationships to improve. As we grow healthier, we find relief from the aspects of our personality that cause us trouble when we get close to others. One area of learning to live that addicts refer to most frequently and with the greatest pain and confusion is 'relationships'. It is hard to accept the responsibility of getting the stuff out of the way that prevents us from having happy relationships. Before we can enjoy this aspect of humanness, we have to let the changes settle into our hearts and take root there. Otherwise, we can only build our nests by instinct.

As we grow out of an immature need for love to a mature giving of love, we increase our capacity to care about others. When we learn to express our love, we feel loved in return. As we understand more about love, the more our relationships improve. We become less sensitive and suspicious with others. If there are upsets, we find ways to deal with them. We do not just duck and dodge problems. Everything that we did not face from our pasts will surface and magnify in our relationships. It has to become an issue for us in order for us to become willing to walk through it. When this happens, we need a sponsor and a home group to help us walk through the situation and make the necessary changes. Sometimes our members learn to interact like a healthy family. Not harsh or overbearing, they just stick by us and when we are ready for help, they are present, able and willing to help. Some members seem to like to be told what to do by someone they respect. Too often this ends in a predictable let down when the idiot who falls for it fails to give the proper instruction in some way as judged by the 'dependent' member, who then can anguish over how the 'program' let them down and they went back to using. Another, more widespread way of relating, involves sharing what worked for us with a surrendered addict seeking recovery who then strives to put into action the best they can and keeps asking help when they need it. Actually, all we can do is share what works for us. We can pattern after others successfully as long as we are alert and willing to do our part.

Our problems with relationships bring Twelve Step recovery into the here and now for many of us. This is one more reason we do not hold back when working the Steps. We want our defects to come out so we can identify and get rid of them. Through living the Steps, out defects will not hurt others as often or cause us years of additional and unnecessary pain. This is why we do not share our advice, just honest sharing about what works for us. Even in recovery, our addictive nature forces us to feel hopeless as to whether a true personality change can happen for us. Our commitment to personal growth through prayer, helping others and working the Steps grows proportionally as our desperation fades.

Many of us have avoided relationships as a natural defense mechanism during active addiction. Positive interaction with other people had virtually disappeared because of our anti-social activities. We thought that even if a meaningful relationship could exist at all, it wouldn't happen for us. The more isolated we became; the more we needed a way to feel connected with the rest of the world. Addiction stole our identities. We suppressed our emotions, feelings and dignity slowly and deliberately until we existed only as a shadow of a human being. We sought ways to regain lost dreams and abilities but we only found more loneliness and misery. Nothing that we have tried seemed to work, especially the drugs. We began to question our very existence. The initial step in relating effectively to others is to realize that we do not and can not exist in a vacuum. While we may be dependent on others for much of our sense of well-being, this does not mean that we rely on others to provide our happiness. Knowing and feeling that others care for us reinforces the desire for recovery and encourages us to reach out. The spiritual nature of recovery moves according to a precise and comprehensive plan to secure for us what we need the most. If we are praying to God to work miracles in our lives, amazing things will happen. We have been doing things backwards for so long, that down looks like up and straight lines seem crooked! Although a relationship isn't the first thing that we have to have in recovery, many of us get into one as soon as we can although we are not ready for one. We might miss having a romantic relationship just as we miss not having a car. We have difficulty in accepting that either our license is suspended or we can not buy gas, in other words ‘our responsibility’ in the situation. When we work the Program, we know that our turn will come when it is time.

Through a combination of many types of relationships with other recovering addicts, our sponsors, oneself, and the God of our understanding, our lives begin to fall into place. Many of us have found it best to develop a relationship with God first. As this relationship grows, we can better relate with all the others. As we pray and develop more faith, our relationship with the God of our understanding improves thereby making it easier to examine who we are. We found peace of mind when we surrendered to the First Step and some of us experienced a glimmer of hope following our first meeting. When we shared with that first person in recovery about our true feelings, we began to break through the fear toward healing our fractured personalities. Looking into another person's eyes and being able to see the empathy and understanding is a precious gift indeed. Perhaps our first positive relationship in recovery began when we simply became willing to listen to others. We faced head on our 'aloneness' and faced our need to change our ways. The next relationship began when we got a sponsor and learned how to have a healthy relationship with another human being.

We take an honest look at our regrets, resentments, defects and assets. We recall our lost hopes in writing about our past dreams, daily accomplishments, and future goals. By maintaining the awareness of our gifts and assets, we get a picture of ourselves that is honest and accurate. Sharing the vision of ‘who we think we are’ with someone we trust is a key to our ongoing growth. When we share all of our weaknesses as well as strengths with at least one other person, we gain a new perspective. The more people that we interact with only helps this perspective to grow. Self-examination gives us the willingness to surrender our character defects and improve our character assets. We accept that others are blameless for our problems when we take personal responsibility for our lives. We learn to forgive ourselves as well as those who may have harmed us and we ask the forgiveness from those that we have harmed.

The ability to recognize when we are wrong and admit it to another person is an important quality in strengthening our relationships. When we only pray for knowledge of God's will, miracles will happen. The knowledge of our personal purpose plus a sense of that mission prepares us for whatever action is necessary. As we begin to feel worthwhile and fulfilled, we awaken to the fact that we are not alone in this world. Many of the self-imposed barriers to intimacy disappear as the grace of our Higher Power restores our spirit. From that point forward, we are ready, willing and able to live life. Whatever we lack inwardly can most quickly and painfully surface in our relationships. There isn't any doubt that love offers us the ultimate experience of affirmation and joy as well as the potential for depression and desperation. In other words, the possibility that character defects that we may yet be unaware of could devastate our relationships. These defects are some of the issues that we deal with in our ongoing recovery. Amends we cannot acknowledge or initiate create other internal barriers to pain or advancement. Only our NA 12 Steps can root them out.

Many of us have apparently developed a pattern in that all our ‘serious relationships’ turn out to be only temporary love affairs. From these experiences, we sometimes learn more about ourselves than we care to know. We pick lovers who are emotionally unhealthy and even abusive or we may display these same traits ourselves. The experience of others is there to help us but we usually do just as we please based solely on whether we feel like the victimizer or the victim. When we realize that the relationship isn't working, we have already committed or we are so deeply involved that it is difficult or impossible to walk away. We ‘hang in there’ trying to make it work and manage to convince ourselves that we are ‘sticking with it’ long after we should have ended our love affair with dignity. It is then that we ask ourselves "Is this God's will or our ego?" Most of us realize that we have an inner voice that gives us direction but it takes commitment and practice to follow it. Some call this inner voice God and others call it instinct but it does not matter what we call it. We benefit when we listen to it.

Some of us have learned to support our weakened egos by tearing down those around us. In recovery, we have a chance to consider what we are doing and decide if we want to keep doing it. For instance, a lady who knows only how to chase and catch a man, may be quite lost when it comes to staying with them, sharing their lives and dealing with the many little things that come up. They know how to 'get' a man, not how to 'keep' one. They may make themselves feel ok by homing in on the failures or imperfections of the men they are with. If this ever made sense, what happens today is our concern. A person can never have a good mate if they systematically undermine them. It just can not happen. Learning a new way would be to take stock several times a day of our recovery, asking for the help of our HP and trying out things we see other ladies - who are happy and successful - doing.

Loving and depending on others for certain things is not in itself wrong or unhealthy. Taken to an extreme, we will try to push our responsibilities onto another person and that is terrible wrong. When we think we are free to avoid doing our part, we sabotage our own happiness. The love of another is empty if we do not love ourselves. Love cannot give us an identity. Over-dependency, exploitation, domination and subservience will cave in the strongest love. If we lack a HP, we will fear being alone. If we make peace with our life and world by coming to believe, all else will start to come together. It is the two keys of surrender and belief that open the doorway to a new life.

The longer we stay clean, the more we see how addiction interfered in our relationships. Most of us have grown slowly and we have experienced some painful mistakes even when we tried to do everything right. Seeking out those who are having successful relationships can provide us with guidance but the only way to learn about having a relationship is to have one. It is like learning how to drive because until we get behind the wheel, we can not get down the road. Often, we addicts are only vaguely aware of our defects and not yet able to see the actual impact that they have on our lives. Probably, the only accurate measure that we have in knowing that these defects are a problem is that things go wrong. Today, we understand that if something is wrong there are defects involved and that we are not necessarily unloving, uncaring, or unfeeling people. We must take care though to maintain our responsibilities and not cop out. These defects helped us avoid pain in the past by preventing others from getting close enough to hurt us. These defects need dismantling before we can reasonably expect relationships to work for us. Otherwise, we may end up hurting someone and then begging them not to leave us. We may want to ask ourselves, "Hey! What would happen if we were to stop hitting or yelling at our partners?" They might just stop fleeing from us!

Unfortunately, it is all too common for us to jump into a sexual relationship when we first get clean in an attempt to replace the high that we found with drugs or to avoid the pain of withdrawal. If we are not serious about recovery, we will not be able to stay clean through these behaviors. We get into these relationships for many reasons: orgasm, personal acceptance, as well as control issues but no matter the reason for getting into them, we may find ourselves in trouble. We discover that it is more important to know who we are so that we can initiate relationships with people who really care about us. We need to practice safe habits in all of our relationships and not merely in our sexual encounters. We do this by continuing to spend time with our friends and our sponsor. We shouldn't abandon our hobbies, interests or goals to impress our lover or to keep peace. Our relationships do not ensure our happiness or provide positive self-esteem especially if we have those expectations. By relying on our Higher Power and the NA Program, we can maintain self-reliance. We eventually realize that we have to work on ourselves if we want our relationships to get better. ‘Our personal recovery depends on NA unity’ because we believe that we have a spiritual connection with each other. This belief motivates us to treat everyone with love and concern whether they are inside or outside the Fellowship. If we want the best for ourselves then we must give our best to the world.

One NA member shares, "I came into the rooms of NA about March 11, 1998, twenty months ago, for my second attempt to get clean. In September of ’95, I came to NA after going through treatment and only achieved approximately sixty days clean time and decided I wasn’t an addict and went back out there. I didn’t follow any suggestions, work steps, etc. But most importantly, I didn’t understand anonymity.

"When I came back into the rooms this time I was in total desperation. I was also in a relationship with a man who was in active addiction. I had been in this relationship for 2 ½ years. I realized I had a ‘drug’ problem and sought help through treatment. He, on the other hand, was in total denial and vowed he could quit using anytime. I started going to meetings. I was serious about my recovery. I listened. I shared in meetings. I got a sponsor. Did 90 in 90. But this relationship was not working out. People in the rooms suggested, at the very least I needed to set some boundaries. I did. I truly believed he wasn’t an addict. He honored my boundaries (or so I thought). But I still found us growing in separate directions. I continued this relationship for approximately four months.

"People in the rooms told me when the pain got bad enough I would either do something about it to better my chances at recovery or get loaded. I knew I didn’t want to use. I discovered that this person whom I trusted and thought was changing his life too, was lying to me the entire time I had been clean. I had to make a choice. I prayed about it a lot. Then, one day, the answer came to me clear as a bell. I couldn’t continue to save this relationship with an addict who was in complete denial. For the first time in my life, I put my needs first. I trusted the people in the rooms of NA who told me if I take care of myself, stay clean and come to meetings things would work out the way they were supposed to. I was terrified! I loved this man with all my heart but I knew until he could get honest about addiction that we didn’t have a chance. He left and suddenly I found myself alone for the first time in my life. See, I always felt I needed a man in my life to make me feel whole. However, the friends and support I had found in NA saved my life. They were there to hold my hand, cry on their shoulder, and help me through this trying time.

"Even though I knew that I had done the right thing my heart was still broken because I loved the man and, since I had been coming to NA, I started learning about the disease of addiction, and how it takes over lives. The denial and self-deception are part of this disease of addiction. I felt bad for him but I knew that he had to hit rock bottom and realize on his own that he needed help. I didn’t call or communicate with him at all after the break up. I continued to pray every day and night for God to help me get through this and to do the next right thing. Then after a short time apart, I realized that I was pregnant with this man’s baby. I didn’t know what to do.

"I leaned on my support from my friends in NA. I finally called him to let him know about the baby. He said some hurtful things and then hung up on me. I called his mother and informed her about the situation. I gave her a meeting schedule to pass onto him, and hung up the phone. I was devastated, however I knew that all that I could do was turn it over to my higher power, not use, and accept whatever happened. That night I went to a meeting. I was a little late and the meeting had already started when I got there. When I walked in the door, I saw him sitting there at a meeting. My heart sank. I sat in the back where he couldn’t see me. Then after the meeting, we talked. He told me that he was sorry and that he realized he had a problem and wanted help.

"My first thought was to hug him and tell him that everything would be fine and lets go home. But I knew that if this was ever going to work out I had to know that he was doing this for himself and not to get me back. Since we were having a child together, I did make an effort to try and save this relationship. He had to prove to me that he wanted a new way of life and was willing to do whatever necessary to stay clean. We didn’t move back in together for a while. He went to meetings, got a sponsor and stayed clean. After a lot of prayer and thought, we did get back together.

"Today we have a beautiful eight month old daughter. I now have 27 months clean now and he has 16 months clean. We both attend meetings daily, are involved in service work, etc. Most importantly, we make NA our life. We are both learning the true meaning of love. Our lives today are good. I do realize that this is probably an exception to the rule about early relationships. However, I do believe that my higher power knew that I was willing to go to any length for my recovery and eventually so was he.

"I truly believe that we are supposed to be together. Putting our recovery first before anything else and having some faith that by doing the next right thing that our higher power will take care of us and things will end up the way they are supposed to be was a lesson I learned early in my recovery. This relationship may not last forever, but this program has taught me Just For Today I am happy and it is working. And that’s all we really have is today. And if tomorrow things all went to hell, I know that with the help of my higher power, and the love and support of NA, that as long as I put my recovery first everything is going to be ok. For that I am eternally grateful."

We want to share with you the loving hope that we find at our own level of happiness with other human beings. Sharing our lives with someone special opens doors to potentials that we could miss and never even know it. Working the Steps is the way that we begin living our lives so that happy meaningful relationships become possible.

Considering the people in our lives as a part of us rather than apart from us makes it easier to find our common ground and welfare. We try to get a view of what is best for everyone involved, not just our own wants and needs. We can deal with all of our relationships this way because if we want to build quality associations we need to see others as being equal with and as important as we are. When we consider what might happen if we extend the notion of common welfare to our families, neighborhoods, and communities the potentials are unlimited. In some cultures, practicing this concept could place an individual at risk. Remember if it isn't practical, it isn't spiritual. In NA, we learn that while the group is precious to the individual, the individual is also precious to the group. This equality is essential in the development of any loving relationship. The good of the majority should never take precedence over an individual's well-being because when one of us suffers, we all suffer.

The idea that we can prosper at the expense of another implies that we have no natural sense of honor or that we think we can get away with things that make us feel badly about ourselves. Until the teachings of this spiritual way of life impress upon us the necessity for change, we continued to be unhappy. It may truly seem to be the other person's fault, yet who really wins, especially if we are blameless but miserable? Our personal well-being depends upon our ability to relate to others with whom we come into contact. The ability to relate is especially important in our relationships with those who are closest to us. The myth about ‘good’ relationships is that we will find that perfect person and everything will fall into place. We think that they will love us and please us, and oh, how we are going to love them. We'll care for them and give them everything they want. Somehow, we have gotten the idea that it is our job to make our partners happy and that it is their job to make us happy. This is not possible. The reality is this: we can be happy together but only if we are at peace with ourselves. Inner peace happens when we accept and treasure our own identities. The inventory process helps us in self-discovery and further Step work helps us love ourselves.

Our desire to have relationships may only be our attempts to exercise our imaginary powers over another or to transfer the power and responsibility to another. We may simply want someone in place to blame if things go wrong. In recovery, we have learned that ultimate authority belongs to God so we try not to create situations in which our partner or us have to be ‘the boss.’ Each of us has our own good qualities that we bring to the relationship along with our defects. We accept that these talents and abilities will benefit us as long as we do not try to assume God's role. Listening to one another's point of view and then figuring out what to do together is the ideal for which we strive. This is what we do in our recovery meetings and with time, we can do it in our personal relationships. When alone and trying to make a decision, we consult God through quiet prayer and we meditate to see the knowledge and intuition that He provides us. We visualize our loved ones being with us. In the midst of this meditation, we may even sense the preferences of others involved and perhaps we can even hear them speak.

Whether proceeding with humor or melodrama, one problem that recovering addicts experience in forming secure relationships is accepting that people with the natural ability to form lasting trust bonds have already done so. The rest have trouble just as we do. In order for us to get better, we find that we no longer have to find someone as sincere as we are. We can wait and work on our steps until we find ourselves with someone to whom we are pleasant and attractive. We find that even with a lot of the fear and games gone it is best to take things slowly. The ability to enter a ‘group conscience’ state of mind is available to us, anywhere and anytime. When deciding on the course of action that we need to take, we must consider our common welfare and purpose. In this way, we are truly serving one another. We learn to trust each other and in turn are trusted. Being of service in a relationship does not mean doing things for people that they should be doing for themselves. It means helping them realize that, with God's help, they can do it for themselves. This is the spirit of service referred to in our Second Tradition.

On one level, we work hard to gain ‘good sense’ - while we look about frantically for a member who is available sexually. People always seem to tell us what we should do yet we usually do exactly as we please, regardless of the results we get. Listening to people who have good relationships and who have bonded themselves to us will keep us from going off the deep end. One consideration that most of us still use in order to evaluate our situation is whether the relationship in which we are involved is a healthy one. Many of the problems may evolve from our desire for the status which society-at-large places on those who are in successful relationships. Using someone to get status is dishonest. If the basis for desiring something is clean and honest and we are willing to pay the price required, our chances for a successful relationship are excellent. If we think that we can get away with dishonesty, deceit or manipulation of others just because we are clean and clever, we have a rude awakening ahead.

We are so furious when things go wrong. It has been hard to trust again. Problems make us want to lash out at someone we love for the pain of inadequacy we feel inside! In our frustration, we try harder. And because we try harder to be careful and considerate, we become anxious and uncomfortable. Unless our mate is extraordinary, they may see our efforts as contrived and insincere, when it is just the opposite. So, again, we fail. Oh well, we will try harder the next time.

We must desire to have relationships before we can choose how closely we might relate to others. How do we handle those who wish for a closer relationship with us when the feeling is not mutual? How do we apply principles in such a situation? The idea that we should allow people that want to participate in our lives to do so can be scary and perhaps even repugnant. However, when we remember that we are in a relationship with everyone around us, we see that we have the right to limit our choices of whom we interact on an intimate basis. We choose the depth and intensity of each of our relationships. We may decide that avoiding personal contact with certain people is necessary for us to remain healthy. We may continue to hold them in loving esteem, pray for their well-being, and visualize the best for them in our meditations. The idea of 'must' is a spirit killer. The spiritual principle we are speaking of here is the unconditional acceptance of others. We have learned not to place unrealistic expectations or conditions on the people in our lives. We have learned to be satisfied with the simple reality that they are with us because they think that we are worthy of their companionship. The desire of another to be part of our life is a precious gift indeed. Control and manipulation destroy even the most intense relationships. Whenever we place unfair conditions on our love, we only cheat ourselves and restrict our ability to have healthy relationships with others. Many times, we learn things that are bitter in the beginning turn sweet in time. And often sweet goes to sour as time goes by...

We consider the old saying, "Never place your affections on a green growing tree." This reminds us that a person changing in recovery will be different after a time and that in spite of the fact that love and tenderness may be quite real today, one or both partners will likely feel differently tomorrow. We say, "Wear the world like a loose garment." This makes it easier to change. When we search for the best in others, we find the best in ourselves. We practice acceptance by looking past the flaws of others and concentrating on their virtues. We seek not to be perfectionists and yet we continue to seek the perfection that we believe dwells in those we love. What we mean is that we look for the ‘God’ in others and embrace those ‘divine qualities’ by treating our loved ones with the same honor and respect that we desire for ourselves.

As one addict shared: " I know a man who has been in recovery for a long time, yet when I see him at meetings, he is the one at the door greeting people. He makes them feel welcome with his smile and a hug or by offering them a cup of coffee. When he speaks to me, I feel like my presence is especially important to him, but he treats everyone this way. When someone is feeling low or struggling with a problem, he is the first to offer words of hope or encouragement by pointing out their good qualities.

"Naturally, everyone looks forward to seeing him at the meetings. He is one of the most loved and respected people I know. The reason for this adoration is not in what he says or does. The key to his popularity is in how he treats others. He treats them with love."

In learning to open ourselves up to the forces of life that surround us, we develop the ability to give and receive more freely. We see many things that we were unable to see before. This is what being clean is all about. When we help others, we receive help. As we express truths to others, we increase our understanding and open new doors of opportunity. Our sharing goes beyond basic communication. It can give us the energy we need to rebuild. We show our love and teach one another what we have learned. Defining our purpose in life is also helpful. What is the purpose of our various relationships? Friendships include feelings of mutual affection, respect, support, shared interests and adventure. A romantic relationship might include all of the above as well as a deeper level of intimacy and possibly sex. Parental relationships might include the qualities of friendship as well as stability, consistency, and responsibility. As parents, we help our children to form their values, nurture them and pass on our experience, strength and hope. Just as we use our primary purpose of carrying the message in our groups, we can use it for guidance in our private lives. The test for any proposed activity in our ongoing relationships is the question, "Does this further our primary purpose as a person or divert us from it?"

In the past, we have agreed with others' ideas for acceptance but we no longer feel the need to agree unless it is sincere. We can agree to disagree and we believe that we do not have to give up our own or disprove someone else's beliefs. The power and prestige of ‘being right’ is an area where our egos overpower our best thinking. Money issues trigger our insecurities and can cause many disputes amongst us. It is important that we realize that these things are petty considerations when compared with unity. First, we focus on our primary purpose. If we find that our definition of our primary purpose conflicts with our partners', we need to remember that ‘spiritual principles are never in conflict.’ Therefore, if a conflict exists we need to re-evaluate the situation. Confusing wants and needs creates un-necessary problems.

The principle of self-support is the privilege to contribute our fair share wherever we are involved. Contributing to the welfare of the relationship gives us the feeling that we are part of something greater than we are so we give something to each of our relationships. Sometimes we give money, emotional support, or enormous physical effort and we know that we can not really lose by doing this. The rewards from everything we do multiply and return to us when we least expect it. Many addicts contribute to society both within the Fellowship and at large in ways that are not glamorous or important. We can be of service no matter what our ‘job’ may be. It helps if we look for the ways that what we do can affect and enrich the lives of others. We must be careful not to let our job, education or our perceived ‘station in life’, distort our perception of reality. Feeling either superior or inferior is a good indicator that we have a lack of humility. Each of us has unique talents and abilities and sharing them with the world is our responsibility but we remember that anonymity means that we all hold equal value in our relationships.

We recall the last time that we changed from being a friendly, warm, open, welcoming person with appropriate behavior into a tyrannical, lonely, and arrogant person. We remember the tenderness and love that filled our hearts when we first met ‘someone special’ only to find out that they were only human and not so ‘special’ at all. We outgrow these disheartening changes if we are honest and willing. Often, we discover great beauty and character under the so called flaws. Their preferences may make more sense in time and some of the they just can not help. The same way we can not help our own scars. Most of us have worked very hard to become responsible and productive members of society both within and outside of the Fellowship. We have reached heights that were undreamed of in our using days. Accomplishments should produce pride but we must temper this pride with the humility of knowing where much of the credit lies.

We forget to respect that which we cannot see and thus miss all the wonderful things that might lie ahead for us. In part, our industrial/informational civilization might lead us to emphasize flaws over real assets. What a monster a perfect person would be! The pretense and quest for perfection keeps us from enjoying life. Sometimes, we will we allow ourselves to respond to outside criticism that is uninformed and intrusive. Lacking the emotional and social skills to take up for our mate, we will buy into the gossip rather than setting the person straight!

Our successes are usually due to a reliance on a loving God, the support of our NA friends, and often the sacrifices made by our friends and families. We have found that our most important relationship is with God and until we establish that one, all others should wait. From the womb forward, we have suffered various degrees of injury. This suffering may have either been part of our addiction or because of incidental occurrences. We learned pain, how to live with it, and we continue to expect it. We have learned specific ways of doing things and will continue to do them that way until we decide to change.

Grief in Recovery

An addict shares about grieving: "I have been a member of Narcotics Anonymous since 1992 and I have been one of the fortunate ones that has not gone back out. I also believe that relapse does not have to be part of recovery and the sooner that it’s not all about the drugs anymore and it’s about living, we stand a better chance of not picking up. The 12 Steps have saved my life and I also believe in our readings when it say sometimes we need to seek outside help and for me part of that means to seek information to help me get well.

"As I did my Steps over and over, I found some issues that didn’t go away, like my Mom and issues with my x-wife. I wasn’t grieving them and I didn’t know how.

"We are born with the natural ability to grieve. We trust our care givers and they allow us to grieve as a child. When we take a ball away from a child, the child cries for the loss of the ball and then moves on. The child has grieved. As we get older, like five or six, things change in our environment. We start getting mixed messages.

"The messages we start getting are things like 'go to your room,' 'stop crying or I will give you something to cry about.' We come home after having a fight with a friend and Mom says here, have a cookie, so we learn to stuff our feelings. We bring it up again and then we’re told not to cry over spilt milk, so we’re taught not to feel. Our pet dog dies and on the weekend Dad goes out to buy us a new dog so we learn to replace the loss. How many of us have gone from one relationship to another replacing the loss, never grieving the last relationship and bringing our baggage with us to the next with all our insecurities with us wondering why nothing changes. We grieve more things in our lives that we don’t realize. Moving from our home, pets, relationships, or life with drugs, jobs, friends, etc. We are taught to be strong for others. Not to show our feelings. Get over it. Time will heal everything. Some of us escape by gambling, shopping, eating, drugs and I am sure you can identify more in your own life.

"I had a friend that watched his Father set up a hose to his car before going to school and when he came home that day, found his Dad dead. He was eight years old. His Uncle sat him on his knee and told him he had fifteen minutes to cry and after that, he didn’t want to see him cry over his Dad again. What kind of message are we getting here? No wonder he relapsed around the anniversary date of his loss. De hadn’t grieved or was not allowed to process his loss. Are we getting the big picture here? We are taught that grief isn’t a feeling and we need to not feel it at any cost. Most of us are afraid to talk to someone that has had significant loss, saying things that are inappropriate, like there’s a lot of fish in the sea, you can always have another child, they are in a better place and running away as fast as we can because we are not comfortable talking about it.

"The best medicine for someone who is grieving is talking about it. I always ask open-ended questions so it gives that person an opportunity to share their feelings and I listen, not trying to fix the. When we grieve, we suffer from a broken heart. We are not dealing with a disease, so why are we always trying to fix them? What I suggest to people is to make a life graph from the time of their first memory to today. Then I suggest they do a relationship graph of the person they are grieving, pointing out all the highs and lows.

"The next thing to do is forgive them for all they ever did to you, even the abuse. Ask for forgiveness for all you have done to them and tell them any significant emotional statement you may need to say to them. And be honest. A good way to do this is to write it down and share it with someone you trust.

"I have learned to do this naturally again today. I had a very close friend in the program who hung himself. I was angry with him and that was ok. I went to the coffin and told him what I needed to tell. I told him I was angry, I forgave him. I asked for forgiveness and told him I would miss him.

"I also didn’t feel guilty like most people that knew him for hanging himself, asking themselves what could they have done, because I didn’t do anything on purpose to hurt him. We feel guilty for too many things in life that we are not responsible for. the definition of guilt is hurting someone on purpose. Think about it.

"I have learned to do this naturally again. something that was taken away from me as a child. Something all of us have lost and can get back. We need to re-educate ourselves and allow ourselves to grieve. I really believe in my heart with all that has been going on in my recovery the last few years and believe me being clean doesn’t bean that life is always ok. I wouldn’t have gotten through it without grieving my losses."

We often want to know, "Who's in charge?" Is it ever necessary to be a boss? When God's in charge, we do not need a boss. How does this apply to the relationship that we have with our children? Most of the relationships that we have discussed so far have involved the interaction of equals and no hierarchy is necessary for success in these relationships. Parental responsibilities are ‘controlling by nature.’ Some choices have to be made by parents because children by definition just do not know any better. It confuses children to tell them one thing and do another. Parents should always back each other up at the time. If there is a disagreement, it can be talked over privately, not in front of the child. However, trying to dictate to or intimidate children is counterproductive. Healthy children often have strong wills. Children learn much more through our example than through intimidation. When we depend on God to be the boss, we gain the freedom to become an example rather than a dictator. Remember how much we learned from "Do as I say, not as I do!" We have learned that this concept applies truthfully to most of the people that we would like to influence. We are striving to be of service to those with whom we associate in recovery. Responsibility is part of service. Taking actions that affect others without considering their welfare or discussing it with them beforehand isn't responsible. We did not consider the impact that our behavior had on others before but now in recovery it is a vital part of our new lives.

Autonomy is an important part of being our own person. In our relationships, we repeat the same mistakes and have the same difficulties yet we still find it hard to vary the things that we do in our attempt to get different results. Some of us have practiced celibacy, in order to gain time to stabilize emotionally. Freedom allows us to take what we think will work for us and try it. So often we have had the pleasant experience of finding ways once blocked were quietly opened when we gave it another try. We have gone through the feeling that change was impossible or unlikely for us. One break-through comes only after we reach the point of practicing spiritual principles. We still do not clearly understand why the ‘surrender factor’ is so important. Perhaps our efforts to open a door were so forceful that we actually held the door shut or maybe we just forgot to turn the knob. Running other people's lives and affairs is not healthy for anyone. Attempts to coerce others into giving up their hopes, dreams or leisure activities are clear invasions of that person's autonomy. Being autonomous means that each person in the relationship should also be self-governing, free to make decisions, and act without outside interference as long as there is no harm to others.

We have found that sometimes expending less energy gets more results. The principles of honesty, open-mindedness and willingness give us the opportunity to check out things the way non-addicts might go shopping. In our case, we go shopping for life. We learn to use the principles in the Steps to resolve personality conflicts because they keep the focus on ourselves. The principles in the Traditions focus on our internal and external relationships as a Fellowship. Application of the principles contained in the Traditions is beneficial and maybe even necessary, to having healthy personal relationships. Since it is widely accepted that spiritual principles are universal, it is only logical that we extend their practice into our everyday relationships. It is best to leave some things unsaid. If we speak ill of past friends and lovers, the person before us will feel like a candidate for future personal slurs.

Talking has gotten us into some of our difficulties and talking can get us out again. If we are incurable romantics, we may need reminding that there are many reasons for people to become our lovers besides love. Besides friendship, someone can use our vulnerability and trust in many areas. Maybe the most important lesson to learn about relationships is that they are not that important to the recovery process and that waiting may be for the best. We are well advised to wait before getting into a relationship. We wait until we have worked the Twelve Steps enough so that character defects and shortcomings are not as likely to spoil our chances of happiness no matter whether they are our own or our partner's. Most of us categorize our relationships: family, friendly, professional, romantic, and sexual, etc. This seems to mean that we think we should treat each relationship differently because one person or relationship is somehow more valuable than another is. We wonder what might happen if we stopped doing this and started to give unconditionally in all of our encounters. We find that love freely shared multiplies and returns to us. When we trust someone else enough to be vulnerable and genuine with them, we lay the groundwork for building a positive relationship. Overcoming our fear of rejection or others' judgment has been challenging for many of us. Those of us who have found relief from these character defects through the Twelve Steps testify that the rewards of loving unconditionally are well worth the effort that we invested.

So-called ‘normal’ people spend an estimated 90% of their time thinking about relationships from their past. In other words, they are still dealing with pain that originated in their childhood or from situations with family, friends, or lovers that they have known. It is essential that we learn to relate to the person that is in front of us at this time. We do not punish them for the wrongs done to us by others in the past. We expect ‘a reasonable best’ from the person that we feel drawn to and we give them the full benefit of the doubt when conflicts occur. We know our addiction exaggerates the wrongs of others, which may make our wrongs seem smaller. We may be wrong some of the time but we have to learn to believe in people all over again. We find that much of the expected hurt does not occur because the person who did that to us is no longer present and we are no longer the same person that it happened to.

When addicts feel attraction, they generally act upon it. If all goes well, they get the name straight and perhaps go to dinner and the movies. If they still have a feeling for the person they are with, they might hold hands. In health, it begins just the other way - with holding hands.

Living clean is the biggest lifestyle change that any addict can undertake. If we have specific emotional or mental problems, we choose to get specialized help but this is not part of the NA Program of recovery. Getting better from the disease of addiction is the objective of recovery. We have learned to mind our own business. Gossiping and insinuating things about others isn't a desirable characteristic today. We are learning to be gentler when judging each other and helping one another. While striving for honesty, not brutality, we are positive in our comments rather than taking and analyzing others' inventories. Saying hurtful things to each other is always something we regret therefore, we try not to speak negatively. Speaking ill of others is a habit that will poison our relationships. We do not want to be in denial so we look for our own part in problems.

We are attractive when we practice the Program of Narcotics Anonymous. Manipulation and control are old behaviors that we are trying to abandon. False images of one's self can not contribute positively to the health of our relationships. Where we were once con artists who lived behind many masks, we have learned to be ourselves today. We no longer want to be the great promoters and sell ourselves with promises of ‘if you do this, then I will do that.’ Promotion indicates a slickness that borders on deception. Attractiveness in its truest sense is humility in action. Humility is the unconditional love and acceptance of one's self and presenting that human being to the world. Projecting our thoughts, feelings and intentions onto other people can be extremely sad or hysterically humorous. This practice for addicts who have experienced years of isolation can be especially harmful. We addicts are far more accustomed to judgments of ourselves than we are at judging others. Rather than evaluating facts with humane insight and intent we frequently project our worst fears, see our own guilt in others, and set about punishing them before they can do anything to us. It might help to remember that the reason we call the mind ‘the dirtiest part of the body’ is that it creates disorder, blame, and chaos when there is none. It makes us see vice where there is virtue. It tells us that judgment is fine as long as we share it as ‘constructive criticism.’ We have learned that when we play judge and jury we hurt ourselves far more that anyone else. We learn to be generous in our judgment of others because we will need all of the generosity we can muster to sit in judgment of ourselves.

Some have said that addiction is ‘a disease of love.’ We know that we are inexperienced at being good to ourselves and that our addiction has frequently reduced us to selling out our relationships to meet our needs. Much of our suffering is simply due to our inexperience. We test someone's love by hurting them and if they do not leave us, we assume that they love us. It never occurs to us that they might just be desperate or just slow to react. Isolation has enabled us to become insensitive to pain in others as well as ourselves. We lack the knowledge of what to do and when to do it. Much of this knowledge is going to be learned painfully and on a somewhat hit or miss basis. If it is true that we stop growing emotionally when we start using, we have to allow ourselves to go through our 'teenage years' all over again to get it right. At other times, we can find NA members with whom we can share specific and detailed personal experiences. We find that we can benefit from what others have learned and share with us as long as we are willing to try.

3.03.12


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Reprinted from the 
Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life, 
Traditions War: a pathway to peace,
The Spirit of NA 
or NA Twenty Plus

being edited on this site.

N.A. FELLOWSHIP USE ONLY
Copyright © December 1998
Victor Hugo Sewell, Jr.

NA Foundation Group
6685 Bobby John Road Atlanta, GA 30349 USA

404.312.5166

nawol@nawol.org

All rights reserved. This draft may be copied by members of Narcotics Anonymous for the purpose of writing input for future drafts, enhancing the recovery of NA members and for the general welfare of the Narcotics Anonymous Fellowship as a whole. The use of an individual name is simply a registration requirement of the Library of Congress and not a departure from the spirit or letter of the Pledge, Preface or Introduction of this book. Any reproduction by individuals or organizations outside the Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous is prohibited. Any reproduction of this document for personal or corporate monetary gain is prohibited.