A key element of recovery is being open about your struggles, temptations, and doubts. Another key element is mixing that openness with a level of discretion. You can share yourself, but be careful how you do that. You’ve probably met people who seem addicted to bragging about their faults: within ten minutes of meeting them, you know the gruesome details on every battle they’ve won and lost, every sin they’ve committed. And anything additional can be found on their social media accounts.
Such an approach to openness is boring at best, unnerving at worst. And for the “teller of all,” personally risky to reputation and future goals.
Share Yourself But Watch Your Mouth
The temptation to make every little and not-so-little misdeed a matter of public record can come easier than you think. It’s hard to say “no thank you” to a drink (or anything else) without feeling obligated to explain why. It’s hard to gain ground in a long struggle without boasting indiscriminately about that triumph. It’s especially hard to hear someone snap, “Can’t you ever be bothered to work overtime?,” and not launch into a defensive tirade about how you have to attend AA or Mass every evening, or you’d regress to the time when you regularly missed whole days of work due to hangovers.
With any kind of a work or social life—or even if you ever leave home or comment on a Facebook discussion or answer the phone—when you share yourself you’ll meet people who don’t know about your past habits or the difficulties you’re having in recovery. When they treat you like just another person (especially one who should “know better”), it’s so tempting to “prove” that you really deserve accolades or at least a break.
Try to resist the urge. Few people are convinced through arguments anyway. Save the venting for your support group; they’re ready to hear it.
You’re Among Friends—But Keep Watching Your Mouth
Even in support groups, you want to share yourself but you should not say whatever you want, whenever you want. Certainly you can be open about your challenges and feelings, confess to almost anything, even protest the unfairness of life. But, though specifics vary from group to group, rules like these will remain:
- Wait your turn, and don’t overstep your time limit.
- Never interrupt, offer free advice, or push in with “that reminds me of” stories. Above all else, never argue with or belittle anybody’s struggles; if there ever was a place to “do unto others,” this is it.
- Keep complaints and blame to a minimum. Your goal is to reform yourself, not the rest of the world.
- When referring to people and places outside the meeting, keep names and other identifying details out of it.
- Avoid any blanket statements against specific groups or activities. There’s no telling who in your group might have close ties there.
- Avoid profanity and lewd language.
- Need it be said? What happens in AA stays in AA.
I Thought That Was Over
The “what happens between us stays between us” principle also applies to interactions outside support groups. When you feel someone has been unreasonable, the first impulse is often to complain to mutual acquaintances, seeking vindication and allies. Don’t share yourself in that way. You may gain those goals at the price of leaving secret doubts about your own trustworthiness. Or, you may gain only a new argument and more hard feelings.
Of course, if someone complains to others about you, there’s not much you can do except give it the lie through your own good behavior, and offer a low-key and respectful answer to anyone who asks about the situation. It’s rarely helpful to actively seek opportunities to justify yourself; that just adds fuel to the fire.
Most gossip burns itself out quickly enough. On the other hand, old rumors can flare up out of nowhere, sometimes years later. Whatever you think of the old saying “a lie has a short life,” there’s no question that most of them—and most damaging truths—are capable of coming back from the dead. People do lose jobs, credit, and friends over alleged indiscretions from twenty years earlier.
Again, if this happens to you, there’s little you can do except wait it out and stay on your best behavior. (A support group is a big help at such times.) But you can partly insure yourself against its happening in the future, by being discreet today. Especially with any messages you send and any postings you make. Potentially damaging words gain potentially permanent existence when put into writing, even digitally.
A Final Note on Sharing
We’ve been talking so far about how to “share yourself” in the verbal sense, but there’s another kind of self-sharing, commonly known as “doing favors” or “giving your time” or “helping out.” It’s entirely commendable—up to the point where you have no better reason for saying “yes” than sparing someone’s feelings, or where you can fit one more thing into your calendar only by giving up sleeping, or where you’re fuming because “no one cares about all the work I do” without considering that maybe they don’t care because it doesn’t need doing.
Though the classic stereotype of the “druggie” says he was born on the wrong side of the tracks and never had much hope of accomplishing anything, addiction is about as common among middle-class-and-higher people who “accomplish” plenty but never find a larger purpose in it. When you aren’t sure of your own best path, it’s easy to accept everyone else’s requests as “what needs doing”—and to wind up trying to kill the pain of overload and purposelessness by chemical means.
That said, everyone, perhaps especially the recovering addict who’s been largely controlled by selfishness, should share in the mutual benefits of giving part of yourself for the good of others. Just try (especially on anything that involves more than a ten-minute favor) to put in a deeper part of yourself than your surface energy. If you volunteer, volunteer for something you care about and enjoy doing. If you share chores in your household, negotiate for everyone to do a fair share and to choose tasks they genuinely like. And with those inevitable drudgeries everyone has to take a turn on, accompany them with your favorite music—or, even better, with a good self-help recording.
We all have something to share. If you share the right part of yourself, all around will benefit.
Open Up with Kemah Palms
Each individual goes their their own specific recovery journey. In turn, everyone has unique needs and struggles. Share yourself with us. The professionals at Kemah Palms are trained to help you find the best treatment track for you to find lasting sobriety through addiction therapy services such as: