Pro tip: The kind of work we need to do changes over time

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

Igor’s third revelation:

“I cannot go an hour without thinking about Boris and his stupid decisions.” Perhaps the most difficult realization for Igor to come to grips with was how addictively he was living - without actually using.

This was extremely upsetting and resulted in a need for extra support for a time as he grieved the illusion of his own sobriety. He found a counselor. He started going to our Family Education meetings. He switched out one AA meeting a week for an Al-Anon meeting. He complained that he felt ashamed and even embarrassed by his need for support. But Igor did what recovery had taught him - he humbly asked for and received the particular kind of help he needed at this time in his recovery journey.

Today, Igor is appropriately aware of how close he came to losing his way because of his complacency. Is this an issue for you? Are you resting on the laurels of previous work to give you what you need for today?

Tomorrow we give Igor and Boris a break from our obsessive inventory-taking of their lives.

Problems in one relationship can create problems in another

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

Igor’s second revelation:

“I resent Boris for MAKING me feel this way.” Igor resented Boris for “making him worry”. It took a while but eventually Igor recognized that he, Igor, was solely responsible for what he chose to think about and how his thoughts impacted his emotions.

The result of this revelation gave Igor the opportunity to practice a bit more self-discipline in his thought life. When he started fretting over Boris, he learned how to actually hold up his hand in a “STOP” motion and say, “This is not mine to think, feel or do.” He did a great job, with assistance, coming up with a few alternative things he could do immediately following his self-command to STOP.

Number One on the list was phoning friends and asking how they were doing (without bringing up Boris). This had the immediate effect of having more friend interactions. People had gotten rather tired of hearing about Boris and were “stepping back” from Igor to avoid having to listen to any rants.

When we are behaving in a compulsive manner, obsessing over almost anything, we often fail to notice how our compulsivity begins to wear down our friends and family members. They get tired of watching us run on a hamster wheel.

Today, pause. Consider how an unhealthy relationship in one area of your life might be messing up the good and decent relationships you have in other areas. Is it worth the risk to unproductively obsess over a broken relationship at the expense of the people who love you and want to spend time with you?

We can't afford to obsess over another person's behavior

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

Initially Igor was resistant to working on himself; but he self-corrected. He grabbed a Fourth Step workbook and began his study. (Editor’s note, the 4th step reads: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves). All of us were shocked to discover that Igor was experiencing a ton of pro-addiction thoughts. Man was he glad that he had paused to prepare. We were relieved as well. What if Igor had not paused to prepare? Who knows what dead end roads his distorted thinking might have led him down!

Here are some things we talked about when Igor returned with his Fourth Step list and completed his Fifth Step by sharing his list.

“I have thoughts that are not under my control; I cannot stop thinking about _____.” (I am a victim; there is nothing I can do.)

When Igor began observing his thoughts, he was frightened to realize how much time he was spending obsessively thinking about Boris. He reported that it reminded him of how he obsessed over using all those years ago when his own life was in a shambles. Igor was relieved to be reminded of the fact that even in full-blown relapse, pro-addiction thoughts do not have absolute sway over our thought life. If that were the case, absolutely zero people would ever get sober. People do change. They actually can “change their mind” - but it starts with realizing their mind needs to change!

Tune in tomorrow for Igor’s second revelation.

If you're angry, take stock of your shortcomings

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

One afternoon Igor showed up at NSC to vent about his friend Boris. He was mad. He said a lot of things, most of which I am sure he regretted upon reflection. We suggested that Igor do a fourth step inventory on his relationship with Boris. (Editor’s note, the 4th step reads: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.)

He was not pleased with this suggestion. “Why should I have to do an inventory? I’m not the one with the problem.”

Our response, “Well, you are the one who is here complaining about a problem named Boris. He evidently is a problem for you.”

Is an inventory really necessary? Yes, it is necessary and here is why. It helps us learn how to think clearly, increase resilience and build our coping skills. Our brains are compromised under stress and that negatively impacts the way we think, how we process our emotions and how we control and evaluate our behaviors.

Igor needs to remember his own limitations, and not be so distracted by the limitations of Boris. It isn’t enough to just know that we all have maladaptive coping skills, we need to SEE exactly what our coping skills look like and the effect they have on our quality of life and the life of those we love.

Boris needs help but Boris is not currently asking for it. Igor, however, has an opportunity to improve his own life if he recognizes that his critical spirit is a warning sign that he has work that he can do in his own life.

Do you have any red flag warning signs (critical of others, distracted and not doing your recovery work, irritable, restless, discontent) that indicate you need to get back to work on your own recovery from what ails you?

Friendship: A Safe Space to be Real

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

One of the things I love about our community is the gift of having folks in recovery. People are grateful; people do not gossip; people are usually patient but when they are not, they self-correct quickly. I think most of them learned these skills at AA, NA or other mutual aid groups.

No one expects easy fixes or permanent solutions. People believe that life is hard. Many of us know that life is a challenge and spending time thinking about what we do or do not deserve is unproductive rumination. Nevertheless, with all this gifted-ness we still struggle to use our recovery tools when times are too good or too hard. This too is real life.

The story of Igor and Boris is a cautionary community tale. It points out the need to play a zone defense as opposed to man-to-man. When we find ourselves in a position of feeling critical and judgmental - sometimes it is time to ride the bench and take a breather.

Soul work is exhausting. Fortunately, it rests primarily in the hands of God. No one person is essential, although each of us has a place.

In what relationships have you acted as if you are essential personnel - the ONLY one who can help?

Criticism is not the same thing as accountability

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

How can Igor help Boris? Probably not by criticizing his every move.

It might help Boris if Igor had the skills to comfort Boris in the midst of his downward spiral without the need to throw stones. Should everyone simply ignore Boris’ antics and just give him warm fuzzy hugs? No. But if Igor has to choose between criticism and cuddling with no skill sets in between - choose the hug.

Fortunately, in a community we do not have to choose between two extremes. We can take a more nuanced approach. We can find the right people to support in the area of accountability; we can provide ways to comfort.

What are your skill sets? What part could you play in helping Boris? In helping Igor? How can you name your super powers and use them, without judging the limitations and weaknesses of others (and yourself)?

Anger is closely related to fear and anxiety

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

It might help Boris if Igor is less reactionary and emotionally invested in Boris’ choices. This is particularly hard to do. I cannot help but think about all the ways Igor might be triggered by Boris. Maybe Igor is afraid that if Boris cannot maintain a healthy lifestyle, he may suffer the same fate. Maybe he secretly depends on Boris for his own wellness; maybe he is afraid that his own support structure is crumbling.

When we are super frustrated, oftentimes we are even more afraid. Our anger may be a convenient and more distracting feeling than digging deep and realizing that we are using anger to power through our terror.

Can you think about a time when you were angry? What were you anxious about? What were you afraid would happen?

Friendships must react to our limitations

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

Igor survived his life crisis. He and Boris have told and retold this story of losing one life only to find a better one many times. People admire the work of both men and find this story encouraging. And it really is. However, the story continues.

It reminds me of various characters in the Bible. Do we judge the life of David based on the time he felled a giant with a humble shepherd’s slingshot or that time when kings go to war but King David stayed home and got a soldier’s wife knocked up? Do we evaluate King Solomon by his amazing request for wisdom from God at an early age or how towards the end of his life he lived a life of sexual debauchery?

Life is not a story; it is a storyline, with as many plot twists and turns as a great Agatha Christie thriller. This is why we cannot rest on our past stories of triumph or gloat when we have a rags-to-riches story of redemption.

In some ways, all of us can get stuck in our own version of reality. But life is not stagnant and our good and/or bad choices are not permanent. Today, Boris is in trouble. This flips the narrative. We may like a thrilling novel or exciting movie, but we prefer our own personal stories to stay predictable.

Boris doesn’t like to be needy; Igor does not want to be his friend’s help in times of trouble. Their relationship worked better the old way. But that is not reality.

In reality, Igor continues to make plenty of mis-steps. Not as obvious as Boris, perhaps, but equally devastating in a quieter, less public way. The stress is compounded now because Boris is also in trouble.

Igor is not able to see himself through the same critical lens he uses to study Boris - this is a problem. If Igor could realize that he too, like the rest of us, is a work in progress, he might realize that he has legitimate limitations himself. Maybe that is more “real” than simply blaming Boris for being fully human with limitations.

I am not advocating that Igor increase his self-criticism because I do not think criticism is helpful. But it is pretty painful to watch Igor be judgmental about his friend while ignoring his own limitations.

What if instead of evaluating everyone as winners or losers, we continually acknowledged that every single one of us has limitations? If we do this, then we can share our burdens more effectively. Those who have particular strengths match their super powers of sharing their strength with those who have particular limitations that especially need these skills. Simultaneously, someone else is bringing their strength and sharing it with the person who is using his or her super powers to help someone else. Confusing? I thought so. To restate - we share our super powers as a gift to others who are struggling and receive the superpowers of others as a gift to help us with our limitations. I believe this is often referred to as the circle of life. But Igor isn’t living in the circle; he’s shooting straight at the heart of Boris with is verbal darts of criticism.

What are your superpowers? What are your limitations?