In the previous blog I mentioned that painful experiences will repeat themselves until we drill down to the root of the problem. Even after our 12-Step work, one of the common categories of pain that we alcoholics and addicts still experience is relationships. Jacquelyn Small, author of Becoming Naturally Therapeutic, says, “The alcoholic is terribly deficient in the area of intimate relationships—a deficiency that is both a cause and an effect of his drinking” (63).
Both the Big Book and the 12 x 12 say that relationships bring us continuous and recurring trouble. Why is this? As alcoholics and addicts, we became masters at avoiding life’s essential pain. Pain is the greatest catalyst for change. Yet, when we continually used alcohol or drugs to numb us from pain, we cheated ourselves of the spiritual and emotional power of pain to spur our growth. Maturity is the product of facing pain, not avoiding it.
Relationship experts like Guy Finley say that our interactions with life and with others cannot be any deeper or satisfying than the understanding we have of ourselves. I remember a fellow AA asking a sponsee who said he wanted to kill himself, “Why would you want to kill someone you don’t even know?” We laughed at this, but the truth stung each of us. Remember all the times we used isolation to keep us feeling safe? Unfortunately, it isolated us from understanding who we are. And if we don’t understand ourselves, how are we to understand others? It’s little wonder we are ill-equipped to sustain long-lasting relationships.
It may seem paradoxical that the very thing that creates pain—relationships—is the doorway out of our pain. Finley says that relationships are literally a mirror. In them we can see how we are playing in the world. Relationships can rid us of the blind spots that have sabotaged all of our relationships. “Until we are conscious of [our issues],” Finley says, “they control our actions and reactions.” So self-awareness through relationships provides the best chance we have to grow and develop.
I encourage all of us to seek out relationships with others. Let us use that same transformational desperation that brought us to the rooms of AA to decommission the defenses that we have employed to build walls between ourselves and others. Let us be intrepid in our desire to connect with others on a deeper level. And let us dare to remain vulnerable to ourselves and others even when it comes at a terrible cost to our pride.
In the next blog, I will provide more wisdom from relationship experts