Mail. We Get Mail on Recovery Tools as Weapons

by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

I received this letter in 2006 and reran it in 2013.  It’s time for another re-run.

Please help me. I was involved with a guy with a severe drinking problem. We broke up and he went to AA and NA. He had a drug problem I didn’t know about. I gave him a second chance but he does whatever he wants and tells me that AA says it’s a selfish program (no further discussion). He also ws spending time with his ex girlfriend and told me he was doing his “9th step” and making amends. Sometimes I wish the old drinking guy was back. I feel guilty when I get mad at this guy who is trying to turn his life around. PLEASE Help

First of all, it sounds like your boyfriend is using the tools of the program as weapons. It sounds a bit early for him to be doing a 9th step, but if he is doing one, he should be working with a sponsor who will go through it (by doing the 8th step) and guiding him as to how it is done.

The 9th step of the 12 step has two parts: to make amends to those who were injured EXCEPT when to do so will injure them or others. If he is spending time with his ex girlfriend that is injuring you. It’s not okay. I also don’t understand how just making amends leads to spending time together (unless he used the 9th step as a ruse to get to her).

When they say “It’s a selfish program” in AA it means it’s about your own recovery, not taking everyone’s inventory or not trying to take care of the world before your own recovery. However, that means that a recovering alcoholic addict must attend meetings, work with a sponsor and do the work.

Sometimes friends and family get resentful that the person is spending SO much time in meetings…it takes a lot of meetings to put one’s life together….but to use “it’s a selfish program” as a sword to hit someone over the head with, that’s not “program.”

It sounds like he is playing with the program and twisting everything to his advantage. You don’t say how he is using the expression “it’s a selfish program,” but if he’s misusing the tools of the programs, they can become weapons.

A hammer can build a house for Habitat for Humanity or hit someone over the head and kill them.

Recovery is the same thing. You can use it build your house (tool) or hit someone over the head (weapon).

A healthy life is not about hurting people close to you. It’s not about using tools of recovery to do whatever the hell you want. It’s about balancing your needs versus the needs of others and sometimes compromising. Early recovery often dictates that you must take care of yourself to the exclusion of others, but you can be a nice and polite person and try to gently explain and assure them that it is a temporary thing and you will be back better and stronger than ever.

Many couples will break up when one enters recovery even though the other partner has been hoping for sobriety and serenity. Suddenly the “drunk” or “addict” is better, but sharing their better selves with strangers and not the long-suffering spouse. It seems crazy. You had put up with all the active alcoholics “bs” and now they have virtually disappeared. Not fair and not okay.  Usually the long-suffering codependent has spent a long time trying to control the behavior of the alcoholic or drug addict and now the addict  found this group of strangers and is actually listening to them!  Oh woe is the neglected codependent!

To offset that feeling, it’s a good idea to join the “partner” program such as Al-Anon or Narc-Anon. It’s also a good idea to get into counseling with a couples counselor once the addict/alcoholic gets their solid footing. It’s very bewildering for a long time when the person you “stood by” is suddenly abandoning you now that they are doing so well. You feel used, abused, lost and lonely. It’s not a good feeling at all.

The “Big Book” of AA and the 12 Step Book of AA talks about repairing relationships and being a good partner and family member. There would not be the stress on that if it was solely a “selfish”” program. Selfish means your recovery has to come first for a while. If your sponsor says “90 meetings in 90 days” it means exactly that. You do 90 meetings in 90 days. Sometimes you might need to go to a noon meeting if you have a meeting with your child’s teacher that night or you need to double up on the weekend. What it doesn’t mean is that you completely abdicate all of your responsibilities for 90 days. Very few have that luxury. You make it work. Your recovery must be central to your life, but you don’t get to dump on everyone else for the sake of your recovery.

We all want the people we love to be the best they can be, but not at our expense. Unfortunately, it’s often perceived that way when someone goes into a 12-step program and parrots the phrase, “It’s a selfish program! My recovery comes first!” It’s true that sobriety must come first and without excuses because without it there is no healthy relationship. But you also have to be in the equation after the first few months. Using the 9th step as an excuse to contact an ex is against the mandate to not use tools as weapons.

It is a healthy person who helps others understand the changes they are making in their lives. They should not be making changes that hurt others without some kind of explanation as to what exactly is going on. Becoming healthy means balancing your own needs with the needs of people who love you and who you love. Recovery is not a buffet. You don’t take the parts you like and put back the parts you don’t.

The Ninth Step says, “Made direct amends to people we have harmed except when to do so would injure them or others.” YOU ARE THE “OTHERS.” If your boyfriend works with a good sponsor and goes to step meetings, he would understand that the idea of the 9th Step is to make amends and heal relationships, not at the expense of anyone. The 9th Step is VERY clear about this.

The steps are broken into 3 parts: our relationship with ourselves, our relationships with others and our relationship with a Higher Power. The Steps are about changing into a healthy person and living a life that is healthy and the 12th step says, “…to practice these principles in all our affairs…” which means to live a healthy life with all people being true to yourself and to others. It does not mean or require that you get to hurt people who love you in the name of recovery. Most addicts or alcohoics have left a wide swath of destruction behind them and recovering does not mean continuing the destruction on any level or for any reason.

The 10th Step says that recovery means treating others with “courtesy, kindness, justice and love.” It is important to understand that treating others in a positive way is the sign of a healthy life. If someone is a negative in your life, you can remove them permanently and many recovering people must do that, but it’s not about slamming the door in the face of those who love you or who haven’t done anything wrong to you. Your boyfriend cannot and should not “make amends” to one person while hurting another. That is not how it is done. He is either doing it too early or not with the right guidance. He should go to step meetings and work closely with a good sponsor to figure out how to do this. It sounds like he is doing it wrong.

If someone simply uses the “tools” of the program for their own gain without considering those in their lives, they need to make that a short-term situation. Also it’s imperative that they invite their loved ones to meetings (open meetings where all are invited) or to give literature or books that help the others understand. It’s very very difficult in the beginning of recovery to think of others.

You absolutely must stay focused on yourself and your recovery. But as time moves along, you have to learn to be healthy and that involves caring about others without harming yourself. If you cannot do that then you should cut the person loose…but if you are going to maintain relationships, it can’t be all about you.

This guy sounds like he is manipulating recovery tools to do whatever he wants. No one needs to hurt one person to make amends to another. That is pure bs.  It’s amazing that he seems to have pushed aside the HONESTY part of the program to make a beeline straight for “how to make this 12 Step thing work in my favor…everyone be damned.”

I would NOT consider a long-term relationship with someone who is exhibiting such bs behavior. But, if you are serious about a long-term relationship with this guy you might want to go to Al-Anon or Nar-anon and find some people with STRONG recovery who are in relationships with recovering addicts and alcoholics and run all this by them. I’m sure they’ve seen it a million times and can give you good counsel. Good luck!

This entry was posted in featured. Bookmark the permalink.