Addicts and alcoholics cannot maintain healthy relationships. They are “disconnected.” This does not mean they do not love their families and friends. Addicts care about their relationships every bit as much as non-addicts do. But like everything else in the addict’s life, relationships are mediated through the prism of drugs and alcohol.
Because addiction is the opposite of connection, we believe that healing relationships is the very essence of recovery. If I am to heal from my addiction, I must do what I can to heal those relationships most negatively impacted by the abuse of drugs and alcohol. Fortunately, healing and learning how to maintain relationships is really what the 12 Step process is all about.
In the 4th Step the addict takes a hard look his “shadow” – at those parts of himself that he would rather not face. In Step 5 he shares those “character defects” with another human being. This is usually a cathartic experience that leaves the addicts feeling much lighter. Whether we realize it or not, we desire vulnerability – we want to be accepted just as we are, warts and all. Many of us never have that experience; but mercifully, it can and does happen in the 12 Steps.
Steps 4 and 5 prepare us for the 9th Step, or the making of amends. For most of us this is where real healing occurs. It is also that part of the process that most relieves us of shame and guilt. Importantly, amends to not involve saying “I’m sorry.” Most addicts have worn their families and friends out with hollow apologies. To amend means to change. We acknowledge our wrongdoing to those we have harmed and ask what we might do to make matters right. Most often we find that those we have harmed receive us in a spirit of forgiveness. And even when they do not, we walk away knowing that, at the very least, we tried to bring healing to the relationship.
However, it is important to understand that it is more important that the addict forgive than receive forgiveness. The verse from the St Francis prayer – “It is better to forgive than to be forgiven” – is inscribed in the 12 Steps. Finding forgiveness for those we resent before we meet those people we have harmed goes a long way towards bringing us into the right state of mind to make amends. It is spiritual genius.
Finally, the 12th Step serves to enlarge our social circle. Recovery friendships tend to be deep, characterized by an unusual depth and authenticity. To be directly involved in the healing of another addict is a privilege that creates powerful bonds of trust and loyalty. If we are to turn the tide of the addiction epidemic, we must use the relationships to build extensive communities and activist organizations.