I’ve heard many people say that they want to get clean and/or sober. Many of them have gotten sober. But many have never managed to get passed the point of pondering it—and that in itself is not a bad thing, because I think as long as the desire is there, it’s a hundred times better than resignation or apathy. But wanting to and getting sober are two very different things.
I remember just wanting to. I remember making promises to myself that I would do it (get sober) on a certain day, after a certain event, under certain circumstances. There were always conditions. And I would frequently share those conditions with the people around me who wanted me sober. I don’t think I’ve ever made it as if my sobriety depended on their behavior, but I certainly made excuses (I’ve covered the excuses topic previously), and I think to some extent, perhaps, I expected that they would magically fix me?
Now, as a recovered person with substance use disorder, I am on the other side of that fence and am often in the position where I am asked for help—outside of my professional realm as well. You too might find yourself in the same position even if you’re not a counselor or an addictions specialist. People will gravitate to you simply because you display some sanity ,and if you’ve suffered from substance use disorder and recovered, they will want to know how they can achieve what you have achieved.
But here’s the Big Sad Reveal—you (or I) can’t make anybody sober or clean. We can certainly do whatever is in our reasonable power to help someone in their recovery, but no amount of wise words, advice, or sharing our own experience is going to get another person sober. It can certainly help. and for many it actually is quite an inspiration and a motivator to start their own journey of recovery, but words alone can’t fix someone who is not ready to be helped.
Not being ready doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be helped—it just means that they still have a few more reasons to not give sobriety a chance. Sobriety is scary. It is the Big Unknown for those of us who have used substances to deal with our feelings. As a recovered person, I can certainly tell someone that I have felt that way—as I have—and I can identify with them, but that alone might not be enough to get them better. This means that I cannot chase after a person with substance use disorder who is not ready. Some people think that simply talking to somebody sober and “hanging” on them (elucidating) their issues might be enough to get them that push needed to get through the doors of recovery. But sobriety is not gained through osmosis. Talking to a sober person, reading memoirs of recovery, listening to podcasts, going to meetings or therapy groups—all of that is very helpful but, again, it is not enough to get a person active in her addiction to quit. Taking a pill is not going to make them quit.
I have a friend who used to come to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings drunk, in the hopes that the “magic” of AA would simply take away the desire to drink. It didn’t work. She would sit drunk through the meeting and then go and get more alcohol afterwards.
At the same time, many people in recovery believe and observe the principles of the 12th step that asks that we help others in their recovery. At many meetings, there’s even a pledge being said: “I am Responsible. When Anyone, Anywhere Reaches Out For Help, I Want The Hand Of A.A. Always To Be There. And For That, I Am Responsible!” I’m not a huge fan of this pledge but it’s a nice sentiment. I think that as laypersons in recovery, our responsibility lies in spreading the message, pointing people to resources, helping them make connections and sharing our experiences if necessary. But, please, remember to take care of your own recovery, help others within reason, and don’t feel guilty about somebody not being ready. They’ll be ready when they’ll be ready; there are no special magic words to be said, no special formula to make that happen and often you won’t be able to it happen for them so don’t beat yourself up about it.
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