These lines from the chapter ‘A Vision for You’ in the book Alcoholics Anonymous speak to an ideal that many in recovery strive for. True compassion, a selfless giving of one’s being in order to help others. This compassion and selflessness is not easy for many of us to muster up in the beginning, but as time passes we find it easier and easier, doing it without much thought. Then however something may occur. A person who we tried to help, or a good friend continuously goes out. Building their life up incrementally, only to tear it all down again, time after time after time. We begin to see our compassion for this person wane, and in time, the compassion we had turned to befuddlement and even anger.
This is a common dilemma faced by many people who get sober. As their time in recovery progresses they will ultimately face the challenge of dealing with people who continuously go back out, people who they have come to love, and in their relapses these people will hurt them. It is difficult to not fall into the state of mind that says, “I got sober, I just don’t understand why they can’t” and it is even easier to begin to forget how difficult that initial decision to get sober was. So how does one go about remaining compassionate when dealing with such people? How does one not become bitter and start to hate the person, even though you know they are just sick? This is not an easy task but I believe I have some helpful tips that can allow you to find compassion even in this most difficult of situations.
The first and most important thing to remember is to not take these things personally. This is not to say that we allow people to walk all over us, because we do not, but you cannot take someone’s relapse as a reflection of yourself. For instance, let’s say you are sponsoring someone and they just cannot seem to stay sober. No matter how many different relapse prevention plans they put in place or commitments they make to stay sober. Nothing seems to stick. For many people who are new to sponsoring this will upset them, not necessarily because they feel bad for the person, but because they believe that it was something that they have done. People will say things like, “I know it has nothing to do with me” and “I know they just aren’t ready” but deep down under all of the platitudes is a thought that if we had done something different, maybe they would have stayed sober. This thought is corrosive for two reasons. First, because we get angry at ourselves unnecessarily, and second, because that anger eventually turns to a hardening of the spirit which allows us to have no compassion for the person suffering. It is only through an understanding that their actions have literally nothing, and I will repeat this again, literally nothing to do with us, can we begin to have true compassion for those still suffering from addiction.
This compassion however does not mean that we do not still hate their actions or what addiction is doing to them, but it does mean that we allow them the space that they need in order to come to their own conclusions and that we understand that if they could do better, they would do better.
This brings us to the second point, understanding that at any given point in time people are doing the best that they can, allows for a different level of compassion in the face of dealing with people suffering from addiction. What I mean by this is that I have never met a single person on this planet who woke up in the morning and said to themselves, “You know what, I am going to go out and be the worst human being I can possibly be.” Some may disagree with me on this and that’s okay, but I am yet to met one single person in the rooms that did not in some way shape or form feel the ramifications of their actions while they were using. What this means is that those people, even when committing heinous crimes or hurting their loved ones, were simply doing the best that they could at that moment in time.
Sometimes doing the best you can means getting a raise, while other times it means robbing a convenience store and spending time in prison. Understanding that people are simply doing the best that they can allows you to be more compassionate towards them, and not in a subversive self-aggrandizing way either, because we all know that we have feigned compassion at some point by saying “they are doing the best that they can”, which really meant, we are better then them. No, truly understanding that every human being on this planet is currently doing the best that they can means having as little personal judgment towards their actions as possible. This allows us to have unconditional love for another and in turn possibly be helpful when the time comes.
The last suggestion for remaining compassionate when dealing with someone suffering from active addiction is to have the understanding that you yourself are not lily white and are capable of doing the same things. It is easy to forget where we came from and it is even easier to judge people who are currently there. Having a fundamental understanding of your own failings and a remembrance of whence you came can go a long way in helping a person remain compassionate. There have been times in my sobriety where I severely judged people’s actions. Upon self reflection I realized that majority of my judgments were based on a feeling of superiority that I felt towards them. With a deeper understanding of my own shortcomings I began to judge people less and have more compassion for them. This has allowed for me to be able to love someone, but not love their actions. This may sound like co-dependency, but it is not. It is being able to see ourselves in others and the understanding that while we do not like their actions, we can still remain to love them.
It is not always easy to have compassion while simultaneously having a healthy hatred for the disease of addiction, but through not taking things personally, understanding that everyone is doing the best that they can, and seeing our own shortcomings for what they really are, we can have the ability to do just that.
Rose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.