My Years-Long Love/Hate Relationship With Addiction Support Groups, and How I Finally Learned to Appreciate Them

I originally saw these women as angry and bitter and held back by their ties to addicts, probably because that’s how I felt about myself.
Publish date:
February 3, 2016
family, addiction

I am sitting at my desk right now, perhaps a little undercaffeinated, there is a voice talking and talking on a phone a few feet away from me and it feels like a dull razor being slowly pulled down my skin. My bra is uncomfortable, my sister just relapsed again, and I feel like I’m going to cry.

I focus on my breathing, something I often forget to do, and truly ask myself what would make me feel better. I get some coffee, put on some music, and later, get myself to a meeting.

The anonymous addiction support group that shall not be named was not always my friend, not even close. It used to fill me with such rage I couldn’t see straight. When I decided to give it a try six years ago, I went begrudgingly because I couldn’t afford therapy and because it had helped my mom so much – the support group for friends and family of X.

I felt like everything I did was for my qualifiers – plane tickets and bus tickets and tears for every overdose, every arrest, every new yet oh-so-familiar drama. The worried look in my mom’s eye that said, “Get to a meeting,” made me feel like I was the weird one, that I was the one who needed fixing. I was the one who needed to figure out how to deal with the fact that heroin ran my life without having ever having seen it in front of me.

The first room like this I sat in (the whole “Hi, my name is Lyz” shebang) was a timed meeting. This means that after someone shares their life story to the group and how it relates to addiction, the rest of the time is devoted to sharing. Because some people are more long-winded than others, there is a timer that goes off once at the two-minute mark and once at the third. There was a woman sitting with her head in her hands over her knees, too in pain and exhausted to look to the group, yet her hand was raised to share. When she was called on, she just asked if she could cry for three minutes. We sat in silence, for three minutes, while she just cried.

I was furious. I had left a perfectly beautiful Saturday for this – a dude in a sundrenched bed and an egg and cheese sandwich. My cat. I was good. I didn’t need this. I left and promised I wouldn’t devote any more time to them, I already spent way too much time on this shitty part of my life.

Then, the cycle kept happening. For years. Relapse, broken trust, recovery, exhaustion, anger, start to build trust. Relapse. On and on it went and I needed to get off that very dizzying fucked up carousel of disease. Plus, I was just so angry. So I started going back a few months ago, very slowly. I felt ready.

The constant back and forth of getting to know the same person in different levels of sobriety is draining. Someone who is using constantly versus two weeks sober versus six years clean, those are three different people. Hearing the trepidation in your friends’ voices when they ask how things are doing and you’re never just like, “Fine.” That is what these meetings are for. They are a group of mouths and ears and hearts who have the same story as you, and who want to hear about it, because it makes them feel less alone. I am allowing myself to define the term “baby steps” with this, because nothing sticks until you’re truly ready. I now go once a week, to the same meeting, sometimes sharing, sometimes talking to people, sometimes not.

I originally saw these women as angry and bitter and held back by their ties to addicts, probably because that’s how I felt about myself. Since then, I have seen a lot of strength and courage and conviction from every kind of person imaginable. Now, I strive to be like these women – from the 50-something Russian woman still haunted by memories of her abusive father, to the 18-year-old dealing with the pain of having to block her mother’s phone number, to the 30-year-old artist struggling with her husband’s addiction. We are all the same. There is crying, but there is also a surprising amount of laughter.

Addiction follows me, nipping at my heels despite the fact that I am not one. I’ve tried. A bottle of bourbon will last a month sitting on the shelf in my kitchen, even a pack of cigarettes given to me from a roommate– I’ll end up giving most of them away. The idea of being in an altered state for longer than, say, 12 hours, exhausts me. I always thought it was weird that I held so much guilt because I was not an addict. I have since heard that sentiment over and over – sitting in these rooms now grounds me, tells me how very not alone I am.

The craziest thing is, we all are talking about the same person. The Addict is a singular entity that overtakes hundreds of thousands of bodies – the true zombie of our time. Almost to the detail, the same stories, the same pain, the same dark humor, the same exact stories. Hearing them over and over started to become beyond comforting, and so I kept going back. For my own recovery, which hopefully will also in some way help the addicts in my life.

It still is difficult for me to compartmentalize while I’m in the meeting versus the rest of the day – so if I am emotional during those few hours I usually am kind of emotional for the rest of the day. But I also feel better, and it feels really good to walk out into the cold sunshine of the city and feel productive and with the whole day in front of me. I feel less angry, and that is a huge start.

They say to take things one day at a time, and I am allowing myself to go even smaller. Minute by minute, breath by breath. It’s important to check in with yourself, ask why and how and if and when. And if all else fails, cry for three minutes in front of a group of strangers who are timing you on a stopwatch.