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When Friends Relapse

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By Laura Barcella

02/04/13

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I didn’t crave alcohol anymore. But I struggled with the program: I never felt fully at home there. The God stuff was gross to me; I felt like I was faking it. I smiled and nodded when people talked about faith in a Higher Power; I didn’t share that faith but I knew I was “supposed to” so I kept my ambivalence hidden. Lisa felt the same way. I felt less alone when I was with her. 

One night she called me, telling me she was suicidal and wanted to drink. She had recently gotten out of a painful relationship with a guy who’d betrayed her. I knew she was having a rough time but I couldn’t fathom the idea that she might turn her back on sobriety altogether. That night, Lisa sounded…bad. Desperation rising, I begged her to stick around, telling her that no matter how shitty she felt, she would absolutely not feel better by drinking over it. I believed wholeheartedly that alcohol would only make her problems worse. She wasn’t buying it and my sense of panic—“I’m losing her!”—continued to build as she explained that she needed to drink to avoid killing herself. By the end of that phone call, she had begun drinking again. That was about four years ago. She’s still out there.

Our friendship changed after that, of course. At first she made feeble attempts to stop drinking again; I’d pick her up and take her to meetings while she reeked of booze. But soon it became clear that Lisa didn’t really want to come back. She’d chosen alcohol and her old, crazy, more exciting version of life. I tried to hold onto our friendship but she didn’t call or text as often; within six months or so, we were barely in touch at all. That wasn’t my doing or my intention; she just suddenly seemed so slippery and impossible to pin down. So eventually I gave up and let go. She abandoned almost all her sober friendships—looking back now, I imagine it must have been hard for her to stay close with her AA friends while drinking and using. I’m sure it felt at least a little bit awkward and I suspect she worried about being judged (or 12-stepped). Hanging out with her when she was drunk—even if it only involved taking her to a meeting—felt weird and somehow wrong to me, too. I haven’t seen her in a couple of years now.

And yet, despite all my initial fear and doubt about my friends’ decisions to drink, it never really made me question my own resolve to stay sober. I’ve been hovering around the rooms long enough now to realize that though it will never be easy to watch a friend go out, it’s not about me and it’s in my own best interests not to make it that way. I can stay supportive without letting myself get too attached to one specific outcome. I may be upset, even devastated, when friends leave sobriety behind, but that doesn’t mean I have to do anything about it. 

Laura Barcella is a freelance writer and editor. She’s the author of The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions from Pop Culture That You Should Know About...Before It’s Too Late and the editor of the anthology Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop. She's also written about the fear of missing out and social networking addiction, among other topics, for The Fix.

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