Imagine that we are sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Paris, enjoying a cup of great coffee and a croissant. Most of the folks around us are speaking French, and since we don’t, it’s not very interesting until we hear some folks speaking English a couple of tables away. Immediately we’re like, “Where are you from? How long have you been in Paris? Where were you before? Where are you going next? Oh, me too! Do you know so and so?” Perfectly natural. These are our people and they speak our language.
If a person was looking for a sure thing, as far as relapse is concerned, he couldn’t go wrong by hanging around with active addicts, especially family members. As addicts we thought in predictable ways, behaved in predictable ways, and we even spoke in ways that identified us — to ourselves and others — as members of “the club.” In early recovery those are, to a degree still “our people.” They speak our language, and we’re still trying to learn the language of recovery. They can get us into a world of trouble.
The old people, places and things are big triggers, and smart people avoid them even when they’re no longer beginners. Old friends — and especially family members — are the ones who wired our buttons, and they can play us like a barroom piano. It’s the way we’ve always interacted with them, and they can’t help it. Nor can we help reacting when they do it. Add familiar circumstances and places — maybe the local pool hall and bar — to the interpersonal stuff, and even an addict with quite a lot of clean time can be in trouble.
Family is hard to deal with. Those who use have a vested interest in seeing us get high again, and even the sober ones may find the “new” us a little hard to take. Sort of a “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” thing. If they start the same old stuff, we probably will too, and it’s a sure way to end up relapsing — when we start speaking and thinking in that language again. That’s why we recommend halfway houses, sober houses and other lodging away from home for beginners, places where the folks around us know where we’re coming from. When we attend family functions, we make sure we bring a sober person with us. What host is going to turn down our friend for Thanksgiving dinner? Then the two of us can sit there and watch the drunks, giving each other an occasional knowing look, and split when things get really rowdy. “Gee, I’m sorry Mom, but Joe has to go and I need to give him a ride.”
You know how everyone is always talking about developing a support system, going to meetings, getting a sponsor, getting involved in service, and so forth? That’s because we need to find new people, places and things. That’s where we meet the sober people, make new friends and hang out with our recovery family. Then we branch out and have fun in other places, but always with one or more of our new friends.
Sober people do a lot of things besides sit in smoky meeting rooms, drinking coffee, and talking about the program. Most of us end up having more fun than we did when we were using. We go scuba diving. We ride motorcycles in sober motorcycle clubs. We organize and put on dances, and attend those organized by other sober groups. Sober cruises are fairly common, and every cruise ship has a meeting (just check the activity boards for “Friends of Bill”). There is quite literally nothing that we can do loaded that we can’t do sober — except get high.
So, the answer to the question in the title is simple. We don’t separate, we just back off. Chances are that we make our old buds nervous anyway, and they’re not likely to pursue us very hard. We hang with our new friends in recovery, and that takes care of the second part. Our using friends are no longer our only friends, and it’s a safe bet that our new, sober, friends will become just as important in our lives as those others were — and they won’t be trying to get us to poison ourselves, either.