"I viewed the world through cracked glasses and it was time to get a new pair!"

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Episode 139 -- August 12, 2021

End Emotional Isolation: How to Reach Out and Receive Help

In the book Sober but Stuck, author Dan F. has compiled testimonials from people in recovery to remind us that we're not alone. These voices offer insight into issues that often act as barriers to our continued sobriety. Much like Twelve Step meetings, this book offers us a place to learn from the stories of others.

We may have a hard time asking for what we need—often we simply don't know how. For those of us new to sobriety, sometimes we need to hear other people's stories about their first steps on the road to recovery to believe we can do it too. In the following excerpt, Matthew describes how he overcame his struggle to reach out, gained the courage to tell his story honestly, and received genuine help to move forward in his recovery.

This excerpt has been edited for brevity.

My troubles reaching out to people started long before I picked up my first drink. The difficulty was rooted in my inability to trust people and feel safe around them. This is just my interpretation, but I think it all began with my relationship with my parents. Don't get me wrong, I truly believe that my folks did the best they could and I love them for that, but, back when I was growing up, they were having a lot of trouble being parents.

As I grew up, I became emotionally isolated. I worked on the premise that I didn't need anybody, I could work out my problems by myself. Also, I considered any advice to be criticism. If a person had a different point of view, I would feel stupid and inadequate and get defensive. The best way I knew not to feel inadequate was not to seek counsel from anyone. Over time, this led to my being evasive, manipulative, and dishonest in my dealings with people. If you don't trust people, you have to be extra vigilant and work the angles. My philosophy was that, if there was enough time, I could come up with some kind of solution on my own with no help from others. Otherwise I would just tough it out and say nothing. I seldom panicked—I just stuffed my feelings and forgot the issue as quickly as I could.

In my twenties, I had friends and was very social. But all I ever revealed of myself was whatever I thought appropriate to the situation. I was never really very honest in my dealings with others, friends included. My joining AA and getting sober didn't lead to any real change in my inability to reach out and ask for help—not for many years. What I did was go through the motions of reaching out and seeking advice. I might have had a minor problem or a simple need that I shared, but it was never anything of consequence or substance. I wanted to look good in AA, so I mimicked what I saw others doing, avoiding the real issues and problems of my life that were buried deep inside me—not for viewing by others. For almost seven years of sobriety, I didn't reach out to anyone. I made friends, but I never let them see the real me.

I wasn't aware that I was stuck and afraid to ask for help. To ask for help meant crossing barriers of trust, intimacy, and feelings of inadequacy. I didn't even comprehend that I was not able to trust. Since I didn't believe that people would be there to support me when I had a real problem, I never considered taking the risk. My self-pity also kept me from making an effort to reach out. It obviously wasn't by accident that I often felt alone and unable to connect with people at AA meetings.

My ways of handling major problems in the program were right out of any textbook on resistance to change. I kept my problems to myself. I procrastinated on taking any positive actions until things got critical. I actually liked the excitement of potential disaster. I considered my problems to be too complex. I often confused denial and avoidance with surrender and letting go. I thought walking away from a difficult situation was a way of working the Third Step. Leave the mess to God.

The turning point for me was a failing relationship. For weeks I had been trying to figure out how to save this romance. I was furious at myself for my inappropriate and immature behavior. I was trying to open up to her and was too afraid to show my vulnerability. I was being asked to confront and work through some major differences, and I was being evasive and overbearing. It just came to me that I needed guidance and an objective point of view. In order for that to come about, I would have to reach out and level with someone. I selected my sponsor and my closest friend. I went to each and just talked and talked until all of the garbage and distorted thinking came out of me and I felt great. It didn't save the relationship, but I began a new and healthier way of relating.

A big part of the problem was that I didn't see people in the reality of who they really were but rather through my own limited expectations of them. Upon realizing this, I then had to set aside my perceptions and responses because, coming out of my lack of trust, they were always protective and negative. I viewed the world through cracked glasses and it was time to get a new pair!

I began to listen more carefully at meetings. I wanted to find out how much people revealed of themselves. I found out that in both public and private sharing, my fellow members were far more willing to be open and trusting than I was. I drew courage from other people's examples of reaching out to other human beings. Through the AA experience, I understood that, if others could risk and reveal, then perhaps I could too. In most instances, I started with small steps. My sponsor was getting the whole story in pieces, and so were my friends in the program. While I was high-profile and noisy at meetings, I was feeding people the real me in very controlled, small doses.

Throughout this entire?period?I was attending meetings almost every day. I was becoming more and more aware that I had to change my attitudes and my beliefs about trust, friendship, and relationships. I learned about the terrible price one pays by trying to "go it alone" with issues like these. I saw how self-sufficiency doesn't work well in a fellowship like AA. I had to hit bottom and truly see how I was foolishly avoiding all the resources available to me because of my unwillingness to trust. After years of listening to others describe their experiences, I finally gave up my negativity and opened up.

Now when I am confronted with a heavy problem, I don't panic and withdraw. I go to those I deeply trust and I communicate what's wrong and what I'm doing or think I should do about it. I don't walk around the issue—I describe all of the parts that I see and all my fearful or negative thoughts. If I feel trapped and anxious, or want to retaliate, I talk about it. I've replaced double talk with real communication. I know that I have to go through the problem, not around it. I truly listen and try to take in what they say. Sometimes I may lack conviction or courage, but it eventually comes to me through my sharing and my prayers. My greatest joy is in knowing that I can trust people to be there for me and with me.

© 1991 by Dan F
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