When I first got sober, I wanted to save the world. It became clear to me that the 12 Steps were going to be a big part of getting my life straightened out. It also became clear — now that I wasn’t out there with them — that there were a lot of other folks who needed a dose of The Program as much as I did.

So I made no bones about being in recovery. Contrary to what a lot of people think, we don’t have to remain anonymous ourselves, except at the level of the media. We just can’t “out” anyone else. I made sure that I wasn’t anonymous, and I made sure that all those poor folks knew that I was there for them if they wanted help. The result was inevitable and, in retrospect, completely predictable. They began avoiding me in droves — exactly what I would have done if someone had come at me with talk of sobriety when I was still using alcohol and other drugs.  Would you like it if someone tried to talk you out of seeing your best friend? Hardly anyone likes a proselytizer, religious or otherwise.

It took me longer than perhaps it should have to learn that what other people do is none of my business, as long as it isn’t hurting me or others. Even then, sometimes there is nothing to do but retreat. You can always engage in another battle, but it becomes far harder once you’ve already had your butt kicked. (Insert “turning the other cheek” joke here.)

Looking back, and looking at many of the newcomers I’ve known since, it seems to me that this sort of thing is a natural part of the “saved” feeling we get in recovery. Just as well-meaning religious folks want to spread the Good Word, so do those of us in the rooms. That’s fine, but we need to be careful how we go about it.

Attempting to talk to active alcoholics and addicts is one of the more useless endeavors. Denial is deep for them, just as it was for us, and our being able to see the issues clearly from the outside does not mean that we will be able to illuminate their understanding. Quite the opposite, in fact. We run an excellent chance of turning them off to any such advice — even of driving them away, as I did some of my old friends. Today I have young family members who, it is clear to me, are sliding down the slippery slope. They’re a long way from the bottom yet, and they wouldn’t listen to advice from me. But if I don’t alienate them, when they get there they might remember that recovery worked for someone they know. Our program works better when we let them come to us.

So I learned to keep my savior complex in check, and to direct that energy toward helping people who were already seeking recovery. I learned — finally — to be a good example instead of a preacher. I followed the advice of those who came before me, and worked with newcomers and other recovering folks. Eventually I moved on to working in the field, then to writing about recovery, but I still try to simply share my “experience, strength and hope” and let the audience sort themselves out. As they say, “attraction, not promotion.”

We don’t need to wear our program on our sleeves; only in our hearts.

Keep on keepin’ on…

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