I woke up the other morning in quite a bit of distress. I had expected a night of tossing and turning, but actually slept well; but I was just postponing the inevitable fear and anxiety. I was in a situation where I felt like I had painted myself into a corner. Except that the paint was battery acid and I had bare feet.
And of course the stress was all about a couple of particular relationships, specifically my clumsiness in navigating them. I can do almost anything when it comes to building and house repairs, I have done plenty of brake jobs, and taught myself how to write computer software. I am physically fit for my age and can easily knock off a Saturday 50-miler on my bicycle. I am proficient at a lot of things and am confident in most of my abilities.
But this relationship stuff is hard work for me. Being in an addiction and basically in isolation mode for the majority of my life has really taken a toll on the way I relate to people. I am not sure which is the cause and which is the effect—am I relationally challenged because of the addiction or did I become an addict because of my relational fears?
At this point, that question is irrelevant because I am sober and I am determined to stay that way. This necessitates mastering this relationship thing on a practical level. It was also irrelevant because the mess I was in that morning was distracting me from any philosophical musings that I might normally have. And I found out later that day that the mess was even worse than I imagined that morning.
As I laid in bed thinking about the situation, the old familiar progression of thoughts marched through my head. Guilt, shame, failure, “how could you be so stupid?”, “What were you thinking?”, “You blew it again,” etc. And then followed the immediate solution. Run. Hide. Isolate.
I actually did the opposite. I reached out to someone and told them I wasn’t feeling too well. I needed to talk. I needed to relate. I felt silly, foolish, and weak but they responded and we talked. We related. We did the relationship thing. I am quite sure I didn’t do it perfectly—I still felt like a klutz—but I did it. And it made things better.
I reached out to one of the people I was struggling with later and it didn’t go so well. In fact it made me feel very sad, disappointed, and very much like I failed and hurt them. And in some ways I did. But I knew that I hadn’t hurt them purposely or maliciously and that I was being honest and transparent in our conversation.
In the fantasy world of my addiction, everything always turned out exactly the way I wanted it to. The “relationships” always served me and my needs and always had a happy ending. For me, that has been one of the hardest things about sobriety and recovery: real-life relationships are messy and don’t always go the way I want them to.
But I want to learn and get better at this relationship thing because I see now how important it is. God desires a relationship with me even though I can’t fathom how much He loves me in spite of the lack of love and desire I feel for Him sometimes. Relationships with other people have been priceless means of healing me from addictive thoughts and behaviors. I have tasted how satisfying they can be and I long for deeper and more meaningful communion with others. I want to know and be known.
Being open, honest, and vulnerable (a word I used to hate) means that I am going to make mistakes or be misunderstood. (And I do need to learn the fine art of discretion, as I tend to say too much.) My motives may be falsely judged or I may not meet the expectations of others. I may get careless and not listen with empathy like I should. But that’s all part of the growth process. It’s the risk-reward thing: sure, there is a chance I’ll get killed whenever I go out in my car, but the rewards of freedom and mobility make it worthwhile to regularly drive. And so far, my rudimentary relationship skills haven’t killed me.
God’s got me in school, taking relationship classes. Sometimes I think the walking on water class would be easier. But I am going to keep working on this relationship thing until I master it. The life that God intends me to live depends on it. His grace is sufficient for me.
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