You always hear about how important it is to surround yourself with good people, but why? It seems pretty self-explanatory, you should be hanging out with people who are doing the right thing, have something interesting to say, and lift you up instead of agreeing to let you be down. Co-miserating is common in addiction recovery, but why is choosing who you spend time with more impactful than you think?
Friends are an important part of recovery, and an important part of life. The relationships you nurture should grow, so why is it so easy to get stuck in friendships that don’t?
The Plant Analogy
Trying to grow a friendship with the wrong people is like trying to grow a dying plant: The proper roots may have been laid, the ground (soil) is promising, you water it often, but still, the plant becomes the opposite of flourishing— it’s leaves are beginning to turn downwards and dry up. The plant seems to be growing into death instead of growing into life.
The one ingredient you’re missing is sunlight. This analogy is perfect for understanding friendships. You need light, a source of true light; artificial light cannot grow a plant. True light comes from doing the right thing, bettering yourself, and being truly positive and willing. Have you ever met someone that just has this ‘light’ about them? The ‘light’ you see is positivity, kindness, a nurturing nature. You are immediately drawn to this ‘light’ because it makes you feel good, uplifted, positive.
If you’re anything like me, you gravitate to some more-than-questionable characters, because you quickly develop some sort of understanding of them. Maybe you see pieces of yourself in them, maybe you find yourself feeling compassion for them, maybe you are attracted to their personality or confidence. Whatever it is about them, you find gravity somehow bringing you together, putting you in their corner, rooting for them because it all comes down to you rooting for yourself in some way.
I find that the very sick people I’m gravitated towards, and I’m talking about the sickest of the sick, remind me of parts of myself that I may or may not have accepted yet. These people represent a side of me, parts of me, thoughts or beliefs of mine, that I have yet to let go of. Keeping these sick parts of myself alive is manifested into accepting them in another person, accepting that person. Maybe in an effort to accept myself. What it really does is entertain the sickest parts of me, and instead of letting those parts go I find myself clinging onto them. I cling onto those parts by associating with people who have accepted their sickness as who they are, instead of accepting themselves as someone who has sick parts.
What is ‘Sickness’?
In addiction recovery, we call people ‘sick’ when they are discontented and behave negatively— in a way that expresses their discontentment yet keeps them discontented. Like anything, ‘sick’ people are easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for. Someone who complains excessively about the same thing, but does nothing to fix the problem is ‘sick’. Sickness can come in many forms, in my personal experience I’ve found that the ‘sickest’ people lack a spiritual connection. In 12-step programs of recovery, people have coined the phrase “spiritually sick” to describe others who are out of touch with a power greater than themselves, people who don’t work on growing a spiritual connection with themselves and the world around them. People who believe that they, alone, can solve their problems, or are in denial from having problems, or continue to live within the problem, are sick. And to put the point of this article very simply, sickness spreads.
Have you ever had a conversation with a friend who is unloading a bunch of negativity on you, talking or complaining about something in excess— to the point where it’s hard for you to listen to? You almost always leave their presence feeling drained, angry, irritable, and discontented. This is just one example of how ‘sickness’ spreads.
What You Feed
Bring your light to sickness, and sickness will grow. Bring your light to positivity, and positivity will grow. The simplicity is that in choosing what to feed, you are choosing what to grow. This formula applies to everything. Choose to meditate every night, your spirituality will grow. Choose to eat only healthy food, your health will grow. Choose to exercise at the same time each day, your physical wellness routine will grow. So, what are you feeding?
Are you feeding optimism, positivity, health, happiness, and security? Or are you feeding negativity, recklessness, sickness, impulsivity, and unmanageability? What you feed will grow.
Making the Choice
When we decide what we want to feed, a lot of the time we are do so subconsciously. In reality, you will seldom find a person who admits to wanting unreliable, angry, discontented friends, so why do we nurture these types of relationships? In my personal opinion, I think we subconsciously make this choice because we are afraid of shutting those parts of ourself down. Who are we without sickness? Most of the time in recovery, we are still trying to figure out who we are without _________ (fill in the blank: drugs, chaos, impulsivity, etc.)
In my eyes, without my anti-social, rule-breaking, rebellious nature, or drugs, I had no idea what my actual personality was. If I took away these parts of myself, then what was I left with? In my sickest stages of recovery, I believed it was better to be all of those things than to be nothing at all.
But here’s the truth: you don’t have to get rid of these things, you just have to accept that they exist within you and use them in a different way to better yourself. Until you do this work, you will actively seek out others who are sick, you will cling to these attributes that will continue to weigh you down— it’s your own subconscious way of acceptance. The problem with this is, you are accepting the sickness without doing something about it. You are inviting the sickness into your life in other forms. You are feeding the sickness; you are growing the sickness.
What Happens When You Feed the Best Parts of Yourself?
When you are feeding into the best parts of yourself, you are growing those same parts of yourself. Just like when you are in a positive mood, and then do something positive, you are inviting more positivity into your life. It seems so simple, but it’s a hard thing to do when it comes to other people. However, like we just spoke about, other people affect you. The people you choose to spend time with will affect you. So if you want to grow your own kindness, gratitude, positivity, whatever, surround yourself with people who are kind, grateful, and positive. With these choices, you can change your perspective and change your life. Feed into the light, not the darkness. Whichever you feed into, will grow.
Acceptance is a large part of recovery. You must accept many things, ranging from accepting powerlessness to accepting yourself. I think the most important part of acceptance is the perspective you take after the fact. Acceptance should be coupled with perspective and action, in my opinion.
Acceptance is loosely defined as “agreeing to…” and “saying yes to…” (Cambridge Dictionary). This definition lends itself to the act of acknowledgement. I can accept that I have sick parts of myself, but I can also accept these parts without thinking that they define who I am as a person. I can agree that they exist, say “yes” I am like that, and continue on to focus on the things I want to feed— the attributes, traits, thoughts, and beliefs that I want to grow.
Just because you’re recognizing that something exists, doesn’t mean you can’t work to change the way it affects you. You can always meet acceptance with efforts to better yourself or your situation. One example of this is if your car breaks down; you can accept that your car broke down, but then you can move yourself safely to the side of the road and call someone to help you. You can accept something, without letting that thing define the way you act. Instead of sulking in negativity that your car broke down, you can accept that it happened and move on to take care of it (in this case you are feeding responsibility instead of idleness, you are empowering yourself instead of taking a ‘victim’ mentality). Another, more extreme example: if someone who got diagnosed with cancer accepts the fact that they have cancer, it doesn’t mean that they can’t take action to change the way it affects them. This person could start chemotherapy, psychotherapy, etc. to help themselves cope instead of just accepting the cancer and doing nothing about it.
Just to sum everything up, be aware of what you are feeding. Choose to surround yourself with people that will help you grow the best parts of yourself. Learn to accept all the parts of yourself, so that you no longer gravitate to sick individuals who represent those parts. In my experience, every ‘sick’ person I’ve befriended has been someone who represents a part of me that I didn’t want to let go of, a part of me that I had not yet accepted with action. Work on yourself, feed into self-betterment, surround yourself with people doing the same. The results will speak for themselves.
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