True recovery from any addiction is not merely about eliminating unhealthy habits. It is about learning a whole new way of living. And part of that new way of living is building faithful friendships.
What if I told you that in 20 years of ministry to sexually addicted men that one of the primary indicators of whether or not a man will break free from his addiction is if he builds strong, healthy friends?
Could it really be that simple?
If friendship can be so powerful to recovery, what do such friendships look like?
Here are 5 traits of the kinds of friendships that result in positive recovery:
A Friend Tells You the Truth
So much of addiction is grounded in falsehoods; lies. Lies about God. Lies about yourself. Lies about what is good and right and beautiful. And the only way to defeat a lie is with the truth.
A good friend will tell you the truth, even if it hurts.
This isn’t because your friend is aiming to hurt you. No, they tell you the truth because they love you!
When a friend sees their loved one drowning in addiction they want to help. Real help comes in the form of telling the truth. But the best way to tell the truth is in love.
If you are in recovery, look for friends who tell you the hard truth, but do so with kindness and love. This indicates where their heart is and what they truly feel about you. They aren’t condemning you, they are loving you.
A Friend Shows Empathy
Addicts need compassion. But this can be difficult when they continue to act in ways that harm themselves and others. It can seem so much easier to just give up on addicts than to show them any kind of empathy.
This is why you need friends who have “been there” in recovery. People who have the scars of addiction, who know what it feels like to walk the path of the addict. They know better than anyone how hard it is to break free from addictive strongholds. Because of this they also know how to show empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s feelings.
None of us can do this perfectly, but those walking in sobriety know better than most how to empathize with other addicts on the recovery journey. There is a bond that forms when someone hears your story and says, “Me too.” That’s empathy.
There is such power in extending and receiving empathy from friends in recovery. These become your 3am cohort, the ones who don’t even flinch when the overpowering temptation to relapse is knocking at the door. They stand with you in solidarity. They understand the battle. They share your burden.
Seek friends that “have your back” in the trenches.
A Friend Sets Healthy Boundaries
Addiction creates a vortex of self-centeredness. It causes the addict to believe that their desires and demands are most important. Nothing else matters. No one else matters. Recovery, however, trains an addict to see other’s needs as equally valid as their own.
A good friend in recovery is not your waiter.
They are your friend.
They have their own life.
They have a job, a family, other friends, and separate responsibilities.
Therefore, they know how to set healthy boundaries for their own health — and yours.
In order to break the deep pattern of self-centeredness that addiction creates, you need friends who will show you the value of healthy personal boundaries. This doesn’t mean that there can’t ever be a 3am emergency call or other kinds of “inconveniences” that are normal to recovery (especially in the early stages). But sometimes what an addict might perceive as an “emergency” is simply a moment where they would be better served to “sit in” the discomfort and use other tools they have already received in their recovery (i.e. take a walk, go to group, call your counselor, recite the Lord’s prayer, exercise, etc.).
A good friend might establish some “ground rules” for communication concerning recovery needs. For instance, no texts or phone calls after a certain hour unless they are deemed a truly dangerous circumstance.
Also, a friend is a friend, not a counselor or pastor or doctor. Be careful of expecting a friend to be something else than a friend. This is part of setting healthy boundaries on both sides of the relationship.
A Friend Keeps Their Word
Addiction destroys trust in relationships. This is because, as stated earlier, the foundation of addiction is lies. Lies erode trust; a liar simply cannot be trusted. But true recovery can help turn a liar into a truth-teller.
A good friend will keep their word. This helps the addict observe what it looks like to be trustworthy. When a friend commits to meet, they meet. When they commit to call, they call. When they commit to pray, they pray.
Over time this builds trust with the addict and they can see what an honorable and beautiful trait integrity really is. A friend who keeps their word inspires others to do the same. There is a domino effect that can happen with trustworthy behavior.
A friend also communicates when unexpected events change their plans. They are up front and honest. This builds respect from the addict. Truth-telling is always a respectable quality.
Look for friends who tell the truth and keep their word.
A Friend Loves You — No Matter What
Finally, a friend always loves you. As the Proverb says, “A friend loves at all times.” (Prov. 17:17)
Recovery is hard.
It is messy.
There is no “easy button” for recovery. But it is exponentially harder (and less successful) if attempted alone. Good friends help shoulder the load with you and they do so because they love you.
Love is not merely sentimental.
Love is blood, sweat, and tears. Love is saying hard things. Love is “iron sharpening iron” and challenging each other to keep going when you want to quit. Love is strong and brave and forgiving. Love is what friendship is all about.
Don’t be deceived into thinking that recovery is just about eliminating some unwanted, unhealthy behaviors. That is secondary. Recovery is first and foremost about connection; with God and others. Relationships, friendships, are what recovery is all about. When you set your aim at the right target, you will discover a whole new way of life that is full and satisfying.
Now, go make some good friends.
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