I sometimes go to a meeting where they have a laminated list of topic suggestions. There are the usuals like “gratitude” and “let go and let God.” There’s an odd one, “Let’s be friendly with our friends,” that we would sometimes puzzle over. One night someone chose this as the topic. Mostly people talked about well, their friends. Later I saw it on an official AA something, the whole list of topics. And later I read something that explained it meant cooperating with doctors, therapists and the like who are also working to help alcoholics recover. Not what we thought at all.
Today, for several reasons, none of them good, I was called upon to express my opinion about having relationships with people who drink. I stress this is my opinion only.
Of course we have relationships with people who drink, in our families, our workplaces, and in our friendships. Newcomers are advised to give up relationships that revolve around drinking (like those that take place mostly in a bar) for at least a while. Newcomers should also not go to places and events that threaten their sobriety. This is just for a while. After some time, almost everyone has little or no problem being around alcohol and drinkers. The friendships that had alcohol at their base usually don’t survive though. Of course some do.
So in my opinion, being friends with people who drink is fine. Personally I don’t go to bars and would advise other alcoholics not to either. I’m a bit extreme in that I don’t go to “happy hour” with, for example, a group of people from work. I know people who do and it’s fine. I would in no way be in danger of drinking if I did go, and I’m also told that sometimes there are others there who aren’t drinking. Still, I don’t go to bars. My friends who drink really don’t do it around me, though they might, for example, at dinner. I don’t have alcohol in my house ever, and it hasn’t been a problem.
We can be friends with people who we feel have a drinking problem but they don’t see it clearly yet. Again, for me, I wouldn’t accompany such people to a bar or party where drinking is the main activity. Other than that, it wouldn’t bother me much to have them drink around me a bit. Drunks I can live without. And while I’m hesitant and careful to judge who has a drinking problem in my opinion, sometimes I know that they do.
Friends who drink who were once sober fall into two categories. Some decide they are no longer alcoholic, or that they were mistaken when they labeled themselves as such, or that they are an alcoholic who can moderate (now there’s an oxymoron for you). These I would continue to be friends with, keeping an eye out. In my experience it’s very rare that someone labels themselves as alcoholic by mistake.
Then there’s the heartbreaking friend, the one who admits they are an alcoholic but who drinks, either openly or in secret.
A negative aspect of being an oldtimer is that we’ve seen too many of these die.
I don’t know about this one. I want to coldly write these off, and say it’s a consequence of drinking that you lose your AA friends. But I can’t. For one thing, this was me for several years. Also, the relationships often involve real love between friends, love that transcends states of sobriety. I want to understand my experience and use it now to help others. I would not, ever, send someone away from an AA meeting for drinking. I can understand not letting the meeting be disrupted, though that’s hardly ever a problem in the meetings I go to. For me, when I finally had no where else to go, AA was my last refuge. I chose last the place that would save me. But my years of drinking in the program did not cause people to shut me out.
I think we can hang in there with these people, at least for a while. It hurts. And it’s frightening, to see someone self destruct and engage in dangerous behavior. At least we can tell them we’ll be here waiting to welcome them back. At least we can wait for a while.