What To Expect When A Good Friend Is In AA
When a friend tells you she’s an alcoholic, it can be hard to know what to say. My instinct, honestly, when my friend told me she was one, was to say, “No. You’re not. You don’t have a problem!” And that was not the right thing to say. It takes a lot for someone to reach a point of not only accepting that she’s an alcoholic but also telling other people. It’s not an easy thing to do. It takes a lot of humility. So if someone tells you she is one, she is. My friend was forgiving of my outburst, and calmly proceeded to tell me that she is in fact an alcoholic and has gone into the 12-step program, and will be attending regular meetings. She wasn’t quite sure how it would affect her friendships, but she knew that in some way, it would, so she needed to let everyone who mattered to her know. I’ve certainly made some mistakes in the friendship since then, but learned valuable lessons. Here’s what to prepare for if your good friend is in AA.
You won’t know when to invite her
You’ll at first be unsure when it’s appropriate to invite her to things. Should you invite her to your birthday, that is happening at a bar? Should you invite her to the tailgate that will be swimming in alcohol? Is it insensitive to invite her? Or hurtful if you don’t?
Just let her know she’s always welcome
Honestly, just have a conversation with her. Let her know that she’s always welcome at your events—dry and wet ones—and that’s why you invite her. But you don’t mean to put pressure on her, and would never want her to feel pressure. You invite her to let her know she’s loved and nothing more. Then, you can just send those invites as they come up, and you both know your intentions.
You need to be discreet
She sets the rules around who else knows about her situation. If you’re ever unsure, just ask her, “Does this person know you’re in AA? Are you okay with her knowing?’ Then you won’t make any devastating mistakes.
She may or may not want to discuss meetings
There is no hard and fast rule around when and how to talk about her meetings. You have to feel it out. Just come in soft. Let her know you’re happy to hear about the meetings if she wants to talk about them, but don’t push the subject too much if she pulls back.
But it’s not all she wants to discuss
Also know that, even if she does tell you a bit about her meetings, it’s not all she wants to talk about. She doesn’t want to take all of the attention. She still wants to know what’s happening in your life. She still wants hangouts to feel normal.
She’s embarrassed if she relapses
She will likely fall off the wagon several times during this process, and she’ll feel deeply embarrassed when she does. She’ll actually feel like she let the people she loves down—like you. You’ve been there, supporting her, and she couldn’t stay sober. She’ll feel awful.
And she may go MIA
With that last thing in mind, know that she may go MIA. Sometimes for days and sometimes for weeks. This likely means she’s fallen off the wagon, and doesn’t want to tell anyone. But she also doesn’t know how to lie to you, so it’s easiest if she just doesn’t talk to you.
Don’t take it personally
The thing is, while your friend wants you to act like everything is status quo, it isn’t. She is fragile right now. She needs to take care of herself before she can take care of others. It may feel selfish when she goes MIA and shuts you out. Be a little more understanding than usual.
And be gentle about scheduling
You also need to be ready for some scheduling issues. She can’t be totally relied upon right now. If she falls off the wagon, she may completely fail to show up at your plans because she is either drinking at the time or she’s embarrassed to see you and tell you she drank yesterday. She might exhibit flaky behaviors for a while.
A lot may come out
There is usually a reason someone has a drinking problem. For years, she avoided that issue by drinking. Now that the alcohol is gone, the truth will come out. Issues will rise to the surface. Trauma may come up. Be ready to listen.
Your friendship may deepen
Your friendship will likely become stronger for her sobriety. You won’t rely on alcohol for your connection. You’ll spend time together sober, and actually remember your interactions.
You can have a drink around her
In case you are wondering, yes you can still have a drink around her. She doesn’t want you to deprive yourself for her sake. Though it may be tough for her to be around alcohol, it’s tougher for her to feel she’s inconveniencing her friends.
But don’t overdo it
Just don’t overdo it around her. She can feel triggered by someone who is really drunk around her. Plus, since she’s sober, she can just feel disconnected from you when you’re drunk.
Keep her from heavy drinkers
If you have friends who drink heavily, keep them away from your friend in AA. It’s just the polite thing to do. This is especially true if you know such friends will try to encourage her to drink.
She may go through a judgment phase
She might go through a brief phase of, what she calls, “enlightenment” when she judges people who drink. She may feel (and behave) better than others. Don’t worry: this will fade.