Calling People Out in Addiction Recovery

sober support

I remember sitting in the back of a meeting one night, close to the door. A woman stumbled in about halfway through. She sat next to me – I could clearly smell the alcohol on her breath. I smiled at her; she looked at me with bloodshot eyes and quickly looked away. During the ‘burning desires’ portion of the meeting, she raised her hand to share. What she said made very little sense at all, and it was clearly soaked in booze. After the meeting I approached her. She immediately shut me down, saying she couldn’t talk – she had to go home, because she had to be up early for court.

“What are you going to court for,” I asked her.

“I have a DUI… Got a DUI,” she slurred. The woman could barely stand. She kept falling into things, struggling to pull herself up until she finally found a nice wall to lean on.

“Did you drive here?”

“Yes.”

The insanity of the situation brought me right back to my drinking days. I remembered chairing a meeting in a near-black out, staying afterwards to talk to other women about the gifts of sobriety.

Alcoholic Insanity

I attempted to find this woman a ride, offered to drive her home, found someone to follow me there in her car. She refused. “I’m not drunk, I’m not drunk, I’m not drunk.” The sad mantra of an unwilling alcoholic. Finally, I gave up. My only remaining option was to call the cops, it seemed. Instead, I called my sponsor. She told me a story that has stuck with me since.

She told me that she was at an anniversary meeting one night, and it was full of old-timers. Men and women celebrating 25, 30, 40 years of continuous sobriety. The first celebrant was a middle-aged woman who was picking up her one-year medallion, which was presented by her teenage daughter. When the woman stood up in front of the room to accept her medallion, my sponsor said, it was very apparent that she was completely obliterated. She could smell the alcohol on her breath, in fact, sitting a few rows back. After the meeting, everyone who approached her offered her a big hug and a warm ‘congratulations’. My sponsor, on the other hand, approached her with a straight face. “You’re drunk,” she sad firmly. “You stood up there and accepted your one-year medallion, and you’re obviously intoxicated.”

The woman began crying. “How dare you,” she snarled angrily. She acted offended and taken aback, and quickly walked away – climbing into her car with her teenage daughter in the passenger seat.

The next week, at the same meeting, the very same woman picked up her white chip. She admitted that she had been driving the meeting drunk every week, and it was a miracle that she hadn’t gotten in a wreck or pulled over. It was only a matter of time. The moral of the story was (in my eyes, at least), if you see a drunk person claiming to be sober at an AA meeting, you aren’t doing them any favors by playing along.

‘Calling People Out’ Is Vital

If one of your close friends is very obviously shooting dope, you are not doing them any favors by incessantly sweeping their behavior under the rug. If someone in your IOP program is doing whip-its in the bathroom during your afternoon smoke break, keeping their secret is certainly not in their best interest (or yours). In all likelihood, you will be faced with a similar situation at one point or another in your recovery. Someone will show up intoxicated to a sober event, or your friend will come to you begging you to keep their potentially lethal secret. “Hey, I’m shooting insane amounts of crack into my neck, but please PLEASE don’t tell anyone.”

Perhaps a coworker will show up drunk to every staff meeting, and everyone will be too afraid of ‘offending’ him to mention something, or bring it to the attention of the higher-ups. The truth of the matter is – many alcoholics go on drinking themselves to death because no one ever intervenes. They figure, “Hey, I can hold a job. No one at work knows of my immense misery or unmanageable drinking problem. Why should I stop? I have my career. As long as I have my career I can slowly die of cirrhosis of the liver, no problem.” Calling people out is an ideal way to save their lives. They might be mad at you for a week or a month, or maybe even longer. But, so what? Approaching someone you care about and being honest and compassionate is more effective than turning a blind eye or embracing denial. Try your best to come from a relatable and non-judgmental place. “Hey, listen. I know that you’re getting high, and I love you and I want you to be okay. I used to get high all the time, and I used to lie about it too, because I was so ashamed and because I wanted to keep getting high. But my life has gotten infinitely better since I got honest and stopped, and I want the same for you. So, help is available whenever you want it.”

Being Honest With Friends

Our secrets keep us sick, but they will also kill us if we let them. Doing everything you can to keep a friend alive is more important than avoiding confrontation, and dealing with defensiveness, anger, and whatever other emotions arise will be easier (in the long run) than burying a friend and contemplating “what if”. If you are wondering whether or not to call a friend or acquaintance out for being dishonest about drinking or using, consider the fact that you might be saving their life. However, remember to do so gently, from a place of understanding and compassion. Think back to the days when you were actively using and lying about it to your loved ones. Did you respond better to, “Hey, I know you’re getting high so you’d better stop or I’ll Baker Act you,” or, “Let’s go somewhere private and talk, I love you and I want to express some concern.”

So long as your intentions are pure and your motives are good, you will be okay. If you feel unsafe confronting the individual in a one-on-one setting, bring in someone you trust – a therapist, interventionist, sponsor, or experienced sober support. Be smart about it. And remember – bringing active use to light is not ‘snitching’ or ‘ratting out’ or ‘breaking trust’ – it is an act of kindness and compassion. It is a brave act of kindness that could potentially save someone’s life.