When you’re afraid to reach out

No person has ever entered a substance abuse counselor’s office for the first time feeling good about themselves. Nor has anyone stepped into their first AA or NA meeting without feeling afraid, ashamed, and broken. I hear the words of my dear friend Ardis White each time I encounter such a person:

“You’ve got to get out of yourself to find yourself.” (You’re trapped in thinking you’re the only one or somehow fundamentally more screwed up or worse as a person than the rest of us – you’re not).

One of the many things that’s missing in the perspective of folks who are afraid and ashamed is that the folks in that office, in that group therapy session, or in that meeting know a lot about how you feel

…because we’ve been there too.

But you look at us as though we were born this way…as though we are better than you because you believe that you are less than us.

You are not. We are not.

It’s really this simple: The more F’ed up we are, the more we expect folks to reject us and otherwise treat us poorly. Early on, we cannot imagine people liking us. We project what we feel about ourselves and decide that others see us as we see us.

We are working from the perspective of our archetypes – symbolic representations of the formidable people in our past (sadly, most often those who hurt us most). We tend to see all men as we did our fathers/father figures and all women as we did our mothers/mother figures.

Everyone has a mother and a father. Only the lucky ones got to have moms and dads.

We are products of emotional immaturity. We don’t even realize we’re doing it. Until I went into therapy (as a client) at age 30, I related to all men as I did my father (afraid, distant, resentful) and all women as I did my mother (co dependently protect them, give to but not allow myself to receive from them).

I hated men, which was all the more problematic because I was/am a man. The idea of being vulnerable with a man seemed impossible and intolerable and yet it was also what I most craved and needed.

I was 22 and a terrified dad of two babies. I vividly remember calling my father when I was young. We’d talk for up to a minute about me and up to an hour about him. I’d listen with tears rolling down my cheeks and pleading inside my head, “Please ask me again how I’m doing. Please challenge me. I lied when I said everything was “fine” and I need you to know better. I have no fucking idea what I’m doing.”

The Universe has tried all of my life to give me what I need. On my good days I receive it. I made my first adult friend at age 30 and I came to know a man who loved his wife and loved his kids and was trying to do everything right. He was scared too. So instead of being scared and alone; we were scared together.

That’s a million times better than doing it alone. We believed in each other but not in ourselves. By relating to each other, we came to believe about ourselves what we so easily knew about the other.

I love knowing so many good men and women in recovery. It enriches my life in countless ways. Very often I am extolling the value of knowing such folks and I feel a bit like an Amway salesman. Amway is this line of products that nobody really wants to buy, but the person selling it is almost always a friend or family member and so one feels obligated to listen and then politely decline.

When I speak of my brothers and sisters in NA and AA it often sounds like people who are too good to be true, or if it is true, then the person I’m speaking to usually wonders, “If they’re such fine people, then why would they want to know someone like me?”

If I’m talking to you about such people, it’s because you’re one of us and you simply haven’t recognized it yet. “Us” are the misfits of the world. “Us” are the very best of folks. We are most certainly not a collection of saints. We are works in progress who understand that the only way for us to maintain what we have learned and healed is to pay it forward to others.

Google “AA (or) NA meetings (name of your town)” If you don’t happen to be an addict or an alcoholic, read through the meeting list and locate an “open meeting” Go and listen (introduce yourself as a “visitor”) and meet the very best of people who are living proof that a better life is possible.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.