I’ve heard many variations of the adage that behind every successful man there is a woman. She is likely to be strong, wise, loving, and exhausted. Of all the ways in which I am blessed; I am so fortunate as to have been in love with such a woman for over twenty five years now. As I reflect on all that I have to be grateful for, she is at the top of my list.
We’re very different people and I am appreciative of that. Her perspective is very unlike mine, as are her habits, her opinions, and her tastes. She shows me alternate ways of looking at things. Sometimes it’s left to her to point out the obvious truth that I don’t want to acknowledge. She sees the world in very black and white ways. Most everything I see it gray. She’s an accountant. In her world tax laws make sense and ethical guidelines are always completely clear. She listens to stories about my day and occasionally reminds me that people are complicated and numbers are not. “Two plus two is always four. ” She says this in the same way that I tell her that people are not complicated – they just have a lot of feelings and conflicts. She gives me exceptional support despite the fact that she simply cannot relate to most of what I do. It’s easier to support those who do what we do. It’s harder to encourage and to help sustain a person when we cannot relate to their experience.
After a quarter of a century together she knows me remarkably well. She sees the things about me that she loves and she sees the things about me that I hate – most notably my limits. She reminds me that there are 24 hours in a day and holds me accountable for how I will use them. She notices when I am pushing too hard and she reminds me of my priorities if I lose sight of them. She points out when I am catching a cold and tries to convince me to take better care of my health. She keeps me grounded.
Early on in our marriage I believed that I was responsible for her happiness. When I went into therapy as a client it was odd to notice that I never knowingly considered her as being responsible for mine. In retrospect I seemed to believe that if the people I loved were happy then I would be happy. It took me a long time to see that this was a set up – all I needed to be happy was for absolutely everyone I cared about to have absolutely everything they needed and wanted. That day never comes. Furthermore it is not my job to ensure that people are happy. Happiness is an inside job and it is the sole responsibility of the person (adult) who seeks it.
Whenever people ask me how we’ve managed to have such a successful marriage I simply explain that my wife is my best friend. There is no one in the world that matters more to me and there is no one that I put before her. I have come to depend on her in ways that are completely healthy. Over the course of my own healing I moved from being codependent to independent and finally to being interdependent. It turns out that despite what we learned growing up, it is possible for two independent people to rely on each other and to have a true partnership. My wife is the most important part of my support system.
When I talk with people in early recovery about the need for a support system they often have no frame of reference for what I am describing. We talk about sponsors, contacts, and a Higher Power. They often look at me the same way I look at my wife when she explains labor laws to me. We talk about family and maybe there’s some support there and usually there isn’t. We often talk about how very much they want to fall in love and the false belief that that will solve everything. Finally we get around to talking about friends and wouldn’t it be nice to have some? For many of us there is a point in recovery in which we come to see ourselves as being worthy of real friends and we may even develop the willingness to pursue more than superficial friendships. What we’re left with is the fear of letting others come to know who we really are.
It seems to me that for contacts and people we relate to in recovery to become friends is completely natural. Perhaps the trick is to not hold these folks at arm’s length. Many of us can bare our souls and share our shame in a meeting but the idea of having coffee with someone just one to one is terrifying. Brene Brown defines shame as “the fear of not belonging.” AA, NA, Al-Anon and others give us a place where we belong. As wonderful as this is, perhaps it’s ok to want a great deal more than this.
I worked with a wonderful young woman last year. Like so many of us she is the black sheep of her family and she asked me where I thought she belonged. I thought about this for several moments as she became increasingly uncomfortable – fearing that perhaps there was no place for her. I explained that she belonged amongst people who are real and accepting. She belongs amongst those who would challenge her, encourage her and support her. She belongs in the company of people who are truly living and not just going through the motions of life. She belongs around the kind of people you can call at 2am and they don’t mind answering the phone. She belongs with those who are passionate and striving for a better life. She has no frame of reference for this and asking her to take it on faith was a bit much.
She was crying by the end of it and in a scared but determined voice she asked me just where she was supposed to meet such people. I explained that if she hits enough meetings she will meet dozens of such folks just in her hometown. She’s been going to meetings for a while and found this hard to believe. I explained that there are millions of things that don’t get discussed during a meeting. You have to arrive early, leave late, and go out for coffee afterwards. This is how we build greater support systems – with friends.
I shudder to think of where I would be without the people that my HP has placed in my path. My goal is to not resist anyone that God puts before me. One of my greatest friends today is a man that my HP would not allow me to push away. He just kept showing up until I accepted that this was way more than coincidence. Today he is amongst my chosen family. My support system keeps me grounded and supports me being a work in progress and the unexpected benefit of these connections is that they led me to spiritual growth. The God of my understanding works through every person He places in my path.