Knowing our Bounds

A man new to recovery has a younger brother. His brother comes to him, asking for advice. Brother believes that his girlfriend is cheating on him.

The man in recovery has spent a lot of time in federal prisons. Like many of us addicts, he’s done terrible, hurtful things, and he is working very hard to build a healthier life for himself. We all carry the marks of our past in one way or another; this man is covered in tattoos that represent the terrible things he’s done. From infancy on, violence has been the hallmark of his life. 

Given this past, it’s unsurprising that his initial gut response to his brother’s request for advice was this: “well, let’s go find the guy she’s cheating with and beat the crap out of him.” But he knows this is not helpful. He’s been down paths like this, and knows where they end.

So instead, he takes a breath.

He tells his younger brother this: “I’m not the person you should be asking. I don’t know what the right thing to do is, and taking my advice would probably hurt everyone involved.”

To more privileged ears, this might sound self-effacing or overly dramatic, but the thing is: he’s right. He’s not trying to make the situation about himself, he’s accurately assessing that his insight will be actively hurtful to this situation. Because he’s right, the level of maturity and self-awareness it takes to make that kind of statement is staggering. This is compounded by the fact that, like many of us in recovery, he is working to rebuild relationships with his family. He really wants to help and support his brother, and given this particular situation, he wants to protect him.

Through all of that, he is able to step back and recognize where his growing edges are, and to make a healthy choice towards a life he’s never lived before.

We often focus on active recovery; going to therapy, going to meetings, journaling, building new social circles, etc…

Sometimes, however, recovery is what we’re not doing; and this extends far beyond the substances we’ve abused. It’s the hard work of seeing and catching unhealthy thought patterns before they cause harm. It’s the ability to stop yourself before giving someone else advice that would steer them wrong, even if the act of giving that advice would build a deeper relationship. 

Recovery is the ability to see what is not serving us, even if it’s the majority of who we are, and to walk away from that path and build a healthier, kinder, more loving, more fulfilling life. 

So much respect and gratitude to this man for supporting himself and his community by knowing when he should not speak. 

He wrote this on our house whiteboard following this series of events, and he does us the honor of allowing his wisdom to be shared here.