In our community we work hard to be students in the field of addiction and recovery. Our community was founded on the big dream that families suffering from addiction, abuse, trauma and mental health issues needed a safe place to explore spirituality that suits their unique needs. We felt there were many wonderful worshiping communities that supported the perspective that “Every day with Jesus is better than the day before.” We wanted to be a place where it would be ok to say, “My life sucks; I want to know what God has to say about that.”
Recently we were presented with the idea that calling another person an “addict” or “alcoholic” is shaming. We offered families new language and suggested they try on this phrase, “My loved one suffers from a substance use disorder.” My Lord, you would have thought we had suggested that the Pope wasn’t Catholic. Change is hard. People pushed back. Folks in recovery said, “Hey, I’m not ashamed; I identify with the label addict/alcoholic, whatever my ism is. Why pretty it up?” Family members said, “Hey, it took me ten years to acknowledge his/her addiction. Are you suggesting that I pretend they AREN’T ADDICTED?” Plenty of frustration and attitude came with the feedback – until I offered further explanation. The next time I pitched this idea, I said all the usual blah blah blah of new language and shame reduction, and then I said this: “Hey, it’s like this. If I ask my husband: do I look fat in this outfit? And he responds yes – that’s on me. I own the fact that he responded to my feedback request. BUT IF HE SAYS WITHOUT MY SOLICITING INPUT: “Babe, your backside is the size of Texas.” Well, life at the McBean house will get very chilly.
Everyone went, “Oh.” And from that day forward, there was no pushback.
Here’s the principle: we are a community that practices reciprocity. We are usually a fairly safe place to tell the truth. I introduced a new concept but didn’t explain it clearly. They taught me that I needed to improve my communication. We kept working together and ultimately they showed me how I could illustrate a pretty big recovery point: There are things we can (and arguably should) say about ourselves but are not as ok with having said about us by someone else.
Reciprocity is a way to learn how to help us all grow up without a side order of resentment.
Do you have skills that make reciprocity possible? What skills might those be? Stay tuned…