For forty years I lived in isolation. Raised in a large metropolitan area surrounded by thousands, if not millions of people, I learned to exist alone in the world. I had grown to prefer my life that way because I had never known any other way. It was the way of my family. The rule in my family was that weakness, when exposed, would be ridiculed, if not punished. And from this example, I grew up believing I was entitled to my selfishness as long as I kept it veiled behind a veneer of politeness, civility and “christian” respectability. By the time I was an adolescent, I was a master of avoiding my problems and any people or situations that could expose my shortcomings or the loneliness I felt inside. I feared others. I doubted my worth. I had no confidence in my upbringing. I survived and existed. My life was a living hell.
I was 41 years old when I got help from others and began stopping my addictions, which was a big step in the right direction. But, in addition to stopping my destructive way of life, I also needed to learn how to come out of the isolation I had learned as a child, to live in a real world of real people, and have real relationships with them. I’m not sure which felt worse: the painful experience of detoxing from drugs and alcohol or the experience of getting honest about myself with others.
A New and Better World
My part in the recovery process required me to become more honest with myself, God and other people. This was a slow and difficult process, but as I did it, I began to experience a new closeness with friends and a respect for myself that I had never had before. This new way of relating to others felt strange in the beginning, but it also felt good. It was like I was being baptized into a new and better world. By admitting my faults and vulnerabilities to people who could understand and empathize with my experience, I was able to rise above the sense of condemnation I learned as a child.
The ‘getting honest’ part of my recovery work transformed my self-disgust into a compassionate regard for myself and my own life experience. Allowing other people to know my mistakes and vulnerabilities helped me experience the relational acceptance I needed. Listening without judgment or criticism, they modeled to me the grace and acceptance I didn’t get at home. This lightened the burden of shame and guilt I felt, which encouraged me to become even more honest still. But there was more to this experience. I started to feel lightness in my heart, and even, at times, found humor in the things that once threatened my health and my safety. I could accept and laugh at myself like never before. I was on a new path which was leading me out of isolation and fear of the past to a newfound sense of wholeness and honest friendship with others. This honest and transparent way of recovery brought me authentic, burden-bearing friendships I previously thought were not going to be possible for someone like me.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”
Matthew 5:5 MSG
This is an excerpt from When Lost Men Come Home, not for men onlycopyright, david zailer 2012