Friday, November 25, 2016

I'm not here to make friends

I'm not here to make friends 


When I worked for an inpatient facility I heard it at least once a week. Sometimes it was an individuals justification for isolating or sometimes for a harsh word, perhaps a cover for shyness, not wanting to show weakness. Often it was a declaration meant to show me the counselor how dedicated the individual was to recovery, a vow that the individual was willing to forgo most if not all of the softer parts of rehab and dive head first into the hard work that lay ahead. These folks were never without their journals and worksheets, they carried their Big Books clutched in their hands and read them at every break. "I'm not here to make friends!" They would say though they might have said another common mantra of the newly sober "I'm not like these other people." I would often lay awake at night worrying about these folks.

Two reasons I see this as a red flag 


Let me say that again 

RECOVERY CANNOT BE FOUND IN A WORKSHEET! This goes for any worksheet. The free ones you find online, the expensive ones you purchase on your own and photocopy without permission, the ones that use a 4th grad vocabulary and the eloquent ones, recovery cannot be found in any of them. For that matter it can't be found in the Big Book either, it's not in a PowerPoint, a self help book, a video or in your favorite therapeutic card trick. In my opinion the vast majority of curriculum in rehab has very little value for the person in recover. These trappings are really more for we the professionals than those that come to us for help. They exist to make us look like we know 
 we are doing. They allow us to say "take two and call me in the morning" and fill the long hours with"programming" which the organization charges a sizable fee. Research indicates that educational lectures, videos and PowerPoints have almost no value for the person in recovery but many continue to lecture and play videos and continue to call it treatment. The videos give us time to catch up on our notes, the lectures are easy and one cannot invent the wheel on a daily basis so who can blame us? Because we put so much importance in these activities clients often mistake them for recovery. The "Not Here for Friends" folks most of all. So we take energy and focus which could be used more effectively and waste it on a hamster wheel.


The most damaging thing about addiction is how much it isolates. Humans are social creatures and we don't just want to interact with each other we need to. The Rat Park experiment if it can be applied to humans indicates that isolation and an inability to alleviate it by making new connections may be the key difference between someone who abuses substances when in a tough situation but stops when out of that situation and someone who gets trapped in a cycle of substance abuse becoming addicted . As chemical dependency counselors it is important to spot the clients who use our assignments as an excuse to isolate and encourage them to socialize. 

This does not necessarily mean clients should become friends with other clients though inpatient and IOP settings are a great place for clients to practice reconnecting. Your clients will likely come from very diverse backgrounds but all have a shared experience of struggling with substance use and of going through treatment. These things alone can be the basis for a profound connection. Many facilities are concerned with clients forming romantic relationships and discourage contact between clients outside of treatment. While I agree romantic relationships can distract from recovery the friendships that form can be a great support. The romantic relationships seem to form no matter what we do and I have to question if it's really any of our business if adults outside our facilities start to couple.

So we find ourselves with addiction that isolates, which may have been caused by isolation, we pull these people away and isolate them from friends family and work to treat them and to keep the lights on we professionals need to fill their day with programming so we can bill for our services. What's the solution? Obviously I don't know but here are some ideas.

Fewer lessons, more discussion. Keep the clients talking to each other not just to you. If you see that a client isn't joining the discussion prompt them and train you more outgoing group members to draw them out.
Focus on developing social skills. Role play uncomfortable social situations, talk about the clients anxiety over social situations and how to overcome them.
Make your homework social. Tell your clients to go to a meeting or some other sober gathering. Have them talk to 3 or more people. Have them journal about the feelings this inspires.
Make your programming fun. Provide the opportunity for your clients to take social risks and be silly in the safe supportive environment of your program. Play music, dance, tell jokes, or sing.

We may even wish to challenge the practice of isolating the clients from the outside world. Living in the world, rejoining the human experience is the goal of recovery.


  1. Your observations apply to other fields as well.

    1. Probably, but only rant about the chemical dependency field.

  2. I love the friends I have made in Recovery, and they have helped me a bunch!

  3. Hello Ken, I have been reading and enjoying your blog since July. I have never commented before and I want to tell you how helpful your blog has been. Thank you and wishing you all the best in 2017! Jan

    1. I'm so glad someone is reading this! If you find it helpful even better. Your comment actually saved me from a bad mood today so right back at you.


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