“Caitlin, I’m not okay,” Caroline forced the words out over the phone through tears and exhaustion, “I need to get help.”
I cried with her as I stumbled through a few semi-encouraging sentences. I’ve never had a close friend go to rehab.
Over the last year and a half, I have been learning what it looks like to be a friend to someone who is recovering from addiction. What began as me committing to being the superhero friend that saves the day and wins “Best Friend of the Year” has actually turned out much differently than I would have ever imagined.
I slowly started realizing that I was wrong to think I was going to be her save-the-day friend. As time went on and my understanding of recovery deepened, it became clear that I was learning far more from her than I could ever offer in return.
It became clear that I was learning far more from her than I could ever offer in return.
She would walk me through the ridiculously intense temptations she faced every day, the new friendships she was forming at AA with complete strangers who were totally different from her, and her commitment to attending 90 meetings in 90 days.
She may not know that she was actually teaching me something in our long-distance phone conversations. But now that I’m reflecting back over the year, I’m extremely grateful for what she has shared with me. I’m now equipped with life lessons about self-control, about commitment, about independence and dependency on others. I learned about transparency, and trusting your friends with your darkest secrets.
Though, there is one thing that Caroline shared with me two weeks ago that really stands out, and with Christmas around the corner, I do not think her timing was a coincidence.
We were about to attend a wedding rehearsal dinner with all of our closest friends from college, and there was going to be alcohol there.
Before we headed to the restaurant, Caroline had panic written all over her face and asked if she could follow me to the bathroom. Once we were in there, she pulled out her phone and began to read out loud.
Something happened to me when she finished reading. It’s hard to explain, but it’s as if a pile of bricks hit me and a light turned on in my head all at once.
Here’s a bit of what she read:
“Your job now is to be at the place where you may be of maximum helpfulness to others, so never hesitate to go anywhere if you can be helpful.” … “Helping others is the foundation stone of your recovery. A kindly act once in a while isn’t enough.”
Her sponsor suggested that she read these passages from a book she received in an AA meeting before entering into social settings. Caroline explained that she now has to ask herself, “What’s my purpose for going to this event? How can I be of service?” In recovery, going to events where there’s alcohol is not a time to throw a pity party, but to soberly seek out conversation, to be present the entire night, and to support her friends. This is actually an act of service to those she loves. While she may have lost years in self-consuming thoughts during the depths of her addiction, she can now offer herself as a sober, listening ear. A safe place. A refuge.
This is actually an act of service to those she loves.
Why did I want to share this with you before Christmas, you ask? Over the next week, most of you will be attending holiday parties with your family, your friends, and maybe people that don’t fall into either of those categories. Can I ask you to do something?
Will you read that passage to yourself before you grudgingly wrap your Christmas presents or groan about the conversation you’re stuck in with your annoying aunt? See, I believe that what Caroline shared with me isn’t intended only for recovering alcoholics.
If we have committed to “living second,” then helping others is the foundation of our lives. And this lifestyle extends beyond volunteering at the soup kitchen and giving to the poor. Yes, that’s extremely important, but it also includes how we interact with our friends and family. It means listening to others for their benefit, not for our own. That’s the life we’ve signed up for. We are to be of maximum service to others always.
It means listening to others for their benefit, not for our own. That’s the life we’ve signed up for.
I understand that this isn’t always easy to do. So, if you do find yourself struggling to selflessly serve those around you this Christmas, take a moment to reflect on why you are celebrating Christmas in the first place.
God sent his Son, Jesus, into the world to live among men, to be tempted just like we are tempted, and to live a life of total and complete service to God and to you and me. Absolutely none of His time on earth was spent living for selfish reasons. He lived to be of maximum helpfulness to others. And because of his selfless life, we are now able to truly live. And that’s the same life I’ve signed up for, I’ve committed to living as He lived. And that’s why I love Christmas.
Thank you, Caroline, for teaching me this invaluable lesson through your recovery. This year, I hope to celebrate Christmas by putting all those around me first, far before myself, in any and all circumstances. Will you join me?
Read Caroline’s story of addiction here.