We’ve had some interesting search terms this past week:

Want to help my mom get sober

Letters of encouragement for a young addict

Words to say when someone gets sober

Addiction can be a prickly subject

Recovery from addiction can be a prickly subject

I love “letters of encouragement for a young addict.” I love all these, actually.  I think the best recommendation I could give is just to be as present as possible.

Being present: that means giving full attention. Having few expectations.

I just heard a 21-year-old woman tell her story a week ago as a way of celebrating her first year sober. Twenty-one years old: think about it. If she can stay sober, she has her entire life ahead of her. She’s still at university. Her story completely rocked… she gave up binge-drinking, pills, eating problems, everything.

I remember having coffee with her when she was about six months sober. She was afraid she was going to drink again; it was the middle of winter, all her friends were out partying on the weekends. What we talked about was faith. She was interested in my Quaker meeting. I let her ask me questions.

We talked about discernment, and about the idea that we could discern the spirit moving in silence—because Quakers hold silent worship meetings. My encouragement to her (more as somebody old enough to be her mother, rather than as someone with “more sobriety”) was to follow the intuitive guide that resides in all of us, that is our birthright. The big book talks about it:

What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration gradually becomes a working part of the mind. . . . We find that our thinking will, as time passes, be more and more on the plane of inspiration. We come to rely upon it.

That’s page 87.

The other night I drove a young woman home from a meeting. She couldn’t have been more than 25. I’ve seen this young woman from time to time at meetings. She’s tried to get sober for the past two years (maybe for more—I’ve only been coming around the rooms for two years); she’d put together a month or three months, then go out and drink. At this meeting, she said she had 30 days and was in an intensive outpatient rehab program. She said it very reluctantly because she was afraid she’d drink again.

Note well: both these women were afraid they’d drink again.

For family members who are wondering how to encourage their loved one in rehab or in outpatient programs: if you are afraid they’re going to drink or use again, multiply that fear by 1,000, and you’ve got the fear that your loved one has. They are more afraid than you are that they will drink or use again. Which is why we need to be present for our loved ones, and have low expectations. Piling expectations on top of fear just creates more fear. My AlAnon sponsor always says: High hopes, low expectations.

On the way to her apartment, the young woman said she wasn’t sure about how to choose a sponsor. I hear so many women say this. I had three sponsors in my first year—long story for another post—and my experience about choosing a sponsor is this: Look for someone who lives freely. And look for someone who has what you want.

“I really wish Q could be my sponsor,” she said with passion.

“There you go—that’s your intuitive voice that the big book talks about,” I said. “Q rocks. She works a great program. She’s free.”

But I’ve asked her before,” she said. “She said she has too many sponsees.”

A good sign: a sponsor who knows her limitations, I said.

“What about asking her one more time?” I said. “And if she says no, ask her for the names of some of her sponsees… Because if you like what Q has, chances are her sponsees are gonna have some of that. Or ask her for some names of other people she would recommend. This is a way of inviting the spirit into the situation.”

What words do you say when someone gets sober?