Heavy Meddle: Help! A New Friendship Threatens To Send My Sobriety Up In Smoke

What do you do when your new best friend also happens to be an enabler? (miss.libertine/flickr)
What do you do when your new best friend also happens to be an enabler? (miss.libertine/flickr)

Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions. You can use this form, or send them via email. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.


Dear Steve,

Five years ago, after living in the same big city for 23 years, I moved to a small town.

I love my new hometown and don't miss city living. But there has been a big gaping hole in my life ever since I moved. Despite years of effort, I do not have a close friend here in Podunk. And I feel that absence deeply — lovely husband and family notwithstanding.

I left behind a wonderful network of friends. In my search for a new bestie, I have made lots of delightful friends, but none that I can really confide in. Then, after five years of searching, I found her! She is thoughtful, funny and I feel at home with her. She is passionate about the same causes I am, and we both are keen to talk about subjects everyone else around here finds too depressing (race, class, gender, climate change — to name a few of our cheery pet topics). We have defining childhood experiences in common. The novels that have entered my dreams are the same ones that have entered hers. My lonely days are gone.

So, what's the rub?

She is a pothead, and I am a pot addict. If I have pot, I smoke it. On a good day, I wait until after breakfast. I go to work high. I drive high. I parent my kids (6 and 8) high. For years, I have been on a cycle of recovery and relapse. Currently, I spend about half the year using and half the year sober. My best case scenario would be to get high once or twice a week. I'm cool with that, my husband is cool with that, even my therapist is cool with that. My addiction is not cool with that.

For me, access to pot equals high-all-the-time relapse. And yes, I get high with my new bestie — not every time we hang out, but a lot. I can't imagine ending this friendship. But I also can't see how I'm going to do better with recovery if she is in my life. Now that I have a friend who actively uses my odds are even worse. She has offered to be a gatekeeper for me, doling out small amounts of pot. Sounds dreamy, but I worry about keeping the door to my addiction cracked open.

What do I do?


Sometimes Sober


Dear Sometimes Sober,

Let’s focus on the good news here. The good news is that you’re seeing this dilemma with clarity. Simply put: moderation is not an option for you when it comes to pot. You’re an addict. People tend to be dismissive of pot addiction, but as me and my podcast partner Cheryl Strayed discussed in a recent episode of Dear Sugar Radio, it’s the patterns of addiction that matter, not the substance.

For this reason, I hope that you have availed yourself of the various supports that exist for addiction, from talk therapy to Narcotics Anonymous. I realize that your letter is focused on the issue of companionship, and specifically this friend. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the larger and more enduring issue is getting a handle on your addiction.

It’s for this reason that I share your concerns about this friendship. Here’s exactly what you wrote: “I can't see how I'm going to do better with recovery if she is in my life.” The idea of using her as a gatekeeper seems, well, ill advised would be the polite term.

the question really becomes: How committed are you to remaining sober?

So the question really becomes: How committed are you to remaining sober? Some readers may be alarmed at the notion that you get high before breakfast, and drive high and work high and parent your kids high. I’m less concerned about making those judgments. My question is why you feel compelled to get high so much? Specifically, whether there are underlying anxieties that the pot helps assuage, or even mask? I’m also curious what your pot use was like in the big city, and whether the sense of isolation you’ve experienced in your new town may be contributing to the dependence you describe?

As you can tell, I have more questions than answers here. But your letter suggests an intelligence, and a level of self-awareness, that makes me suspect you have some answers of your own.

I do understand that you’re excited by this new friend. She helps you feel connected and alive. In a perfect world, you’d be able to keep her and keep yourself sober. In this world, there’s a clear conflict that you need to address within yourself, and with her. My hope would be that she’s a good enough pal that she’ll be able to understand and respect your need to remain sober — and be able to maintain the friendship.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed — for both of you.


Author's note: Okay folks, now it’s your turn. This is the kind of letter where I (as a pretty non-addictive personality) am probably out of my depth. What am I missing? Do any of you have similar stories, and if so how did you resolve them? Please send along thoughts and advice in the comments section below. And feel free to send a letter to Heavy Meddle, too. You can use this form, or send your questions via email. I may not have a helpful response, but the act of writing the letter itself might provide some clarity. — S.A.

Steve Almond is the author of the book "Against Football." He is the co-host, with Cheryl Strayed, of the WBUR podcast, Dear Sugar.


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