Are You a Sober Jerk? Am I?
The recovery community isn't always as supportive as it should be.
I truly believe that one of the most important parts of getting sober is connecting with other recovering addicts. That can be through traditional means, like in-person peer meetings, or through modern means, like online forums or chat rooms. One way or another, though, forming these connections is a practically essential part of overcoming addiction.
I spent years trying to get sober on my own. I believed that I could quit drinking for good without any help, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.
It was only after I started meeting other alcoholics—mostly through in-person meetings and Reddit—that I finally made any real progress. Not only did I receive support, but I learned tons of invaluable techniques to help me through sobriety. (Many of which I’ve written about in this newsletter before, so make sure to check out the archive if you’ve missed any old editions.)
There’s no question in my mind: If I had kept trying to do it on my own, I’d still be drinking today. It is thanks to many helpful and caring fellow addicts that I was able to quit drinking and I have stayed sober for over six years.
With all of that said, there is a flip side to the recovery community. Despite all of my praise, my interactions with other recovering addicts have not always gone well.
The unfortunate truth is that, just like in every other part of life, the recovery community has its fair share of jerks. Maybe even a bit more than its fair share.
When I first started going to meetings, I was shocked by how rude and condescending some of the other people were. In a sea of positivity, it felt like there was always that one person who just wanted to bring everyone else down.
As far as I can remember, I was never the one receiving these people’s rude attitudes. I was always a third party, watching some poor recovering addict get berated by someone acting like a total jerk. Even if someone chastises the offender and gets the meeting back on track, the damage is still done. The meeting, which is supposed to offer support, has instead just put everyone in a bad mood.
It’s one of the reasons that I eventually stopped going to the meetings. I became too anxious that I would say the wrong thing or use the wrong words, and some condescending jerk would jump down my throat over it.
It wasn’t until a couple of years after I stopped drinking that I started to write about my experiences online. That’s when I first got the chance to experience this rude condescension first-hand.
I’ve received all kinds of terrible comments on my sobriety blog. Some are from people who have no interest in sobriety but somehow stumble across my writing and see fit to mock me. Some are from those who know an addict and transfer all of their hatred for that addict onto me. And, lastly, some are from fellow recovering addicts who get mad at me for having slightly different beliefs about sobriety than they do.
This last type bothers me the most. I’ve lost count of the long rants I’ve received. Many are mad at me because I didn’t use medicine to help me quit. They say that I’m promoting making sobriety harder than it needs to be. Others are mad at me for having quit drinking entirely. They say I should do more to promote “harm reduction.”
The reality is that no matter what I say, there will be someone who disagrees. That in itself isn’t a problem. The trouble is that a handful of those people let the disagreement turn into an excuse to act like complete jerks. Sometimes, they are outright vicious.
Overall, I think that the rude, condescending types make up a small proportion of the recovery community, both online and in-person. However, they are a very loud and vocal group, which makes them all too noticeable.
What can be done about rude people in recovery? I don’t think it should be dismissed as a trivial problem. When we first get sober, we are often very fragile and looking for any excuse to go back to drinking. Some jerk unloading on us might send us straight to a relapse.
The first solution is to drown those people out. If you see someone speaking negatively, speak up and offer positive support instead. Show the newly sober that the recovery community is overwhelmingly supportive.
It’s also worth asking ourselves why some recovering addicts act so rude in the first place. My gut reaction is typically to get angry right back at them, but many of them are actually deserving of a bit of our pity.
Most of us in recovery have had plenty of things go wrong in our life. There are more than enough excuses to be bitter. It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand that when these jerks are shouting at other people, the real issues are going on within themselves.
So, perhaps the most important way that we can react is to use the sober jerks as a mirror and to ask ourselves whether we ever behave the same way.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but for me, the answer is yes. I don’t think I’ve ever snapped at someone else in a recovery space, but I have had anger management problems in other areas of my life, which were exacerbated after I quit drinking. I’ve been a rude condescending jerk to other people at least as often as I’ve been on the receiving end.
It might not have much of an impact to read that confession, but when I first arrived at the realization a few years ago, it certainly had an enormous impact on my behavior. It’s easy to judge others, but far harder to be honest about our worst traits.
These days, I work hard not to be a sober jerk. I’m still not perfect, but I’ve made huge progress. I hope the other sober jerks out there can do the same.
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