Holding hands against a pale green backdrop. True friendship in sobriety

Gifts of Sobriety: True Friendship

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Rebecca Rush is sharing her reflection on being two years sober, the pandemic, and what it means to be and to have true friends.

When I got a year sober after a decade of failed attempts, I looked around the room full of happy sober people from a podium in a large West Hollywood 12 step meeting. It was 12/29/2019. I shared for a minute and sat back down. As the buzz from being celebrated – and the buzz from achieving a milestone that had been just out of reach for over a decade, wore off, I started to wonder.

I had been sober a WHOLE YEAR. How was I not famous yet? I hadn’t sold my pilot or my book. How was this the life beyond my wildest dreams that I had been promised?

A little over two months later the world came to a stop and I was able to see what I did have. Friends. Real friends. More than that, I was a friend. What good would career accolades be anyway, without anyone to share it with?

For a long time, I knew I was supposed to connect with other sober people, other people in the program, and I did that, but always from a place of, this is a sober person I am supposed to spend time with or reach out to. Over that first year of sobriety as I worked to repair the ways I related to myself and the world around me, I built real friendships. People that I became so close to that I forgot that they were even in the program until one of us needed to talk about related things.

True intimacy eluded me all my life. I had a lot of maladaptive strategies when I was drinking and using in regards to others. I would con an entire group (that’s what it felt like because I hated myself) into being my friend, blow it up, get kicked out, and start over.

I made intense instant “best” friends with no boundaries that never ended well. I chose the wrong people, and I was the wrong people. I had unrealistic expectations, expecting others to have my back and my best interests at heart when I couldn’t even do that for myself and had no idea what my best interests even were.

I did a lot of triangulating – gossiping about you to your friend you had introduced me to was the only way I really knew how to bond other than over substances. If someone had drugs, well, then they were my friend. Until they ran out. I thought doing drugs and alcohol made people cool.

I chased people. Nothing made me want to be friends with someone more than them having zero interest in me. I could relate! I had zero interest in me. If someone seemed to like me, I found that suspicious. I didn’t like me, so if you did there must be something wrong with you or maybe you just didn’t know me well enough.

I didn’t respect boundaries. If you didn’t call or text me back, I called and texted more. I just kept trying, not understanding that I was pushing you further and further away. Because I didn’t care about you. I only cared about validating my needs at the moment. I had a lot of bad weather friends, people that were there only to hear about the drama as I lurched from crisis to crisis. I didn’t ask questions or listen. I was too lost in my own pain.

The friendships I was able to hold onto for more than a season suffered frequent blowups – I called the cops on one friend while we were living together when she smashed a peanut butter sandwich in my face after I said something terrible as she was walking away. The cops recognized me when they arrived – I thought from my career as a stand up comic, but it was actually because I had just gotten a DUI the week before.

I made up with that friend after a period. I made up with lots of friends after a period of not talking. I never wanted anything badly enough to be willing to apologize or appear to change my behavior until I had lost it. The moment we seemed to be back on solid friendship ground, I came to stay with her for a weekend, drinking her booze, holding court in the backyard, taking acid with her neighbor, having sex with her neighbor that SHE had a crush on,  being late to our tattoo appt, which I wore her shoes to without asking, and then, when she went out of town for the weekend and didn’t trust me to stay in her place without her, I went to return the shoes and helped myself to her shower, because her neighbor that I was now staying with had no clean towels and that was somehow on her. I was going through something. Why didn’t she understand?

“I’m sorry,” she texted me when she returned and found my dirty bandaid in her shower, “This is goodbye.”  I was angry AT HER because I thought her boundaries were TOO STRICT and unrealistic. This year I had the opportunity to make amends to this person. I am so grateful that they were willing to meet with me. Recovery has taught me that the only thing I can change is my own behavior. Therefore, that’s the thing to focus on.

I was so used to being a bad friend that when people started telling me what a good friend I was in sobriety, I thought they had gotten together behind my back to play a trick on me. “It’s so weird,” I thought. “They don’t even know each other.”

“You’re a really good person now and you’re gonna have to learn to deal with it,” said another friend. The self-concept, for me, lags behind the change and action. I was one way for so long. Even as I change, it’s hard to think of myself as this somewhat evolved individual. But it does come. It’s here now, or else I wouldn’t be able to write about it.

First I had to learn to become my own best friend. To have my own back, to stop judging and being so hard on myself. And then I became truly curious about others. As my life calmed down, as the storms became manageable, I was able to connect to my own heart, and then to the hearts of others. The less I desperately needed people, the more people came into my life that were less desperate. As I built my own boundaries, I learned to accept others. The friends that had stood by me the whole way – those relationships grew deeper and more reciprocal. I no longer kept track of favors because I learned to give what I could freely, without expectation, which meant I didn’t go as far out of my way for people, but I didn’t resent them for it either because I expected nothing in return except the joy of giving.

I have found my tribe, and I keep finding more of them, and my friendships and relationships continue to deepen and grow and I continue to be more interested in others than I ever have been before. I also am perfectly happy being completely alone. I have choices today and so much love.

And that? Is beyond my wildest dreams.

Rebecca Rush is an LA based, NY bred comedian and writer. She hosts a podcast called Comic’s Book Club and a monthly themed show called Vulnerability at El Cid Sunset the first Tuesday of the month at 8 pm. She has been featured on Viceland and Funny or Die. Notable podcast appearances include YKWD, Race Wars, The Dork Forest, PepTalks, and Cumia. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications including Fodor’s Travel, Miami New Times, The Dyrt, and The Fix, The Temper, and Workit Health. She is currently finishing a memoir in essays. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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