Why Can an Addict Help an Addict Recover Best?

Why do you think that it takes an addict to help an addict?

Or do you?

Can a parent help a son who struggles with pornography addiction?

Can an ecclesiastical leader share with the addict a “plan of attack” that will get them clean and sober?

What about the spouse of an addict – can they monitor screen time, do ongoing check-ins, or micro-manage the addict towards freedom from addiction?

In my experience, all of the options above can be helpful at some level and each of these people mean well; but I sincerely believe what it says in the Big Book of AA on page xvi:

“…only an alcoholic could help an alcoholic…in order to save himself [an alcoholic] must carry his message to another alcoholic.”

Why is this the case?

What’s the special ingredient that an addict can share with another and help each of them see more clearly than they may have ever seen before?

I don’t know the answer…

But the story below was shared by a friend in recovery, Mark. I think it answers the question pretty clearly.

Addict Help an AddictAn Addict Fell In A Hole & Couldn’t Get Out

A businessman went by and the addict called out for help.. The businessman threw him some money and told him to buy himself a ladder.

But the addict could not buy a ladder in the hole he was in.

A doctor walked by.

The addict said “Help! I can’t get out!” The doctor gave him some drugs and said, “Take this. It will relieve the pain.”

The addict said thanks, but when the pills ran out, he was still in the hole.

A well-known psychiatrist rode by and heard the addict’s cries for help. He stopped and asked, “How did you get here? Were you born there? Did your parents put you there? Tell me about yourself, it will alleviate your sense of loneliness.”

So the addict talked with him for an hour, then the psychiatrist had to leave, but he said he’d come back next week.

The addict thanked him, but he was still in the hole.

A priest came by. The addict called for help. The Priest gave him a Bible and said, “I’ll say a prayer for you.” He got down on his knees and prayed for the addict, then he left.

The addict was very grateful, he read the Bible, but he was still stuck in the hole.

A recovering addict happened to be passing by. The addict cried out, “Hey, help me. I’m stuck in this hole!”

Right away the recovering addict jumped down in the hole with him.

The addict said, “What are you doing? Now we’re both stuck here!!”

But the recovering addict said, “Calm Down. It’s okay. I’ve been here before.

I know how to get out.”

–Author Unknown

What are your thoughts?

How does this story apply to your sobriety and recovery?

Looking forward to conversation! Thanks for sharing the story Mark.

23 thoughts on “Why Can an Addict Help an Addict Recover Best?”

  1. It’s been true for me. It was a Recovering Addict who was my sponsor, it was a recovering addict who taught me about the text groups, it was an addict who listen to me cry during entire meetings when I first started SA. It was a group of addicts that listen and noded with concern because they understood and understand white knuckles and triggers and second looks and the meaning of “Step work” and struggle and finally God’s will! God is with us! He knows me. I’m an addict.

    1. Amen Mark! It’s been the same for me. My sponsor(s) have all been working their own recovery – which has helped me see how important that is, the books I study and work my steps with are written by recovering addicts. All the other resources have been helpful as well, but I believe that only an addict can truly help an addict because they know exactly what I’m going through. Thanks for your insights!

  2. Other addicts have been instrumental and essential to my recovery. My ecclesiastical leaders and my spouse were not enough. They have been great support, but work in the trenches is best done with someone who has been there and as Mark shared knows the way out. Another addict can relate to what I’m experiencing and can give me the hope and path that I so desperately need. But just as importantly another addict can call me out on continuous self destructive behavior that will lead me back down into the pit or keep me there. Thank you to all those addicts out there who have been so instrumental in showing me the way out of the pit.

    1. Thanks Judd. I can remember specifically times where my sponsor has called me out on things I would have never been able to see otherwise. I’m so grateful for that today.

  3. I feel equipped to be able to respond with sound reason because I too am an addict. I have 34 years of failed experiences, and now, only recently one year of sobriety from my addiction. One of the major ingredients to my my sobriety was obtaining a sponsor, someone who has been where I’ve been. I love this story as it has deep truth. I have had many well intended loved ones desire to help me; Parents, Spiritual Leaders, Therapists, Spouse, and others. They have had compassion and a desire to help, but could not. They all played a part and help was extended to which I am grateful, but I continued to fall short to what real recovery would require. In fact, in ways, some perhaps, the well intended attempts of others even hurt my recovery. It wasn’t until I obtained a sponsor who knew how to help me work the steps in my life that I was able to truly heal. He had truly been in my hole. I would also add that my Savior, Jesus Christ has a deep understanding and knew how to help me. He has experienced my challenges. He has experienced my trials, pains, and infirmities, and he has suffered for me so that he could know how to succor me. I am grateful for my Savior. The Atonement is real to me. And I am grateful for other addicts…the brotherhood of brave and honest men who have gone the way before me. My sobriety and recivery efforts would continue to be futile without the help of another addict. Thank you.

    1. Hey Brandon, me too (the failed years of experience to “prove” that without the help of other addicts, I can’t do this).

      What I’m learning today is that recovery work for me is never over, I’ve never arrived at a place where I don’t need another addict (or other addicts) to help me see things I couldn’t see and feel things I’ve been numb to in the past.

      I feel like sobriety and recovery come in phases: I work with others and start to see some successful sobriety. As I continue working, I slowly begin to feel. And little by little more and more of my feelings begin to be uncovered from all the stuffing I’ve done for so long.

      I agree as well that Jesus Christ has been an integral part in this process. It’s sometimes hard to comprehend, but I look forward to the additional understanding I will get as I continue to take things one day at a time.

      Thanks so much for you comment!

  4. For me, knowledge of addiction or even of recovery from addiction has been of limited usefulness. What has been of the most help is getting out of my shell by connecting with others, primarily my wife, bishop, therapist, and other addicts. I have one year of sobriety now largely due to daily contacts with other group members. Being willing to be humble and honest with them has made the difference. Also, hearing from them how they have struggled with similar things has brought acceptance and reduced shame. Lastly, their suggestions for how to improve have been life-changing.

    1. Thanks Sam. Great points. This reminds me of a concept I heard recently – the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is to know a lot about something; Wisdom is to have experience with something.

      I can know a lot about sobriety and recovery, but it can be limited usefulness. Connecting with others gives me the real experience that I need to start breaking down the walls I’ve built around my addict self.

      Thanks for your comments!

  5. It’s been my experience that this is true for me as well, however, I want to suggest that for me it has come down to the fact getting out of the hole means coming to know God and choosing to have a relationship with Him, which in turn has helped me have better relationships with others, especially my wife. I don’t necessarily think it is has been entirely because my sponsor and others in recovery “knew” what to do, but because they knew where to turn to COME TO KNOW. Even as addicts we don’t all experience things the same, but its the fact that I learn to turn to God when I DON’T know everything, that has helped me learn patience and which has allowed for a change of heart.

    1. I really like what you’ve shared David. I agree that getting out of the hole is coming to know the God of my understanding as well. What’s been hard for me to see for so long is that I’ve put so many layers of numbing over myself for so long in my addiction that, without the help of a human being who knows what I’m going through, I may never be able to see what I want to see or feel what I want to feel.

      Thanks to my sponsor(s), I’ve been able to start rebuilding the relationship with God in a way that I may have never been able to do on my own due to the state I was in (or the whole I’d dug myself in).

      I agree, as well, that as I’m connected with God, I’m able to connect more deeply with others too: my wife, my children, my fellow workers, and other people in general. I’m no longer comparing myself to others (at least not as much).

      I also agree that my sponsor doesn’t save me, but he knows where to turn to COME TO KNOW. My sponsor has helped me learn how to turn my life and my will to God.

      Thanks so much for your feedback and experience!

  6. This is a great thought and discovered truth in my life. Like many others before me, it wasn’t until I began working closely with other addicts that I started to find recovery. Others who I know are also imperfect in their recovery, but who’ve walked where I’ve walked. For me there is no substitute. There are probably many tools in an individuals recovery, but in my opinion, working with a sponsor who’s also a recovering addict and working the steps with his own sponsor isn’t an optional thing. If I’m unwilling to work my recovery with the help of others, it’s a good indicator to me that I’m still trying to do it my own way and making myself the exception.

    1. Amen! There is no substitute. I remember when my wife was talking to a woman at her meeting who’s husband has a lot of time in sobriety and recovery. They were discussing where my wife and I were in the process. At the time, I didn’t have a sponsor: I’d done 90 Day ARP and thought I had “arrived” and didn’t really need one anymore. How wrong I was…

      The woman told my wife straight up – “If your husband doesn’t have a sponsor, no matter how much sobriety he has, he’s not in ‘recovery’ at all…”

      When I first heard this I was a bit taken back, but I can now see that without a sponsor, humility is not there at all. I am basically saying that I can do this on my own and don’t need the help and guidance of anyone else. WRONG!

      Humble. Honest. Accountable. These are three key components of real recovery and, without a sponsor, I don’t feel they can really exist at all.

      Thanks for your comment Sean!

  7. When I started, this time, my third time trying recovery, my sponsor, my second sponsor, asked me to call him every day for 30 days and make a reach out every day for 30 days. The idea terrified me. It was the best thing that has happened to me. Having a connection with others that will listen, bounce off ideas and just be there that have been there or are there is critical in my and each others recovery.

    1. Thanks for the comment. This is so true for me too – getting out of my comfort zone, doing things that feel scary, and trusting in my sponsor – that he knows what will help and is living it himself. I appreciate your experience and feel it’s such a great reminder.

  8. It’s a proven principle in almost everything – we learn best from those who are in it too, because they know how to both empathize with those who are just beginning their journey through the hell of withdrawals and shine a light on the pitfalls and promises of the path. The best instructors for would-be surgeons are not seasoned professionals with thousands of hours in surgery, but those surgeons who are just out of med school and getting into their practice full time.

    1. This is so true. I remember my first job out of college was a sales job selling copiers and printers. I was the only “newbie,” all the other guys were seasoned and when they talked to me it really just made me feel inadequate and so far behind.

      I then got a different sales job with a big team of guys. There were veterans but I was encouraged to monitor the guys that were good but that were still somewhat new. As I ask questions, they remembered having those same questions and knew how to direct me along the path of progress.

      And so it is with recovery too. I’m seeing that, in recovery, there really is no such thing as a veteran, especially if one is practicing one day at a time. If I think I’ve arrived and have all the answers, I need to really review Step 1, 2, 3 and 6 and 7 to remind myself that my life is unmanageable, I need help, and that I have character defects that I need to surrender, a primary one in this case being EGO. 🙂

      Thanks for the great analogy J.R.

  9. I will forever be grateful to my first sponsor, who after listening to me minimize after my First Step Inventory told me ” there are places in the world where people are put to death for participating in the adulterous behavior you have just shared.” He then said to me “never minimize!”

    Only a man who had participated in similar behaviors, had experienced the pain and selfish destruction because of his own sexual addiction; then honestly strived to be in recovery, could tell me that without me taking offense. I recognized he knew because he had been there. He knew because he had learned as I must learn that there can be no minimizing…a humble, honest, 100% commitment would be required from me to be successful in working to be in recovery. Only he could tell me I was a sex addict without me going into deep shame. He knew living in recovery was possible…something I desperately wanted to believe then live.

    I love this man. I love him for his honesty, courage and willingness to work his own recovery and then help me; a man who needed help to live again.

    For his example, for his tough love I will forever be grateful to my first sponsor, G. P.. He had been through hell as I had been through hell. He had worked to be in recovery as I must work to be in recovery. He had worked the Steps…he was in recovery. He helped me know I must work the steps as well to truly be in recovery.

    I was amazed that he had a great outlook on life in recovery, he did not regret the past. I felt his love and compassion for me in my trials. What a great example I saw in him. I needed to feel his hope for recovery.

    Only a person who has experienced the dark side, lived the pain, the betrayal, and then committed himself to the work of recovery, then most importantly lived it, could share experience strength and hope in what it was like then… and what it is like now.

    In the White Book p.119 we read ” As we glimpse the true nature of our spiritual and moral bankruptcy, we can only wonder what kind of God this is who can not only stand to see and know it all, but who patiently and mercifully works in us and with us toward turning these dreadful liabilities into song. God is surely for the sexaholic.”

    God needs sponsors to help Him with His work…I am grateful for the men who are God’s angels in mortality to help me turn to God the great Healer and discover that life is wonderful in recovery.

    May God bless every sponsor for they are truly are angels in the flesh.

    With all of that said, we can see why a spouse, church leader, family member or friend cannot fill the role of being a sponsor in the work of recovery. The role of a sponsor can only be filled by another sex addict who believes in the recovery process working the steps because he has and is working the steps. He is experiencing what it is like to be in recovery. May we all recognize the great opportunity it is to be a good sponsor. We are taught that the giver receives the greatest blessing.

    1. Thanks for your comment Steven.

      I love what you said about how “Only a man who had participated in similar behaviors, had experienced the pain and selfish destruction because of his own sexual addiction; then honestly strived to be in recovery, could tell me that without me taking offense.”

      This is so true for me too. For probably a year or more, when I was in the worst parts of my addiction, my wife continued to try to help me, ask me what was wrong, and fix herself so I wouldn’t always be so angry. She had no idea that I was caught up in pornography again.

      But, as the self-centered addict that I was, I would only get more mad and push it back to her – “What’s wrong with YOU?” I’d say. Even writing this out makes me sick to think about…

      Until I was able to let go of at least a portion of my pride and begin working with a sponsor and other addicts who shared my experiences, I wasn’t able to make much if any progress at all.

      I’m grateful for sponsors who have helped me along the path and who continue to help me.

      I also believe that being a sponsor is such a blessing: it’s always easier to see the problems in others than in myself. What I’m learning about this is that I can then self-assess – ask myself, “When have I been where there are, or am I there right now as well?” Then I can share my experiences, identify with what they are sharing, and hopefully be able to be humble, honest and accountable and correct where I’m off.

      Thanks again for the comment!

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