Audio: Empathy for Addiction

This is Sober Podcast Episode #184 for my weekly sober podcast series.

TrixeeK sent me an audio question … what do you say to friends who want to quit drinking but don’t listen to your advice? How do you deal with frustration when people relapse? What do you do when you’re tempted to say “try harder”?

Recorded with a live audience, this longer podcast (28 mins) talks about empathy, how to be helpful, and the tricky question of boundaries.

Below i’ve posted a 6 minute extract from this longer audio, and this clip starts at the very beginning of the podcast.

You can listen to this extract now 🙂 And leave a comment  … have you had an experience like TrixeeK explains in her audio question? what would you do differently now that you know what being sober is like?


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I want to put this online, to hold myself accountable. I want to document the noise in my head. I'm tired of thinking about drinking. date of last drink: june 30, 2012

  • My husband and I were on vacation last week, and I returned home really pondering whether to quit alcohol altogether. Nothing terrible happened. I just find that the older I get, it is harder and harder to moderate my use. And, in general, my world seems to be getting smaller while alcohol is getting bigger. I want it to stop but I’m also afraid of letting go of something I’ve loved. “Loved.” Yikes. It’s only been 3 days, but I haven’t had anything to drink. I have visited a few blogs, and there is so much encouragement and support that I feel like I might really do this! Please keep me in your thoughts – soldier on, soldiers!

  • this spoke to me because my father was an alcoholic and it eventually killed him. My mother tried, but after 30 years the marriage broke up. My sister was completely heroic in trying to help him. I was less so, yet I was of course involved – he was my father. It was illogical and so very sad, the way he ended. I see his example in front of me and am conscious of the importance of making careful choices for myself and of the crazy pull of alcohol. I want life to be safe and logical, but it is not always either. I appreciated this audio.

  • What works for me, may not work for others. I need to remember all my stops and starts and the bumpy road I chose to get myself to where I am today. When I would start drinking again, I didn’t want to have problems again, I just needed to prove to myself that moderation was still a suboptimal idea. Perhaps a similar thing is happening for others asking for advice. It is brave just to ask for advice, even if it goes unheeded. I get frustrated by those in my life who I think overdrink and don’t seem to acknowledge it. I forget how often I questioned my own overdrinking internally, without the shame of verbalizing it to someone else. I can neither jump out of my own lifeboat, nor taunt those clinging to a sinking ship who won’t climb aboard the viable vessel. Stay the course and keep offering support, as was done for me.

  • It really helped me to be reminded that this can’t be addressed by logic. I’m just through my first week sober. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve been using sober tools and listening to the little audios you send out, and this one tonight. I really struggled last night, but dealt Wolfie a hard blow over the head with your book, Belle, and woke feeling so relieved I didn’t have to face the consequences of drinking. At eight days, I’m feeling clearer headed and more awake, but it is a struggle and I can’t afford to be complacent. Thank you for all your support to us.

  • Day 13 here. Sometimes it seems my sober toolkit changes day to day, so I completely get that people’s kits will be wildly diverse. So far no one’s asked me for advice….which is okay. I’m not there yet and really I’m the only overdrinker in my group; my family members quit the hard way – liver damage.

  • Sometimes, you want to help the ones you love so much that you could almost slap them in the face, you feel like yelling “you WILL feel better in the long run, so stop talking nonsense!”, sometimes you want to pat them on the shoulder and share their tears and tell them they just have to start today, start now, and everything will work out nice, you promise, sometimes they irritate you so much because they’re always making up excuses to justify their drinking and now you’re able to see through that, you know how Wolfie operates… Today, I’m on day 310 (holy cow…) and I get all sorts of reactions from my friends. Most of them don’t care because they simply don’t know what it’s like to have a wolf in your brain and sometimes, some say I’m a saint or something, that I don’t stray anymore, that I’m all pure now (those are the ones that annoy me the most – they do not know me that much btw, I’m a very wild sober person!). Others are a bit disappointed (can you believe that!) because they are boozers and can’t imagine having fun without drinking but I don’t let them focus on it – we do lots of other things together and we have a blast. Some are envious, they wanna know what happened, how I made it. What can I do for them? I can be there for them, I can listen to them, I can tell them about my own “journey”, I can tell them about Belle, about my sober toolkit, about the books I read… I can only be there for them if they want me to, if they’re ready to hear me. I try not to patronize people but there are so many things to deconstruct, so many walls to tear down… I can’t force them to change, but I can tell them it’s possible, and that it’s much, much, much better out there, in the sober world. And that’s what I do, whenever I get the chance.

  • I am reminded of your good advice, try more tools, try different, rather than try harder. On various fronts of my life I use that wisdom. It helped me through a couple tough spots just yesterday. That is what I would tell a friend, try different tools, get more support, you can do it but not just by sheer force of will.

  • I understand how TrixeeK feels but we have all been the relapser at least once and need to remember that and that it is a part of getting sober. For me being 98 days sober myself I let people know they are not alone, to never give up on themselves and to keep quitting until they quit and that one day it will click for them.

  • When the student is ready, the teacher appears. There is so much support both here on Belle’s site and in our communities etc. but really it can only happen for someone when they are truly ready. That being said, I believe the best we can offer is to be a good example and be willing to share our stories and what has worked for us. It’s like you say Belle in your intro on your site, that you started blogging to keep you accountable but look how that has morphed. You set the example and then provide guidance for us as we are ready all the while continuing on your personal path, feeling compassion for others on their journeys along with support and a sober tool kit. But having a beautiful tool shed with shiny tools won’t produce a bountiful garden unless the gardener starts to weed, plant and nurture the growth. Thank you for being that tool shed!!

  • ‘There are two friends in my life I met in outpatient treatment. I just passed 900 days sober and they have relapsed multiple times. Now they are pulling away from me because they want to drink but don’t want to do it in front of me. This makes me incredibly sad. It’s hard to meet new friends at my age, so I’m not only sad about losing my friends, but what they are choosing to do with their lives.
    There are others in my life that relapse, but you can’t really help someone that isn’t interested in being helped.
    I guess all I can do is continue to drive my little sober car, setting a good example, and hope someday they can all do the same.’

  • Sadly, none of my friends admit to having the same problem with alcohol that I do. Even though I know a few do. After a few stops and starts since the beginning of the year I’ve finally convinced my mom, especially, that I am ‘not like her’. There is no off switch. This stop of mine feels very very different since I’ve had this conversation. I think the most important thing is to find Sober support and to be that support when someone asks for it. We’ve all had stops and starts. We can show others the resources that have helped us. The most useful thing for me was seeing one of your blog posts where everyone starting listing their idea of treats. Wow!! Amazing to see what motivates others and what might work for me. Thanks for all you do.

  • Hi Belle, I’m on Day 327 and feeling very grateful for you and other sober tools I’ve found that have helped me get this far. I have a beautiful sister who continues to struggle and who asks me for help – I try to support and encourage her as you recommend but it is never-the-less heartbreaking to witness how she’s harming herself. I will continue to do as you advise but also try to remember to answer the questions she puts to me instead of giving her too much of my own experience because as you say, our addictions and our journeys are all different. Thank you for all you do! xoxoxox

  • What struck me in this audio is when TrixeeK says that if only they could see – if she can do it then anyone can do it – and I really feel like that is a great way to cheerlead someone. However its so hard when the non-logical side of the brain (wolfie) is sooo very loud in the beginning. It feels like such a struggle between logical and non-logical brain.

  • I may have a different point of view than others but all my life my middle name has been ‘take care of and nurture others’ ie focus on everyone else’s problems instead of my own. Now that I have reached ‘maturity’ I am affording myself to be selfish after all these years. While I may have empathy for anyone in my circle having drinking or addiction issues, I have to separate myself for my own good and leave it at ‘it’s not my problem’ – I have and had so much of my own shit to deal with, at some point you have to let others figure it out for themselves. And not have remorse if they can’t fix themselves. I learned this somewhat over the years with my own sister. Dealt a bad hand with chronic issues like diabetes, and complications – but on the other hand despite years of encouragement, coaching, educating – she did not fight and do all the things she was supposed to do for self care. So ultimately she passed at an earlier age than she needed to. Did the fact she didn’t follow the rules end her life sooner? Maybe, maybe not. But wouldn’t it be easier to take if we knew she did all she could have to keep herself healthy. She didn’t – her choice- and it was as it was. Sad – miss her dearly.

  • Hi Belle, I’m day 20 and I’ve had enough stop and starts to realize how freeing and great being sober actually is. I haven’t had anyone ask me yet about not drinking but I guess I would feel empathy for anyone trying or curious. I have a friend who quit drinking and she is probably one of the most active and good in her own skin people I know. She never had a problem that I know of, just decided it’s not worth it. She has definitely been a light house for me and I have watched her and studied her for a few years now. I never asked her for advice or help. Just her being, was help. I guess if I was TrixeeK, I would just be…and give more specifics about what helped you if specifically asked. But they have to do their own work. You can only be a light.

  • I think the main thing is having your own sober toolkit. It will be filled with different things for everybody. We all have different ways of dealing with stuff. Different ways to quit doing self harm. We all need help, but we all need different help. I love Belle’s community. It works. We are all in this together.

  • This is very timely, my best friend constantly tells me that I didn’t need to stop drinking, that I’m being too hard on myself, and then interrogates me to identify ways in which my drinking was different from hers so she can repeatedly come to the conclusion that she doesn’t need to do anything about her drinking. I know this is her issue not mine, but it is really difficult to keep having this conversation and not to point out the obvious, which is that maybe her drinking is a problem for her. She has not invited me around to hers, or to go out with her once since I got sober three months ago, she just pops in to see me occasionally. I don’t know what to say to her, I don’t want to keep justifying my sobriety and I am not judgemental about her drinking, but I’m losing patience.

  • We have to realize that they are driving their own sober car. If they are asking for diectuons we can share our route with them. Ultimately, they will choose their route. So when we’ve told them to take a left and they do we can cheer them on and say Yes! But if they choose a different route we can really only wait until they are lost enough to ask for more directions. Hopefully it will be sooner than later.

  • For me when I relapsed it showed me what I did not want in my life anymore. When it happened to me I knew that I did not want to live my life drinking or thinking about it. It made me realize how much better I felt about myself and how much better I felt period. When I hear that voice telling me to drink I remember how bad I feel when I do drink. I remember how much I love the way I feel now. Thank you Belle for everything you have done❤

  • Hi belle, I’m on day 30. I’m also a bartender for a living. When I tell customers at work that I don’t drink I get shocked and dismayed looks on their faces. I actually get a lot of people who tell me they wished they could quit too (while they order another beer). It actually really tough to feel empathy when people do this. What I’ve started to do is talk about you actually. I’ve been telling anyone who listens about all the sober blogs I’ve been reading and the fun I’ve been havin in meetings. It’s my way of spreading the word. Maybe someone will listen .

    Love ,

    • i love this 🙂 it’s a great visual to imagine the bartender telling people who want to quit what’s working for them. well done.

  • I can relate to this very much as there are two gals in my life that have asked me for my ‘secret’ when it comes to sobriety…even though I too am ‘early days’. I never give advice but frame it as ‘this is what is working for me.’ It does get frustrating when one will say ‘but you have it easier because of ‘x’, or ‘well I don’t have time for ‘y’, or ‘well I have ‘x, y, of z condition and that’s why I can’t quit’. I take a deep breathe and realize that everyone has their own path on their own timeline and that these folks who are caught in the ‘why it’s harder for me’ loop are simply not ready yet. And I say a little prayer to the universe that they get ready soon, because I so very much want them to stop the needless suffering. And then I let it go, because this is not about me. My job is to stay sober and be the light house.

    • I love the way you word this reply. I am newly sober, after a couple of try’s. I have a daughter who is an addict (I still hesitate when those words leave my mouth bc I can’t blv it’s true) and I want to be a good example and I do not want to trigger her by seeing me w a glass of wine. It’s a lot of pressure and it has been a long, hard road. She is at a recovery facility currently. I very much understand about people having their own path. I just love the idea of saying a prayer that they “get ready soon” and that I can be the lighthouse.

  • Hi Belle. I really needed to hear that right now. I’m day 7. Im about to go out tonight to meet up with my girlfriends, they will be drinking and I will not. Hearing TrixeeK talk about how frustrating it is to watch people relapse I just kept thinking I don’t want that to be me. Wolfe was screaming at me to drink tonight but I have just silenced him. Thank you

    • to be fair, i didn’t socialize outside the home more than 2-3 times in the first 6 weeks or so. i just felt safer at home with my tea and my routines. take good care of you.