My Best Friend Relapsed and I Couldn’t Fix Her

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

I fell platonically in love with Holly at her first ever AA meeting.

I had about six months sober and she had one day. She had a full sleeve of tattoos and tousled hair, and looked shell-shocked and bewildered. That feeling was still fresh to me.

In the meeting, she raised her hand to share, and said she had been isolated in her apartment, drinking alone. She had wanted to be an actress, she said, but had become more like a character in a Lifetime movie. Her story was heartbreaking and funny. She had this matter-of-fact, self-deprecating confidence that I admired.

She said the meeting was “not actually that bad” but she hated the part at the end where everyone holds hands and says the Serenity Prayer.

After the meeting, we went out for coffee and she shared her fears about sobriety and her misgivings about AA. She said the meeting was “not actually that bad” but she hated the part at the end where everyone holds hands and says the Serenity Prayer.

I could understand. I tried to offer gentle encouragement without seeming coercive. “Maybe just keep going to meetings and see what happens,” I said, trying not to seem like I was pushing her. “You don’t have to sign a contract.”

I knew immediately that I wanted Holly to be my best friend and sober “running buddy.” I really wanted her to stay, for her. But also, selfishly, for me.

I made it clear how much AA had helped me, despite its imperfections, telling her, earnestly: “I am so much happier today.”

“Happiness! What’s that like?” she asked, half-joking. “I guess it’s worth a shot.”

We went to a meeting together the next day. And then almost every day after that. We would always save each other a seat, and shoot furtive, amused glances at each other when other peoples’ shares went past the allotted three minutes or strayed into “TMI.” Afterwards, we would get coffee and talk about cute guys in AA, our drinking pasts, our uncertain futures.

We would always save each other a seat, and shoot furtive, amused glances at each other when other peoples’ shares went past the allotted three minutes or strayed into “TMI.”

Our friendship transformed sobriety for me. I had been awkward and uncomfortable around other people in my first few months, without booze to dissolve my inhibitions. But now that I had a friend always at my side, I felt cooler and more confident. I started to make more friends and go to “fellowship” at the diner; I stopped running home right after meetings to watch Netflix.

Holly got a year sober and I threw her a dinner party with some mutual friends. We called each other at obscene hours.

We took a road trip together to Vermont and went to a meeting with a bunch of older white men with raspy voices who had long-term sobriety and talked about God, like in the movies.

We had fun together. But under all that humor and self-confidence, Holly wasn’t any happier than when I’d met her on her.

I, too, had my rough days, but they were getting fewer and further between. Sobriety and AA was working for me.

She broke up with her sponsor, but didn’t look for a new one. She stopped working the steps at Step Four—which requires an in-depth inventory of our pasts.

Sometimes Holly would disappear and I wouldn’t hear from her for a week. She would say later she was too depressed to get out of bed. She started complaining about people in meetings, calling them “a bunch of psychos.” When she shared in meetings, it was to complain about how she hated being in meetings. She broke up with her sponsor, but didn’t look for a new one. She stopped working the steps at Step Four—which requires an in-depth inventory of our pasts. I wondered if there were parts of her past that she didn’t want to revisit.

After a year sober, she would talk with undisguised bitterness about how her life hadn’t “transformed” like other people in AA said theirs had. She was still working in a service job she hated, and her few attempts at dating had proved unsuccessful. She would talk about how she missed drinking, and those few hours of relief from her dark thoughts.

I tried with all my energy to convince her that things would get better for her, too, that it takes time. But she didn’t believe me—and I’m not sure I really believed myself. There seemed to be nothing I could do.

She eventually stopped going to meetings, and then stopped returning my calls and texts.

I found out from a mutual friend that she started drinking again. It was in July, just around when we first met. She would’ve had two years sober. I felt spurned and angry at first, but that soon faded to sadness. I missed her.

Meetings without Holly lost their luster for a while. I eventually found new friends, people who enjoyed going to meetings, who really wanted to be sober. But no one was as much fun as Holly.

In the past year, I’ve only seen her one time, smoking a cigarette outside a bar in my neighborhood with a tall man in a leather jacket. I watched them from a distance, trying to figure out if she was okay, if she looked happy.

But I knew there was nothing I could do or say to fix her. So I just kept walking.
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