For 15 years as a psychotherapist, I was paid handsomely for providing observations about my patients’ behavior, thinking, reasoning, communication and relational styles. Subsequently, I helped them to successfully navigate each toward a more adaptable, functional way of living. Because they were patients, I gently operated under assumption that their willingness to follow my lead was implicit. After all, they sought me, not vice versa. When they were less willing, therapy included a brief detour into deliberate discussions which helped them to ask me for what I was hired to provide. Success usually followed and at the end of treatment, they were empowered, believing they, for the most part, were their own guide out of the dark and into the light. That exact outcome made my work a joy.

Since those days, encountering acquaintances, friends and people I loved, I knew I could not be their therapists and, indeed, was not. I merely sifted my clinical impressions of each through an undetectable, internal mental health sieve and kept and continued only with those who had best friendship potential. Neither they nor my process was ever perfect, but with the exception of friends acquired during my drug days (which are 11 years in the past on Sunday) the method has saved me much heartache and failed efforts trying to fix anyone who hasn’t asked for it. It was fair to me and it was fair to them. It seemed to work.

My present struggle is with the few exceptions–the ones who slipped through and continue in my life–to whom I cannot and will not offer unsolicited yet well-meaning suggestions and opinions but who yet have maintained some presence nonetheless. My social circle today is the smallest it has ever been for this extrovert and the prospect of discontinuing even one relationship I’ve allowed in would represent a significant percentage loss from the whole of them. But as I get older, being accepted is less important so I keep a safe distance. The quantity of people in my life is far less important than the quality of the people I allow to remain.

Still, it’s the hardest thing, to say indirect goodbyes through my absence and lack of perseverance in a relationship I might have once counted as a keeper. However, it’s often the change most necessary for our survival that is the most difficult to effect. Still, abandonment of the least healthy of these makes one just that much closer to loneliness.

I’ve been to therapy myself and in doing so, discovered not only how my addiction was killing me but also how it had utterly destroyed relationships I once treasured. Sobriety. Don’t leave home without it.