Our Word of the Week series continues here at South Orange County Detox as we highlight “influence” as our featured word. Influence is an interesting word as it doesn’t necessarily denote a positive facilitator of change, but merely any tool by which the agent has been modified for the good or bad, one way or another. We’re going to work backwards today in our attempt to unravel how to best integrate positive influences into our lives while keeping negative ones at bay. We also want to take this examination one step further in order to stay mindful of how the negative influences throughout our impacted us in order to avoid these pitfalls in the future. As most of us are aware of by now, our initial and most impactful influences, positive and negative, come from our primary caretakers, or in most cases, our parents. While it would be comforting to believe that the parents we love and adore were only the harbingers of positive change, which can also be true, the devil lies in the details in that they have also likely helped to lay the foundation of dysfunction and even trauma as well. I won’t go into the advantages of psycho-therapeutic work for brevity’s sake, but I do want to point out that while we are not at fault for our parents shortcomings vis a vis their parenting, we are responsible for how much care and energy we expend on the process of unpacking these emotionally-charged issues and dynamics so that we may live as liberated as we can be from the skeletons residing in our closets. Now that we’ve touched on the more difficult, time-consuming, and longitudinal-type work, let’s look at what how we can address issues of influence within the present. First and foremost, let’s stop running on the assumption that sobriety is the only litmus test that matters with respect to how we seek positive people as influences within the recovery culture. You wouldn’t evaluate a “Normie” who had overcome obesity as a generally “good person” simply by virtue of their weight loss so let’s not make the same mistake when it comes to addicts in recovery. Is it an incredible accomplishment? Yes; does it give an accurate depiction of the whole of the individual? Absolutely not. We need to be incorporating a holistic approach even when looking for new friends, sponsors, or sober friends in general. The old saying goes, “You’re can only be as successful as your least successful friend.” While this is probably overstated, the point remains that we are deeply influenced by our friend and peer groups and therefore we ought to be choosing people that will exemplify positivity, honesty, integrity, compassion, and loyalty. This all sounds pretty simple, and it certainly can be. One last tip I’d like to suggest while discussing influence is this: think back on someone who has influenced you in a negative way and try to get to the bottom of why you were attracted to that person. Did their confidence make you feel secure as it did with your father? Were they caring and compassionate as your mother was? Were they fiercely loyal as your big brother was growing up? What matters here isn’t how you reacted during this period where you allowed for negative influence to breach your consciousness, but rather to understand why you were attracted to this dynamic in the first place. Now that we have come back full circle, the realizations you have gathered may be a good place to start within the context of long-term work with a therapist, mentor, or sponsor. Finally, the least obvious yet potentially most impactful influence on any individual can be found in their relationship with a Higher Power. While necessary components of any influential system, humans can be fickle, compromising, and fallible, however, God always remains a constant source of love and connectedness within a world of ever-changing chaos and discord. Nikola Tesla stated this point beautifully when he said, “Every living being is an engine geared to the wheel work of the universe. Though seemingly affected only by its immediate surrounding, the sphere of external influence extends to infinite distance.” When we learn to embrace the divinity of the cosmos we can begin the work of sharing the sustenance of divine influence to those who are spiritually malnourished.