I have met so many women, with so much potential and so much talent, who struggle with addiction in a way most people in society will never understand. When these women are healthy, they are beautiful and charming and so incredibly intelligent. When they are in the grip of their addiction, they are disheveled, manipulative and some of the most dishonest women I have ever come in contact with. Most people would walk away from women like this, but not me. Instead, I pray every day that women like this will walk into the rooms, fill the empty seats we have been saving for them and find the courage to ask for help; the courage to change.
When I look into the eyes of a woman who has lost herself to her addiction, I see sadness, pain and fear. When she is using, there is this animalistic will to survive. Her life revolves around getting the drugs, using the drugs and finding ways to get more of the drugs. Her brain has been conditioned to believe she will die without them, so she will do absolutely anything to obtain them. When she finally finds recovery, if she is lucky enough to make it there, she is exhausted, beaten and broken down. She is unrecognizable. That will to survive seems to have vanished.
The beautiful thing about people in recovery is this – we have an uncanny ability to separate the addict from the person; the illness from the host. We can look into a persons eyes and find them, the REAL them, hiding behind the lies. We see their desire to be better, even when their actions tell us otherwise. We see the person, NOT the addict.
When I look into their eyes, I see myself…and I see hope.
What I’ve learned through my relationships with other recovering people, is that I cannot save an addict, they have to learn to save themselves. I cannot make anyone stop using drugs or alcohol, no matter how much it breaks my heart to see them suffer. As I’ve stayed clean, and my life has continued to be transformed, I recognize more and more that I have absolutely no control, whatsoever, over any matter concerning another persons drug use and/or recovery. And although I often find myself wanting to carry the addict across that bridge to freedom, I can only carry the message.
I’ve learned to detach with love when it is necessary. Not because I don’t care about them or because I even want to, but because I care about myself and my recovery more. I have to. At the end of the day, I need to take care of myself so that I can be there for those who spent years taking care of me.
How can I even begin to help another addict, if I haven’t learned to help myself first?
I’ve learned that with recovery comes responsibility. Today, I am employable. I am a wife and mother. I own a house. I am a productive member of society. Recovery has given me my life back. The moment I start putting these things before my recovery, is the moment I start to revert back to my old behaviors. I must always remain grateful.
When I finally chose recovery, I felt so alive. It had been years since I had felt any sort of joy and suddenly my life was full. I honestly thought I was going to change the world and bring every suffering addict along with me.
I was still in the mindset that I was the center of the universe and that my life actually mattered that much in the grand scheme of things. It took me a long time to realize that I am not that important. I am simply one person, among billions. I am, however, that important to my family and friends, to my community even, and that means that I can still make a difference in the lives of others.
Just because I have found long term recovery, does not mean I am in the business of saving lives. I wish I had that power. The only life I have the ability to save is my own. That starts by reminding myself every morning, before my feet even hit the ground, to choose recovery, to make healthy choices and to let go when necessary.
So why do I continue to share my story if there is no guarantee that I am helping anyone? Because, it keeps me honest, humble and healthy. I just want to touch one life…that’s all, and in the end if the only life I touch is my own, I will be ok with that.
It reminds of a story I read once, called The Starfish Story by Loren Eiseley. The story takes place on a beautiful beach right before sunrise and there are thousands of starfish that have washed up on shore. There are miles and miles of starfish, as far as the eye can see. An older gentleman is taking a walk along the water and sees a young man throwing starfish back into the ocean; one by one. The gentleman asks him why he is doing this? He tells the young man there are far too many starfish, and the sun is coming up soon. He tells him he is wasting his time, that there is no way he can possibly make a difference. The young man bends down to pick up another starfish, throws it back into the ocean, looks at the gentleman and says, “It made a difference to that one…”
I choose to recover out loud because I firmly believe that no addict should ever have to suffer in silence, that no addict should ever have to die from this disease and that there is nothing that compares to the magic that happens when one addict helps another addict find a new way of life.
Today, I understand that I can only carry the message, NOT the addict.
I spent a lot of time in early recovery afraid. I was afraid of living my life. I was afraid of relapse. I was afraid to leave my house, because I couldn’t predict my next movement. Today, when I wake up, I am unafraid, I feel peace. It’s what was promised to me in the beginning; freedom from active addiction! Freedom to choose my own path; I just have to have the desire and I have to stay vigilant. I owe a great debt of gratitude to the people who showed me the way through their own actions; the people who never gave up on me.
It may sound corny, but I was once one of those starfish, stranded on the beach at sunrise, until someone came along, picked me up and threw me back into the ocean…and I survived.