“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, U.S. philosopher, journalist and poet
Recovery from addiction teaches us many things. The most important message it brings home to those whose lives have been ruined by substance abuse is a simple one: you can get better. I never dreamed I would ever get to this point, to be in recovery from my alcoholism, and to dare to hope of something better. To actually feel “sick and tired” each day, every day, just felt like the life I had been handed. It wasn’t my fault (my belief then), though I felt those around me seemed to believe otherwise, and all I was left to do was be the alcoholic they knew I was.
No addict when using dares to believe in the possibility of recovery because of the sheer power of the chronic disease of addiction. For me, addiction itself was simply stronger than me. End of. And so I felt powerless in its grasp.
Accept that truth if you can. It may save your life.
How do I know this? Because I felt a simmering anger inside, all the time, that I couldn’t express in words. Like the desire to drink, it was with me constantly. When it surfaced, and I couldn’t care if I held it back, I hurt people. My family with words, strangers with my fists. Powerless.
One night, the anger came at the wrong time. I had no money so I went to my parents, begging them, like the good and polite little boy I thought I was. That didn’t last long. As soon as the cash was in my pocket, my verbal abuse started, over what I can’t even remember now. Probably, their pleading with me to sort myself out, as that seemed to be the only conversation they ever wanted to have with me.
I left their street, and headed straight for a bar. I’d have a drink on them, and try and laugh it off. But the anger was still there, no escape, not that night. Second drink in, I was looking around for the meanest, biggest and ugliest person I could annoy. I found him, got his attention, and blew him a kiss. When he asked me what I thought I was doing (and in a more colorful way than that), I told him he was that pig-ugly, probably no-one had ever done it before, man or woman. It got the reaction I wanted.
My anger had an outlet, even if it was a pretty one-sided affair in the end. Thrown out on the street (I couldn’t have made it there myself, the beating I took), I managed to crawl to a liquor store, and then to a secluded alley, to drink and lick my deserved wounds. That’s how I felt then. Angry, aggressive, and deserving of whatever punishment came my way.
The words of Mr. Emerson above resonate greatly with me now. Without a last-ditch intervention from certain members of my family that got me into rehab (after yet another beating as a result of my anger and alcohol-fuelled mental state), I would still be the mess I used to be, scared of everything yet, with the right chemicals inside of me, afraid of nothing and no-one. I had the bruises and the fractures to show for that defiance. Yes, that intervention saved my life.
I first read the above quote back in the rehab center that was treating me for a combination of drug and alcohol addiction, and the co-occurring mental disorder of severe depression. Yes, Ralph nailed it the day he wrote those words. He’s right - what’s in the past and what’s in our future is nothing, really, when compared to what is ultimately inside us.
The last 6 years of sobriety for me, achieved only with a great deal of professional, medical and family support, amongst others, is the clear proof to myself that, although I can’t defeat this disease, I can’t beat it, and I’ll never be cured (there is none), I can, however, live my life accepting it’s there, showing it the respect I need to, and staying clean.
Yes, recovery teaches a lot, for those lucky enough to get there. Left to my own devices, I would not have done so. What followed, in the form of addiction recovery, and all that it entails, has taught me 5 amazing life lessons that I wish to share with you. 5 gifts, if you like. So here goes...
Life Lesson 1:
It’s Your Happiness - Yours Alone
Finding true happiness, and, remember, this is from a recovering addict who’s suffered also with severe depression, cannot be paid for, cannot be chased, and cannot be earned. The only chasing I tend to do is after the dog when we’re out running, supposedly together. Yes, contentment and peace is something that comes from within (back to good old Ralph again). My anger? It slowly dissipated itself away through months of therapy and treatment.
It is by accepting ourselves for who we truly are, the good and the bad, our strengths and our weaknesses, can we know happiness. Do that, understand who you really are, and you are a long way down the road to simply waking up with a smile on your face, with no stress, and wondering, like a kid at Christmas, what the day will bring.
Life Lesson 2:
It’s Your Past - Unchangeable & Now Gone
I’ll admit this was a difficult one for me to truly get to grips with and really understand its importance. If you’re an addict, no amount of self-written diaries of your regrets will change one simple truth. You cannot change what is gone. You can try to understand the mechanics of it all, granted. Change it? You’re not God (and I seriously doubt he’d want to, anyway).
Accepting my past was pivotal in my recovery. Resentments, emotions once felt, are toxic for the recovering addict. They are toxic for anyone. Learning to forgive your mistakes was one of the best classes I attended in group therapy at my rehab. In fact, I’m always seated in that class, even today.
Life Lesson 3:
It’s Your Time - It’s Here
In today’s hectic world of digital technology and rapid communication (even the food is fast), everybody is led to believe that instant reward is best, an instant answer is always there, and an instant pill to relieve your instant headache is always available, right when you need it. Forget “time heals.” No longer applicable.
Utter baloney (for want of a ruder word). What we really need in this Olympic-speed life of ours is exactly that - time. Time to heal, time to reflect, time to recover, and time to live. The scars that are symbolic of our past take years to form, in life as in recovery. And I have my fair share of those, believe me.
Life Lesson 4:
It’s You - No-one Else
Just walk down the street. Everyone is looking at everyone else. Sometimes, I can find this highly entertaining. A woman looks at another’s shoes. A man looks at another’s female companion. A kid looks at another’s brand new sparkly bike. And it goes on. We constantly compare and contrast other people to ourselves. Yes, it’s human nature, but, boy, does it get tedious. And, boy, you really don’t need it.
I have, very happily, reached a good point in all of this, and one that I’m quite proud of. I couldn’t give the proverbial damn about another person’s opinion of me, and I no longer envy the lives of others. This took me years to achieve. As an addict, it was something that consumed me, this bizarre ritual we all engage in. I was just totally blasted when I was doing it.
Who I am now is what is important to me. No more.
Life Lesson 5:
It’s You - So Learn
I learn every single day, and I’ll probably be learning on my last day. It doesn’t matter if you’re in recovery from the disease of addiction, trying to deal with the mental disorder of depression, or you are just trying to find a better way to live your life in more general terms, learning is the key. Understand what makes you tick, learn your ins-and-outs in an honest way, and accept that the answers you find are who you are. And live happily with those answers.
Oh, and Don’t Forget to Smile
So, that’s me done. Sharing session over. These are your 5 amazing life lessons imparted to you by someone in addiction recovery - it’s your happiness alone, it’s your unchangeable past, it’s your time, it’s no-one but you, and it’s you, and only you, to learn. These life lessons, taught to me and beginning that day members of my family said, “Enough is enough. We are watching him die in agony here,” through my hard yet so needed months in rehab, and then my life beyond its door, are what I’m all about now, nothing else.
If you would like to leave a comment below regarding your recovery experiences and what life lessons they provided you, please do so below - they will be gratefully received as much by me as your fellow readers. What did you learn through the process? How did you feel afterwards? What do you still carry with you? Yes, it’s all about the sharing.
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