“Picture a red balloon floating away from you”, my mother used to say. She wanted it to ascend with all my anger and resentment. I could picture the helium filled oval but it never carried anything with it. Instead, the rising itself was a taunt. “Fuck the balloon,” I thought, and my knuckles whitened around the string.
When I look back at who I was for the first 23 years of life I see a stranger. We share many of the same qualities but I can say with absolute certainty that I am not the same person. In fact, I was trying my best to be the opposite of “person”; humanity entails feeling and participating and both of those concepts were terrifying. I grasped at any crutch I could find to stabilize myself and mask my terror.
Today I still have a short fuse but my anger pops and fizzles rather than developing into a slow burn. I have learned to let go.
“How do you you let go,” I used to beg. “How?”
The answer is simple for me now. Recovery has taught me to focus on love and only on love.
Everything life has taken (or I have freely given away) has been returned tenfold by the universe. If my eyes should drift back toward things that cause me pain I merely need to readjust my gaze.
This does not mean that I don’t acknowledge my feelings. Avoidance was my old modus operandi. I recognize my emotions, try not to speak before I think (I still need to do a lot of work on this), and seek counsel from others. The difference between now and then is that I don’t stay stuck in the muck and the mire. I move on into a place of love.
Recovery has blessed me with a contentment beyond anything I could have dreamed. I can palpably feel peace wash over me. Sometimes it even spills out of my eyes. These moments aren’t dramatically euphoric. They are simple snapshots from a simple life. Peace is laying on my stomach trying to photograph a plant and looking up to see my future wife smiling at me. It is the joyous giggle of a nine year old chasing ducks and butterflies down the lake shore. It is sharing a devious look with my best friend as we both reach for a second pastry. It is the sound of a stranger playing the saxophone on the sidewalk. It is a recognition – a recognition of the divine in even the tiniest detail.
Don’t get me wrong. Life is not perfect. But my gratitude list is miles and miles longer.
My biggest problem now is how much time I spend looking over my shoulder and waiting for the other shoe to drop. This is a common experience for those of us in recovery. I remember marveling at my first few sober birthdays. I wasn’t expecting to live for very long, never mind finding that I could actually thrive and enjoy life. “Please don’t pinch me,” I often think, lest I should wake up from a very pleasant dream.
Sometimes I also feel guilty. Why have I been given this amazing gift while so many still suffer? I have to remind myself that I make a choice to wake up every day and to ask for and accept the gift of recovery. Unfortunately I can’t force anyone else to make that choice for themselves. Recovery doesn’t just happen. It requires action. I can only share my experience and pray that it gives someone else hope.
The other day I was working in a city park and a tiny little girl – maybe two years old – walked up to me and hid herself in the back of my legs. I looked around for her mother and was alarmed to find how nonchalant the parent was as she watched her beautiful child cozy up to a strange woman. The little one followed me around the park and whenever I stopped she would gently press against my side and wait for a comforting pat of acknowledgement.
Despite my concern for the child, I was deeply touched by the experience. There was something about me that made the child feel secure. It epitomizes what I want to be for others.
As for the other shoe – well, I have to ask myself this: Why would grace bring me this far just to abandon me? Every crack loss has created has been filled with love. I choose to look for it and to accept it. Rather than letting my gaze linger over my shoulder I prefer to look at what is in front of me. It is better than even my wildest imaginings.