I’m listening to Gregory Alan Isakov while I write. “I’m sorta happy most of the time…most of the time,” he sings, his voice betraying a melancholic irony. I would describe my life in recovery that way, except my declaration would contain neither melancholy nor irony. Comparatively speaking, my life before recovery was nothing but an exercise in melancholia. It was a constant yearning for something I could never quite nail down. Today, I don’t spend my time courting this old darkness. I experience countless moments of joy. And when I am not joyful, I try to stay in the realm of contentment and gratitude.
My last post was about the how of recovery. It was about confronting your own denial and self-sabotage. It was about not allowing your ego to kill you. If you’ve managed to bust beyond that, please accept my hearty congratulations; that’s no easy feat. I sure took my sweet time, clutching my maladaptive thinking like a security blanket. But now you might be wondering: “What is recovery supposed to feel like?”
I hate to burst any bubbles… but in my experience, recovery feels like regular, old LIFE. However, this shouldn’t be a disappointment for a multiplicity of reasons. First of all, recovery gives you a life. Or gives it back to you. It all depends on how you frame it. As far as I’m concerned, that in and of itself is a miracle. I never thought I was going to have any of the “normal” experiences “normal” people had. I was broken and I didn’t fit in the Great Puzzle of All Things. Today I understand that I am a divine being, like all other beings, and I am worthy of my place in the fabric of the universe.
Secondly, if we are seeking growth in recovery, we are given tools that, sadly, a large percentage of the general population hasn’t accessed – addict or not. This means our lives have an amazing depth and richness. Our disease forces us to self-actualize for survival. But self-actualization takes work and change…two words that send addicts and normies alike running for the hills. It’s so very human to try and grasp on to constants and certainties in a world that is, by its very nature, neither constant nor certain.
Thirdly, recovery allows you to experience life without any kind of anesthetic. Why would you WANT to feel pain? Well, for starters, when you feel the pain you can move through it rather than carrying it around on your back like a bag of rocks. But I think the more important question is: How can you numb selective parts of your life without tainting the whole? If your fingers are numb, it impacts your entire sensory experience. Furthermore, you have to be aware of your senses to effectively utilize or expand them. When you are open to all emotions, you are gifted with a new level of awareness…and you are able to experience joy more poignantly than ever before. All in all, recovery means less suffering – because you are able to process pain and let it go – and longer periods of unbridled gratitude and contentment. It is better then any high in the entire world. It is peace.
I caution anyone who is getting clean and sober for the first time – or the second, third, fourth…never stop trying! – to beware of the “pink cloud”. For some, the first months can feel like a huge pile of suck. But for others, it can feel like a fluffy cloud of wonderful. Eventually, this fluffy cloud will dissipate and real life will send an unprepared cloud dweller crashing back to earth without a parachute. When reality hits, falling off the wagon can look like a mighty fine alternative. I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy recovery – or that you should spend life looking over your shoulder (unfortunately this is something I need to work on). I’m just saying that it might be a good idea to pack a parachute. I like to think of my parachute as a tool box: Which resources can I utilize when things go wrong? Which skills can I use to prevent relapse and make healthy decisions? However, it’s not just about knowing you have a toolbox. It’s about using the tools inside. That’s where the rubber meets the road and the recovery materializes.
I have faced many challenges since I embarked on this journey. I have survived several abusive and/or toxic relationships and confronted my related behavioral addiction. My estranged father died by suicide. I lost my beloved grandfather. Other family members have also passed. I am still unable to find a paying career path that doesn’t make me feel like I am wasting precious hours of my one and only life.
While the challenges have been inevitable, so have the triumphs. I was willing to get help and get healthy. This willingness was all it took to push the horizons of my existence wider than my illness allowed me to imagine possible. I was able to graduate from college. I made friends who became family. I met and married the love of my life. I took my first airplane ride and have subsequently taken several more. I moved to a new state and built a wonderful new life. I started creative projects that now enable me to experience spiritual fulfillment.
I have only scratched the tip of the iceberg. My gratitude list is much longer than my list of challenges. Part of this is because I try to find a blessing or a lesson in times of trial and tribulation.
Sometimes there are no discernible lessons or blessings in our challenges. But surviving certainly counts for something.
I used to look at some of my friends and envy their lives. I felt like I was standing outside in the cold peering through a window. Inside, it was warm and bright and cozy. They came home, ate dinner with their spouse, and curled up to watch TV. Nothing about that picture of idealized normalcy was particularly glamorous but it was a life that seemed too hard for someone like me. Nevertheless, I craved that glowing light, warm meal, and safe and loving person. But I had to learn to be a safe person and to love myself first. Recovery helped me do that – to be whole on my own. Only then was I able to attract someone who mirrored the things that I valued and also sought.
Everyone’s idea of normalcy is different. The image of the cozy home just happened to be mine. But I’m not standing on the outside looking in anymore. I have that simple life today.
In my experience, recovery isn’t about grand accomplishments – although we can certainly attain them. It’s not about fame, fortune, fancy material possessions, or even finding “the one”. Recovery is about living life on an even keel. It’s when the roller coaster ceases to undulate so severely that you suffer from perpetual whiplash. It’s being content to contribute to society, no matter how humble the contribution. It’s reveling in a bite of delicious food, your best friend’s voice on the phone, or your feet in your lover’s lap. Recovery is quiet and unassuming… and that quiet place becomes a launching point for everything else.