A Guest Post by Casey O’Leary
September is National Recovery Month in the US.
- a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength
- the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost
I am in recovery. I am not an alcoholic or a drug addict or a smoker or a compulsive eater. I am in recovery because I am a leaf at the top of a family tree that is rotted from the inside out by addiction. I am a descendant of people who have struggled with addiction and I have not escaped unscathed. I am marked by it, although my marks are mostly hidden from view, and so I am in recovery attempting to achieve emotional sobriety.
My journey to recovery began in childhood. I thought I was the only one who saw chaos in her family of origin and I wanted to cry out for help; I was the only one who thought of jumping from a second floor window at the age of ten to escape the pain. Fear became my shadow, hovering beside me every day like a taunting bully, promising more pain if I somehow let go. I believed fear because I already knew that bad things happened to good people. My life became a fine point that centered on a specific goal: grow up and get out.
Adulthood was not the promised land, however; instead, life’s challenges became overwhelming. I consistently made choices out of fear, thinking that I would eventually find a place that felt safe. I thought I would find my way home. I became obsessed with knowing how my story would “turn out,” as if knowing the end meant that I had found peace. I often thought about the actual end of my life, and as chaos overtook me, I longed for the end, for a quiet darkness that meant I didn’t have to struggle anymore.
When I read my 12-Step literature, I now understand that my struggle is not unique. I’m not special, and I’m glad. My feelings and behavior, my emotional addiction, was inevitable. The question is not merely, “How did I end up this way?” but also, “How do I find another way to live?”
I want to live. I discovered that when I hit my “rock bottom” and found myself face down on the floor, sobbing as if I would never stop, telling those I love most that I didn’t want to live anymore. My life became a series of small, tentative footsteps, one at a time, doing what came next without looking too far into an uncertain future. Each step reinforced my desire to live, but I knew that I needed help. I needed to change things and I couldn’t do it alone.
I found a recovery program that felt like home from the first meeting, and still feels like home every time I return. It’s a place where people understand how life with an addict has a profound impact on a child, and still impacts that child when he becomes an adult. I can walk into a meeting and feel safe almost immediately, despite the learned hyper-vigilance that makes me feel like an undercover government spy. The people in my meetings may not look like me or talk like me or come from the same neighborhood, but they know. They know what it feels like to grow up under the heavy gray cloud of addiction, what it’s done to me and to them and to so many others, and they know that there is another way to live.
Much is expected of me in recovery. I am expected to show up for meetings every week, whether I want to or not. My brain fills with excuses for why I can’t or won’t make it to a meeting, but attending them has become my primary goal, which I affectionately call, “Ass In Chair.”
I am expected to share my experience, strength, and hope with others, which isn’t really a problem for me. It’s the listening, hearing others sharing, that is such a challenge. I have a tremendous fear that now that I’ve found my voice, I’ll be told to stop talking, and so I share with a sort of rabid enthusiasm at meetings. The stories and the pain and the feelings pour out of my mouth like a poisonous waterfall, spilling all over the table in a messy wave, but no one seems to mind. I see listening as a form of gratitude, making space for others to share their stories at meetings. Maybe if we release the poison, we’ll find a way to heal.
I am expected to work the twelve Steps. I first became acquainted with them as a teenager, although they seemed horribly inadequate for the dramatic emotional saga that was my life at that time. “Let Go and Let God” just didn’t do it for me. But I approach the Steps so differently now, with an ease that is surprising and difficult to rationalize. I’m happy to do the work, I’m grateful for the work, and I see my life getting better every day.
When I compare my experience to the first definition of recovery, “a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength,” I can see the connection. I am happier. I have peace of mind. I am emotionally stronger. But I can also see a connection to the second definition: “the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.” I am recovering all that was once lost, and “I am found.” I am recovering my joy. I am recovering my sanity. I am recovering my relationship with my Higher Power. I am recovering my Inner Child, and loving her with all I have to give.
I am in recovery, and I am blessed.