This past Saturday, I woke up with anticipation, a reason to celebrate. For the first time in over twenty years of life, I had a year clean. It was a year of dedication to the program that provided more knowledge and growth than the countless methods in the past and I was proud to spend this day giving back to what saved my life.
The plan was to attend a learning day for being of service to those in hospitals and institutions, have dinner with my family, and get the honorary trinket of my accomplishment at my evening meeting. I was so grateful and marched out into the kitchen to prepare the coffee, when I noticed my husband on the phone. He should have been gone, on the way to work and the look on his face was one I knew well. Something was wrong. My mind began to race and I went into hyper-hearing mode.
It was Mom on the other end, not a normal thing for Saturday mornings. My husband looked at me and mouthed the words, “It’s bad.” He said goodbye to mom and looked me in the eyes to tell me his uncle had passed away in the early morning, completely unexpected.
It was a jolt of epic proportions, a dagger to the heart where you realize it’s gonna hurt really bad but shock sets in and you try to comprehend what the hell just happened. As the details emerge, it still makes no sense as death rarely does. When it’s time to go, no explanation is enough. It just “is” and we are left to figure out what comes next.
My immediate thought was to cancel my plans and be of service to my family, but we just sat there completely dumbfounded. My husband told me to go do what I prepared to do, he would go to work and we would have dinner later. I did just that, but nothing I heard mattered, it was all white noise to me. As messages and calls came rolling in, it felt foreign to be human in the moment. I’d never dealt with a death in my family- clean.
In the first few months of recovery, there was loss. Two of my friends died together in active addiction. Two months later, another. It was the inevitable reality of what is bound to be our end.
That loss was different, expected in ways. My uncle was different because there was no warning, no telltale signs of what was wrong. There was no pondernace of possibilities. He was healthy. Coping with the loss of anyone we hold dear is a process. The last thing I thought of was using when my friends died. One of my automatic thoughts with this loss was doing shots with my family. It’s a very normal way to honor someone, yet an option no longer available to me. There would be no antidepressants or benzos to numb my feelings, no farewell shots of bourbon, no weed, no dope, no coke- this was the real deal. The idea emerged that I was going to face this loss without my little helpers and it was all going to be okay. For many, having access to anything that will ease the pain is normal. For me, it’s a death sentence. Its a spiritual death, one that far surpasses the physical realm.
I knew how to handle it, my recovery taught me how. Reach out, feel my feelings, share them, and let others comfort me. Most importantly, I am available to give comfort and be accountable in taking on responsibilities. I am able to be a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. I am able to take care of others without expectation because recovery taught me that my ability to do so is its own reward. Through the range of emotions, my tribe has held me up and been a source of strength because I allowed them to be and that is what helps keep them clean too. We all need to feel we matter, that we have a purpose. Isolation is what feeds our disease. Without my community, I would not be here.
In closing, I just need to point out it is a miracle to stay clean, but life and death still show up. Often the hardest blows come without provocation. Staying clean is one facet of recovery, a foundation. The work that comes next is where the magic happens. Trust the process and do what it takes. I assure you that you will be amazed! There will always be more to do, I have a hard time realizing that it gets better than this but I have been assured it does. Even in the saddest moments, I have an abundance of gratitude for being able to feel and having the freedom to do so.