I am alive and thriving today because no matter what happened, I was determined to stay the course of my recovery and do more than just survive.
It wasn’t easy. I have now been in and out of recovery for half my life. If you want to get technical, I’ve been working on recovery my entire adult life, 20 years, in fact. I entered an addiction recovery treatment program at the tender age of 21, but it didn’t stick the first time. Or the second. Or the third. I’m not a one-chip wonder, meaning I didn’t get sober once and stay clean the entire time. I did, however, make a serious decision to change my life ten years ago, and while it hasn’t been all smooth seas since, I have not strayed from that mindset. I am now 40 and healthy. I repeat, it wasn’t easy.
The recovery journey is more challenging when anxiety and trauma are involved
Recovery from addiction is a complicated process when there are no bumps in the road. When you’re dealing with more than one behavioral issue, or have trauma in your story, or a “generalized anxiety” diagnosis, or have ANY family dysfunction whatsoever, it becomes even more complex.
In my experience, I pulled back one layer of the onion only to discover there were more underneath. I had a cellar in my basement where a vault lived, and locked in there hidden away were most of my feelings. This phenomenon made my recovery a long process where sometimes I took a step forward only to take two steps back. The path to success is no straight line, especially when it comes to mental health and health and wellness.
Recovery took time but it was worth the effort
Life is bright and shiny at 40. It doesn’t look the way I expected it to, but it feels better than I ever imagined. Since we’re all still learning about what modern recovery looks like, and I’ve been writing about mine since I started, I compiled two lists that help consolidate the way I feel about all this. Here’s the first list of what I’ve learned:
1. There will be good years and bad ones on your recovery journey
That’s just life. I had this sense that if I made it five years, my life would be merry. It doesn’t work that way. Business is up and down, relationships come and go, and then as you get older, you start to lose people. However, if you’re prepared and armed with a toolbox to help, you can survive disappointments and heartbreak.
2. Getting sober is just the first step
I needed enlightenment in many areas. Learning healthy boundaries was an unexpected adventure, as was sober dating. Both caused me as much discomfort as getting sober did. Seriously, detaching from enmeshed relationships felt physically painful to me at times. Learning to use food as fuel, not comfort, and becoming financially responsible was also difficult and stressful. There were years it felt like I was training for a recovery Olympics that I wanted no part in. But, somewhere along the way, I built a well-rounded recovery lifestyle. I’m almost to the point where I have every aspect of my life organized. Almost.
3. Relationships are hard you have to think of others
I thought I’d master and get relationships sorted out by now. Insert laughter here. While I find they are far less dramatic than they once were, I’m certainly no professional in this matter. I do believe I’ve become aware and considerate of other people’s feelings. It’s no longer all about me. I don’t believe I can change anyone and I would no longer dare to try. I also now know no one can change me. There is no magic pill, and there is no magic person. It’s all hard work. However, with age, I’ve come to enjoy the work and derive great satisfaction from my improvement.
4. Self care is more than bubble baths and manicures
I recently read an article about self-care being really hard. It said self-care is not all baths and mani-pedis. The article is correct. Real self-care is financial responsibility, emotional accountability, impulse control. Basically, adulting really hard. It took a lot of practice for me to intuitively practice self-care and do things like grocery shop and plan out my whole week of meals, pay ALL my bills EVERY month, and stay gainfully employed.
Making sure all areas of your life are organized and well cared for is almost impossible for anyone coming out of addiction. I didn’t open my mail for years. I didn’t understand financial “stuff,” and I had the emotional capacity of a 12-year-old. Caring about those things did not come naturally to me. I had to learn how to do them years into my recovery; then I had to be disciplined in practicing them until they became habit. Trust me, it’s easier to get addicted to drugs than paying your taxes.
5. Patience and gratitude are everything
What I was writing about above – The learning self-care? Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I stopped trying years ago because it all seemed too hard and progress was slow. Trudging from program to program, painfully learning how to manage my emotions and relationships wasn’t fun. But, it was rewarding, and it worked. I can find gratitude daily. I try to live in gratitude most of the time, and it’s a beautiful thing. I’m also patient with myself, and other people. Man, do things go better when you can just calm down and wait.
The moral of the story is, while this may sound like it’s too much work, like it’ll take too long, and the pain along the way will make it impossible to get through—it wasn’t. The markers along the way become too important, the progress becomes too gratifying, and then when you realize you’re no longer in pain or anxious anymore, it’s all worth it, and you never look back.