It’s times like these that I am profoundly grateful to be in recovery. After living in the middle of self-imposed chaos for many years, I hit bottom, changed my way of looking at life, dusted myself off and carried on. Many of my friends didn’t. Many are no longer with us.
I wouldn’t have made such a change for the better had it not been absurdly bad, so I try not to give myself too much credit. It was a life and death situation, and when you jump off the burning ship and get rescued by passersby, well, how many kudos should I accumulate?
In a world where so many are so quick to deem people as heroes, or good examples, or inspirational, I’ve come to believe those of us in recovery ought to just say thank you and carry on quietly being our best selves, lest those sorts of accolades get to our heads and hearts too deeply.
I am unforgettably grateful to those who helped me, in particular certain organizations which demanded no money yet offered so much. Certain educators, when I returned to upgrade, this time with a clear mind and the right attitude. Certain mentors who taught me the ropes, and didn’t mock me when, at the risk of sounding dumb, I asked the obvious questions.
As I look at the world struggling to deal with this pandemic, I am grateful that because of what I learned getting sober and staying sober, I can talk myself off the edge. The edge of drinking or drugging again. The edge of running away. The edge of jumping off. I have done it countless times in my recovery. A sister’s death. Changes in career. Divorce and break ups with friends and lovers. Financial desperation. Heart issues.
As many anxiety producing moments as I’ve gone through, just like you, I’ve got to remember that in my life I’ve also had countless great freebees. Moments of fantastic wonder and blissful serenity, appearing unscripted.
The breathtaking Banff Springs one Christmas morning. A blind Al-Anon member leading us in Amazing Grace, as 48,000 of us wept holding hands in the Seattle Kingdome. The soul soothing giggles of my daughter and her friends playing in the room beside mine, on sleepovers during the bleak weeks and months of her parents’ breakup.
Nailing that demanding four-part harmony of Seven Bridges Road, guitars tuned perfectly, on lawn chairs in our back yard on a hot summer night. The beautiful green eyes of my partner, calmly welcoming me back from the Chinese finger puzzle of my darker side. Just off the top of my mind. So much to be grateful for.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned a few things about myself. One is how I tend to want to put a bow on things, when times get tough. It’ll be fine. We are going to be as good as new, even better. God will look after us.
Magical thinking is nice and all, but people still die. Divorces still happen. Jobs still get taken from you. So, I try not to do the rose-colored glasses thing anymore.
I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, of course, but I just need to be more realistic. So, I try to be honest in my assessments of myself. Ask myself, “What is really going on?” “What am I really feeling?” I take risks and ask others if I am on the right track? Turns out that sometimes I am, but usually I’m in need of a different perspective. Good friends can provide that.
In the end, recovery has taught me that no matter how rough or blissful the future might be, I can handle it. Sober. Clean. I believe that; I have seen you and countless others do it with me.
This global health crisis is a time of reflection and inventory checking for me. I have tools that I have accumulated by breathing in, breathing out, for over 60 years. I have others that I collected by being a survivor of my upbringing, my addictions. Still others from the military, the people I’ve interviewed, the ones who cleared the trails for me. Ancestors and previous generations, the related and unrelated, who stood up or laid down during times of peril.
First things first, I must remember, the sun will go down tonight, and come up tomorrow. I will be breathing in and out when that happens. That means I will have a chance. To set my attitude, on grateful or not, on survival or not, on kindness or not. The pandemic, Wall Street, my landlord, nor countless world systems are in charge of that. My attitude is on me.
I want to live. I want you to live. I want my loved ones to know I love them. I can only do that if I choose to show up and calibrate my attitude, one day at a time.
And it really is all about attitude. Which only we are in charge of.
“In the long run, the sharpest weapon of all is a kind and gentle spirit.” – Anne Frank