I don’t believe we ever officially met and I know now we officially never will.
You and I were actually scheduled to meet today. Your name is still neatly nestled in my calendar for the 10:45 am slot. I still have your application in my work bag. I still remember what you typed into the essay boxes. You were to interview for a training program I’m coordinating, a program that is designed for young people in recovery who want to learn how to support other young people in or seeking recovery. You wanted to use your experience to help others. I was looking forward to meeting you.
“—— will not be making it to their interview, they passed away over the weekend.”
This is the message your Mom delivered yesterday. She called to notify us that you died as the result of the very illness you aspired to combat. I cannot imagine being your Mother; I cannot fathom what making that phone call must have been like for her. It took me much of the day to even wrap my mind around the idea that yet another person who was looking to help others access and sustain recovery had in fact lost their way themselves.
Nearly 25 million Americans and their families are living with a substance use disorder, with 114 Americans dying of a drug overdose every day, while over 23 million Americans and their families are living in long-term recovery.
Sometimes the line between which group one is a member of gets extremely blurry and way too thin. While there are many strategies and resources that can help thicken the line and increase access to initiating and sustaining recovery, the side we stand on is never fixed and permanent. You were one of the 23 million Americans in long-term recovery at the time of submitting your application before the holidays. You have since joined the numbers that represent all of the individual human lives and family systems adversely impacted by addiction challenges. You were going to help bring individuals and families over that line but have instead now forever crossed back over it yourself.
I don’t know you and your story. I don’t know what happened and I never will. All I do know is that you will forever hold the 10:45 am slot of January 7th, 2015 in my calendar and a spot in my mind. You will always be the appointment that didn’t happen because you are a possibility that didn’t happen. You are a reminder that those of us in recovery from a substance use disorder are chronically near that blurry, thin line and you are a reminder of how all of humanity must always look to clarify and thicken that line. We must always strive to ensure that more individuals and families not only cross over the line into recovery but that they have access to all of the resources and supports that they need to stay there. You are a reminder that our personal recovery must always come first. We must always ensure that our wellness is intact and our recovery is stabilized before, during and all throughout our service to and advocacy for others. You, and 10:45 am on January 7, 2015, will always be remembered.
The greatest lesson I’ve ever been taught is that we are not our fleeting feelings and taunting thoughts.
There are a colorful variety of ways in which people in recovery attempt to describe the voices in their head. Some people refer to this group of voices as their disease or diseased thinking, others refer to it as “the committee” or “the circus”; some may call it the unhealthy part of them and others may go so far as to call these voices “the devil” or some other evil-doer. While we all may use slightly different language when talking about what it is we struggle with, we do all seem to agree that there is some sort of struggle when it comes to our thoughts and feelings. The good news is that this awareness puts us way ahead of the game when it comes to being human. Those of us who landed in recovery have, as a result of the consequences of our addiction, arrived to a place of learning how to live a life not led by these voices in our head but instead led by something else. So what exactly is this something else, and what is it that people in recovery come to realize much quicker than the average human being? If we are not our thoughts and feelings, then what are we precisely?
The greatest freedom I received in recovery was the liberation I found from my thoughts and feelings. I’ll never forget when I learned that all of these crazy thoughts and feelings will come and go in and out of my mind if I allow them to, and that there is true power in just letting them flow freely on through without responding to or attaching myself onto them. This idea that feelings are not facts and that I am not my thoughts or feelings was a pretty astounding one. It also lent itself to the philosophical inquiry of “who am I then?” This is where that whole more will be revealed layer of recovery has unfolded for me. Upon really grasping that the voices in my head are not really me, and that those thoughts and feelings which have led me astray for years are not really who I am but rather temporary unwanted visitors, it is then that I began to meet who it is I am. It is then that the search many human beings have embarked upon began to lead to answers. Who I am is far greater than these fleeting thoughts and feelings that are based upon my past. Who I am recovering is far deeper than just the person I was prior to my use of drugs. Who I am is that part of me that can sit back, observe and humbly laugh at that circus in my head. Who I am is the same as who you are underneath your own committee or circus as well.
Recovery has enabled me to acquire some tools that help combat not only the diseased thinking associated with addiction but also the diseased thinking associated with the overall human condition. While early recovery saw me scoffing at the people who claimed that struggling with addiction was the greatest blessing of their life, I think I actually get it. My struggles with addiction led me to a recovery process that has taught me how to observe, laugh at and then ignore the thoughts and feelings that make up the diseased, lower power, circus-bound committee in my head. Recovery has introduced me to who I really am underneath it all, and it’s helped me to see who all of humanity is as well.