. . . here is my point – you are about the same age as I was when I went back to school, only you have a good GPA and mine was abysmal . . . You are obviously an intelligent, articulate, and passionate young woman about your future and there is no reason you cannot achieve your career goals. If anyone tells you otherwise, the term for that person is a “dream stealer” or “dream killer” and they need to be ignored.
– from my email to a student advisee
A big difference for me in recovery is being active in my life versus passively accepting decisions made about my life by others. I see this in several ways:
- by being in a state of perpetual numbness from alcohol and drugs, I abstained from making decisions about my life, except the decision not to decide. Whether in relationships, careers, or other life decisions, I focused primarily on my need to escape decision-making and accountability.
- When opportunities arose or decisions needed to be made, I was willing to settle for less, largely from my deep-seated feeling that I was not worthy and deserved nothing better.
- The real flip-side to the above is my grandiosity about deserving nothing better. I had a whole shopping list of grievances to explain why I was who I was and if you only knew it all. . . and tomorrow, my true potential would come to the fore. That logic reminds me of a large outdoor sign painted on the wall of a bar here in Memphis “Tomorrow, hamburgers and beer free all day.”
In recovery, we learn to become active agents in our lives:
- In recovery, for the very first time, I thought about issues from the perspective of what do I really believe? what is truly the right thing to do in this situation? However, I remain amazed at how easy it is to slip into self-serving logic in terms of what is really in it for me.
- When I applied for the job I now hold, and the one before that, I was wholly confident that I would be the successful applicant. The total skill set, experience, and vision I brought to the table was exactly what the jobs required. I knew that truth as did the search committee for the positions. There was little self-doubt.
- I have come to experience a greater balance in appreciating my past, present, and future. I have come to understand how my shopping list of grievances from the past can actually be used as assets in the present and future. I thoroughly enjoy that I can stand in front of a classroom of students, and tell about my 0.7 GPA during my first try at college, but that there is redemption for all, and I ended up my graduate studies with a 4.0 GPA. That revelation always brings at least a couple of students to my office to discuss their own need for academic redemption where I can share my experience, strength, and hope. Today, I have learned to act on my potential.
So . . . in the best Dana Carvey Church Lady voice one might respond, “Well isn’t that special.” But here is the point. In my pre-recovery days, I made some good choices, I did some good things, I was occasionally responsible. In recovery, I can and do make bad choices, act in self-serving ways, and shirk responsibility. But the difference is that in recovery, I know that I have a choice to live into the solution and can take action in that direction and not dwelling in the problem enabled by my addictions. Knowing that I have a choice today in how I act out my life makes all the difference.
Luciana, Kevin, Robert, and Carla
Had a great week in my second, or is that my third home, in Hualcayán, Peru. Was down to install some exhibits in the small museum that we opened this past summer. But the real highlight was meeting with old friends, and especially seeing my new godson, Kevin, for the first time. My Spanish now no longer completely sucks, and I am able to have some conversations with folks. My Peruvian colleague and I were only up in the mountains for a few days, checking in with friends, lining up projects for the next year but we got a lot done.
I am grateful for this opportunity to give back and be in community with folks. I reflect back some 30 years when I was trying to figure out how I could exist without alcohol. And throughout the years, I could never have predicted what cool things that the past three decades of recovery would bring. Five years ago, I had no idea I would end up on this new gig in Peru.
I have moved from a fear of drinking because of blackouts, job losses, insanity, to a knowing that with alcohol all the benefits of recovery go out the window. I will climb back into the bottle and simply exist, not live. I have learned, and firmly believe, that with recovery, all things are possible. For that knowing, I am incredibly grateful.
A couple of years ago in preparing for a presentation to graduate students on professionalism, I asked a range of professionals the most common practice that folks new to the work force routinely violate. The third most frequent response was not acknowledging the work of others or thanking them for their contribution to a project.
I find this comes through in the recovery community as well:
- I tend to take for granted the rooms where 12-step meetings take place, though I know the “rent” charged by the churches or other venues is well below the market value.
- Over the past few years, I have come to take for granted that someone will set-up for the meeting, make certain that supplies are on hand.
- Although I have made amends to many people over the years, I have thanked far fewer for their patience and support in my recovery process.
As we enter into 2015, I will strive to be more intentional in thanking those people, places, and things that are instrumental to my recovery.
I like the idea that we evolve as a person, and that there is no way to divorce or ignore any part of our past, present, or future. I like that we build on our strengths from the past and learn from our weaknesses.
I consider the before recovery (BR) and after recovery (AR) time periods as quite different. BR is marked by a dwelling in the problem, numbing myself with alcohol and other drugs so that I could simply exist, but not really live. Since the first day, AR has been a solution oriented existence where I am strive for accountability in my actions and to live life on life’s terms to the fullest extent possible. Yet the BR is not a period with no merit and only misery. Nor is the AR a period of only bliss. Rather, I see the distinction between the two periods as one of direction or orientation – something as simple as the glass being half empty (BR) vs. half full (AR).
Importantly, the BR and AR periods work with the same basic materials of self. I find that in both periods, many of my interests, beliefs, avocations, pleasures, are similar. A clear distinction is in the BR period so much of my existence was a matter of potential and in the AR period actualizing that potential.
For a bunch of years now I have said and firmly believe that if everything I have ever done and every breath I have ever taken has gotten me to right where I am today, I would not change a thing. I realize that is a rather self-indulgent statement, and does not account for the trail of destruction I left while actively practicing my addictions, and I still do leave today but to a lesser extent. Recovery is a matter of progress and not perfection after all. I have a choice today of living into my experience, strength, and hope, or not, as I continue to build on my past self into my future self through my present day life.