Having a Reason to be Alive in Recovery

Painting by Emma Connolly of Grace and me in our backyard

Over the years, on many occasions I asked “Why Me?” The question was not meant from a woe is me perspective, but from one of gratitude.  Examples include:

  • I have over 30 years of recovery from a debilitating physical and mental obsession with alcohol.  Long-term sobriety is greatly enhanced in those who remain abstinent for five years.  For many years, I struggled to even put together 30 days.  Why did I make it when so many others do not?
  • My oncologist continues to be amazed that I am doing as well as I am with a stage 4 cancer.  Last August, the prognosis was possibly death by Christmas or in six months.  Why I have surpassed these odds?

I wrote previously about the research of Kelly Turner and have since read her book Radical Remission.  A strong reason to live is one of the nine points Dr. Turner found for those who defy the normative expectation for stage 4 cancer diagnoses.  She distinguishes this reason as different from fighting to live or being afraid to die.

Her results resonate with me in my current cancer diagnosis.  In much of what I have written about cancer over the past months I note how the one-day-at-a-time approach of Alcoholics Anonymous has proven crucial in my life today.  Further, I know that were it not for my sobriety over the past three decades, I would have been dead long ago.

An exercise in Radical Remission suggests generating two lists.  The first is a list of activities one would do if they had an unlimited amount of money and perfect health.  The second list of activities is if one had their current financial situation, good health, but knew they would be dead in 1.5 years.  The “correct” answer is to have the second list overlap with the first.  I was pleased mine did.  My second list includes:

  • Take three months to ride my bicycle from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to New Orleans.
  • Emma and I take multiple cross-country road trips and spend more time exploring together.
  • I continue to blog my story as my unique contribution to share.
  • Complete two writing projects I am working on.
  • Continue gardening and working around the house.
  • Continue activity with the School for Contemplative Living and my faith community.

With the exception of the Mississippi River bike ride, I am currently working on all the other list items.  The long-distance bike ride is something that will take some creative planning.  But come September, Emma and I will embark on a two-week back roads meander reminiscent of our first trip together 20 years ago.  All of the other items on the list are what get me out of bed every morning.

To a very large extent, what I dream of doing is what I actually do. This might prove to be the answer to the “Why Me” question.  Since walking into the detox center in 1984, I have maintained a belief and hope that I have a reason to live and I have tried, quite imperfectly, to live into that hope.

Today I came across a blog post I wrote 5 years ago, long before I had any thought of cancer.  The title of the post was Living Sober Till I Am 94, One Day at a Time. The age came from a life expectancy test of some sort that I took.  But the essence of the post is having the reason to want to live that long:

 I didn’t think about how long I was going to live.  I got to be too busy living.  As we get closer to “retirement” my wife and I talk about that next part of our lives.  We will do anything but retire.  I have a bunch of projects lined up and my wife is already working on her art/consignment business  and plans with our children and grandchildren down in New Orleans. . . today I learned that my life expectancy is 94.  What I learned today seems less the accuracy of the measure but more, that living and living fully is what sobriety is about.  Had I not gotten sober at 32, I seriously doubt that I would have seen 40.  Staying sober one day at a time, the possibilities are without limit!

I am grateful and blessed to be able to live into my reasons to be alive today!

9 thoughts on “Having a Reason to be Alive in Recovery

  1. Please keep writing. There is a very very deep well in you that is imparting pearls for those of us not in recovery from alcoholism but in recovery from all in life which anesthitizes us and keeps us unconscious. And emmas water color, wow oh wow she is really good!! Ya’ll are really doing conscious living which is so beautiful to watch.

    Hey can we come house sit animals when you do your road trip? Will pay utilities!!

  2. Robert, you jolt me into paying attention to the present moment and being thankful for everyday pleasures. Like sitting in bed in the early morning next to my spouse, enjoying a good cup of coffee before we start our day. We both have good health…today…I remind myself this may not continue as we age. I try to enjoy the simple moments of living and your posts encourages me. Thank you for being our friend.

    • Jackie, Thanks for reading. It is important to me to recognize too that by being in community with others, we learn so much. I think of how my life is so enhanced by the times that Emma and I have spent with you and Avery, whether in Turkey, Jackson, or here in New Orleans. We all grow by being connected. Look forward to your next visit down.

  3. Pingback: A New Look at Gratitude | Process Not An Event

  4. I love the idea of writing those two lists!

    I happen to have written one of them, sort of, recently after a book lecture. It was a meditation on what I would do if I only had six months to live. I don’t have any serious illness that I know of, so I found this useful in getting a sense of what I’d be missing and regretting if I didn’t do certain things. It turns out that the first thoughts that sprung to my mind where about relationships I needed to (try to) heal. Most importantly with my father. And, thank god, I did, we did. Because it turned out he was the one who had less way less than six months to live.

    Now it’s time for me to write to other list, the one about unlimited resources and what I would want to do with them. As for me, as I have gone through my six-month list, I would wish the second one overlaps with what I’m actually doing right now. If not, I will make sure it more and more does. That was the most important lesson of the first list: Never think you have unlimited time.

    • Thanks for sharing. I too found the list making to be very helpful in terms of prioritizing what is truly important in my life as opposed to getting terribly caught up in the busy work.

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