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Changing Our Lives

Issue 24

Practice, helpers and helping

“If you want to change your life, change your life.” —Jen Sincero

Fumbling, flailing and freaking out: these would describe my early recovery.

At six months in, I went to rehab, not because I’d started using again, but because I didn’t know how to live, so I was spending a lot of time thinking about dying. I was also working in the field of mental health, doing my best to hide the despair that greeted me every morning and the turbulence I felt inside.

Like a lot of others in early recovery, I stayed busy.

I was smober—free of tobacco and other substances that had ruled the day—but not emotionally smober. I was dopamine deficient, afraid of my own shadow and yours, too, and had no clear path to changing that. Yet.

The thing is: if—when—we stick around, and stay connected with others who get this, truly get it, there’s an opportunity for change— actually, an opportunity for complete transformation. I say this, not only from my own experience but in observation of so many other fumbling, flailing, and triumphant souls who’ve graced my path.

Colleagues, clients and fellow travelers in and out of long term recovery are living examples of what it looks like when we do what works and when we don’t.

Do you see them, too? The ones who remind you why you came into recovery and the ones who show you what can happen once you do.

In my first five years in the field of addiction treatment, I was part of a clinical team in Athens, Georgia that included an aftercare coordinator, Vivian. Miss Vivian. She’d been in recovery for a very long time and alive for much longer. She’d seen a lot of pain and some miracles, too.

When someone we’d both worked with returned to use and died shortly thereafter, I was devastated. Vivian came in each day, head held high, still clear in her mission.

“How do you do it?” I asked. “I know you loved him, too.”

Vivian looked at me and said, “Oh, I’ve cried, too, but some of us have to die so the rest of us can live.” It sounded so cold, so sharp to me at the time!

For Miss Vivian, his death was one more reminder of why she was in recovery and supporting the recovery of others. She knew how she needed to feel to show up each day, so everything either supported or stimulated that state of being.

She made it so, and she prayed it so. Her faith was as strong as her backbone had grown.

I don’t have the kind of faith or the backbone Miss Vivian had. What I do have today, though, is community.

Some of us can live along the edges of humanity and can do fine or at least OK that way. I watch those loners with curiosity now, knowing it’s not me. I need to be in the village, and serving the village, too. I’m a person who needs people.

Barbra Streisand once sang that “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

It didn’t feel lucky. In early recovery, I didn’t know I needed people to live and to change my insides and outsides, my brain and my life.

Discovering I did, I didn’t like it. I felt needy and broken and awkward, asking for help, and then more help, and different help, too.

For the kind of change I want inside me and in my life, I need community, period. I don’t have to like that I need people. Trust me, I didn’t, until I did.

Now I put the energy I’d once put into toughing it out alone into growing and nurturing connection. I promise you, it’s a much higher yield investment, and it feels better, too, for all of us.

Changing our life means changing our life. Easy? No! For most of us, it takes practice, it takes helpers, and helping others, too.

That works, and it’s worth it. As are we.

Joanna Free
Joanna Free
Joanna Free is the (grateful) author of BUTTKICKERS: Twenty Ways to Leave Tobacco and a (proud) writer for Journey Magazine.

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