What is hope? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, hope is defined as, “to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen or be true.”
I appreciate the dictionary’s definition, but I believe that hope is so much more than simply a desire for something to be true. Hope has the power to save a person’s life. It can pull someone from a depth of despair that seems insurmountable. It can bring light to the darkest of situations. It has the power to help a person not only to hold on, but to grow and change. In searching for a definition, I asked others what hope meant to them. I heard the words “resilience, light, faith, good, rebirth, new beginnings, overcoming.” Each of these words describes something much deeper than the dictionary definition.
These were words I could relate to in my own life
When I was drinking, hopelessness was a relatively constant feeling. The world seemed hard, and existing seemed even harder. Alcohol provided momentary relief, but my daily existence felt bleak. Despite having a full life, a successful career and family and friends who cared, I felt like I was screaming into a dark abyss of nothingness, that there was no way out, and no one who could hear me. I felt alone. In the early years alcohol gave me an escape and felt fun, but in later years it often compounded the pain. The feeling of relief that I found in alcohol never lasted and was unpredictable, but it provided a chance that I was always willing to take. Even if the relief didn’t last, it was better than hating myself so much. Not drinking was not a choice.
I had no intention that my last night drinking would be the last.
I had no plan of stopping, but for some reason one fateful night, drunk on a bathroom floor, I pleaded for help. I begged until an ambulance was called and I was taken to the hospital. For some reason, beyond my understanding, I just kept repeating, “something is really wrong with me. I need help.” It was the moment where hopelessness and despair turned into something different, a longing for a different life, for a way out, for something better. What I didn’t know was that was my moment of hope.
Recovery fed that hope that was already within. When I met others in recovery, I felt at home. I felt like for the first time other people thought the same way I thought, but they were living life sober. They had found a way to exist that seemed genuinely happy and calm; two feelings that I could not remember the last time I had felt, if ever. The relief brought me to tears. Recovery offered healing through sharing common pain and overcoming that pain. I found that living without alcohol was possible and even more astounding, that living life without alcohol would actually free me. In recovery, I found a peace and serenity I didn’t know existed. I found a way to live life that wasn’t complicated. I felt like I could breathe for the first time. I finally found the escape from despair. I found hope.
Whether you have been in recovery for a day or for decades, nurturing hope will help guide the way through adversity. Hope opens a door through which we can find solution and grow. With hope and the next right action, everything will fall into place.
Feeling hopeless? Try these five ways to spark hope:
1. Practice gratitude. Neuroscience has taught us that you can actually “rewire” your brain to think more positively. The best way to grow hope is to observe the
good that already exists in your life. Each day, write down three things that you are grateful for.
2. Pay it forward. A small act of kindness can go a long way. Do at least one thing every day that puts someone else fi rst, whether it’s putting away the shopping cart at the grocery store or holding the door op
3. Mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is a practice of being aware of the present moment. Our thoughts can race and be overwhelming. Practice mindfulness for one minute, exactly where you are, and go through each of your senses. Take a deep breath and ask yourself “What do I hear? What do I smell? What do I taste? What do I feel? What do I see?” There is no right or wrong way to meditate. Build to three minutes and then fi ve. Set a goal to develop a daily practice of 10-20 minutes.
4. Community. Be around others in recovery. Visit your local recovery community center, go to a 12-step meeting, get involved in whatever recovery program you have found works for you. Listen to the stories of resilience. Share your story. Connect with others and build a network of hope.
5. Have fun. Sobriety is not meant to be a bore. There is fun without substances. Make time for the things that bring you joy, whether it’s painting, hiking or just hanging out with your friends. Life is meant to be happy, joyous and free.