When I first got sober, I had no idea what recovery was or meant or would be like for me or if I even could recover. I just knew alcohol was no longer serving me and would probably kill me if I didn’t remove it from my life. I most certainly had no idea the more I invested in my recovery the bigger dividends it would pay me, especially when I needed them most.
Let me say that again.
The more I invest in my recovery, the bigger dividends it returns.
(And, trust me, there are times when I need those dividends!)
That investment is not money. Neither are the dividends. There actually isn’t a price that can be placed on any of this. The value is far too great.
I had been sober for just over three months when I received my first dividend. One day after school my son got hurt at home. Recovery gave me the tools I needed to handle the crisis. Sobriety rewarded me and my family. It was a major milestone for me on my recovery journey.
That day was a turning point. It showed me I could trust that the work I had been doing was very powerful; if I continued to show up for myself in recovery, recovery was going to show up for me every single time I needed it. I have yet to be proven wrong.
Even at 1,687 days sober, the moments catch me and steal my breath. Usually it’s just the little ones – like driving to pick up a kiddo from an activity at 9:00 p.m., a time I used to spend numbing out, escaping the stress of the day, wishing away or drunkenly tackling everything that didn’t get crossed off the to do list, etc. It hits me out of nowhere and it’s never lost on me. On any given day I have been known to notice smiles randomly spreading across my face when no one’s looking because I just realized (again!) I’m doing things I could never have done if I didn’t stop drinking. I am living a life alcohol prevented me from even imagining. I am living the life I almost didn’t give myself a chance to discover.
Because it’s life, stuff shows up – the good and the bad. I used to fear the bad, the big stuff. You know, the things you wonder about in early sobriety when you try to envision never ever taking another sip of alcohol no matter what; the things that would be so huge and ugly and hard and terrifying you would just have to drink to get through them. We all have that mental, wonder-about-it-from-time-to-time list, right?
Some of the stuff on my list has shown up. Loved ones have passed away. Parents have been ill. Kids have faced challenges I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. And, there were absolutely times I wanted to drink it all away.
Those times? Those are the times when, instead of letting muscle memory and my subconscious mind declare victory, I double down on recovery. How? With one simple question: “If something is telling me I want to drink right now, what is it I really need?” That one question is my pause button. It presents me with the opportunity to stop, take a deep breath (or 20!), and connect with myself at soul level. That one question opens the door to self-care and allows me to nurture myself vs. hit the nearest emergency exit without contemplating what could be on the other side of the door. That one question is my invitation to withdraw some of the dividends from my recovery bank.
I cannot imagine the past three-and-a-half months of my life without recovery, without that bank account. I don’t want to think about the scenario that would have played out had I not gotten sober. I suppose we can debate whether or not I’d have even survived the last four-and-a-half years as a drinker. But, anyway …
Two weeks ago today, I awoke following a surgical lung biopsy. I was two days shy of my 48th birthday. When I was conscious enough to understand what people were saying, my cardio thoracic surgeon came to my side, held my hand, and told me he strongly suspected I had Hodgkin lymphoma. He said I had a long fight ahead of me and it wasn’t going to be easy but I could win.
My life had already felt like an out of body experience for the past 10 days since receiving the results of my PET scan. Hearing my surgeon’s words, I floated further outside myself. I actually felt the distance between me and my body. It was nothing like the beautiful existence I’d known three months earlier, before I first started getting sick and masses were discovered in my lungs.
Over the next few days as I recovered, I began researching cancer centers. I thought about how I’d lose my hair. My husband vowed to shave his head in support. How would we tell the kids? Would they be OK? Would I be able to work? Everything would have to change. I started making a list of all the people I had to tell. I tried to figure out how I would speak the words.
And, we waited. And waited. And waited. For pathology to come back. For someone to call with information. The phone never rang. Five days later, my husband and I sat in my pulmonologist’s office waiting for him to say the word. For him to say, “cancer.” But, that’s not what he said. Instead, he said through a huge smile, “There are no signs of malignancy.”
What. What? How could that be?
It’s not cancer.
We were shocked. Relieved. Elated. Gobsmacked. Dumbfounded.
And, also terrified. Because, while I do not have cancer and I am indeed celebrating that, I still have a battle to face. I am still sick. I have been diagnosed with an inflammatory disease called sarcoidosis. It’s tricky and fickle and rare and … so many things.
Very basically, pulmonary sarcoidosis mimics lymphoma on scans and with its symptoms. Sarcoid has no known cause and no cure — in fact, as a disease of exclusion, it’s the lack of a cause that defines it; granulomas have formed in my lungs but not in response to anything my body is fighting. Sarcoid can become systemic and go after every organ in the body, including the skin. It can also very quietly go into remission and stay that way forever. It’s a snowflake disease, manifesting differently in everyone who has it, so we have no idea what it will do with me. The first line of defense is high dose prednisone to reduce inflammation. I’ve been on treatment for a week now and we will repeat the CT scan in late October to see if there are any changes to my lung masses. I am following up with other doctors to rule out the presence of disease in my heart, eyes, etc. So, right now we monitor. In November, I’ll be visiting a sarcoid clinic in Boston where a team of doctors has been studying this disease for more than 20 years and is doing amazing work. Some days I feel well. Other days I can’t get off the sofa. I am learning to listen to my body and be patient. I am processing emotionally and trying to settle into my new normal now that I have emerged from the complete and total overwhelm and paralysis of the discovery phase. I am in as good a place with this as I can possibly be and I am very hopeful that I will be one of the lucky ones who just had a random flare up and life ultimately gets back to normal. I am cashing in my recovery dividends. Every single day. I would be lost without them.
Since all this began I lost more than half of my public relations business. Not because I was sick. Despite being sick. Despite continuing to work my ass off for my two longest standing clients. Both their contracts were up for renewal and they both decided it was time to move on. One called and told me. The other let me read it in their monthly board meeting minutes when they sent them to me to post to their website. I didn’t have it in me to fight for either of these jobs. My focus at the time had to be my health. So, I let them go quietly, shedding toxicity that came with both, knowing no matter what everything would be fine, and considering it a blessing that I would have more time to focus on coaching. It hasn’t been easy. We still have bills to pay. In fact, with all the medical stuff we have more bills than ever. And we will for a long time to come.
But, as recovery has taught me, I do not need to sink all the way to the deepest bottom in order to start climbing back up. I get to unfreeze right now. Today. This minute. I get to take steps forward. Move past fear and into the reality of managing something so it doesn’t manage me. So I can keep living. Sometimes that feels exhilarating. Other times it’s completely daunting. The roller coaster is real. And wildly unpredictable.
I will allow myself to be terrified. I will also allow myself to be strong and hopeful. I will remain at peace with whatever shows up to challenge me, welcoming the toughest lessons and releasing what doesn’t serve me. I will give myself the grace to feel the emotions that wash in and out, knowing they are only waves on the sand and sadness, anger, loneliness, inadequacy, powerlessness, fear, etc. are all simply invitations to powerfully remember none of this is bigger than I am.
I will embrace the ever-tested and always-proven theory that there are no points for suffering. Struggling does not earn me extra credit. This does not have to be hard. Different, yes. Challenging, of course. Life shows up. But, I still get to live it. And, that’s the gift.
People ask me all the time if I consider myself recovered (past tense) from alcohol addiction. It’s been so long since I’ve had a drink, it must be easy now, they say. Easy? Sure. Sometimes. But, old stories still like to replay at times. Old feelings. Old worries. Old behaviors. They never completely go away. I’ve just learned how to work through them.
Why do I work so hard on my recovery? Why do I show up for it every single day even when things feel easy and I could get so lazy, float on the pink cloud that still drifts by every once in a while, enjoy the intensity of the white knuckles here and there? Why do I prioritize recovery even when I feel solid and like I’ve got things mostly (or even completely) figured out and I haven’t thought about drinking in forever? Why? So those recovery dividends show up for me when I need them. Because I will never not need absolutely everything recovery gives me.