Everyday, I am surprised by the little mysteries that unveil themselves to me in the most unique forms possible. I would like to say that I embrace everything I write about here and that my life is enriched as a result, but the truth is, I myself struggle with following many of the suggestions. Today I received a call from the mother of a past patient of mine who passed away as a result of sudden sniffing death sydrome; or more commonly referred to as huffing. It was the 8th anniversary of his death and she was calling to see if I would be at my office to bring me cookies, part of their annual tribute to their son and his remembrance. Not only had I been present only moments after their son passed away, but I also was honored with being able to accompany them during many speaking engagements through the years to schools and conferences, both telling our differing stories and attempting to educate on the dangers of substance abuse and chemical dependency. At one point following their son’s death, I seriously questioned my effectiveness working with adolescent clients, or clients in general, and had stated this to these parents. I had thought long and hard about possibly leaving the field entirely and doing something else with my life. They were instrumental in supporting me emotionally, even during their own grief, and helping me to realize that even if I help one person during their journey, I’ve done some good.
During our conversation, we began talking about what I had been doing in the past year. I talked some about my business and the book I was writing. We talked about my relationship with Alex and my plans for the future. But eventually, our conversation centered around my mother’s death. I think I find comfort in talking to other people that have gone through similar situations, to help me understand my own grief, or to help me “move on”, as I mentioned to her. Silence filled the other end of the phone. “Oh no.” she said. “I don’t refer to it as moving on. I say moving differently. I don’t think you really ever move on.” And instantly I got it. I was moving differently, not moving on or away from the situation, attempting to forget it. And maybe that’s the problem with most people’s attempts at grief and grief counseling; we try to help people move on, not differently. And shouldn’t each person identify what that looks like for themselves?
I stayed in that thought much of the day, trying to verbalize to myself how I was moving differently. Trying to focus on how I wanted to live my life differently and attempt some recognition of meaning and purpose. And I think that’s why I live my life clean and sober today. For years, I found it fun and exciting to go out, drink until I couldn’t remember and pick up the pieces the next morning. I thought it was fun to act crazy and forgetful; no matter who I was hurting, whether it was myself or others. And I realized that this was what had happened to this family. I remembered right after their son died, in the emergency room, his mother looked at me and stated, “he died from chemical dependency. He just couldn’t stop.” So what does it take for most people to want to stop engaging in behaviors that are hurtful to themselves or others, even if they don’t see it that way.
I come from a long line of alcoholics, and I feel honored to say that I was able to enjoy my mother’s last years with her sober. She would have celebrated 13 years sober had she lived less than one more month. When asked why she chose to be sober, without any legal or financial debt due to her drinking, she stated, “I just don’t want to live out my years having my special moments and fun dictated by a bottle.” I remember when I got sober I told people that I didn’t plan to sit in meetings or counseling for the rest of my life, that I wanted to do something with my sober life and make something of myself. While my recovery is still vitally important to me, I have built a strong foundation for my life and accomplished things that weren’t possible had I continued to drink. I think I just realized that partying, drinking, was a road block standing in my way. On some level, I believed that I had to be intoxicated to have a great time. A true misconception as I continue to have a great time and I don’t drink.
When I got sober, I was told that I shouldn’t associate with people who drink, and for anyone new to recovery, I firmly believe in this. At that time, my mother was one of those people. I called her immediately being released from treatment and told her I couldn’t see her if she continued to drink. “Surely you can’t mean that.” she laughed on the other end. “My drinking doesn’t bother you, does it?” The reality was, her drinking had bothered me for years, but I had been too afraid to say anything out of fear that she would continue to drink making me realize to her, the drinking was more important than me. “Yes Mom, your drinking is a problem for me. If you continue to drink, I won’t be able to continue to be around you.” Most of my closest friends do not know this, but for six months, I didn’t see my Mom. She continued to drink, and I realized that her drinking was more important than me. I would love to say that she got sober because of me, but she got sober because my uncle had a heart attack and she realized her days were numbered and she didn’t want to continue to live in a state of functional alcoholism; being able to drink without adverse consequences.
Today, I find myself around people that drink, and it doesn’t bother me. Not really. Well, sometimes, but I think mostly because they don’t understand what I’ve lived through or what boundaries and limits I’ve had to set for myself. It’s been a tough road. And honestly I wouldn’t have had the years with my Mom that I did if she would have continued to drink alcoholically. I would have eventually continued talking to her again, but the relationship wouldn’t have been the same, and many of the fights and arguments we so often had, would be related to her drinking. So I’m thankful for that miracle.
And yet today, I was blessed with even more miracles. Because I was contacted by no less than five of my past adolescent clients; all doing extremely well. One of my past female clients is getting married this summer, and I was invited. Imagine that. Honestly, I didn’t think she would make it this far and probably many people in her life didn’t think so either. And I’m so proud of her for all she’s accomplished and who she is today. And the others that call and check in. Because then I realize, maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to keep doing what I was doing. Maybe I did snag a few with my fishing line and pull them back into the ocean of dreams just a little bit.
And I realize how blessed I am. For the years I had with my Mom that I wouldn’t have had. For the few moments I had today visiting a friend’s new apartment. For the awesome coffee I got at Starbucks. For the weather and the great book I’m reading. But mostly, for Alex. He helps me to move differently. To move smoothly. He challenges me and helps me to make my road tough, therefore I continue to learn about myself. He also helps me to realize that I’m not perfect; and neither is he. And we have a long way to go, but we’ve come so far already. And isn’t that what relationships are all about? All of these people, clients no less, that came in my life today; taught me that there are still miracles out there. And so does Alex. He helps me to smile and laugh, you know. That’s a valuable commodity in this world. Not one to take lightly. I’m hoping one of these days I learn how to shut my mouth a little bit more and stop all of the serious talks. He might listen more if I do. It’s important to realize there are teachers all around us; it is important to listen closely as the lessons do not come out bold but in the subtle details. Wax on, wax off. We’re together for a reason I believe. Look around you. Do you see your teachers?
And so, as hard as it is to give up things from my past, I think today I’ve shed a little bit of what was holding me down. Become a little less like Marley’s ghost; throwing away chains so to speak, and began moving differently. Smoother. Hopefully. Because I don’t have all day. We’re on borrowed time as it is…