Tonight my work at the treatment center was less than stellar. Every now and then there is this tension and there are less-than-civil interactions… a hostility, specifically directed at me or at least what I’m saying. I find myself frustrated at times because addicts and alcoholics in early recovery (or even several years into recovery!) go from being desperate and willing to seek help – to being easily-offended, egocentric, selfish, myopic, and stubborn. (I am in no way claiming immunity to these emotional relapses!)
Oddly though even when I’ve spoken words that weren’t well received (which when I lead meetings is my prerogative to ensure everyone in the group gets a chance to speak, and is respected while speaking), the oddest thing has happened every time. When I return a couple days later, these same individuals who flashed in anger and sarcastic under-the-breath remarks see me and they simply light up. I don’t even mean a guarded smile, I mean they smile genuinely and instantly upon recognizing me. Any bad feeling that may have existed, seems to have vanished entirely.
The first time this happened I was taken aback, but it has happened enough times in the last couple years it is, so far, the absolute rule. I’ve thought a lot about this odd (seeming) turnabout, and concluded a few things. A., that they might think I’ve got some relevant experience to share, after all – since so many non-addicts do not understand, B. that my kindness and compassion comes through regardless of our verbal exchange, and C., most importantly:
that for any alcoholic or addict, no matter where they are at and if they’re going to die drunk and never get sober, there is this part of them gut-deep that recognizes sobriety and they respond to me like a flinted spark. I will tell you that the miracle of sobriety is so instantly-recognized that there isn’t even room for envy, and that is saying something! In that sense it doesn’t matter too much what I do or say, the important thing is they see me sober, see me coming back to help (if I can), and see me with a smile in my face and love in my heart. And so far, I too have that love in my heart when I return. Because no matter how rude someone has treated me I don’t hold a grudge. I have a love for people that recovers despite, well, despite all sorts of insults, big or small. And I have a willingness to live without a resentment, a willingness that has served me well.
It blows my mind, though. No matter how deep these addicts are and even when they’re absolutely detoxing they recognize the miracle of sobriety. This is incredible!
This hope, this reality, is something I’ve come to believe, at least at this stage in my life.
My irritation tonight is not so much perceived personal insults: it’s from spending some time in the resultant ugliness within the disease of addiction. It’s an ugly disease in a way that many diseases can’t compete with. Usually I feel pretty fine, but some days? I’m a little down.
Last night I ask my husband, “Do you know, I have a tendency to hold on to something, even if it is broken or worthless?”
“I’ve come to count on it!” he says, and gives an embarrassed laugh. I realize he’s talking about himself, or maybe the harder years of our marriage. And I laugh. Surprised even after this time he thinks of himself that way. He’s not broken or worthless, he’s my life’s companion and he’s a treasure to me.
But I’m thinking: I will hang on to things, a half-glass of iced tea, rags, canning jars that might serve a use, things other people regard as trash. I have a bag full of squeezed lemon halves in my fridge! It isn’t just that I might find a use for the seemingly-defunct, but I hate to discard something entirely as it seems wasteful. Especially given that, in so many ways, I have relied on others’ cast-offs (my entire sewing room is furnished with equipment that has been gifted me – this last week for example, a seam roll and a sleeve board).
I am relatively thorough when it comes to moving something on. I have gone through lengths to get those scraps of fabric, or the older bed frame, or the half-consumed bag of flour we’re not using, or the compost from our composter when we move, to someone who can use it. This frugality and this desire for ethical consumption (which means weighing the entire life of the thing we bring into the home), is an asset – as long as I don’t take it too far – don’t grasp and cling, or get too worried about any of it.
Today Ralph and I performed music on the street. I sang, even, with a microphone and everything! It was only in front of a small group, and many of them were friends or at least known to me, but I had a few compliments on my singing – and one on my bravery. My friend M. says to me, “You’ve got balls. I could never sing unless I had a few drinks in me.” I smile and tell her, “I never sang until I got sober.”
I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to be Me. That’s a pretty do-able vocation these days.