Recovery is a vast and wide-reaching reality that touches the lives of many in ways that we don’t even realize. In my formerly limited vernacular, the term “recovery” simply referred to the work I was doing in my 12-step program. I was recovering from (or so I thought when I started) the effects that living with an alcoholic had on my life. But over time, I learned that we are all called to enter recovery at some point or another (sometimes many times over) from what life throws our way.
As I read the many responses (thank you!) to my "Where I’ve been…” blog, this deepened my understanding of how recovery can encompass so much more than what we learn in a 12-step program or what we discover as we help a loved one make their way back from a serious illness. There are so very many events in life that can completely uproot us. If you saw any pictures of trees that became uprooted in one of the many Nor’easters we had here in NJ this winter, you would see a picture of a very scarred, very broken, very fragile tree most often laying on its side, no longer upright, branches smashed to pieces and scattered about the landscape surrounding it.. That mental picture best describes how I felt last year. Of course, I still lived in the same house, drove the same car, fed the same dog; there was lots of sameness. At the same time, there was a sense of feeling so lost and empty --- just like the inside of that uprooted tree.
You told me just how many different life events left you feeling uncertain about how to forge ahead in the world. Take a moment to reflect on which of these scenarios most resonates with you and your life experience?
Recovering addict: While the symptoms of addiction can be either full-blown or subtle, the common thread that connects addictive behaviors is that we ultimately lose our sense of identity, replacing it with beliefs and actions that no longer feel like our own. The process of navigating recovery from any addiction goes beyond modifying destructive behaviors, to restoring our sense of self.
Relationship with an addict in recovery: Addiction can be unquestionably harmful to those who experience it directly, but it’s also true that those who are engaged in relationships with addicts can suffer equally. In an effort to be a pillar of strength, or merely survive the challenges of a codependent relationship, it’s possible to view a relationship with ourselves as a luxury, not a necessity. As you support the recovery of someone you love, you are equally deserving of a relationship with yourself.
Caretaker for a loved one who is/was ill: This hits especially close to home for me (read this post for the full story). When on a journey to help a loved one navigate an illness, whether temporary, uncertain, or terminal, our instinct is often to throw our whole selves into this journey. There’s so much to be learned and so much love that can be cultivated from this process, but so much can be lost as well. Whether it be out of guilt or sheer exhaustion, we might bury the insurmountable pain, anguish, or fear we are feeling. We might forget to make time for very basic needs of self-care (cooking foods that fuel us, talking to the friends who nourish us, getting the sleep we need, the list goes on…). We might forget that we can still feel joy during a profoundly troubling, stressful, or sad time. That’s why recovering our selves during AND after this type of life event is so important.
Career or work life is changing: We live in a time where many of us associate much of our identity, purpose, and worth with our jobs. As a society, we’re notoriously overworked, under-rested, and often under-appreciated. When we decide to make a change (or it’s made FOR us), we can find ourselves in a place where we have to start from scratch. If you’re retiring, suddenly you might have ample time on your hands without a sense of how to spend it. If you’re leaving the world of corporate burnout, you might wonder who you are if you’re not working an 80-hour week and leaning on the appraisal of others. Or, if you’ve been let go from your job, you might be faced with anger, fear, or even a strange sense of relief. Regardless of the situation, career changes present a unique opportunity for us to re-ground ourselves in our core values, desires, and needs.
Emerging from a relationship, divorce, death of a loved one, or personal illness: Many people can identify with the concept of “losing themselves” in a relationship. You might know the drill -- we become so entwined with the personality, preferences, and lifestyle of our partners that we can no longer tell the difference between their needs and our own. And when it’s over, we’re suddenly at a loss for who we actually are. In a different sense, if we’ve been navigating a personal illness, the needs and limitations our condition imposed on us might have muddled our sense of what’s possible for us. And in the tragic instance of the death of a close friend, partner, or family member, we might find ourselves suddenly stripped of someone who was an integral part of our existence (positive OR negative), and in a place where we must begin anew. In any of these situations, emerging on the other side is where we’re invited to recover strength in our selves, our unique purpose, and develop a new definition of life.
Do any of these scenarios speak to you? I would love to hear about your experience and hear about where you go and how you respond in these situations.
Meanwhile, please remember, my personal goal is to facilitate the recovery of relationships with the self in every aspect, no matter what the circumstance. I’ll be sharing more resources and content centered around the many facets of recovery here on my blog, but I would love to learn about how I could help you directly in your journey to recovering your best self. Learn more about my experience, and reach out to discover how you can begin, without judgment or obligation.