So, what is recovery anyway?

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.

Life Update: Where I've Been

Almost fifteen months ago to the day, my life as I knew it was changed forever. It changed in a way so powerful and unforeseen, that one would imagine being brought to their knees by this shock. Shockingly enough, it didn’t. The nature of this experience had me knowing very little ahead of things unfolding, which placed me in the challenging yet unavoidable position of living through the unknown one day at a time, learning more and more along the way. And, boy, did I ever!

Here’s the Scenario: Over the course of a week, life was flipped upside down. My husband was managing what appeared to be some flu-like symptoms that were ultimately a sign of something far worse and unexpected -- sepsis. This was an infection so vigorous and severe; it eventually spread to his heart. The pumping of his heart would then hastily send that infection everywhere into his body, creating abscesses in his legs, internal organs, and spine as well as four different strokes in his brain. There were four separate times when his care team wasn’t sure if he would make it through the night.

Of course, all of these facts (so easily reported in hindsight) weren't known at the time, nor could they have been predicted. They played out in an undulating manner over the course of three months between an Emergency Department, a Coronary Care Unit, a rehab facility, numerous doctor offices, and in our home. And even after those three long months, the journey still wasn’t over; after Steven arrived home, it would be another three months of rehab before things would settle.

The three months in and out of the CCU and rehab were trying in their own ways, but the three months rehabbing at home did not come without their own set of challenges. My already-slim husband had lost 30 pounds, along with a lot of energy, endurance, and physical ability (having been literally in bed for three months). But the challenges weren’t merely physical. My husband returned home without the sepsis, but with a different kind of infection in its place. He was emotionally infected with anger, and unwilling or able to discuss it. If you think watching loved one almost die is tough, watching a loved one angry and resentful in the aftermath is even worse.

Six months after his initial hospitalization, my husband decided to go back to work. While his schedule was reduced quite a bit, it left him weary, and by the end of the initial few weeks, exhausted. In turn, I felt exhausted from his angry, negative and destructive energy and unwillingness to discuss what happened to him, to me, and to us. It was like a weight hanging in the air, a heavy, dull blanket that seemed to even shroud us from the sunlight on some days. I felt as though I was living with a stranger, which was even more taxing than the six months of illness and rehabilitation leading up to it.

I found myself sinking -- emotionally and physically. I felt so unwell -- like I was age 100 instead of 64 -- and couldn’t understand why. It was all I could do to walk our dog; the last part of the walk uphill left me breathless. I finally realized that it was time to shift the focus back to taking care of myself, and I reached out for help.

I knew it would be important for me to reach out for help that was specific to each of my needs. In an effort to get to the root of my physical exhaustion, I employed the help of a kinesiologist. To soothe and fortify my emotional self, I prioritized spending more time with my coach, while my spiritual self took refuge in reaching out to those closest to me who understood my spiritual nature. I made the firm decision to let everything else go that was not part of this healing regimen. That included work, volunteer efforts, and entertaining (I am an avowed entertainer and love giving dinners and parties for friends). This decision to prioritize my own self-care led to an ongoing journey, which led me to another highly sought-after physician who practices both Eastern and Western medicine via a referral, a therapist for my husband and I, and a renewed dedication to setting boundaries and letting go. To polish things off, I upped my spiritual practice and envisioned peace and ease in my life.

Coming out on the other side, I, like my husband, considered myself one of the lucky few who experiences a “happy ending”. He got to live, and I got to live through it well (as best as possible). But things would not be the same if we had not been open to asking for and receiving the help we needed, in all its forms. My husband, of course, had help from all the medical professionals fighting to save his life. As for me, I had help from my Higher Power, my Alanon program, my life coach, my friends, and my prayer team.

If I had to do it all over again, I would actually say that while the experience may not have been the best thing that ever happened to me (or one that I care to live through again), it led to an important discovery about what I had been allowing in my life energetically, and in turn what I was putting out into the world. So often it’s in our most trying times where we are offered these important lessons that get us back on track even further than we were before the hardships hit. And there’s still so much more to learn!

This journey of re-awakening and re-orienting in alignment with our Higher Self is a process, and has proven to be a true modality of recovery in and of itself. This is perhaps one of the most critical and time-withstanding journeys we must all take (often more than once), and I look forward to exploring and embracing this facet of recovery with you all here in weeks to come.