How do you feel when you encounter cheerful, happy people who laugh a lot and seem to find some good even in the worst of circumstances? I can recall what my reaction to these people was in the past. I would stick my finger in my mouth and act as if I was gagging. I know now that that’s how I demeaned anything I didn’t understand and believed I couldn’t attain. I envied them, though I would never admit it. Lost in a sea of grief and misery, I considered them a constant reminder of everything I would never be.
Although the particulars may be different, we all have to deal with fear, anger, and grief in our lifetime. Why is it that some people trudge through life dragging their feet in the sand, exhausted and unhappy, and others seem to skip through their lives with a smile? I’ve come to believe it is a matter of perspective. You may not be able to change your circumstances, but you can learn to see things in a healthier way.
Hitting Hard Bottom
When I lost my infant babies, buried my mother who’d taken her own life, went through one bad relationship after another, and indulged in addictions, there was one thing that kept me going. It was my oldest son, Jon. He was beautiful, healthy, smart, and funny, and he loved me beyond reason. Everyone else had pretty much written me off as a lost cause, but he loved me unconditionally. Then, at age fifteen, he was killed.
His death was the catalyst that after a few years brought me to a hard bottom with my addictions. My options at that point were to kill myself, be put away in an institution, or find a recovery program. Since I had a great fear of ever being locked up again, and apparently wasn’t ready to give up my life entirely, I figured the recovery thing was worth a try. I ended up in a 12-step program.
As I struggled through the steps, I listened to others who’d been down the path that loomed ahead of me. I finally found a God of my understanding in my life. My perception of the life I’d lived, and the choices in front of me, changed.
Around the meetings, I heard that we addicts weren’t bad people trying to be good, but sick people trying to get well. You can’t imagine what relief that gave me. All my life I thought I was a bad seed and there was no hope for me. Suddenly, there was a glimmer of hope; a small flame ignited in me that maybe I could honestly change.
One Day At A Time
As time passed and I stayed clean and sober, the fog began to lift in my mind. There were actual moments of clarity. In those moments, the realization of the work ahead, of what it would mean to face my fear, deal with my anger, and resolve the grief that had embedded itself so deeply in me, became almost overwhelming. But I was told I only had to do it one day at a time, that I had the rest of my life to work on it, and that all I had to do was the best I could each day, not comparing my best to anyone else’s best. One person said, “This is not a competition, there are no medals, but if you do this thing, amazing events will take place in your life.”
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I stuck it out. I did the work. Amazing events have taken place in my life. One of those amazing things is that I learned to celebrate life on a daily basis. In the past, when those traumatic dates rolled around, and I had a lot of them, I would get depressed, filled with self-pity and anger, and indulge in one addiction after another. I wouldn’t wait for the actual date to get there, but began my grieving a month or two ahead, which took me through the entire year. Then I’d start over again. In recovery I celebrate the moments of my life . . . all of them, because I know that it took every experience to bring me to the person I am today, to the life I live.
Seeing Things Differently...
Which brings us back to seeing things differently. I recall dwelling on all the things I would miss in my children’s lives because they died, and how it made me feel. In recovery, with the help of sage advice and a spiritual connection, I could clearly see that I’d been blessed. For fifteen years I got to be a mother, to share my life with an extraordinary human being, and if I’d known ahead of time all the pain I would endure when I lost him, I wouldn’t have given up one moment of time with him.
For the first half of my life, I had nothing to give anyone. I took everything I could from anyone handy, but it was never enough. My experience, strength, and hope is what I have to give today as I work with those in crisis. I get to counsel those who are grieving, angry, fearful, and addicted by sharing my story, and perhaps giving them that one glimmer of hope that was given to me. This has been one of my greatest gifts. I’ve come to believe that the God of my understanding saw something in me that no one else could see, and he had a plan for me.
Honoring Each Occasion and Each Day
According to Webster’s dictionary, one of the definitions of “celebrate” is to honor an occasion. Every day I’m granted through grace is an occasion, and I try to honor it the best that I can. I honor those I’ve lost by loving fully and completely, with no fear. I honor my past by using it to help others. I honor myself by allowing myself to have the life that the God of my understanding chose for me. I honor you by understanding that just as I have a right to my choices, so do you, and it is not for me to judge.
I often sign my books with phrases like Every Moment Counts, Happiness is a Choice, Live Boldly and Unafraid, or The World Is Waiting for You. I’m sure there are those who think they are phrases authors use to have something to say, but when I write those words, I mean them from the deepest part of my soul. I know for a fact that through feeling what you are feeling when you are feeling it, and then fearlessly letting it go when it becomes a problem, you will discover a life worth celebrating on a daily basis. That is the life I celebrate today, and I hope for you.
Where Are You In Life?
Imagine a huge block party. As you approach, wonderful aromas of cooking food fill your nose and make your mouth water in anticipation. Sounds of vibrant music and laughter waft across the air, enticing you to join in. Closer now, your eyes see people of all sizes and colors moving to the rhythm of the music. Because there is such diversity in the crowd, food, and music, you know it’s not about age or race. What do you do? How do you feel? If you are honest, it will tell you where you are in life.
Would you feel compelled to join in, filling your senses with all that is offered, letting your body move uninhibited in sync with the beat as the music flowed around you? Would you stand at the edge of the party to watch others as they indulged in the gaiety? Perhaps you think if you had a few drinks, popped some pills, or smoked a joint you could be the life of the party. Or would you simply stand there, held fast by fear that you didn’t belong, but envying those who you believe did? Does that fill you with anger? Who do you blame?
If fear holds you back, it is a symptom of not feeling good enough. If anger builds, it is a substitute feeling that you use to mask your true feelings of sorrow over feeling separate from those around you. If you can only participate under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you are pretending to belong. If you blame others, you are grieving for the person you could have been if not for the failings of those in your life. However, if you jump in, explore new tastes, feel the laughter build and explode from your body, and allow yourself to move with the rhythm of the music, you know what it means to dance on life.
To dance on life is not only about parties, but about waking up each day filled with anticipation for what a new day holds. It is about being grateful for whatever you have to give back to life, a willingness to experience all things that are presented to you. It is a clear understanding that you will not know great joy unless you have experienced great sorrow, that if you refuse to feel the one you will never know the other.
Are You Willing to Jump In and Dance On Life?
How do you get that feeling of being a part of it all? Here’s something somebody suggested to me. Find a quiet, beautiful place where you feel comfortable. If you are able, throw your head back, raise your arms to the sky, and close your eyes. If you are not physically able, picture this exercise in your mind’s eye.
Listen to the breath coming in through your nose and leaving through your mouth. Hear the beat of your heart as it pulses through your body, pumping life and giving blood. Now, imagine your heart beating in sync with every other heart in the world.
When you truly achieve this feeling, you will know that for every heartbeat, there is a reason and a season. Fear will be replaced by faith, anger by honesty, grief by joy, and addiction by choice. You will be in possession of the great secret of life, which is that you belong with all of humanity, and we all have something to give when we become willing to jump in, to dance on life instead of waiting on the sidelines until it’s all over.
©2011 by Barb Rogers. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of Conari Press,
an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser LLC.
Addiction & Grief: Letting Go of Fear, Anger, and Addiction
by Barb Rogers.
About the Author
Barb Rogers wrote several books on recovery, alcoholism, addiction, and well-being, including Twenty-Five Words: How the Serenity Prayer Can Save Your Life, Keep It Simple and Sane, as well as her memoir If I Should Die Before I Wake. Barb died in early 2011. Her website is still accessible at http://www.barbrogersinspirations.com/Addiction_and_Grief_1.html