A Letter to Me
1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year. As each sobriety milestone arrived, I wrote about it. Today, like an old photo album, those snapshots allow reflection on a continuing adventure. I didn't know how important my writing and those often rambling journals would be in my recovery.
December 23, 2020 is my 2-year sober Birthday. Had December 22, 2018 went the way I had once hoped, I would not be reflecting on anything. Dear friends, Louise and Heidi were there when it mattered most, Doctors and nurses ensured my physical survival, my family encouraged and supported me, and my counselor Jennifer assured me there was a way to get better. They saved me and I will never forget what they did for me.
Since then, there have been steps forward, slides backward, discoveries, disappointments, disillusionment, hope, grief, depression, sadness, change, empowerment, failures, accomplishments, clarity, confusion, acceptance, connection, embarrassment, and loneliness. There has been life, in all its ugly beauty.
When I take the photo album off the shelf and sit with those written snapshots, I am grateful for my writing. Without it, I would not have learned as much as I have, or see in such detail how much has happened. Writing keeps me alive today. The writer in me is my best friend and asks me the tough questions, sometimes in the most uncomfortable ways.
The thought of living terrified me when I lay in that bed 2 Christmas' ago. I didn't know how I was going to survive the next few hours, never mind 2 years, and I wish I could have heard from a future version of myself, letting me know I would be okay.
I am going to write a letter. From me today, to that scared me then. I'll share it with you, because maybe someone else is laying in a bed somewhere, longing to know it's going to be okay.
I was thinking about you today as I prepare to acknowledge 2 years of sobriety. That's right, 2 whole years. I know how lost and afraid you are. I wish I could tell you that everything in our world is awesome 2 years in the future, but you're going to learn that it's best to be honest with yourself. Things are still pretty tough, but I have learned to appreciate the minor victories, and the good news is - there are lots of those. You'll just have to learn how to see them better. You will, and in them you will get the little nudges you will need to keep going.
I want you to know, above everything else, that you are going to be okay. You're going to appreciate that word more over the next few years. It will become your most common mental resting place and despite some horrible feelings you're going to experience, the many challenges that will seem impossible at first, and the huge mistakes you're going to make, you are going to be okay. You're going to feel terrible, angry, sad, empty, hopeless, lonely, and become disillusioned, but you feel all that now. But soon it won't be all the time, just part of the time, because you're going to always find your way back to okay. Being okay is going to be enough, and the sooner you accept that, the quicker things will get better.
I have learned so much in 2 years and I won't tell you it all because I want you to experience it yourself. I know that you need to know everything, and have no patience, but I won't ruin it for you. I want you to appreciate the trip.
I know you just survived a tremendous crash, and you gave up on life, but remember what you told everybody in the hospital?
"I want to be here, I just can't be here like this."
Remember that. Being here a different way is going to require a lot of change, and because you are me, and I'm older than you now, I'm going to give you some advice. There are 5 important things I am going to ask you to do. Try not to be the stubborn asshole you've always been and read them.
1. Open your Heart
I know how much everything hurts right now, especially your heart. We have broken it, others have, and it needs to heal. I know you want to protect it by closing it, so it won't get hurt anymore, but you can't do that. No matter how counter-intuitive it is, how scary vulnerability feels, you need to open it, wide. Yes, it's going to hurt, but it's a muscle that hurts while it heals, but becomes bigger and stronger each time it does. You've been trying to kill the pain in ways that have just impeded your heart's natural healing process. You're going to have to just let it go through what it needs to go through. Open it. Your heart can only be open or closed, nothing in between. By closing it to keep out the things that might hurt, you're keeping out the things it needs to heal. Let it decide what it needs. If you do this, you're going to discover that the heart will filter out the good from the bad. Your job is to be aware when it hurts, to acknowledge it, and sit with it in kindness while it recovers.
2. Do the Work This might be tough to hear, but there aren't any Genie's in Bottles, Fairy Godmothers, or a Wizard of Oz. Recovery is magical, but it isn't magic. It is work, hard work. Speaking of the Wizard of Oz, it was all the shit they went through on the yellow brick road to find the wizard that gave them what they needed. The wizard was just a guy behind the curtain. So you best pack a lunch, put your big boy pants on, and work hard. No person, place, or thing is going to satisfy your needs enough for you to be comfortable in the world. Someone can come along and put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. So, oink all you want, you're going to have to unpig yourself. I know that you want a quick fix, but nope. I know you think if you could just have the thing or that person to love you, then everything will be alright, but nope. None of that is going to change your life, but you're going to learn something that will: YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT. You have to trust your counselor, get vulnerable, and commit to working your way through the stuff that's making it impossible for you to know what you want. Be curious, challenge yourself, face the worst of yourself, but let the best of yourself speak too. I wish I could tell you it's not that bad, but my friend, it's going to be awful. You're going to cry, want to quit, and find out a bunch of extra reasons to hate yourself, but remember… you're going to be okay. But there is glorious news. After a very long time, and a lot of effort, you will find some clarity and you'll understand what you need, not what you think you want. This will be one of those victories I told you about. When you fill these small needs, you have always had? Well, it's better than sex. That's good, because you won't be having any of that either. Sorry, just keeping it real.
3. Get Your Own Measuring Tape You know that measuring tape you've been using your entire life to compare yourself to everyone else? You know, the one that tells you every day that you don't measure up? Or that you aren't as good as everyone else? Throw it away. It doesn't belong to you. You can't compare your life to the lives of other people - you're not living that life and they aren't living this one. As you do all the work I mentioned before, you're going to get a picture of what you want life to look like and you will identify the steps you have to take to paint that picture. When this happens, you're going to find your very own measuring tape that you can use to help track your progress. Just make sure it has all the lines, the 1/16s and 1/8s. Trust me, going to bed at night knowing you had a shit day but you've grown a 1/16th? Huge. I can't tell you how much better you are going to feel about the work you are doing every day. Sure, every once in a while someone's going to use their tape on you, but it won't hurt as much as it used to. Let them measure you, it doesn't matter, and what if they aren't measuring you, anyway?
4. Believe There's a Place for You This is going to take a while to learn, but I want you to know that there is a place for you in the world. It's going to take sometime because until you do the tough work and get to know yourself, your people will not find you. You've spent your whole life feeling like you don't fit in and the more you've tried, the lonelier you felt. Once you allow yourself to be open, to follow your own path, and live as your authentic self, your people will find you. It is an enormous world out there, and if you explore it - as you, not some version of yourself you think people will accept, doors will open and you will connect with others like you. When you find these people, you won't feel so weird, they won't think you're weird. Doing the things you've always wanted to do and living the life that's meant for you, won't feel so impossible any more. These people are waiting for you to come home. You might not believe me, but trust me, there is a place for you.
5. Give up Tomorrow This is the only rule you must follow, without fail, every damned time you want to give up. There are going to be many days ahead where your recovery doesn't seem worth it. You are going to want to quit, but just tell yourself, "You can quit. You can give up. But you can't do it today." It's going to save your life a hundred times over. It's a one day at a time trick for us who have suicidal thoughts. Put it off until tomorrow, stay alive, and one day will add to the next and soon you'll still be here 2 years later, writing a letter to yourself. As long as you put giving up off until tomorrow, you'll never give up. Yes, I agree, it sounds silly, but it works. You'll come to appreciate things that work and you'll leave behind those that don't.
Kid, trust me when I tell you, you're going to be okay, even when you're not. Be kind to yourself, work hard, and know I'll be waiting for you. We can walk our own yellow brick road together.
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Disclaimer - I base my articles on my own personal experience as a recovering alcoholic and addict. I share about what has helped me, what I have learned about myself, and are to provide insight into my recovery. I encourage anyone struggling with mental health and addiction challenges to consider talking to a professional clinician. You are worth it.