Well, here we are again. It’s the end of the calendar year; a time crammed with holidays, gatherings and celebrations. With all this activity, I always find it a bit uncomfortable - not because I have to buy gifts or I’m getting older, or even that I feel the pressure of the dreaded and oft-discarded New Year’s resolutions. You see, the end of the year is when I reflect. My birthday is on the 30th of December, and even that isn’t the hardest part of the month. The most nerve wracking part of this whole time is how I am approaching another milestone - the anniversary of my recovery.
On December 28th, 2017, I found myself in a place of desperation and disappointment. Moreover, while the people in my life were getting ready to come together and celebrate, I found myself in jail, out of state, withdrawing, and alone. The memories of that day - though blurry - are not pleasant. I did things I never thought I would and became someone I didn’t recognize. I was scared, in pain and ashamed. I spent years and thousands of dollars trying to right the wrongs of that day.
While I don’t know if the uneasy feeling will ever go away, over the past several years the feelings around that day have shifted a bit. Oh sure, I still get antsy as I approach December 28th. It is almost as if I’m scared I won’t make it to the anniversary in one piece; like I won’t make it another year in recovery. I often cycle through a range of emotions throughout this month - anger, fear, shame, guilt. Lather, rinse and repeat, over and over. But, I also feel a bit of hope, which is a relatively new feeling for me to experience this time of year. I believe it came from several years of experiencing myself as a new person; I was a person learning how to do life and a person newly present for others. Today, I am a person slowly beginning to understand herself.
My first year in recovery was one of drastic change and confusion. I changed my job, my friends, and I even moved across the country. I was dangerously unmedicated and living the life of a person struggling with mental health concerns. I burned bridges with people and flew off the handle from little inconveniences. I spent most of the year trying to hold on, falling down, and getting back up. I fought every day just to make it to December so I could somehow say I made it a year substance-free. I was in recovery but I was still very much angry, in pain, ashamed and feeling guilty. I tried my hardest to listen to those people who had what I wanted, and I usually only heard what I wanted to. I tried to stay close to the program I first walked into, and I did my best to shut out the rest of the world, including those who loved me and wanted the best for me. I tried to create and foster new friendships and relationships, regardless of what the other person wanted.
But I was still not feeling right. I lost loved ones and friends unexpectedly. Without any idea of what else to do, I threw myself into work in the recovery field where I could work with others and even restarted my educational journey. Somehow, the time passed and the pages of the calendar turned and I was faced with a flood of memories as I approached the day that felt bigger than life. December 28th. My recovery date - the anxiety around that date was oftentimes debilitating.
That’s when the most wild thing happened - I woke up on the morning of the 28th. I took a deep breath, drank some coffee, got dressed and went to work. I spent the evening in a meeting hall surrounded by others who were in recovery. I went home, walked the dog and got into bed. That was it. I had lived one whole year in recovery, and I survived!
I’d love to say that my first year in recovery was the hardest, but it really wasn’t. It is just as hard some days as it was back then. But, I learned a lot. I learned about mental health care and medications that can help keep me in balance. I’ve built - and rebuilt - healthy relationships. I figured out how to have fun in recovery. I changed jobs, continued my journey in the classroom, and even moved across the country again. I learned about the infinite pathways to recovery that exist in the world. I learned to be compassionate with others, and with myself! I even learned that anger, pain, shame, and guilt are all valid feelings that arise from time to time. Most importantly, I learned they don’t have to win. I can walk through life the way I need to, and how I want to. I can be who I want to be and can continue to grow and change.
As I look at the calendar today, I know the 28th is coming. I have the feeling that my anxiety is going to be heightened. I have the feeling that I will walk through a variety of thoughts and emotions in the coming weeks. And, yet, I have hope. I have hope that I will wake up on the 28th and take a deep breath. I will drink my coffee, put my clothes on and go to work. I will walk my dog and get into bed.
I will have a simple day. A day that I can be proud of. A day in recovery.
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