In honor of National Recovery Month, I wanted to share my thoughts on beginning the recovery journey. I, like most of us who enter recovery, was scared to death and felt completely alone. It has been a few years now, and even though I have my ups and downs, they are never as terrifying as that first day, that first attempt, that first thought that I might actually do this, this whole recovery thing.
I’ve watched so many newcomers enter the rooms and sit in the back row against the wall. I’ve watched them shake and bake, cry and fidget. And I’ve watched many of them disappear back into the world, never to return again. So in honor of National Recovery Month, I wanted to write an open letter to the newcomer. More specifically, I want to share my open letter that the sober Jen is writing to the newcomer Jen. I hope you can identify with something here.
The first thing I want to say to you is that it’s going to be okay. I know that right now you don’t believe that. You probably think it is a big fat lie. I did too. I didn’t think anything would ever be truly okay, never mind fundamentally okay. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. Anyhow, I see you are scared and confused right now. I know you’re feeling very stubborn, very shameful and very guilty about this big dark ugly secret – your addiction, your alcoholism. But I want to tell you something – the one thing you’ve wanted to hear your whole life – YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
Don’t roll your eyes. I can see you rolling your eyes. And oh yeah, I can see the tears, too. You have been trying to hold them back for some time… but I can see them. You might think you’re fooling those around you, but you aren’t. They all know how miserable you are. And not just miserable looking with that ugly mug and sarcastic attitude. They can see how miserable you are on the inside. They can see through the fake smile, the costume self-righteousness and the pathetic victim act. I know I’m being kind of rough on you here Jen, but I’m just telling you like it is. Everyone, everyone in your life can tell you are living a lie. And it is hurting everyone around you. But it is killing you.
So congratulations on taking the first step toward freedom. Right now you probably think you are the weakest person on the face of the earth, a lousy, miserable failure having to slither into recovery. But I couldn’t be more proud of you. That’s right. Going to a meeting, talking to someone and reaching out for help – these are all huge acts of immense bravery and should be commended.
Picking up the phone is a bigger accomplishment than picking up a drink or a drug.
You have chosen courage over cowardice and that my dear Jen, is amazing.
Now that you’ve made the decision, actually put it out there, you have to act on it. You’ve signed up for the class, committed to going to a meeting or agreed to rehab. Promise yourself you will follow through. Don’t do it for you. Do it for me. I am so happy today, clean and sober, serene and mostly sane. I can’t exist without you pulling up those big girl panties and soldiering forward. But remember, you’re not alone. Your higher power, who we have come to know as God, is right there with you. In fact, He has been there all the time.
Stop with the eyes again! We’ll talk about respect later. But for now, just believe me when I tell you that He truly has been with you, every painful, excruciating step of the way to where you are right now. He was with you when you were abandoned, abused, hurt and desperate. He heard you when you cried out all those times. He waited for you and loved you through your bratty adolescent phase, which, if you didn’t know it, you are still in. And He’s gonna keep on loving you as you get better. You see, God loves us Jen. We are His kid. Think about it. Would you want to see our daughter or son struggling and living in immense pain everyday? Of course not. Would you want to watch our precious babies slowly kill themselves? Never! Neither does God! He wants only the best for us. He wants us to recover, to get better, to make good decisions. But He can’t make them for us. He will never do that, just like we know it’s not healthy to force our decisions on our kids.
So just believe me when I tell you that the God that you will come to know and love, that God has always loved you and is a pretty cool dude. In fact, I’ve come to like him quite a bit. He listens to me, guides me and even helps me out of jams when I’m willing to listen. But that’s the key, Jen – willingness. And that leads me back to you. Willingness is going to be such a huge part of your journey. I know you think you’ve been willing to do whatever is necessary to free yourself from your pain before. But that’s not true. If you had been, you wouldn’t still be using, lying and cheating.
Today, for the first time in a long time, maybe the first time in our life, you are finally demonstrating complete willingness for change. And that’s awesome. Hang on to that because it’s a recurring theme in this whole recovery thing. You’ll find most of the steps, the recovery process, that most of it goes a lot easier when you are willing. Actually, you’ll discover most of life goes a whole lot easier when you are willing. Speaking of the steps… don’t get scared by them. I see you looking at the big poster on the wall. They are in order for a reason.
Don’t try to take it all in at once. Just take a breath.
Remember that whole ‘You’re not alone,’ thing? It’s got more than one meaning.
- First, you’re not alone in how you feel. What I mean is, all those feelings of self-loathing and inadequacy, all those not-good enough and not fitting in feelings we’ve had our entire life, these people here in this room… they all had them too! I know! Crazy, right? I joke about it now. Really, you will be able to joke about this in the future Jen. I joke about it and say that I finally found the island of misfit toys. You know we’ve always felt like a misfit. But here, among these people who without their illness would otherwise not mingle, among these folks, we fit right in – we are home. They actually think like us, Jen. They feel the same feelings and have the same fears and worries. And get this… most of them have done things way worse than we did!
- Second, you are not alone on the recovery path. I know it feels like it today. You haven’t told anyone about your issues and you haven’t told anyone you were coming here. You are all alone. But that ends now. You will find a woman who has what you want; integrity, grace, dignity and experience – and you will ask her to help you through the steps. With her support and the love of the people here, you will work towards healing from all that yucky stuff we carried around for so long. Don’t worry about how today, just know that it will happen. The Promises tell us so.
- Third, you are not alone in your social life. Addiction and alcoholism are such isolating diseases. It’s kind of funny because we started partying so that we could be more social, remember? But somehow, somewhere along the way, our drinking and drugging isolated us from everyone around us. It was kind of subtle. At first it was just some really annoying people we thought we were better off without. Then it was some of the boring, non-partying do-gooders.
Eventually our social world got smaller and smaller.
And our loneliness got bigger and bigger. We thought we were all alone.
That ends today. Recovery is a WE program.
Look around you. No one in this room can stay sober without you. And we can’t stay sober without them. That is the absolute truth. You’re gonna spend a few months circling around the fellowship, and that’s natural. It’s hard to jump right in and allow people to love on you, I get it. But I’m gonna tell you something right now. Jump in. We didn’t do that right off the bat and it was painful. About eight months into this recovery thing you’re gonna wonder why everyone is so snobby, why we don’t have friends in the program. And we’re gonna get called out on our behavior. So just do it, Jen. Do it for you, do it for me. Do it for us.
Before you know it, you’ll be spending all your free time with these misfits. You’ll be learning new ways to think, new ways to act, and finding peace sneaking into all the corners of your life. Things at home will get better, our kids will respect us and believe it or not – you will even learn how to pause before you react. I’m totally serious! I couldn’t believe it when I heard it either. But today I can tell you that we pause. We pause long enough to think our actions through. We pause long enough to let that first thought go. We pause just long enough to ask ourselves if it is worth it.
And Jen, as we journey through this recovery, we let things go. Today we have learned to let go of a lot of past pain that was eating us up. We have let go of anger, resentments and jealousy. We don’t compare ourselves to other people anymore – swear to God! That is huge for us! And we don’t worry too much anymore. Oh yeah, and we don’t think about using hardly at all.
I’ll be honest, Jen – it isn’t going to be all rainbows and unicorns getting here. And it isn’t a bucket full of sunshine every day. But it is a softer, gentler path than the one we were on. It is a truer, more authentic way of life. It is freedom from the bondage of self. Today we can walk with our head held high and actually look people in the eye. Today we can remember what we told our children and make our families proud. Today we can look in the mirror and like who we see. Today we can help another suffering soul realize there is hope. And that, Jen, is the best gift of all.
So thank you, Jen. Thank you for taking this step of courage. Thank you for mustering up the willingness to slip into the back of the room. Thank you for loving us just enough to believe that I exist. I never could have done this without you. You rock!
Your future, happy, joyous and free self,