Every year that I go through my recovery, my sponsor will give me a theme. This is not, by any means, out of the book; it’s just something her and I have done from the beginning of my recovery. Year one was just about getting my shit together. Year two, we had a solid theme of “Relationships.” Year three was “Balance.” When year four began, we were kind of stuck. You see, she had these themes correlate with my life happenings. Finally, since balance is seemingly a never-ending struggle for me, we came to the conclusion that year four would be about, “Maintaining my Personal Recovery while Maintaining a Life.” Seem redundant? I promise it’s not.
Year one, I found myself living in my parent’s house, with my now ex-husband and my daughter who was two at the time. I had pulled my job down over my head and was attempting to get off of a lot of prescription medication that I knew had become an issue in my life. I found myself drinking heavily to cope and my then husband, who was a paramedic, had taken me to a few hospitals swearing I was having some sort of a nervous breakdown. When the psych hospital that he had taken me to told him that I had a blood alcohol level of .36, shocked and not knowing where else to turn, he dragged me to my first 12-Step meeting. I had a rough start, but something inside me knew that I was home for the first time in my life. I had zero previous Twelve Step experience, but I was cognizant enough to know that the people in these meetings were talking about things that I understood, yet never talked about out loud.
I relapsed six days in and eventually found a sponsor and started working my Steps. When that sponsor relapsed about six months into my recovery, I found myself at a loss. Quickly, I evaluated my experiences and reached out to a few friends, who connected me to my now sponsor. We began working the Steps all over again and life was beginning to stabilize, until I realized that there was something in my life that wasn’t quite right. At about the time I picked up my one-year chip, my sponsor looked at me and said, “Year two is about relationships.” I knew in my gut she was right.
I had always heard that you don’t begin any new romantic relationships in your first year of recovery, and I took that rule seriously. However, the more independent, responsible and whole I was becoming, the more my marriage was suffering. I couldn’t fathom at the time why, just when I was beginning to feel like whom I should have always been, that people couldn’t accept and love me just the same. I now know the other side and just how hard it was, although being happy for me, to see an entirely new person emerge from the wreckage. I wasn’t the same person my then husband married, and he knew it.
We attempted to work on it. We sought counseling, but eventually the relationship crumbled and we divorced. I truly believe that he was in my life for a reason and played a huge part in saving my life. This is what he was good at, after all. He was a rescuer by trade, a paramedic, a first responder. This is what he did. He gave me a beautiful daughter and he saved my life. I could never repay him for all that he did. But, he had no idea how to handle a whole, independent, career-driven spouse. It felt to me that he liked the sick version of me better.
It turns out that we are much better at being friends. We co-parent beautifully. My now partner and I celebrate holidays with my ex’s family, so my daughter can have her whole family together at once, and really because we are all still family just the same. He has a great girlfriend himself and I couldn’t ask for a better influence in my daughter’s life. I am not saying that this is all common, or that it happened fast. It took some work. The divorce was hard. My daughter, although young, had questions. But we did our best and we continue to do our best for her. I now am in what I believe to be the first healthy relationship of my life. Year two, “Relationships”? Yeah, I’d say so.
Year three I was insanely busy in my career. My first solid job in recovery was back in my field of social work. I integrated slowly, finishing my Steps and working on myself before I began to help others again. I had a job where I was in my community, taking substance abuse prevention classes into the local schools in my area and working with a local substance abuse prevention coalition. I LOVED it and felt like I had found my calling. However, I quickly found myself spending a LOT of time with work and not enough time on my own personal recovery. It was tough, my job was recovery related and I felt like everything I did revolved around recovery…but I wasn’t taking enough time to slow my role in helping others, to look at my own recovery. My sponsor stopped me and said, “You know, balance is a heck of a thing.” Balance. Ah, there was my theme.
I worked at that job, pushed every comfort zone I had, pushed through my anxiety to do presentations, where at the max were over 1,200 people at once. I won awards, gained community recognition and really became integrated and connected in ways I never knew I could. I had a calling to help and a story to tell. But if I didn’t take the time to work on me, all of those things would be a moot point.
At the end of year three, one of my sponsees passed away when her newborn son was just 21 days old. I was shocked to my core. She was a beautiful soul with a family business, a new son, a new husband and what seemed like life at her fingertips. The grief I experienced was immense and I began to evaluate my personal relationships and if I was taking enough time to let the people in my life know just how special they were to me. I knew I was doing something right because through all of these things, I didn’t have to numb myself, but I also knew, to get the answers I was seeking, I needed to look inward.
Today, I still work in the substance abuse field. I am still connected to my community and do a lot of community work. I still adore it. To say that I haven’t slowed down a bit, though, would be a lie. I am still passionately connected to helping others; but life is a journey, not a race. Recovery is a lifelong process and if I don’t stride instead of sprint, I may miss all the beauty that I ask God to show me daily.