Protecting serenity not easy, but worth it
During the early days of my recovery, after the fog lifted and I embraced the new life laid out before me, I was impatient.
When, I wondered, would the work begin? My life consisted of a job and meetings, and after years of wasting so much time chasing and using drugs, I felt like I was spinning my wheels. I was hungry to start righting the ship, so to speak, and get my life back on track.
My old halfway house counselor, Gary, just chuckled when I expressed those sentiments.
“Just wait,” he told me. “Before you know it, your life will be so busy and your plate so full that you’ll be grateful for whatever ‘down’ time you can get.”
Like many of my predecessors in recovery, he was right.
Starting today, I’m back from a week of vacation. The Wife and I didn’t go anywhere or do anything, except tend to some personal business, errands and doctors’ appointments that we’ve been putting off because of our hectic work schedules. We took a few naps, vegged out in front of the TV and mostly enjoyed being able to decompress for a few days. After a punishing lead-up to and coverage of the Foothills Fall Festival, I needed it.
Over the past decade, I’ve learned the value of taking a “time out” every so often to recharge my batteries. My pal Gary was right: Life has a way of getting busy quickly, and unless we remain vigilant, we can over-commit ourselves in an attempt to accomplish as much as we possibly can. This problem isn’t limited to recovering addicts; with today’s fast-paced, immediate gratification-oriented world, everyone seems to expect more of themselves and those around them than ever before.
We’re trained from an early age to be multi-taskers, and the determination to be super men and women only gets stronger as we get older. As I sit here writing this column, I’m staring at an email inbox filled with more than 600 unread messages, and I’m already planning the six or seven other tasks I hope to get done tomorrow on top of wading through all of them. Also on tap for my Monday: picking up my son from his after-school program, racing home to feed the dogs and change, coaching his soccer team, helping prepare dinner after we’re back home, getting him ready for school the next day, touching base with some of the guys in my recovery network, washing dishes and putting away laundry and staying up late to work on the coming Thursday’s Weekend section.
That’s just Monday’s schedule. Writing it all down is exhausting, but it’s a schedule I live by weekly. Yes, it has its stressful moments; and yes, it’s tiring. But it’s how my life functions best at the moment.
Fortunately, recovery helps me recognize when I’ve reached a stress threshold that’s no longer sustainable. Recovery gives me a support group to which I can vent and express frustration, and a place I can go for one hour where I can take a few deep breaths and listen for some words of wisdom that may change my outlook on the load I carry. Recovery helps me to accept my own limitations and to set boundaries on what I’m willing to accept in terms of additional work or commitments.
Recovery has taught me that it’s OK to say no — and that declining to do something isn’t the same as being unable to do it.
“No” is a complete sentence for me these days. I may not like refusing or declining to take on another commitment, but I understand that doing so is necessary — for the preservation of my relationships, my sanity and my recovery.
Stress and frustration aren’t going to send me over the edge, running back to drugs as a way to cope, but they certainly diminish the serenity I’ve achieved through recovery. And since the whole goal of a life without drugs is achieving serenity even in the face of adversity, I need to be wary of other things besides drugs that can make my life unmanageable.
I sought recovery because of unmanageability; I can return to that chaotic state just as easily through overextending myself. I have a choice in whether I want to live that way, and just for today, I choose not to do so.
Steve Wildsmith is a recovering addict and the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (email@example.com) or at 981-1144.