Within the span of five days recently, I celebrated the beginning of a new union and mourned the end of a life.
Even with more than 15 years clean, I still marvel at the ability that recovery has given me to be present for such events. There was a time when life’s joys and tragedies were beyond the scope of what I could handle; addiction kept me from participating in life’s journey, and I wasn’t able to help those I love celebrate the good things or assuage the grief of the bad. I’m so very grateful that I don’t have to live like that any longer.
On a recent rainy Saturday, I drove up into the hills, down the winding road that cuts through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Elkmont, where Sammy and Amanda got married.
The nearby river was fat with a day’s worth of precipitation, tumbling over rocks with an urgency matched by the steady patter of rain from naked branches onto the carpet of leaves lining the forest floor. Beneath the overhang of the porch surrounding the Appalachian Clubhouse, we hugged and smiled and joked and laughed, eventually gathering inside where my friends pledged themselves to one another by light from the fireplace. I couldn’t help but look around at all of the beautiful faces in attendance, many of whom I know from recovery, and marvel at our ability to come together for such a solemn occasion when we all, at one time, would have been unwilling and unable to do so. The following Thursday, I made the drive to West Knoxville on an unusually balmy fall day, where my old friend Brett committed his father’s body to the ground. I stood toward the back and listened to a short sermon about love, and I watched my old friend, once crippled by addiction as I was, stand shoulder to shoulder with his brothers, honoring his dad one last time as I had done 10 months earlier.
He was present for his nieces and nephews and siblings in a way that only recovery could have prepared him for, and when we had breakfast the morning before he flew back to San Francisco, I was reassured that Brett would make it through this brief season of pain and find acceptance on the other side.
Sammy and Amanda and Brett and I are fortunate in that we have this new way of life to structure the way that we live today. There was a time when the chains of addiction weighed heavy, when the only thing that mattered was more of the substance we put up our noses and arms and into our mouths. We could have a tractor-trailer full of drugs backing up to our front doors, and instead of being amazed at how much dope they contained, we’d be worried about when the next truck would be arriving. The milestones that take place in the lives of human beings traveling through an existence on this earthly plane couldn’t break those shackles; weddings and funerals were excuses to get loaded, because emotions needed to be medicated. Joy needed to be magnified, grief needed to be numbed; we were incapable of experiencing either one without the chemical suits of armor we felt we needed.
Recovery has show us otherwise. It’s allowed us to be present for the good and the bad, to feel the emotions that come with both and to know that the only certainty in this life is change. Grief eases, elation is tempered. Over time, one will lead to the other, and back again, because that’s just how life works. And thanks to the program to which we belong, we can stay in the moment for all things. It teaches us that life happens to everyone, and sometimes it’s not pretty. Sometimes it hurts. But other times, it’s so beautiful it’s breathtaking, and the people with whom we share those moments are some of the truest and deepest friends we’ll ever know.
Because they, too, are on this same human journey. And, like me, they’ve found a new way of life that allows them to live in the light instead of the shadows, to embrace all of the feelings that come with it, and to know that whatever happens, we’ll be OK ... if we choose to be. I’m so very grateful for that new way today, and I’m so very blessed to call Sammy and Amanda and Brett my brothers and sister in this incredible journey.