I found myself reflecting on the nature of hope this week, as I often do when I see people come into my place of employment, a drug and alcohol treatment center here in Blount County, without it.

It’s a nebulous emotion that we often feel but don’t recognize. (How else to explain the fact that those who are so beaten, who have given up on life entirely, still show up at the doors of a place that might help them out of the bondage of addiction?)

We believe in it but don’t acknowledge it. We depend on it but take it for granted. It gives us comfort in the dark of night, and the strength to go on when we feel we have no more left to give. In recovery, newly sober addicts and alcoholics are often told to see it even in the darkest of times, because no matter the adversity, the obstacle or the seemingly insurmountable odds, it’s always there.

I understand that for the practical-minded, such appeals to emotional authority seem illogical, if not outright ridiculous. And at first, it was difficult for me, sitting in an old folding chair with scabbed-over track marks on my forearm and nothing to my name but a job at this paper and a bed at a halfway house, to accept that hope was something I had never really abandoned.

After all, in my active addiction, hope kept me going — hope of scraping together enough money to buy as much dope as I could; hope that my guy would be feeling magnanimous and front me something; hope that I might wake up in the morning without the sweating, nauseating withdrawal pains.

Hope that I might be able to one day stop killing myself slowly.

It’s kind of ironic — as addicts who use drugs daily, we’re often the only people who have hope for ourselves. Most everyone else gives up on us, categorizing us as “once an addict, always an addict,” to paraphrase some of our 12 Step literature. However, recovery has shown me that hope blooms even in the darkest, coldest hours of addiction. It’s a difficult seed to plant, however, but once it takes root, it becomes the only flower in our garden that matters.

As we nurture it, that hope begins to grow and spread. At first, it seems limited to the room in which we gather with our own kind. We hear those who have gone before us talk about their darkest hours and recognize the similarities with our own. We see the things they’ve gained, material and spiritual, and realize that if recovery can work for them, maybe it can for us as well. That hope ignites a determination within us to emulate them, to follow their suggestions, and when we do, we find that our lives also begin to improve.

The more we do that, the greater the cascade effect begun by hope reverberates through our entire lives. Friends, family members and loved ones who withdrew for their own emotional protection, unable to continue to enable our slow destruction, begin to come back around. They see our progress as direct action instead of the lip service and empty promises we’ve always delivered in the past, and they begin to cautiously welcome us back into their circles. In that respect, they, too, have hope, that we won’t go back to our old self-destructive ways.

Whether we do or not is entirely our choice. The hope we discover in recovery can become a permanent fixture in our lives, or it can be short-lived, depending on how focused we are on the solutions that recovery offers. To that end, many of us find that the solutions lead us to the realization that the drugs were just a symptom of our problems.

My using stemmed from internal damage, to the psyche and the spirit. Only by addressing that damage and attempting to correct it through the 12 Steps of recovery have I found the peace of mind I’ve sought for so long. My first few attempts at recovery, I didn’t recognize this vital, necessary part of the recovery process, and my hope quickly dimmed.

I was overwhelmed with a feeling of “what now?,” wondering why, if I had given up drugs, I still felt so miserable. I was frustrated and angry, at the world and at myself, because I expected all of my problems to evaporate once the drugs were out of my system.

Recovery doesn’t work like that, and abstinence doesn’t equal recovery. There’s a difference between recovery and being clean, and in my experience, only the former can bring about lasting changes that ensure my future peace of mind. If all I’m doing is staying off drugs, I’m still the same miserable individual I was when I was using them.

In recovery, we find that hope doesn’t have to be tenuous. It’s permanence, of course, is dependent on the work we do to keep it, but with time, we discover that the work necessary to produce hope and change is but a fraction of what we had to put forth to maintain our habits. Life in recovery, we come to realize, is so much easier, so much more enjoyable, and so much more hopeful than we ever thought.

Steve Wildsmith was an editor and writer for The Daily Times for nearly 17 years; a recovering addict, he now works in media and marketing for Cornerstone of Recovery, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Blount County. Contact him at wildsmithsteve@gmail.com.

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