Monday, May 29, 2017

The Overlooked Ingredient in Recovery

So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

There is much to be said for the role of spirituality in recovery. In fact, in my humble opinion, there is much to be said for the connection between oneself and a Higher Power. There are many recovery programs, in both the addiction world as well as in that of mental health, that espouse these beliefs.

One of the core elements in recovery is hope. Without hope, one can become lost in the downward spiral of self-loathing and despair that can be both overwhelming and potentially lethal. I know this feeling all too well. When I was seemingly trapped in the revolving door of hospitalizations and substance abuse, I thought there was no way out. I remember praying for relief.

I was eventually able to translate this hope into faith, the next step on the spiritual journey of recovery. I believed that somehow, some way, I could get better. This, however, didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it took some years until I formally took the steps to begin an addiction recovery program. This required a series of actions to manifest the change I wanted to see in my life.

I had to modify my life in a way that promoted my mental and emotional health. So I continued in therapy, developed a routine of taking medication as prescribed, and changing the people, places and things in my life that were a part of my addictive lifestyle.

I slowly began to see a change. I no longer craved the substances that enslaved me for years. I also developed a number of healthy relationships through my fellowship that helped me to understand what it means to have friends and, for the first time, be completely comfortable with being who I was, and not pretending to be who I was not just to fit in

This is where love comes in. As much as I believe that hope and faith are essential elements in recovery, the spiritual principle of love is so often overlooked, and perhaps even forgotten.

It is through recovery that I have encountered love in its many forms. I have been loved unconditionally by my friends in the fellowship. One of the first instances of this experience in my life was in March of 1989. I had just over one year clean and I experienced a manic episode. I attribute this to the stabilization process I underwent in early recovery where my mental and emotional state was “re-calibrating” itself.

It was at this time that I was hospitalized in the Erie County Medical Center psychiatric unit. This wasn’t my first time there. But it was different. One particular memory stands out. One evening, my friends from the fellowship came to visit me and we had a meeting in the day room. It was quite a powerful moment. My friend Susan even cried. I will never forget that. It was this expression of love that helped me through this critical time in my life. It was also something that would be played out in other parts of my life to this day.

My late parents gave me more love than I sometimes think I deserved, especially considering the hell I put them through during my active addiction. But they never gave up on me. I know, in my heart, that if it wasn’t for the love that they provided, I could easily have ended up in a very unfortunate situation. My parents, despite all I brought on them showed me more love than I could ever repay.

I’ve also experienced the kind of unconditional love that comes from having a life partner. My wife Suzy has been there for me from the first day we met 25 years ago. It was her love that has sustained me through a major manic episode in 1998 as well as through many ups and downs over the last 2 ½ decades.

And then there is the love of many others: extended family, friends, co-workers, and even those who I have yet to meet. To me, it is this love that is the underlying theme in my recovery story. When I look back at my nearly 55 years on this big blue ball, I’ve come to realize that love is truly the tie that binds. And if we do not have love then we have nothing.

If you are in recovery of any kind I encourage you to find someone (or something) you love. For some, relationships can be an especially painful area. Love is reciprocal. To get it we have to give it. Like that wonderful song by Lennon and McCartney says, “All we need is love.”

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