Gratitude

About a month ago, someone from my home recovery group asked me if I’d share my story at a local rehab. In order to keep it, you have to give it away, they say.

The first time this guy asked me about speaking, I apparently pulled out my phone and put the date in my calendar because it was already there when he asked me about it again last week. I hadn’t agreed to it then and figured (hoped) he’d forgotten all about it, but he had not. I’ve heard enough people say they always take a speaking commitment unless they have a good reason not to. Still, I thought about it another day or two before committing, not because I didn’t want to but because I was afraid.

Just like some people fear flying or dogs or germs, I am afraid of public speaking. It’s irrational, although I was somewhat comforted by another member reminding me that sharing our story comes from the heart and extemporaneously, so is not much at all like public speaking. We can change subtle things about our message, but our story never changes, and this is precisely why I freaked out a little once I set foot inside rehab yesterday.

I guess I had a different idea of what rehab would look like. Like many in recovery, I detoxed at home and never went to rehab, although I romanticized it plenty in those early days. I pictured plenty of natural light and down time and tired looking women in sweatpants and very little makeup. I hadn’t pictured so many heavily tattooed men (and women) and so much syrup on the dining hall tables we pushed together to form our own makeshift recovery meeting. A handwritten sign on the wall listed a different radio station to be played each day of the week with the threat of talk radio ALL DAY (emphasis theirs) if anyone had a problem with it. This rehab felt like prison if prison had a lobby with a murky, half-empty aquarium with too many orange fish and one big turtle straining to escape.

What possible good came of me sharing my suburban-white-mom story with a bunch of people with probably very different circumstances? I have no idea. It’s possible something I shared from my first year of recovery stuck with someone…maybe how I didn’t do anything perfectly except for not drinking. I don’t know, I’m reaching. I shared my story, avoiding eye contact and feeling a bit like my 4 year-old when she meets someone new and runs to hide behind me (if I can’t see them, they can’t see me, right?). Everyone listened politely. A handful of people used the time to fill in worksheets, which probably had to do with step work. At one point a woman loudly crumbled up a page she was working on, but I don’t think it was to protest anything I said. After the meeting, some came up to shake our hands and thank us for coming, and this touched me. I took something away, though it was not the pat-myself-on-the-back feeling that I expected. I took away gratitude that I got to leave and drive home at the end of the hour to be with my family.

In an email to a recovery friend I’ve started getting close to (my first real-life recovery friend!), she talked about gratitude and how seeing someone with less made her appreciate all that she had. I knew just what she meant. When I snuck glances around the room yesterday, I was aware how lucky I am to have gotten out when I did. I hate the term “high bottom” because frankly it reminds me of firm asses. But there are so many points in a person’s life they can choose sobriety. Maybe it’s more apt to say sobriety chooses us. How else can I explain the college student sitting next to a newly sober retiree at a meeting? Why did I stop drinking at 37 and not 27 or 47 or never? Who the fuck knows, but I’m even more grateful I had the resources and support to stop as easily as I did. Looking around the room yesterday, I saw how easy I’ve always had it. The experience was unsettling and humbling.

Right now, gratitude is as much about being thankful for the life I avoided as it is appreciating the life I have. Eventually I hope I feel it without so much fear and judgmental-ness, but hey, one more thing to work on. I am grateful for that and even the smell of syrup, which stayed with me for hours afterwards and reminded me of the world I left behind.

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6 thoughts on “Gratitude

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  1. You accomplished exactly what was needed which was to keep you sober one more day. My guess is that each person probably got something out of what you said. They may not know immediately what that is, but it will come to them. Way to go on stepping outside of the box 🙂

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  2. Oh my goodness, I felt the same way the first time I delivered a meeting to rehab. I was so worried about what I was going to say and what it was going to be like (I detoxed at home too). But it turned out to be wonderful. Alcoholism and addiction are the greatest equalizers next to death and most of those women looked at me the way I looked at others the first time I went to an AA meeting. It didn’t matter who the were or where they were from, I just wanted what they had…

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  3. Great post. I know many worry about the “public speaking” bit of this kind of service but you shouldn’t, sometimes the best thing for these folks is to hear it straight from the heart not in some polished public performance.

    They had radio in rehab!!! Now I’m jealous! 🙂 We had no radio, TV, Papers etc. in the one I went to.

    When I wasn’t working a couple of years ago I went to a all male rehab in my intergroup area a few times, they had a lunchtime meeting there. I met one guy on my trips in there who I remember as I saw him progressing in the rehab and he was one of the ones really keen to know how I’d done it on the outside once I’d left a rehab. I saw him earlier this month at our local convention – 2 years sober, looking frankly 10 years younger than when I first saw him, smiling, sparkle in the eyes. I was so please to see him and shake his hand warmly then we just hugged each other – there is a bond between suffering alcoholics who get it that is indescribable to people who’ve never experienced it.

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  4. …”gratitude is as much about being thankful for the life I avoided as it is appreciating the life I have.”
    This really struck home. I think often about all of those “what could have happened if I kept drinking”, the “not-yets”, and the “how the hell did I get out of THAT one unscathed?”
    I was so fortunate to step off the elevator when I did. I have no doubt it was about to crash very very very soon. And I’m rambling here, but I feel like the elevator is waiting for me sometimes, right where I got off. Like someone is holding the “door open” button. I have zero desire to get back on that ride!
    Congrats on your speaking engagement. Alcohol is the great equalizer when it comes “us”. I’m sure each person there got something out of your share. Good for you.

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