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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday – 5/7/21 The Kindling of a Spark

“A wise teacher learns in the midst of teaching; a wise student teaches in the midst of learning.” ― Mollie Marti

At some point early in life, a light went out inside me. It was no doubt related to heavy substance use. I stopped forward thinking and planning and focused my energy on hedonism and living for the moment, even as it meant future pain. Life moved into a dynamic of diminishing returns and a debt of delayed consequences that took a greater price to be paid for each moment of peace or good feelings. The horizon disappeared, and it was as if I was wearing horse blinders. As an aside, I was horrified when in the course of this writing, I did a web search for a reference to horse blinders to learn that there are human versions complete with noise canceling technology (Panasonic $260) and they are used in open office environments. Dystopian indeed.

Back to my topic. Life became hell and I lost a spark. No hope, no dreams, no sense of a positive future. Use became a way to feel normal and contemplating the costs led to pain, with the solution becoming more of the same. The viscous cycle of addiction. I had a crisis that led to a break in the cycle. A window opened and I could see other possibilities. I experienced a deep moment of clarity. Not everyone in recovery experiences such a thing. That first morning of recovery I woke up with a clear view of things I had hidden from myself. It was not pretty and was accompanied by visceral pain that I can still recall on a gut level, even many years later. The only way forward was into recovery even though I had no desire for it at the time, The alternative was worse. The path I was on led to my inevitable death, preceded by lengthening periods of despair and ever deepening consequences. Recovery became the only clear path to a future.

I have written about early recovery in the past, it is a common theme of this blog. Today, I am reflecting on when it changed from a “have to” to a "want to.” Not sure when it was exactly, but I had less pain and hope reemerged. I could smile and laugh again. I started to consider the possibility of a future that did not hurt. I had a spark of hope and a dare to dream come back into my life. I am not certain exactly how it happened. I was starting to understand addiction and that it was not a moral failing. I met a community in recovery and they wrapped around me with love and support. I started to feel like my life might be worth living if I worked at it. I found early mentors (or they found me).

People helped shepherd me into a sense of hope and an inkling of a positive future. The initial kindling of a spark grew, and a steady flame began within me. For entirely selfless reasons as far as I could see at the time, people in recovery took an interest in helping me and nurtured a sense of direction and purpose in my life. These early mentors gave way to new ones over the course of life. I still have mentors who nurture my writing and thinking and encourage me to continually step out of my comfort zone. I stepped into the flow of positive change that comes with taking on new challenges, always with such tremendous support and encouragement. These mentors are people who had forded those streams ahead of me. I owe them everything. I also began to mentor others.

It was often the case that people could see things in me I could not see in myself. That we cannot reliably see positive things in ourselves seems like the norm from my experience over many years working with people in the recovery process. A tool I would often use is Johari’s window. It has four quadrants, and it can be used as a therapeutic resource to expand the Open (Arena) square at the expense of both the Unknown square and the Blind Spot square, resulting in greater knowledge of oneself, while voluntary disclosure of Private (Hidden or Facade) squares may result in greater interpersonal connections. It has been my life experience that working with mentors has helped me open up the hidden quadrant and improve my life. To help me be a better version of me. I am grateful for those guides.

While still very much a student of life, I am entering a different arc of the journey. I am increasingly focused on paying forward the things that people freely gave to me along the way of their time, insights, and wisdom. I am gaining a better sense in the course of my life why people helped me along the way starting those many years ago. Seeing others find that spark within is an amazing thing to witness. I think in many ways we do it because it was what was done for us. Service to others is a value for many of us in recovery. We pay it forward.

Today I am grateful that the spark did not go out permanently in my soul. I am grateful that others around me tended that spark until it was a steady flame and for those who helped fuel it along the way. Without them, I would have not found the better parts of who I am as a person. The visible quadrant at the end of my use was not a pretty one. That changed in recovery. Grateful I had the opportunity with a lot of help to uncover those other quadrants. Grateful that others saw in my what I could not see in myself. Grateful for the opportunity to pay it forward.

What are you grateful for today?

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