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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 7 16 21 – What Would Happen If I Started Writing?

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ― Philip Pullman

Addiction left a whole lot of “what ifs” in my early life. Pathways never taken because of the consumption of substances. I consumed them and then they consumed me. Recovery has been about nurturing rather than consumption. Pursuing things that have meaning and that make my soul sing. Replenishing the same places left open, raw, and empty through addiction. Sometimes, this has led to “failures” which with the benefit of time are really temporary setbacks and critical learning experiences. Failure is only really ever final if one never tries or gives up too early. Some valuable life lessons that come with my terminal condition, addiction. A condition in which millions of others have found such silver linings.

One area of “what if” for me has led to writing. I had done some professional writing for decades to one degree or another. Policies, communications, grants, white papers, things like that. About three or four years ago, I started doing social media posts on gratitude Friday as an intentional act of self-care. I did it to exercise positivity, which unless vigorously practiced, atrophies into unyielding negativity, a darkness within myself I call my Eeyore brain. I can’t afford it; it would kill me through a return to using. Not an option.

Writing has picked up in recent times, it felt good to write regularly. I have done some op-eds and other writings. I started writing for Recovery Review in 2019 and it has become a place that I feel nurtured and inspired by the people that Jason Schwartz has also brought on to the blog. Last year, I made a deeper commitment to putting pen to paper. I got some wonderful encouragement from one writer in particular, Bill White. I started to think in terms of being a writer. I never thought of myself as a writer. I am an avid reader, so the written word has always resonated with me. I just never saw myself as one. Then, in the fall of 2020, Julie gave me this amazing web site, a place to put my photographs, this blog and other writings and media. It was at the same time another friend was asking if I had thought of putting my work in a single place. Commitment deepened. I now see a writer in the mirror. I didn’t see that coming.

A few months ago, I decided to interview as many people as I could who were involved in the historic 2001 Recovery Summit in Saint Paul Minnesota. This year is the twentieth anniversary of that historic event. The summit and what the attendees did afterwards have fundamentally changed how we think about addiction, how we see recovery and the way we envision services and supports for people experiencing a substance use disorder. The vison of recovering citizens dedicated to spreading recovery across America. Greg Williams captured it in the Anonymous People, a must see movie (there is a free showing of it tomorrow at noon in Allentown at Change on Hamilton if you live in the Lehigh Valley). A kindred spirit when it comes to recovery history, Greg has been very generous in helping me with this project.

I have never done interview writing before, I was nervous. Even though I have spent about 100,000 hours in my life deeply listening to people as a helper, the leap to interview writing had never occurred to me. Part of why I am doing it comes from an old recovery concept, that if you see something that needs to get done and nobody else is doing it, life is telling you that you are the person who needs to do it. It is such an honor to sit down, listen to these amazing stories and to try and capture their thoughts with the written word. It is my hope to publish it all in some way so that they can be preserved for future generations. They did something that needs to be documented. I am also doing it as the history fascinates me. How did it come together? What made it successful? What might they say to future advocates? The work of Bill White in his book, Slaying the Dragon also shows us in so many ways why it is important to understand and pay attention to our own history, a theme that several interviewees also echoed.

I do not know where the writing goes, but I want to find out. I know I get an itch if I don’t write for a few days, so I know for now the writing continues. It feels good to write. I learn a lot; I meet others so focused on areas of common interest and I gain a deeper clarity on a topic and learn from others in my writing circles. Writing forces a deeper level of examination. Recovery has taught me to try and to pursue things I was afraid of when I was trapped in addiction. Regret emanates from paths not taken, at least this is my truth. Arduous climbs make us better climbers. One just has to stay on the path, once one finds that path. Writing is now a path for me.

The question I loathed when I was young was “what do you want to be when you grow up.” I never had an answer. I find if I get focused on something and put consistent effort into it, good stuff generally happens. It is a twisting path. Often, these good things go beyond what I had considered possible for me in my life. Pushing on those limits we place on ourselves can yield incredible rewards. What makes your soul sing? Are you pursuing those things? What limitations are you putting on yourself that keep you from doing those things? Do that thing and find out what happens! If you fall and scrape your knee, get back up, clean the wound, and keep moving forward. What are you grateful for today?

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