Gratitude Friday 9-29-23 – Emerging Out of the Fire
“What if instead of heroically bursting from the fire, a weakened and traumatized bird rises awkwardly, just barely, careening through a wall of sky on fire, entirely uncertain of what fate awaits when it finally clears the smoke? Why can't this mess be a triumph? Why can't basic survival be a kind of glory? Why do we envision a pristine and painless resurrection - when the world shows us, time and time again, how messy these processes really are?” ― Emily Rapp Black, Sanctuary: A Memoir
Life is not easy, and mine is no an exception to this rule. I have had more than a few lucky breaks, but mostly life has been a slog. If I was a gymnast (which clearly, I am not) mine would not be an effortless landing after a flawless performance. With anything but grace I might, perhaps, land on my feet, but with arms flailing and teetering like a Weeble who may well fall down. It would be as likely that I land on my face, with a bloody nose, bruised knees and elbows. But I would pull myself off the floor and do it again. The alternative is remaining on the ground. Not an option.
I have definitely not had a hard life. Yet most of the opportunities I have found in life were disguised as “land on my face” failures. The choice is always between navigating around obstacles in my path, going over or through them or quitting. Failure was my pre-recovery norm. It resulted in deep self-loathing. Consistent failure became unbearable and led to the recognition that I had not bothered to put much of an effort into succeeding at anything I did in my youth. At times, giving up seemed appealing, but with a lot of support, the decision to just keep trying has won over the urge to give up. Failing to try is much worse than not even trying. I learned that. That is the one thing I do right consistently.
Recovery started for me with a part time job at Taco Bell and a glimmer of hope for a future beyond that humble station. I recall in early recovery a counselor asking me what I might want to do with my life, and like many people in recovery, I felt a strong desire to help others like me escape the hell of addiction and experience life. It was the journey I started on. My first job in the SUD sector was as a treatment tech at a highly dysfunctional and long defunct adolescent addiction treatment center. I had a good mentor who showed me what to do and pointed out a lot of wrong going on around us. A gift of recovery is to be observant and learn from mistakes around you instead of having to stumble through each one yourself, at least that is my experience. Also, ethics matter. Another recovery lesson.
When I think about how my life has unfolded, it was the challenges in my path that have helped me grow more than anything else. Failure still sucks. But I also know that good things are forged within me by the heat of those flames as long as I keep going through them. Life does hurt. We can overcome those experiences if we just keep going. As Winston Churchill once said, if you are going through hell, keep going.
Continuing is the only road to growth. I have been thinking about a book I read last year, Continue: Right Click on the Appalachian Trail, by Phil Valentine. It is about his journey through hiking the AT as a person in recovery. His journey was hard. He recounts a lot of powerful and amazing experiences, but also that he suffered at times and felt like quitting. The parallels between his hike, the process of recovery and life in general rang true with me. There are hardships to overcome, the journey may not always be comfortable or graceful, but the important thing to do is draw on everything within you and what you believe in to keep going. It is the only way to accomplish worthy tasks. What we do defines us.
I am grateful for the inspiration of history in my own heritage, the lessons of life and recovery to forge ahead and to experience difficult tasks as learning experiences that help me to find strength within that I would not have uncovered in any other way. I am grateful for the examples I have around me of people who share their resiliency, even as their experiences can include twisted ankles, sweat and loneliness. If we fail to recount what really goes into achieving hard things, we fail to share with others the truth about the hero’s journey of myth. The weakened and traumatized bird rises awkwardly, just barely, careening through a wall of sky on fire, entirely uncertain of what fate awaits when it finally clears the smoke. This mess is indeed a triumph. This old bird cleared the fire and achieved the sky.
A few weeks ago, I attended my 40th High School reunion. One of the themes of conversations I had at our Ruby Jubilee was how many of us there were that saw early struggles as definitive in our lives. More than a few conversations included reflection on how we were given the opportunity to live in the world as young people in ways kids rarely experience today. Key adults in our lives gave us second chances. We played with fire, explored the world, and even walked to school without supervision from age 6 on. We learned to navigate a scary world from our earliest days. Something kids today cannot do in the same way for a myriad of reasons. To experience risk and navigate through it. I am grateful for being a kid in the 70s when we could experience the world in this way. It made a difference for what came later.
What are you grateful for today?