Aren't my kids beautiful? I love this picture of us from a few years ago with me and the kids enjoying my mediocre, good enough, eh type cooking (not my strength) with plastic orange cups and mismatched dishes with a turkey generously given to all the employees of Westminster House Treatment Centre for Women by the former Executive Director, Sarah Franklen. She gave turkeys to the staff every holiday because she knew some of us would be alone or couldn’t afford one and wouldn't ask for it, so she gave one to all of us. I was one of those people that would have been unable to afford a turkey, so I was very grateful.
In recovery, I am very familiar with the practice of gratitude as a way to calm my anxiety, grief and self-pity. Yes, I can feel self-pity. I can feel very sorry for myself, feel like a victim, think life is not fair, compare my life with others and think I fall short or want things I can't have right now and get kinda irritable about it all. When I feel this way, instead of nurturing my resentments, which leads me to justifying bad behaviour, I admit that my feelings are happening, ie, I FEEL THEM, then I might talk to my Higher Power, read some literature, write, write, write, go to a meeting, help a newcomer, look for ways to be of service, listen to a podcast, ride my bike, stay off Facebook and/or talk to supportive friends. During all this I will inevitably end up doing the thing I am avoiding doing — I will cry like a baby that needs her mother. It’s a certain kind of desperate cry.
By working a program of recovery, I know and trust that the clouds will begin to lift off my heavy heart and I will start to FEEL GRATEFUL. Why? Look at all the options I have in my life today besides picking up a substance or behaviour and that is by no means even an exhaustive list! Words cannot even express how grateful I am to have people in my life that will listen to me and support me in moving through these feelings, without trying to fix me. Living a program of recovery is incredibly humbling work because you are constantly looking in the mirror and investigating ONLY the person looking back at you, but the quality of life you get in return is totally worth it.
So what does that have to do with Thanksgiving?
This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that I have tools and loving people like those in my life today because without my 12 step fellowship, I wouldn’t. People may knock 12 step programs, but people need people, especially to recover from a disease of isolation.
Through recovery, I have learned to practice self-care in the form of giving myself a break, letting myself be a mess sometimes, taking myself to a movie, putting all my chores down and taking the time I need to write or even taking a simple bath. Notice the word take in there? I TAKE WHAT I NEED because no one is going to give me self-care because that's my job. I'm the self. I'm in charge of the care. I know this because I understand that my life and my feelings are my responsibility. In recovery, I am supported in my life, but it still remains my life to live.
Tools like that are especially important to me when it comes to feeling grief. There is data to support the fact that women are more predisposed to depression because they acknowledge the impact of the loss. I know this has been very true for me since losing my mother. Until she passed away, I didn't how it would feel to live without someone I spoke to everyday, someone who unconditionally loved, supported and prayed for me and my children. She loved us so much and so well, I had no idea or concept of just how much losing her constant presence in my life would grieve me. In a sense, that was a blessing because I also didn't know that four years later, I still wouldn't be able to write about her without feeling my heart breaking inside my chest.
There are so many things I miss, but one of the big ones is having somewhere to go for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter dinner. These are the times when the pain of missing my Mom is really tough because this loss is not happening in yesterday, it continues to happen in today. I accept that I can’t fight it, fix it or change this reality, I have tried and it only leads to frustration and an uncovering of my core feelings of feeling unwanted and unloved by my family. As the youngest of ten half brothers and sisters (and the only child of my mother and father, who are both deceased) the only time I ever felt noticed in my family was when I was acting out and consequently, I have been acting out for a lot of years to get their attention. When we lost our mother, I thought our shared grief would bring us closer together, but without our mother to connect us, we have drifted very, very far apart. I do have my brother, who is also part of a 12 step fellowship and he is more accepting, loving and understanding of my “ism’s” cause he acknowledges that he has them too. He also seems to genuinely like me and that’s nice to be around. I am very grateful for him, but unfortunately, he doesn't make turkey dinner either ):
Well, this is getting a bit deeper than I expected, I meant for this post to be all about gratitude, but it’s changing as I ‘think on the page’ to being about being practicing recovery during times of transition and grief. I know I'm not alone in my feelings and there are other people who struggle with holidays too. Sometimes, I do feel like an orphan or a stray that doesn’t have a family or place to belong. It doesn't make me as sad as you think it might, there's almost a peace to accepting something that I have feared, felt and fought all my life. Fighting and denying those feelings is a big part of what lead me to struggle with relationships and addiction. In some ways, I’ve become okay with not being okay. I know that on holidays, I will struggle a bit and that is normal for me.
I also know there are places I can go and people I can be with, but it’s not the same when you all you want is your Mom. Maybe by Christmas, I will start to take people up on their offers for dinner within my recovery community. But it will never be the same, easy feeling I had with my mother and I’m just not ready yet to try and build something new —yet.
Addiction allowed me not to care about stuff like that, to not feel anything, even if only for a short time and some days it felt worth it to not feel sad, angry, etc — I won’t lie, I LOVED that about it. Addiction is essentially making a deal with the devil to protect me from feelings that scare me in return for my entire body, mind and spirit. Pretty high price to pay, but makes complete sense when you're living in fear of the truth.
It also stopped me from recovering my true self, the one who knows she is worthy and deserving of love and attention and kept me acting out in my lowest form of self; a neglected child. That’s not who I am today. Today, I know the only person's attention I really need, is my own.
Part of making my peace with my new reality without my mother, has been opening myself up to people I trust within my recovery community to become my surrogate family. This has taken a lot of time, effort and courage on my part. I know I can't do this alone. I have been completely alone before and I have absolutely no desire to go back. I will admit, I have been rather particular about my surrogate family members, as I don't want to repeat the core issues with my family of origin. For example; they must generally like me, accept me, get me, have some time for me, acknowledge their part in our conflicts and trust me to do the same for them in return. Today, I have some solid, amazing people in my life that have seen me at my most vulnerable moments and when I felt completely undeserving, loved me unconditionally. I've also had some moments where I've acted like a self-centred, self-righteous brat having a temper tantrum and those same people have told me the truth about my behaviour and how it was affecting them. They loved me enough to talk to me about it, not just avoid me. To me, that’s love in recovery.
My relationship with my mother, especially now that she is gone, is one of the biggest gifts of my recovery. She wasn't perfect, but she was a loving, accepting and honest person and I really admired for her strength, wisdom and love, loyalty and service to God. She also had the softest hands. I loved the feeling of her hands holding mine.
I'm not perfect either, but I hope my children will love me as much as I loved her and if I continue to work a program of recovery in my life, there is a very good chance they will. If I just keep doing that, I trust everything else will fall into place.
And for that, I'm eternally grateful to recovery — every. single. day.
Frances Stone is the Author of A Reflection of Love ~ A Different Kind of Love Story, a Recovery Counsellor and a Radio Co-Host of Talk Recovery Vancouver, a show about addiction and recovery issues, located in the DTES of Vancouver, BC. In her spare time, she does laundry and mothers three clever, curious and challenging little humans.