In recovery, we experience life fully.

A general theme of many of our essays is that recovery gave us lives we could never have imagined for ourselves. And this is true for me too. I don’t think, nine years ago, when I shakily made my way to an intensive outpatient rehab after yet another hospitalization for alcohol poisoning, could I have plotted the course that I’m on today. It’s just [I’m smiling, shaking my head incredulously, right now as I reflect] amazing. Truly amazing.

And I say this, in the wake of grief for my beloved Aunt Wendy, who passed away last Saturday after her battle with Parkinsonism. She was a fighter, a beautiful spirit, a sassy gal, a knitter, a Belcher (like me—complete with the “whoops” and giggles afterward), a colorful fashionista, a warm-hearted woman. I traveled to be with family for her funeral. I showed up fully present with unconditional love. I will miss her greatly.  

I bring this up because I was pushing back on writing my piece for the longest time. I have no idea why, to be honest. Life is life. We deal with it on its terms, don’t we? And this past year has been phenomenal, regarding my passion project, The Sobriety Collective (@WeAreSober, my social media handle, is symbolic for recovering together. Because recovery is so much more than sobriety alone. And yet I still love that word: sober.) It’s enabled me to find all of YOU wonderful recovery advocates. I’ve been vocal about recovery from substance use disorder and mental illness—and I’ve been able to be myself unabashedly: quirky, adorable, hilarious, well-spoken, with more than a touch of people-pleasing because like so many of us, I yearn for acceptance. And I’m learning to accept myself more and more, with others’ opinions mattering less and less--but still do hold weight, of course, because, hey, I’m human.

There is no right or wrong way to recover. You can be a member of one program, five programs, or no program.

In recovery, we experience life fully. That comes with the natural highs of finding love, gathering around the Thanksgiving table with close family, walking through forests or listening to waves crashing and smelling the ocean, eating gourmet meals or just a piece of fresh fruit picked right from the tree. But it also comes with breakups and deaths, job loss, and debt. The thing is, we are here, substance-free, on a naturally higher plane than we were before. We can deal with what comes our way because life will always deal us an unexpected hand. What we can depend on is how we face those hands that life deals us—and that’s with the tools that we equip ourselves with in recovery. And the great thing is we can all have different tool belts with unique pieces that work for us. There is no right or wrong way to recover. You can be a member of one program, five programs, or no program. You can have a therapist or a rabbi, a priest or a Buddhist teacher. You can be a yogi or a CrossFitter or just take walks at lunch time. You can be a blogger or writer or artist or musician or student or lawyer or teacher or firefighter or entrepreneur or none of the above. We get to chart our paths, even—and especially when—we don’t know what’s next.

So in honor of Aunt Wendy, who loved writing the cutest poems filled with rhyme, I’ll leave you with this…

Ode to My Recovery

There once was a young girl named Laura
Who was happy and sweet yet so shy
Her sensitivity made her a target
For bullying--and tears did she cry.

Years passed and good times did she have
Raised in a family of laughter and love
But anxiety kept creeping in
Not just first day of school jitters
But fear that others’ opinions of her would win.

Fast forward to college: a chance to reinvent her image.
On the outside, because internally there was constant scrimmage.
Of negativity and doubt and fear.
So drinking made her brain happy and calm
Fewer doubts and her head became all the more clear.

Soon, though, problems kept following her.
Hazy memories from the night before; just a blur.
OCD and anxiety no longer quiet.
Because life had become one big riot.

I’m scared; I need help, she did say.

With counseling and rehab, her dragons were slain.
Well, maybe not all of them, anyway.
But her path to recovery—tumultuous and joyful-- did start.And nine years later, she reflects on the choice with love in her heart.

As Laura now advocates for those living life sober.
And those whose illnesses are unseen.
She’ll find a new place to live in October (only word that rhymes with sober, seriously).
And fingers crossed, living the dream.