My grandmother passed away yesterday morning. She had just turned 97 years old. Her mind was still sharp but her body had been deteriorating pretty rapidly during the last few years. She had macular degeneration in her eyes to the point of not being able to read or watch TV anymore. Her hearing was significantly diminished. She had congestive heart failure. It was getting harder for her to enjoy life. Recently, at the senior care home where she was, she had to move from independent living to assisted living. Then, last week she had to go to the hospital. Her congestive heart failure reached the point where she was moved to hospice care and was given a few months to live.
She had been living in Tucson, Arizona in a care facility near my parents’ house. They were able to visit her frequently and help take care of her. They took her out for meals and holidays but it was getting difficult for her to stay out for more than a couple of hours. By the end, she was in a lot of pain and was ready to pass on. She lived a long, full life and left it peacefully.
My parents came out to visit me last weekend. It was great to spend a few days with them being sober and clearheaded. I was able to be present and enjoy their company. We went out to eat, went to Balboa Park, and had some great conversations. In my active addiction, spending time with family was an inconvenience. I would arrive at a gathering, loaded, and then count down the minutes before I could leave. I wasn’t able to be present. I was just thinking about how great it would be to get out of there and get high again, not having to pretend to want to be there anymore. So many special occasions and holidays were spent that way.
While my parents were here, I brought up the idea of going home for Christmas. The last time I was there was two years ago for my grandmother’s 95th birthday. It was a terrible experience for both me and my family and it ended with me in the hospital for a week. That’s the last memory that my parents have of me being at their house. When I suggested the idea of spending the holiday at home, I was expecting for them to simply agree to it. I was a little taken aback when my mom had to think about it for a minute before responding. She said that she and my dad had to consider it because of how traumatic my last visit was for them. They wanted to make sure they felt that they could trust me. I was surprised but not upset. It was understandable and I shouldn’t have had that expectation. I had wanted to forget how that incident two years ago had affected them. Thankfully, they did decide to let me come home. I was hoping that my grandmother would at least make it to the new year so I could see her one last time but God had other plans. It’s sad but the situation has helped me realize a few things about my sobriety.
Deaths of family and friends are things that I have traditionally gotten loaded over. It was an easy way for me to justify my behavior and excessive drinking and using. It was an easy way to numb out emotional pain. Today I am not adding the guilt and shame of getting high on top of those emotions. Experiencing the feelings of loss and grief is difficult but I am processing them. I am not stuffing them deep down inside where they would grow and get worse and then manifest themselves in some other way down the line. I can make peace with the situation and move on.
I’m gaining some trust back. My parents want me home for the holidays. They don’t trust me to fly out on my own, they’re coming to pick me up, but that’s fine. The fact that they want me around is what counts. I can be at home, be present, and enjoy the family time without obsessing over how quickly I can leave to go get high. I won’t be nodding out at the dinner table. We can replace that horrible memory of my last visit home with a new one.
My parents got the call that my grandmother had been taken to the hospital right after they got home from this last visit with me. They let me know that she was given about six months to live. A couple of days later she became unresponsive and it looked like the end was just about here. There was a feeling in my heart that I would not be getting the chance to see her one last time and I felt guilt over it. I didn’t want her last memory of me to be from her birthday two years ago. In recovery, I’ve learned that I need to be accepting of things that are beyond my control, but that wasn’t making me feel any better about it.
Shortly before she died, my grandmother asked my parents how I was doing. She knows about my struggle with addiction. My parents were able to tell her honestly that I’m not strung out and that I’m doing well. I wasn’t putting them in a position to feel compelled to lie about me to keep my grandmother from worrying. That made her very happy. That, in turn, made me happy and I felt better about not seeing her again before she passed.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget how miserable my life had become in active addiction. Sometimes I miss the chaos and excitement. Sometimes the lack of negative consequences these days doesn’t seem good enough, I need and deserve more happiness, more success, more love, etc. I get caught up in my self-centeredness and become ungrateful for everything good in my life. I start counting the things I want that I don’t have instead of counting my many blessings. A lack of financial and material wealth overshadows the spiritual wealth that I am accumulating. It can get to the point where I ask myself if it’s worth it to be in recovery. Maybe things weren’t as bad as I remember them. Maybe I can still use drugs without getting strung out and losing everything.
The events of the past week were a powerful reminder for me of what being in recovery is doing for my life. My family wants me to be at the house for Christmas. I can’t erase old, painful memories but I can create new, positive ones. By being clean I was able to give my grandmother some happiness in her final days instead of reasons to worry. The time I’ll get to spend with my family can actually be experienced and enjoyed. It won’t be a chore that I have to endure while obsessing over my next fix. My friends and family aren’t fearing for my life and wellbeing. They’re grateful and happy for me. I’m not hurting myself or anyone else. I’m not alienating people. When I wake up in the morning, I can start the day without having to figure out how and when I’m going to get well.
I don’t stay in recovery for my family or friends but I get to have them in my life today because of it. I get to help other addicts stay clean through my support, attention, and sharing my experience. My recovery is about saving my own life but it does have a positive impact on the lives of everyone around me, whether they know it or not. My family isn’t wondering and stressing over what I might be doing. I’m not putting other drivers in danger when I get behind the wheel of a car. No one will have anything stolen by me today. I don’t have to be saving the world. The simple lack of drugs in my system means that I won’t be engaging in risky and destructive behavior that would have hurt someone, somehow. Even when I can’t see it myself, recovery has given me all the meaningful parts of my life back and the opportunity to continually gain more.