As I sit down to write this blog, I am just a few feet away from the gurgling brook I recently discovered while driving one of the many delightful back roads in the Peterborough-Kawartha Lakes region. Surrounding it are lovely birch and maple and oak trees, and a hiking path begins just off to the right. Watching the water rush downstream brings excitement and joy and helps confirm the adage, “the best things in life are free.” While I sit back and pay witness to the scene, a great sense of gratitude fills me, and I am comforted. I feel peaceful and enjoy the way the fresh air fills my lungs. It also strikes me that there was a time in my life that I had zero appreciation for nature; in fact, I did everything I could to avoid spending time in it.
My addiction made it virtually impossible for me to connect with living things because I was too busy isolating and using substances. I hated the sound of birds chirping early in the morning or seeing a beam of sunlight peek through my window because they signaled the arrival of a new day. And there was nothing about the new day that was going to be any better than the one before. I would get my substances, of that there was no doubt. And while the first hit or two tasted great and made me feel amazing, the high and euphoria did not last very long. Soon paranoia kicked in and I found myself hiding beneath the window of my living room or underneath my bed to hide from the imaginary police that were coming to arrest me or the imaginary foes that were coming to assault me with a baseball bat (a popular weapon of choice in the dangerous world of drugs). I recall staring at the phone and praying it wouldn’t ring because I might feel compelled to answer it, and whoever was on the other end would be able to tell that I was a mess. I was a prisoner in my own home. A prisoner in my own body. A prisoner of my own creation.
Thinking back on those terrifying times, it is a wonder that I am sitting here today, with the beautiful scenery all around, and no desire to return to those dark days. I find it difficult to believe I made choices that took me away from the things I enjoyed and the people I loved, but such is the power of addiction. Today I sit in the company of majestic trees and flowers of all colours. I see the vibrant pinks and purples and oranges and yellows that nature has to offer with a different set of eyes, with a deeper appreciation.
I’d been trying to reflect lately on when this connection to nature took place, and I realized it has always been there. But it had been blocked for many years due to my self-destructive behaviour. So, there is added joy in renewing this relationship, as if I am seeing colour for the first time. Quite a contrast to the darkness I had been living in.
Similarly, relationships with family and friends have been reignited and are stronger than ever. I feel I am back to being the person I was before I lost myself to addiction, only a bit wiser and more compassionate. The simplest things in life that gave me the most pleasure when I was growing up are all available to me again; actually, they always were available to me, I just chose not to employ them. Now I can’t get enough of them. I have been blessed on my road to recovery to have been mentored and guided by those who had struggled with addiction and were able to overcome it.
Attending residential treatment is without question the best thing I have done for myself in my adult life. I learned about my addiction and was challenged to be rigorously honest if I felt serious about moving forward in recovery. I listened to what my counselors told me, took it to heart, and put in the work necessary to give myself a shot at a clean and happy life. These wise and caring folks assured me that if I kept moving forward without the use of drugs and alcohol, that I would scarcely be able to believe how wonderful life is.
Life at its own speed. I didn’t believe life would ever be as great as they suggested it would, yet here I am writing this in the knowledge that yes, life does get better. Much better! And while I would not have made it this far without attending treatment and without several layers of support, I need to continue consolidating the gains I have made in sobriety. I have learned a lot about myself — primarily that I needed to love myself before I could become well.
A simple statement of self-affirmation in the mirror first thing in the morning can set the tone for the rest of my day. That’s another tip the counselors gave me, to find a way to start the day on the right foot. Whereas I would see my reflection during my addiction and be repulsed, I now see myself in a much different light. And instead of reaching for a drink or drug and isolating, I set out to take in as much joy from the day as I can. And there is plenty of joy to take in here by the calming and soothing water. I think I’ll stay here awhile.
Written by Michael Savage
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