What a lie I told myself. It’s easy to slip into comfort: I don’t need to blog anymore because things are finally fixed; things are back to normal, so my life can slip back into normalcy, too; we have found the miracle cure for mental illness and addiction! Why would I ever think that because things felt normal that I could return back to my old patterns and expect the same results? We had to work hard to get to a better place. But guess what? That place? It requires a lot of expensive upkeep! It’s like the garden I painstakingly plant every year or the summer house I want to eventually buy: it looks great on day one, but if you don’t properly maintain it, it’s going to fall apart.
This life reminds me a lot of my relationship with running. It’s a pattern that I set, follow, and don’t question. When I am in a good running habit and form, I feel better. I can see it much more clearly now that I have been running for some time and have some therapy and sobriety under my belt. The anger and stress that I feel creep into my days gets washed away with just an easy, 3 mile jog. I have time for me: To clear my head, to gain some perspective, to push myself, to feel accomplished. Sure, it’s hard work some days. When I feel down or lack initiative, I motivate myself by saying, “It only takes 30 minutes for you to feel better.” Then, it doesn’t seem like such a difficult task anymore.
But hard work, well, it’s hard for a reason. I find myself getting to a place where I feel good, and it’s easy for me to think, “I don’t need to work so hard anymore.” It’s a trick my mind plays on me. I could easily slip out of my pattern, and back into an old pair of sweatpants, Ben and Jerry’s, several episodes of bad TV recorded on DVR, and drift right back into my bed, none the wiser that I’ve just done myself a grave disservice. And guess, what? I do have that pattern of sweats, ice cream, and bad TV! But I just know, for me to be my best, I need to throw in a little physical exercise, writing, and probably meditation or recovery literature right before the old sweatpants to really have a complete and fulfilled life. I need to do all of those things to keep me healthy in mind, body, and spirit, and not just the instant gratification stuff that doesn’t holistically give me what I need to be well.
I’ve looked at everything in my past as a race to the finish. I still do. I want the easy way, the do-it-for me way, the here’s the solution way. I want to be told that I will achieve happiness if I complete A, B, and C. Goal after goal, mile after mile, I want to believe I am getting to some ultimate destination where I will be beautiful, and intelligent, and in shape, and perfect in all the ways I have imagined, and that will be it. I will live in the land of milk and honey, and I will never have to lift a finger again to work for anything because I will have arrived! They will sound trumpets for me and I will prance around in a two-piece with a perfect tan, drinking champagne from a crystal flute. How silly does that sound? Life is a constant exertion of hard work, that’s what makes it rewarding. That is what makes it worth the while. I’m not going to suddenly open the gates one day and find out that I am here. The truth is, I’m never in one place for very long. Life is constantly moving and changing, and the best chance I have to be fulfilled and content is to move and change with it.
It’s easy to lose track of that and sight of how to be well. For me, a person not suffering from mental illness or addiction, the difficulty and threat is real and it is always present that if I don’t hold myself accountable. I, too, looked for the quick fixes. But if I don’t do the actual work, I won’t get the results or have the feelings I want to have in my life. Sure, I could take a day off from taking care of myself, or running, or being my best…whatever it is that is hard for me to do. That day could turn into another, and another a week. Sooner or later, 6 months will have passed, and I’ve witnessed this before: I’ll feel unwell, I’ll have gained weight, I’ll be sluggish, and not mentally well. I might not be living the life that I wanted because I did not do the work, but I’ll still be alive.
So that slip, the fall off the wagon, or the stumble? For me, it’s not life or death. I might be less happy and less fulfilled, but I will still be getting by. I have a safety net below me. For person struggling with mental illness or addiction, they get to work without a net. They have to put the hard work in, each and every day, just to know that for one day, they have done what they needed to do to be well. I can’t imagine what it must be like to work very hard to achieve a goal of wellness and recovery, only to realize that there is no finish line and no medal, just day after day of putting the work in to feel well.
We’ve been taught our whole lives what it is to be “normal.” But normal isn’t easy. In recovery, there is no land of milk and honey, but neither is there in life. The consequences are the same if you don’t put the work in either way. The sooner we all realize that every day there is work to be done, the happier, more content, and focused we can all be on the path we are taking, rather than an unknown “destination.” I’m happy to be back on track to being the healthier and happier person I want to be, and I know that the power to do that is in my own hands.
Want to read Jeff's side of the story? http://www.lifeimpaired.com/jeffs-blog/comes-and-goes-in-waves