Nov. 15 will always be a day filled with gratitude for me.

Well, 29 years ago on this day I didn’t feel very grateful.  I had arrived at the absolute lowest point of my life, yet the paradox was that by finally getting there, circumstances could inexorably change for the better.

What happened on that day?

I admitted that I was powerless and my life was completely unmanageable on my own.  I then surrendered my will and my life over to a power greater than me.  In that surrender, hope crept in and opened my heart to the light of new possibility.  I commenced a journey of recovery I am still traveling today.  For those not currently in any 12-step program, those actions I took on that day are the first three steps of recovery:

  • We admit we are powerless and our lives are unmanageable.
  • We believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to “sanity.”
  • We turn our will and our lives over to the care of that power for today.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) definition of recovery from mental health and substance use disorders is a “process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.”  Recovery started with the glimmer of hope that my circumstances, thoughts and feelings could be different, they could be better, and that there were people and resources that could help me achieve goals of a healthy lifestyle.

It was risky for me to take steps that felt new and different but I was so tired of feeling hopeless and I truly desired a different outcome than the same old, same old.  I didn’t want to die if only for my son’s sake.  I had grown up not knowing my mother because, out of her hopelessness, she chose to end her life.  I didn’t want the same legacy for my son. One day at a time, I persevered regardless of how hard it felt.  I clung to the hope that it would get better.

According to Wikipedia, “hope is an optimistic attitude of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.”   Put another way, hope is a feeling of optimism or a desire that something positive will happen.  Faith and trust are components of hope which result from taking steps even when afraid and believing that things will turn out better.  For me, hope slowly replaced feelings of worthlessness, brokenness and shame.  I began to like who I was and where I was going.  I found purpose and direction.  Joy and laughter began to replace sorrow and suffering.

SAMHSA continues to say, “The belief that recovery is real provides the essential and motivating message of a better future—that people can and do overcome the internal and external challenges, barriers, and obstacles that confront them. Hope is internalized and can be fostered by peers, families, providers, allies, and others. Hope is the catalyst of the recovery process.”

Personally, spirituality is another essential component of recovery from which hope springs forth.  I know many others who hold the same belief.  Spirituality shouldn’t be confused with religion.  Religion is the clothing of your spirituality and we all dress differently.  How you personally connect and communicate with your creator, the energy and spirit of the universe, is more important for recovery than dogma or ritual.   An overwhelming sense of relief and peace washed over me when I finally accepted there really was a power greater than myself that loved me for who I was, not what I felt I should be.   I found hope, courage, persistence, determination and strength to make it through the next day or, at times, the next moment.  I discovered I wasn’t alone in my disease or my journey of recovery.

I celebrate this day every year as a rebirth, a new beginning.  My greatest desire is that others who feel lost and consumed by the “addictions” of life can find hope and begin their own journeys of recovery.  As they say in 12-step groups: “May we trudge the road of happy destiny.”

If you or someone you know needs help from substance use disorder or mental illness, call or text MHMR Tarrant’s 24/7 ICARE at 800-866-2045.