Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Grief and Gratitude

 A Facebook memory of a tribute I made to the man I was with when I hit bottom in 1985 popped up today. As I'd stated in the post, we'd shared some love and some laughter, but it was a dark time. He introduced me to Neitzsche and Lao Tsu, along with methamphetamine and heroin. Actually, it was his suggestion I take a break that helped me decide to go to treatment. But he never understood his powerlessness, and died of an overdose in November, 1988 when he was about 43.

As I sit at my desk, I see a photo taken at Christmas, 1974, propped up near the window. The three young men pictured in their 20's are all dead now, two from the effects of alcoholism and one from tobacco-related illness. While these three were in their 50's and 60's when they died, theirs, too, are lives cut short, lives not fully lived. I can sometimes lose sight of the miracle of recovery, the gift of a second chance, the cosmic throw of the dice that left me on this side of the divide. This photograph is a reminder. 

I've been in several meetings lately that touched on grieving - seasonal remembrance of those not here to share a holiday meal and wispy memories of times past, some good, some not so good. This time of year has been dubbed the Bermuda Triangle for alcoholics, with festive drinking occasions and potential family land mines to shake our equilibrium. I'd add to that combo the memories - the empty place at the table, the longing for just one more conversation, one more hug, one more chance to tell our people that they matter.

I can breathe into that longing and stay there, or use it to propel me into gratitude for what is, today. Thinking of those I miss, I can be extra sure to say, "I love you," to those I care for, even if it isn't something we normally say to each other. I can sink into satisfaction that I've been gifted with a life that too many have missed. I don't have to make up for their lost time, but I can be mindful that any dilemmas I may have today are nothing compared to the scrounging and puking and lying and self-condemnation of active addiction. None of my luxury problems amount to anything compared to lives lost, and those still ruled by the disease. 

Grief may be a solitary journey, but as in nearly every experience, I'm not alone. Whatever I am feeling or walking through, someone else is just a few steps ahead as I do my best to accept impermanence, and not merely with a "Whew! Glad it wasn't me this time." I do confess to my interest in the age of people in the obituaries I read each week - older than me? (reasonable) younger than me? (sad) my age? (a little scary). In one of the recent meetings where members talked about loss, someone said that the question shouldn't be "How did they die?" but rather, "How did they live?" That's the important qualifier, the driver of "one day at a time" - how am I present today? (and not in the FOMO/ Fear of Missing Out desire that every moment be exciting, but with recognition that this moment, here and now, is precious) It is in acceptance of my humanness, my noticing the sun on my face or a hug from a friend that peace is found.

While I am a grateful alcoholic, I'm not grateful for alcoholism and the devastation, both quiet and noisy, it brought to my loved ones (and myself) and countless others. I am grateful for sobriety, even with life's ups and downs. With abstinence, I have a fighting chance. So, today, let's take a moment of silence for the alcoholic who still suffers, both in and out of the rooms.

This can be an emotionally complex time of year for we alcoholics. How do you honor all that brought you to this moment, while not getting lost in "morbid reflection?" Whether or not you mark the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow, will you take time to note gratitude this week? What is on your list?


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