By: Diane Cameron
The old joke goes like this:
Question: “How do you get to be an old-timer?”
Answer: “You don’t drink, and you don’t die.”
But we are human beings and the sad truth is that while we may not drink again, we will—over time—have some serious illnesses and die. So, in a sad but funny way, the farther we are from our last drink the closer we are to, well, sickness and death.
So, how do we deal with those things in recovery? How do we manage health problems and illnesses and the chronic conditions that come with aging? There is nothing shiny and sparkly about that part of long sobriety, but there can be some powerful spiritual growth in those days, and when illness hits we get some truly concrete measures of just how recovered we are.
One of the reasons I keep going to meetings is a selfish one. Over these thirty-plus years, I have heard so many stories and seen so many people deal with really difficult things and NOT drink or use over them. That’s a daily reminder that the regular stuff of daily life is no reason to drink, but it also tells me to stay in shape spiritually and emotionally because I want to go through those hard things without using when it is my turn.
The difficult things that we see folks go through are the illnesses of children, spouses, parents, siblings, and friends. We see our sober colleagues in Twelve-Step rooms deal with cancer, heart disease, and dementia. We see our recovery comrades deal with injuries and illnesses that improve, and also with disabilities that worsen over time. In long-term recovery we do see our recovering friends confront and deal with death—the deaths of the people they love, and also, finally, their own death. That, I think, is recovery of the highest order.
I’ve always been a worrier, so I have to balance this idea of preparation with the real fact that we can never be prepared. As a kid in troubled family, I developed the “What if?” habit. It was a strange kind of comfort, I suppose. As a powerless child it gave me a measure of control, when I mentally rehearsed the bad things that might happen. It didn’t quite work then and it doesn’t now, but somehow that hypothetical thinking persists.
But maybe now as a sober woman, I can make it work for me in a different kind of way. Maybe now, I can keep my recovery a priority so that recovery and recovery thinking will be at the center of my life when those inevitable challenges come.
I can prepare my mind, heart, and spirit to be as sound and open a possible so that when illness or death show up, I can face it as a recovering and loving woman.