Hope In The Face of Tragedy

September is National Recovery Month. It’s a welcome focus on a topic that doesn’t get enough attention: that recovery IS possible, and it happens every day. 

But of course, so do overdoses. Far too many of them. The numbers are staggering. More than 70,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2017. That’s a lot of lost family members, friends, sons, daughters, parents, brothers, sisters, and co-workers. 

Let’s face it; losing someone is hard. And what about the ones who survive… their family and friends? There are hundreds of thousands of Americans, if not millions, who need help recovering from addiction. And there are even more people who need to recover from losing a loved one to addiction. 

Unfortunately, I’ve been a member of both groups. 

On August 10, 2010, I received a call from my little sister. She was crying as she told me that we had lost our mother. My mother had overdosed. A few years later on March 17, 2017, my sister for the second time made the call no one wants to make. It was about our older brother, Jeremy. He had passed as well, also from an overdose. 

The shock and disbelief were immediate. Then came the sadness and grief. Especially after my brother’s death, I was confused and not sure what to do. So I dug deep into what was familiar to me. I was sober and in recovery for some time when both my mother and brother passed, so I thought I had a good idea of what I needed to do. But I found it wasn’t quite enough. 

I was feeling alone and separate like I was observing life from deep in a cave. I could see the light at times, but it was distant and faint. I knew there was a way out of this feeling, but I needed some guidance on how to pull myself out. And many times, I needed to be reminded that I was strong enough to pull myself out.

People who I trusted suggested that I try different things to support myself with what I was experiencing. So I listened. I took their advice in engaging in additional recovery work such as attending support groups and doing other trauma-specific work. It not only helped me process the events, but it also gave me some much-needed perspective.

I wasn’t “losing it” — even though at times it felt that way. My support system assured me that what I was experiencing was normal. This was so important to hear. Having people around me who could validate and relate to my emotions grounded me in a way that I could not have done by myself. My natural inclination is to try to think my way through my problems, and this time, I could see that wasn’t going to work. My thoughts needed fresh air.

I was encouraged to stay focused on the work I was doing and not isolate or retreat. To do this, I had to stay close to the people that cared for me and be open to them. It was the hardest part, but it was also probably the most important. 

Through all of it, I gained new tools and sharpened the ones I already had to cope with my grief. I came to think of my sadness as perhaps my way of honoring my mother and brother and the relationships we had. And after some time had passed, I was starting to see these tragedies as a part of my path, rather than something separate from it. I started to believe that my grief didn’t have to derail me. 

This month (September 2019), I celebrate 14 years in recovery. It’s a recovery that has not only supported me in abstaining from drugs and alcohol, but one also gifted me with a new way of life. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about my mother and brother, but there is some peace in knowing that I was able to make amends while they were alive. We were able to make our relationships as good as they could be, given their situations. I cannot express how grateful I am to say that, and I know I owe it to my recovery. 

I love life; I love the people around me; I love my recovery. And my recovery is in a much different place now than where I started. Like most people, I became sober because of fear and consequences. But at some point that shifted, and my sobriety became about something much bigger than the avoidance of pain. Looking back, the death of my mother and brother taught me something that hadn’t been considered before; that the reason I am sober today is because of love, not pain. But this is something I had to learn. It had to be taught to me.

There are so many other instances where my recovery has allowed me to contextualize negative events and disappointments and allow them to be teaching moments. And because I’ve been able to do this, I’ve had many doors open in my life. Each has created a new space for healing and growth.

Every recovery is different, but the gist of mine is that it has given me hope when I’ve needed it most. It has given me the resilience I’ve needed to face pain and despair; an optimism and resolve I know I never could have developed when my life included drugs and alcohol. In sobriety, I’ve been able to reach a point where I know deep down that no matter what — even if things don’t get better — I can get better. Even if things aren’t OK, I know I am OK.

To get to this place, of course, I had to take real action. And what I want families to know about the people in their lives who are struggling with addiction right now is that healing doesn’t have to come from looking back and deconstructing the past. Often, healing comes from the path we forge moving forward. 

The hand of recovery and healing is available to everyone. It’s just that for some reason, not everyone chooses it. Maybe they don’t think they can heal? I’d like to tell them that they can and they will. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. Everything will be OK. They will be OK.

Thatcher Shivley

Director of Community Relations | Recovery Coach

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