September: National Recovery Month
Recovery Is For Everyone
It’s not just for those facing an addiction or a mental health crisis, it’s also for anyone that is part of their lives. I learned that first hand. My parents were high when they committed a felony, leaving me to eventually be taken and raised by my great-grandparents. Under their watch, I experienced alcoholism and its effects on relationships. When my great-grandfather died, I promised to stick with my great-grandmother until her final day.
I barely managed that. She lost herself for a time to alcoholism and grief. Our yelling matches would shake the walls and the emotional impact on me – while I was also developing my sense of self and dealing with being the gay kid at school – meant that I was not in a very positive place for a long time.
We eventually overcame the substance abuse and grief, together, not long before time for me to graduate high school.
A Goodnight For Heartbreak
Unfortunately, my time as a victim of substance abuse didn’t end there. When I was 20-years-old, my father and I had just begun to salvage our relationship, which had previously deteriorated in those earlier, troubled years. My dad could be a great father figure until enough beer crossed his lips. He easily became physically abusive, easily agitated, and quickly disturbed by behaviors or characteristics in others that he didn’t like or understand.
When I was 13-years old, after the death of my great-grandfather, I came out of the closet to everyone, but him. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I told him. He had a difficult time accepting me and my “chosen lifestyle” when I did, and admittedly, I didn’t tell him under the best circumstances. Rather, it was during an argument about… well, who I was versus who he believed me to be. This created a rift between us, one that would last for 2-years.
On Mother’s Day of 2007, he called me for the first time in those two years with the intent to reconnect. We made plans for a following weekend, however, that night while under the influence he flipped his car on I-95. No other vehicle was a part of the accident. It appeared that he fell asleep, woke up, and overcorrected when his vehicle veered off the road. My dad didn’t wear a seatbelt, so he was ejected from the vehicle. He died that night.
Substance abuse doesn’t start or end with the person that faces addiction. It’s a terrible cycle that continues through each of our actions and reactions. We all share some responsibility, that’s kind of what a community is, right?
Alcoholics Anonymous – The Big Book
I have never attended a meeting or met anyone directly involved in Alcoholics Anonymous (that I know of), but I have been heavily inspired by their program. To anyone that is a part of the A.A. program, from the top to the bottom of my heart – thank you for what you do.
After my great-grandfather’s death, my mom handed a book to me to help me deal with the person my great-grandmother was becoming. Her grief took the form of a vodka and grapefruit cocktail that eluded a fear of abandonment and loss. The sweet, kind, loving woman that the world forever knew as Mrs. Black, was no longer in power amidst this life precedent. Meanwhile, my grief took a backseat to dealing with the new experience of being the only person to witness her transformation.
My witnessed account is as much a true testament of requited, unconditional love as it is a story of being a victim of alcoholism or substance abuse. The Big Book helped me to understand what was unfolding before me. Perhaps a story to some day be shared more prominently.
This book is available online, FREE. If you need encouraging words, look no further.
Hurt People Hurt People
From my own experiences, I am convinced that all our trauma is the result of a trauma that preceded us. Maybe even from the beginning of time, the split of the first cell or the separation from God – whatever you’d like to believe. Trauma is simply continued and passed along through our actions and reactions. Maybe you disagree, but something we can all probably agree on is that hurt people hurt people. I never read the book, but I lived the experience long enough to understand it. We continue the hurt by adding more pain to others. Empathy is cast aside as pain takes center stage and numbs us to all else. The sentiment seems to be that, “since I have been hurt, I am justified in returning the pain to others.”
When you love someone going through this, you have to hold onto a memory of who they were, understand they’re in the process of change, accept that they won’t be exactly the same on the other side, and be willing to love them all the same. My God, no words have ever been easier said than done. In fact, in the process, they may unfairly blame you for their situation. Worse yet, on the other side, you may have to accept that they don’t want anything to do with you anymore.
This is how I faced the issues brought before me. Honestly, if not for the “Serenity Prayer” named so by Alcoholics Anonymous, I’m not sure how I would have gotten through many of those moments in my life. It helped me from shifting my pain to a place of projection; to accept what lay before me, and change what lay within.
The “Serenity Prayer” continues to influence my work, too. Recently Deep End was a project that I started based on inspiring words. The first release being this prayer.
When I learned about National Recovery Month a week ago, I was excited to be a part of it. Ironically, I had already created a recovery t-shirt design based on an idea from A.A.; “Spiritus Contra Spiritum”, or “Spirit Against Spirit”.
This insight was captured well by the psychiatrist Carl Jung in his letter to Bill Wilson: “You see, Alcohol in Latin is ‘spiritus’ and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.
In other words, the highest form of religious experience counters the most depraving poison – high spirit against low spirit.Alcoholics Guide
The imagery I used were two bottles crossed, having been emptied of their contents, under a burning, sacred heart. The image reminded me of a campfire, so I parodied a camp-style t-shirt and called it Camp Sobriety.
To accomplish sobriety, most centers recommend 90-days of recovery. Thus, this added to my design a “90-day challenge”.
It’s… campy, but I like to deal with heavy subjects in a light way – in fact, many of us do.
After reading about the guidelines for participation in the month, I realized that my view of it would be widely unaccepted by the politically correct. In fact, there are many things that I create that some consider being in poor taste. Unaccepted by everyone except those that are like me and prefer to deal with their struggles in a humorous light.
So, despite the bottles and parodied nature of my design, I decided to move forward with its release. If recovery is for everyone, then all of our perspectives should be welcome in adding to the conversation. Even if those perspectives are a little campy.