Written by Kristin Barton Cuthriell, M.Ed, MSW, LCSW
What started as a weekend binge had turned into a daily drunken stupor. When did it start? Was it in the sixth grade, sneaking alcohol from behind his dad’s bar? In those days it seemed fun- exciting really. What happened? Where did the time go? Where did life go?
It was in a treatment program for substance abusers, where I met John. I was working as a therapist along with a certified substance abuse counselor and a physician to do what we could to introduce John to the world of recovery. John would spend the next five days with us practicing abstinence, going to twelve-step meetings, obtaining a sponsor, recognizing relapse triggers, and learning the day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment philosophy of recovery.
John, like almost everyone who decides to enter a recovery program, had hit rock bottom before making the decision to change. Crisis, in general, often leads people to change. Many times people stay in the most miserable situations, having no motivation to change, until crisis hits.
During the second day of John’s treatment, he shared his story with us- his background, his dysfunctional childhood, and the emotional pain that he had spent years trying to numb out by medicating himself with alcohol. He described the painful shadows of the past- shadows that felt impossible to escape. It was easy to see how his life had spiraled out of control, gradually at first, but continually picking up momentum. By the time he came into our treatment program, he had lost his job, lost his wife, and had almost lost his life due to his heavy drinking.
The alcohol, which he had viewed as his one true friend, one that he could always count on to get him through rough days, had betrayed him. He had lost control and had found himself unconscious in a ditch several days before entering our program. Actually, he had not found himself at all, it was a passerby that had called for an ambulance.
John worked hard for the five days that he was with us and earned his coin of accomplishment when he left our facility. He would go on to a longer term treatment program determined to rebuild his life. Recovery for John would be a life long process, but very much a journey worth taking.
It was ten months after saying goodbye to John, that I ran into him in the grocery store. He approached me and reintroduced himself. I remembered him. He eagerly informed me that he continued to stay sober, taking it day by day. John looked happy and much healthier than he had been ten months earlier. His spirit appeared renewed. John was well on his way to rebuilding his life.
When bad things happen in our lives and we are faced with adversity, it is often difficult to see any purpose in our pain. Sometimes the silver lining is apparent, almost immediately following adversity. Other times, the good that follows adversity may not be seen right away. It may not be seen for a week, a year, or even a lifetime. The struggles that we face today and the lessons that we learn not only impact our lives, but also the lives of generations to come. Sometimes we just cannot see the bigger picture and need to rely on faith.
To John, lying unconscious in a ditch was a crisis that, at the time, he wished had not happened. He almost died. However, it was that very incident that propelled him to fix his life. The implications of that incident remain to be seen.
What will become of John? Will he remarry? Will he have children? Will his child come up with a cure for an incurable disease? Will John? Will John ultimately help others struggling with addiction? Falling into a ditch saved John’s life. No other wake up call had worked.
Persevere through the rough patches of life and have faith that there is a purpose for your pain. Your life will ebb and flow. Enjoy the flow and keep the faith in your times of suffering. There is a bigger picture that sometimes remains to be seen.
Beyond the painful shadows, there is light. Look for it. It may be right in front of you.
*The name and identifying information of the subject of my story has been changed in order to protect confidentiality.