For those who work in the field of substance abuse treatment, there are sad and heartbreaking days. But seeing the heroic and miraculous in the lives of addicts can be motivating and uplifting when everything around us seems bleak.
1. Be Excited About Life and Inspire Others
One young man taught about exuberance. He was in his teens, not quite grown into his adult body; and he reminded me of a colt, leggy and gangly, but his heart was huge. He was a natural leader amongst his peers, always smiling and excited about his newfound recovery. He embraced everything happily and cheered others on.
After several months of recovery, he had a relapse to his drug use and was killed in a drug deal that went bad. While his was a tragic end, it was his life that inspired me the most - his energy and the way he embraced each moment of recovery and life. Those are lessons I will never forget.
His death created a legacy for a family member who was able to find her way into recovery and many years later was able to tell me, through a mutual friend, that his death turned her life around 180 degrees. She is now working with parents whose young children are addicted, inspiring and motivating them to deal with their addiction.
2. Make Peace with Your Demons
Many of the most impactful stories are from those clients/patients with a difficult past. Their trauma and tragedy have pushed them to active addiction because of the depth of their emotional brokenness. Combat veterans are among this group.
Homeless and without hope, I met one such man whose recovery of many years was thrown out the window because he could not make peace with his memories of combat. When he did return to a treatment setting, he was directed to work through his issues in counseling and group therapy. He fought these demons and was able to go on and work with hundreds of veterans with the same issues. They were all broken in body, mind and spirit by their experiences. He helped them work through the stress and nightmares that come with that particular type of trauma. He was many times a hero.
3. Focus on Your Goals and the Ones You Love
Women I have worked with who have come through treatment with small children are particularly inspiring to me. While society views them dimly for their poor parenting skills and bad behaviors, recognizing their addiction as a disease can help to remove some of their shame and replace it with hope.
One woman I recall as inspirational for me was young, in her mid-twenties when she attended treatment. Her children were in placement through Child Protective Services because she was arrested for driving under the influence. In order to gain visitation and (hopefully) custody rights, she was required to attend several types of courses. In addition to treatment and 12-step groups, she went through parenting classes, and a court-mandated program for drunk drivers.
Over the course of a year and a half, she complied with all requirements and was given custody of the children. She is now responsible for keeping them safe, fed, clothed, housed and in school. This is a huge job, along with the task of maintaining recovery/abstinence from drugs and alcohol. The father of the children provides nothing toward their care. She has taken classes to increase her ability to provide for her children and keep up a home. She became a functioning adult, mother, employee, and recovering addict.
4. Learn to Forgive Yourself
Another client killed someone while driving drunk. In these scenarios we tend to focus on punishment, but it is also important to see what becomes of someone who goes through a horrible experience like this.
This man was able to maintain recovery and begin to work through a 12-step process of making amends to the family of the woman he had killed. He had to first learn to forgive his behavior to the level required to embrace recovery. He went to jail for several years. Even in a rough environment like prison, he was able to maintain his recovery and help others as well. He was paroled after some time and began to attend classes. Because of his story, he was a good advocate for recovery and education surrounding impaired driving. He works to this day in this field and has a good story to tell about both sides of the issue.
5. Take Pride in Your Small Successes
These stories are repeated throughout the recovery community every day. We lose focus in our work because the high percentage of relapse is what we continuously combat. We need to enjoy the small successes, and be inspired by those who overcome their addiction to achieve functioning roles in society.