We rightly talk about recovery as a matter of life and death, but for me, it has also been a journey to joy that I could never have imagined.
During my first year of recovery, I learned to feel again
In my first year of recovery, my greatest joy was feeling again. I kept it simple. Just to feel was bewildering enough. Now, it didn’t always feel joyful to experience all these pesky feelings that had been shoved down by addiction for decades. But it was better than where I had been: sick, disassociated, depressed, and anxious—all on a loop. In that first year, I remembered who I was. I got in touch with my younger self. I asked them if they wanted to come along with me. To heal.
I remembered that I was (and am) still capable of great feelings: self-confidence, achievement, kindness, empathy. It was hard, but I remembered all the good I’d done. My addiction had me convinced I was bad and only bad. It was my emerging ability to feel again that allowed me to come to terms with the parts of myself that I had been running from. And it was the audacity of those feelings that led me to live.
If my first year had a mascot in my dog-son Remington, who I adopted when I was just 5 months sober. With him came more feelings! I felt responsibility, care, and what it was like to be needed. There is an honest exchange of feelings between a pet and their owner. All the feelings. They all came back in that first year.
My second year in recovery opened me to love
In my second year of recovery, my greatest joy was love. I had thought I was over that one, but recovery had other plans for me. I met my partner. I’d had a whole year full of feelings, and now I had someone to share them with. She is sober, too, and that’s almost an unexplainable joy. To do this journey together. To share these joys together.
In that second year, I also met my sober friends, a gaggle of collective weirdos who taught me how to love, both myself and the community. If my second year had a soundtrack, the first song on it would be “All is Full of Love” by Bjork. My love for my community led me to purpose. And love and purpose are what keep a sober person going.
In my third year of recovery, I came to accept change
In my third year of recovery, my greatest joy was change. Or rather, I learned to find the joy in change. It wasn’t always easy. I moved to a new house in a new city. I traveled to new places and I changed jobs! We all had to change the way we lived because of the pandemic. Change kept coming whether I was ready or not.
There’s an Octavia Butler quote, “All that you touch you Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change.” I think this is true. When you lean into change, knowing that is the only constant, you can find the joy in it. As folks in recovery, we know change well. From the choices we make to recover to the very cells in our body, it has all changed. If I had a mantra for that third year, it would be: “So turn and face the strange– ch-ch-changes.”
Finding peace in year four, and looking ahead to year five
In my fourth year of recovery, my greatest joy so far has been cultivating peace. Making peace with the past. Making peace as a human being with a body. Making peace with the world. Making peace with all those changes from year three! I look ahead to my fifth year of recovery, and I try to conjure a new joy: expanse. As we slowly pull out of pandemic life, the need for expanse feels more important than ever. I miss my friends, I miss community, I miss traveling, I miss the world (sometimes). The thing about expanse is that it happens when atoms take up more space. I like to think of our joy as these atoms. And the more we feed our joy, the more space we take up.
These are my greatest joys in recovery: feeling, love, change, peace, expanse. I wish these all for you on your journeys.