The night before Thanksgiving I had the privilege of speaking for a few minutes at a Gratitude Meeting for people in all kinds of Recovery. Wall to wall people. Standing room only. They all came to hear and share h0w grateful they are for the good, the bad and even the ugly that has happened in their lives. Because all of it led them to a Program and a God who rescued them from certain insanity and possibly death. I tweaked my talk a bit, but not much, for you to read. I talk about my two most personal diseases—Leukemia and living with the effects of loving people who are Addicted. Raise your hand if you or someone you know and love suffers from a life threatening physical disease or the life threatening disease of addiction….that’s what I thought….
(So here’s how it went…)
Everyday I read from a few books that all have dated entries. They are short and to the point and I love the fact that on those exact dates the author seems to be writing directly to me. I give credit to a God who knows my every need and speaks to me in this way. I anticipate what He will tell me each time I open to that exact entry.
Last week, I have to tell you that I was especially disappointed in the entry for a specific date. I felt like it was clearly written for someone else and was truly un-relatable. I considered that maybe God didn’t pay any attention to my life at all. This is what the first paragraph said: “This is a time of abundance in your life. Your cup runneth over with blessings. After plodding uphill for many weeks, you are now traipsing through Lush meadows drenched in warm sunshine. I want you to enjoy to the full this time of ease and refreshment.”
….I know…right? This didn’t describe my current situation AT ALL. Things were hard and unknown and unstable. I was paralyzed with fear and doubts and lack of faith at every turn. And THIS is what God was supposedly saying to me? Clearly, as we sometimes say in our home, “His cheese has slipped off his cracker.” But after a day of thinking about how much this did not apply to me, as usual, I calmed down enough to sit and ask God why He would dare say such a thing to me?
And then he answered: “It’s not your circumstances that determine if you live with a sense of your cup overflowing with blessings. Or, whether you feel you are traipsing through lush meadows vs submerged in a pit full of mud. It’s your perspective on them.”
This time of year, as we approach Thanksgiving, many of us are reflecting on the people and things in their life that they are grateful for. With a little effort, we can all come up with a small handful of blessings: our families, our pets, our jobs, our freedom, our health. But this year I have to say that I am especially grateful for 2 things that may or may not be found on most people’s short-list: alcoholism and Leukemia. I have had the burden and the privilege of learning how to do life while battling these two diseases.
I used to roll my eyes at people who would talk about being grateful for the Disease of Alcoholism. At the time I didn’t understand that it wasn’t the disease they were grateful for, it was for what the disease “triggered.” They were grateful for the blessings and opportunities that the disease brought them. I get it now. Today—I feel that way too. There has been growth and wonder and power and miracles that I could have experienced in no other way.
There is nothing like learning to understand the maladies of a disease of the mind than by battling a disease of the body. Smack dab in the middle of fighting the disease of addiction, I was ambushed with the disease of Leukemia. Both diseases have no rhyme or reason to why one person is affected while someone else, who is possibly taking even less care of themselves, gets to bob along carefree and happy. Both need outside help from people who understand the disease if there is to be a fighting chance of healing and recovery.
I am happy to report that God and I kicked Leukemia in the butt. I am currently in remission. Many of you may also be in remission from the effects and the constant threats of the disease of addiction. But there is one difference between remission from these two diseases that makes me especially grateful today: COMMUNITY. When I had Leukemia, I longed for connection with others who had the same disease as me. It gave me hope and camaraderie with people I had never met and had very little in common with.
We knew that we both had a disease that could take our lives and that “Shared Affliction” bonded us in a way that no one else could begin to touch.
In theory. I am done with Leukemia. I get blood-work every 3 months and sometimes visit my doctors or nurses at the hospital or give back by spending time with a newly diagnosed leukemia patient. Other than that-I’m on my own. I fought the good fight with the help of many friends and family and professionals and even strangers. But its’ weird, no one really wants to continue to sit around and talk about leukemia and the effects of the disease! Go figure. And the connection with other fellow sufferers is slowly fading into the busyness of real life. They have moved on and I suppose I should too.
But it’s not like that in 12-Step Recovery Programs; what we call our “Fellowship.” We don’t just give you your discharge papers and send you home to go back to your “normal” life and muddle through your recovery on your own. We get to come together as often as we want and check in on how we are adjusting to or struggling with the challenges that come from living in remission. We remind ourselves that without this time of checking in with others who share a common affliction, our hope of lasting remission is slim.
Emotional, physical and spiritual Relapse is just a matter of time unless we take care of ourselves daily through our readings and talking to others in the Program to give and receive support.
And just an observation regarding treatment for cancer: each type has a specific chemo regiment that can lead to recovery if it’s followed. But that’s where the diseases part ways. One of my favorite truths of this Program is that regardless of the particular brand of the disease we suffer from—the solution NEVER changes. We all have to work the same 12 steps if we want to be healed. We have to turn it all over to God. We have to let go of our resentments. We have to love and serve others and get our Ego out of the way. We have to live every minute fully surrendered to God’s will for our lives. It’s beautifully simple.
I guess I am now one of “those” people who are grateful for their disease. As much as I don’t want to return to living in the throws of the battle on addiction or of Leukemia, I also am keenly aware and divinely reminded that their entrance into my life triggered the growth of the person I am becoming—a girl who trusts and loves and uses her brokenness to help other broken people. Someone who is free from the opinions of others and who strives to surrender her will to a power greater than herself. Someone who suspends judgment and reminds herself that everyone has a story and deserves to be treated with dignity. Someone who lives one day at a time and has tools to tackle the anxiety and need to control that once dominated her. A woman who is learning to be grateful for every single part of her life because she believes God can use it all for good if she lets Him. As a result of my diseases, that I once considered curses, I am learning to become the kind of girl I never thought I could be. And I am learning to like her very much.