“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” You may have heard this famous quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance, a transcendental guide to connecting oneself with the inner good that he believed to be an innate, human-defining trait found within all mankind. The quote suggests instead of focusing on the end result, the beauty of our collective journeys through life is found within the steps along the way that lead us to our respective destinations. The passing moments and actions we take on our individual journeys are in fact more impactful and meaningful than the destination to which we will eventually arrive. Often times when we refer to recovery from substance use disorder, we use the word journey to indicate that recovery is an ongoing process rather than a fixed result. In fact, many people in recovery refute the notion that there is a “cure” for substance use disorder. Instead, recovery relies on everyday choices and actions in a conscious effort to abstain from drugs and alcohol. Like any journey would entail, this includes the highs and lows, trials and tribulations, good times and bad, as modes of transformation consistent with any venture of progressional insight and growth.
In my own recovery journey, I’ve been able to reflect on the ways in which substance use disorder has shaped who I am – both the good and the bad. In the beginning, I remember struggling with the idea of recovery in moments of inner turmoil and desperation; so much so that I would relapse again and again until I reached the conclusion that recovery just wasn’t for me. What was the point? The future looked bleak, I had burnt so many bridges in my personal and professional life that I couldn’t fathom an adequate coping mechanism that would be more effective than alcohol or drugs. I had dug my hole, I might as well get comfortable down there. I was so focused on what wasn’t working without really paying attention to the process of my assumed failures. Hindsight is a powerful thing, it’s unfortunate that foresight isn’t nearly as palpable. Today, I’m able to look back on my past “failures” and realize they weren’t failures at all – I was experiencing valuable life lessons that would aid me on what, I then failed to realize, was already part of my recovery journey. I eventually began to shift my focus on why I had started this journey in the first place. Initially, I wanted to stop waking up in hospital beds for weeks at a time. I wanted to stop seeing my car parked outside with new dents and scratches that I don’t remember how they got there. I wanted to stop calling members of my family at 3 a.m. telling them I was going to jump off a bridge. I wanted to stop being confronted by concerned friends with, “Do you remember what you did last night?” I wanted it all to stop. I had reached a crossroads in my life where a decision had to be made: recovery or death.
Having just celebrated four years and having the opportunity to work for the organization that held my hand through those crucial first steps, I can say with all certainty that I made the right decision. And just like that decision I made over four years ago, I continue to make decisions every day that are conducive to successful long term recovery. The one thing that has changed however, is the why. Yes, I still never want to go back to living a life in hospital beds and going weeks on end having no recollection of days prior. But perhaps more importantly, my personal journey has shed light on the most cherished aspects of my life that were left neglected and broken in the aftermath of my substance use. My family, maintaining close connections with loved ones, my work, my ability to cope with the stresses of everyday life in a healthy way, the gift of living in the moment – these have become my why. My journey in recovery is not over and I firmly believe it will be an ongoing process for the rest of my life. I recognize the love I share with my family and friends and the relationships that have been mended as a result of my recovery are maintained through a conscious effort to be the best version of myself on a daily basis. For me, this is why the recovery journey is worth the effort. As I stated before, the “why” will change just as the journey itself will evolve through the ebbs and flows of daily life. But one constant remains – what is recovery worth? When I lay my head down to fall asleep every night, I am overwhelmed with gratitude knowing that my family is not worrying about if I will survive the night, that my nieces and nephew can look up to their uncle with pride, and that I can wake up in the morning without an insatiable emptiness in the pit of my stomach. I now wake up each morning with a glow of wonder thinking of the endless opportunities that my continued journey in recovery may bring and I think to myself, “This is worth it.” I realize that if you are struggling with substance use disorder these thoughts may seem impossible, but I can promise that one day, you will look back on the decisions, mistakes, and successes you’ve made on your continuous journey of recovery and realize it is worth it and YOU are worth it.