“New Beginnings Are Often Disguised as Painful Endings” ~ Lao Tzu
The lump on my throat popped out when I raised my head to the water streaming down on me in the shower 2 years ago. I called my doctor immediately and the whole process of diagnosis, treatment and recovery began. Referred to specialists, I soon had a surgeon and chemo and radiation professionals on my cancer recovery team. My recovery from alcohol abuse (SUD) 13 years prior paved the way for my becoming a cancer survivor.
Fear, anger. self-pity, the whole regimen of usual reactions to a cancer diagnosis were minimized by my experience of 13 years in recovery from alcohol. “You Deserve No Better,” a lie my addiction told me again and again until I believed it to be true, never entered my mind in my cancer battle. My recovery from substance abuse taught me that I would not let my cancer diagnosis and treatment defeat me. I would and did emerge more fully whole from both addiction and cancer.
Just as alcoholics anonymous and narcotics anonymous were a necessary part of my early addiction recovery (along with evidence-based individual and group therapy), I knew I would have to form connections with a cancer recovery community. Gilda’s Club, a cancer recovery group, has been of immeasurable help when I joined them after my chemo and radiation treatments ended and continuing into today. From my addiction experience, I knew that once the cancer was killed, it was I who would need to continue to heal. Just as recovery from alcohol abuse and drugs doesn’t end when the last trace of drugs has left the body, so too would I need to heal after the last trace of cancer was erased.
My fears, like a pack of wolves in my addiction, became domesticated in recovery. Realistic fears are healthy tools, life-protecting guard dogs in recovery. Truthfully, my cancer diagnosis was not much of a shocker to me. I was almost blasé about it, not dead in my tracks as one might suspect, a strength I did not know I had upwelled. Whatever it was, whatever the diagnosis, my recovery from addiction had given me the tools, knowledge and direction I would need to face all my fears, including cancer, directly, forthrightly.
Fear of failure, of the unknown, fear of loss, even fear of success have been felt, recognized and dealt with by me and countless others. Shared courage. I dealt with these and other fears by having another drink in my addiction. Alcohol overcame me and became the only tool in my recovery toolbox. My destruction became obsessively, progressively more inevitable. Finding recovery from alcohol abuse would require new tools. And it is through shared courage that I would find my way in the SOBER WORLD.
I believe gratitude can be taught because I learned all about it in my recovery from alcohol abuse and other drugs. One of my favorite examples of learning gratitude (and humility) is depicted in a favorite scene from “Zorba the Greek.” Zorba sees an old man planting a seedling for a tree that will surely never bear fruit in the old man’s lifetime. Seeing this, Zorba asks the old man why he even bothered planting it. The old man replies that he chooses to live each day as if he will live forever. Floored, Zorba replies that he has always lived as if he could die at any moment.
These stark contrasts in daily living clearly show how living life “One Day at a Time” may mean vastly different things to different people. Recovery from addiction taught me that I had to face the cancer treatment squarely and to follow all medical guidance. Gratitude and humility became invaluable in my cancer fight (which wasn’t a fight for me at all, really). The chemo and radiation would do the fighting and I would surrender my trust to the evidence presented to me by my medical team. Hope, trust and a regimen of prescription drugs led me finally to be cured.
“Silent gratitude isn’t very much use to anyone” ~ Gertrude Stein
Grateful for my gratitude, as wonky as that may sound, is surely better than when my addictions told me “You Deserve No Better.”
Addiction and cancer have well-prepared me for future storms. Just as my recovery from addiction did not see cancer on the horizon, so too, my cancer recovery does not see what next may await me. But I do know that each step along the way prepares me for the next. I am strong. I am of sound mind. What next? Covid-19 or other great uncertainties most certainly will not deter me. I have become resilient.
Shared Courage is an invisible force in my recovery from addiction and from cancer. Connections are a saving grace for me. Addiction severed connection with all else. Cancer has become a gift, feeding my recovery from addiction in ways both subtle and complex. Fear used wisely and rationally will guide me forward, protect me, save me. Pass through it to survive, for survival is fear’s real purpose.
Share your fears, your courage and your gratitude. Remember all the obstacle you have surmounted. Shared courage saw me through and may see you or anyone through.
Before my cancer was even diagnosed and confirmed, I remembered what I learned from my recovery from alcoholism. I had learned to tell myself this: Addiction Will Not Own Me / Control Me / Lessen Me. And recovery from addiction had prepared me for my cancer diagnosis and treatment. I had learned to tell myself this: Cancer Will Not Own Me / Control Me / Lessen Me.
Fear became less fear and less fear became fearless. So, my gentle readers, construct your future. You have met other obstacles in your life and Obstacles Will Not Own You / Control You / Lessen You.
Fear… less. The future beckons and we will be ready!
All Drinking Aside: The Destruction, Deconstruction and Reconstruction of An Alcoholic Animal is a 90 Chapter orchestration of autobiographical flashbacks in which the author describes his descent into alcoholism while three fictional characters (unnoticed by him) discuss his prospects for recovery. 286 pages, it is available on Amazon.com in both print and Kindle editions.
Jim Anders honed his skills writing as an advertising copywriter. He is a graduate of Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. After becoming a cancer-survivor, he became a CCAR Recovery Coach and is working on a second book tentatively titled Becoming Unbroken. www.alldrinkingaside.com firstname.lastname@example.org