Late-Stage Sobriety - Facing Recovery and Serious Health Conditions
“I just dropped in to see what condition my condition is in.” – Jimi Hendrix
Diseases Caused by Substance Abuse
Hepatitis C, cardiovascular problems, respiratory problems, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, kidney and liver damage - these are just some of the health crises created by long term drug and alcohol abuse.
The cost of health care due to the disease of addiction is several hundred billion dollars annually. Getting quality health care from providers who know the cause of our conditions (especially when we continue to drink or use) can be especially difficult. The obstacles to sobriety and good health for the recovering addict and alcoholic are many.
Debilitating health conditions also compromise our efforts at recovery.
Chronic conditions, especially those that require use of pain medication make staying clean and sober problematic. The weight of knowing that our quality (and often the chronological quantity) of life are permanently reduced makes the investment of recovery seem all the less desirable.
No Lost Causes
The counter-intuitive nature of addiction is best captured in a question I’ve been asked countless times:
- “Do you think maybe I’m too far gone? Maybe I’ve done too much damage to myself and there’s no point in even trying anymore?”
I take a hard line with these questions. I counter, “Wouldn’t that be wonderful? You’d be absolved of all personal responsibility for the rest of your days by virtue of being a lost cause!”
I’m old school in terms of recovery. If you’re vertical and breathing then congratulations! You have another chance to get “it” (life) right. I believe that one should live before they die – not just survive. If we can’t imagine living clean and sober for ourselves, perhaps we can do it for our loved ones, even if it is only for a little while.
Living with dialysis, cirrhosis of the liver, late stage alcoholism or HIV can make life extremely undesirable. We may regret the life choices that wrecked havoc on our bodies.
Being confronted with our own mortality evokes denial, self pity or a willingness to consider what our legacy shall be...
Bucket List Your Recovery
We all want our lives to mean something. We want something of ourselves to endure after we’re gone. The opportunity then is to put sobriety first, even if it’s the first item on your bucket list. When we come to a place of desperation, acceptance is the only answer. Becoming selfless is a great step in changing the impact our disease has wrought.
Of all the carnage that addiction wreaks, it takes its greatest toll on our families. It distances us, ostracizes us and shames not only ourselves but often those who love/loved us. It often seems that we’ve burned these bridges permanently.
The doors opened by recovery are countless. Many of us found a receptiveness from those who love us upon learning that we have sustained sobriety.
Live Like You’re Dying (Because You Are)
Bob Dylan said that, “He not busy being born is busy dying.” All of us are moving ever closer to the end of our lives. Those of us with debilitating health conditions are forced to be aware of our proximity. Tim McGraw’s song, “Live Like You Were Dying” embraces the very spirit we’re free to claim.
We’ve all seen the simple philosophy of recovery bumper stickers that proclaim “Screw Guilt!” Living with regret isn’t living. As we bemoan out past we miss out on today. Better to connect. Better to be of service to others and to embrace being:
The Power of Example
The recovery concept that best applies to being the power of example is “You’re Eligible Too” (Y.E.T.).
The newcomer enters recovery with great uncertainty. He or she hears stories of those who suffer and they think, “Most of those things have not happened to me!” The old timer counters, “Those things have not happened to you YET.”
Being part of recovery communities affords us the chance to share our “Experience, Strength, and Hope.” We are given the gift of showing others what recovery can spare them from and how it can enrich them. For many of us, this becomes the legacy that endures. The ripple effects of impacting the lives of those in early recovery are immeasurable.
"There But For the Grace of God Go I"
We have watched countless good people die from the disease of addiction. Those of us in recovery do not shun, nor do we look down upon those who never “get it.” “There but for the grace of God go I” is a spiritual axiom. It is recognition that we too could have continued active in addiction and fulfilled the “Rule of Threes” (the only possible outcomes of remaining active in addiction are jail, institution, or death).
The counter intuitiveness of recovery is most evident in the “grateful alcoholic/addict.” The recognition is that had we not developed, survived, and come to our terms with our addiction; we would never have substantively changed our way of being.
A client of mine years ago put it best, “If I’d never gotten sober I’d have remained an a**hole all of my days!”
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