The Tree of Help, the Tree of Life
I believe there is something about going through addiction and knowing first-hand the pain it causes that leads many of us toward the path of helping others. There is a specific type of fear, helplessness, hopelessness, and anguish that is unique to a person battling addiction. I am not sure anyone who has not gone through it can fully relate to all the consequences, especially internally, that a person suffers when dealing with an addiction. There is also, however, a specific type of gratitude that one develops when they come through all that adversity and begin to flourish on the other side. That is what I think creates that desire to help others who are going through those feelings and in need of some hope.
I began thinking about this topic when two of our graduates who I keep in contact with reached out to me in the span of one week. Both of them were celebrating one year of their new drug-free lives and thanked me for being a resource for them as a mentor of sorts and helping them along the way. It was both a humbling and exhilarating feeling, knowing where my life once was and now being credited by others for helping them find their own path. There is perhaps no feeling that is more fulfilling or gratifying for an ex-addict than playing any small part in helping others rid themselves of the pain of addiction. It gives all the pain I went through a purpose and that, in a way, makes that pain worth it. It is yet another example of why my past no longer haunts me today and is instead there to provide me perspective, understanding, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude and peace.
Of course, I did not make it to where I am at today without help from a lot of people. The first person I called after I got those phone calls was my father. There is perhaps no one who was more instrumental to my recovery than him and the rest of my family who refused to give up on me. They were relentless in their faith that there was more to my life than wasting away as an addict. My parents are not addicts and have never had substance abuse problems, but that did not stand in their way of helping their son. I told him about the two graduates who had called me celebrating one year clean, how they thanked me for being there for them and helping them along the way. I then broke down, teared up, and thanked my father for helping me. I told my dad that without his help and the unwavering belief in me from my family, despite all I put them through, that I would not be there for the ones I am able to help now. The position I am in to help others is just as much a credit to them as it is myself. It was a very emotional and powerful moment for me and my dad, a moment I will cherish forever.
I also had many mentors during the early stages of my recovery, especially the staff at Narconon Suncoast during my program. I am fortunate enough to now call many of those staff members co-workers after returning to build a new career here devoted to helping others achieve their drug-free lives. They too were instrumental in where I am at today. There are many more that have lent a helping hand to me and my recovery and the new life that I have built for myself.
The very neat thing about my story is that I am just one example of a very large group of people who have recovered from substance abuse. Like me, they recovered with the help of many others who now either work in the field of addiction or simply love to help just because of where they came from. The tree of people helping one another has endless possibilities and potentially positive outcomes. I thought about the two graduates that called me. Maybe one day it will be their turn to help others as they were once helped? Maybe the people they help will then help more people? Not a guarantee, but certainly not unlikely.
The thing about it is that we do not know what the future holds. My parents were not thinking about me helping others when they were helping me nor were they understanding ex-addicts, they were just helping their son. They were doing what they knew was right and acting out of love. There is a valuable lesson to be learned here.
How do we begin pushing back against the seemingly never-ending drug crisis that has been amplified by unprecedented opioid and meth epidemics? It will not get better by continuing to punish and shame addicts further down the rabbit hole. Those methods have been failing for decades. It will get better by helping one another and having those helped begin helping others. My parents may not have understood my addiction the way I can relate to someone I talk to, but that did not prevent them from helping me when I needed it most.
Most of us all want the world to get better, but how do we do that when we are such a small spec in such a big world? It all begins with our own line of sight. Who do you know that is struggling? Who do you know that loves someone that is struggling? How can you help them? What is the best way to help them? Is there much in life that feels more rewarding than helping someone in need? Not to me, and that is the solution to this problem. Sometimes the best help is simply offering an ear to listen and letting somebody know they are not alone in this world. We can all do our part. The tree of help, especially when it comes to addiction, is the tree of life.