Serving Others Through Radical Gratitude
Recently, Carmel shared the following post on Facebook. We were inspired by the work she's doing, and asked her to share with us her recovery journey.
"During group tonight I sat and listened to bits and pieces of a young man's life story. It's an essential part of my job and I love the honor and privilege. As I listen the image of a shattered mirror with all its broken pieces comes to mind. The young man's "normal" is strewn with addiction in the home, among the parents and elders, the cousins, the siblings, with love expressed as passing the pipe to ease the pain all those shattered pieces and those sharp edges bring. It's one way to help each other move through life. I get it. I sit and listen and hold back tears for this young man who didn't stand a chance. It feels heavy and tragic and painful. He laughs at some of the insanity and as some other patients laugh along I don't. I can't. I understand the laughter though. The laughter keeps the "normal" present and the pain at a distance. As we listen we answer questions on a feedback form for the presenter. Question 5 - "Do you think the presenter has surrendered?" I answer, "No. He doesn't even realize how addicted he is. How can he surrender what has been his "normal?" Our feedback forms are anonymous and meant to be helpful. After listening to two painful stories back to back I am wiped out emotionally. Then two more different patients with emotional upheavals need attention and we talk and find those big enough why's to coax them off the ledge, just for today, and then its time for me to go home. As I walk towards the door that young man approaches me. "Miss, can I talk to you?" I had already clocked out but that does not matter. This is all that matters. We go to my office and he asks me if I had written the feedback about him not knowing how addicted he was and that part about his normal. I say yes. We talk and I listen and he is in it, he is looking at his life, recognizing that his normal had some insanity but he is scared to question his families ways. I assure him that his dad absolutely sought to help him and love him by giving him drugs. His dad didn't know. No parent intentionally wants their child to suffer from addiction. And it's a family disease. Denial, neglect, abuse, suffering, getting by, emotionally shut down, laughing at the crazy stuff, all bonding experiences. His normal. We sit in the quiet. Unprofessional or not I can't help it and tears leak out and run down my face. He says he is realizing that he doesn't know how to feel. It's not that he doesn't know what to feel, he admits that he's realizing he has been shut down all his life. He talks about wishing his parents had been harder on him when he quit going to school. He remembers he had goals and dreams for himself academically. He admits he wishes his dad wasn't so okay with him selling drugs. To him. He sits there deep in thought in between the words and I can see his mind and soul are working on this. My heart aches and at the same time I know this is so very necessary to the path. He says he doesn't know what to do, he asks, "how will I take care of myself? What will happen to me?" I remain quiet. He then looks at me and asks, "What do you suggest I do? How did you stay sober?" There it is.
And so we begin."
Tell us a little bit about how you came to recovery in the first place?
I come from a large family, and as one of the younger ones I remember a growing ambition of mine was to one day be able to party it up with my older siblings. They appeared to be having one hell of a good time, and I didn't want to be left out of that! The opportunity came at the early age of 14 and I felt instantly at home when I was under the influence. Alcoholism runs throughout my family on both sides and my mother recognized the affliction in me while I was still in my teens. The progression was fast for me, and as some of my siblings slowed down I didn't.
One of my older brothers desperately made his way to AA, and as I was descending in the disease he was miraculously sobering up and transforming in ways I hadn't witnessed anywhere. I spent years in parochial schools and Sunday mass and what was happening within him was unrecognizable in any parishioner or priest I had ever seen. He was happy, joyous, and free as his life was being healed. He was reunited with his wife and children and he had found a new purpose and a new way of life. When he had 2 years sober it was my turn to reach out in desperation, and thankfully the hand of AA, through him, was there. That was 10-05-90 and that day has only become more meaningful to me as time has passed. I am eternally thankful that AA was there for him and that he treasured the gift of Grace, of sobriety, and was able to share it with me. Because of the perfection of how it came to pass for him and for me, I have had the beautiful honor of being helped by and in helping many others along the way.
How does working with others impact your own recovery?
Working with others continually reintroduces me to myself. When working with another I get to experience the best parts of myself, the parts that I forget to acknowledge and appreciate and enjoy, as I bear witness to that person’s beautiful growing awareness. Thankfully, I am also reacquainted with those aspects and areas of myself and my life that may be in need of love and attention, as I listen to another's struggle with self-acceptance and accountability.
For me, sharing my experience, strength, and hope authentically with another for the simple and sincere desire to be helpful, gives me the opportunity to express those heartfelt spiritual principles that nourish me and sustain me. Those principles come alive in the practice of engaging with others, being in relationship, and remaining willing to be available for Spirit/God/ Love, whatever one chooses to call it, to show up however It chooses. In effect the impact on my recovery is born out of that other person’s presence, meaning I can only get so far on my own. So I genuinely feel privileged and honored in working with others and my appreciation for the gift that recovery is grows exponentially. In essence, others are a gift to me and I recognize that I am a gift to them as well. The beauty of the reciprocal "wake up!" is immeasurable.
Do you engage in any practice that is effective in maintaining a long-term recovery, but is not necessarily widely know or considered "traditional"?
I practice radical gratitude and radical self-acceptance. A decision I made a long time ago was to stay out of the business of deeming something as "good or bad, right or wrong, and the should's or shouldn'ts." I also don't play the game of what or who is deserving or undeserving as I find it is an ego driven conversation. Radical gratitude means I no longer get to be selective in expressing my thankful heart as I experience this temporal world. It means that I fundamentally agree that Life is for me, not against me, and everything that happens is for my evolution, if I choose to lean into it. (It's a practice that's for sure!)
Radical self-acceptance means that under no circumstances am I allowed to withhold love or kindness or compassion from myself. These are two of my main spiritual practices and I would say that they are my humanity practices as well. Oftentimes my thoughts about humanity (of which I am one) creates the suffering and sense of separation and so the practice of extending gratitude for the opportunity to stand in my principles, extending unconditional positive regard for myself and others, creates the space for me to be of maximum service as a healing presence in the world. This is my inside job work. It is a way I stay out of victim mentality and in thinking my opinions hold some value.