The Power of Persistence in Recovery: Natalie's Story
For the third installment of The Recovery Sessions, we’ve asked the children of those practicing a long-term or progressive recovery to share their experiences. We wanted to know, how has having a parent who has struggled with substance abuse addiction impacted you? And, more importantly, how has their recovery work impacted you? The fourth installment in this series is by Natalie, who shares the account of how her dad’s long-term recovery from alcoholism influenced her ability to persist in the face of adversity.
Sometime when I was in the 2nd grade, my mother’s second marriage collapsed after only six months because of a mysterious ailment called “alcoholism.” My young mind could not comprehend what that meant; I had no experience with drinking, and the closest approximation I understood to consuming something to the point of extreme self-harm came in the form of eating an entire box of Lucky Charms in one sitting. In our family, my mother’s brief and painful second marriage was quietly filed away as an unfortunate event that must be forgotten. After all, the alcoholism my mother’s ex-husband suffered from was clearly a personality flaw, and a weakness of character.
Two years later the word “alcoholism” once again joined our common lexicon. My mother was getting remarried, and this time to someone in recovery from alcohol addiction. My young mind understood only this: it had been six years since her new husband, Ron, had had a single sip of alcohol. I have a clear memory of giving him the third degree on this point: “Are you sure you’ve never had a drink since then?” I didn’t know what I was asking, only that drinking had caused my family lots of pain. So much pain that one day my sister and I came across two bottles of non-alcoholic sparkling cider in the fridge, and we poured them down the drain convinced we were doing our mother an important service.
As I grew older and began to develop a more sophisticated curiosity of the world around me, my step-dad, Ron, took me to my first AA meeting. I was 13 at the time, and deeply scared straight by the horrifying stories those in recovery shared about their time under the influence. I had a hard time connecting what I was hearing with the person who sat next to me and had assumed the role of “dad” in my household. Additionally, I didn’t understand why, if he’d been sober for so long, did he continue to attend disturbing meetings like this?
Years later, a literature professor explained our growing understanding of the world as a basket we’re continually weaving. As your consciousness develops, your basket of understanding grows deeper. You can read a story as a child and take away certain meanings, but if you read it again as an adult, you will have an entirely new experience with it because your “basket” has grown much larger, and you are able to fill it with a much deeper comprehension. And so my understanding of my dad’s substance abuse recovery continued to develop until I understood on a fundamental level why, after so many years of consistent sobriety, he continued to attend meetings, work with his sponsor, and engage in the difficult introspective work most of us try to avoid: successful progressive recovery requires extreme persistence.
Ron describes himself as a “bulldog,” as in someone who grabs on and doesn’t let go, no matter what. And while sometimes I know that he experiences painful resistance to that persistence (including from me and my sister!), ultimately, it’s that tenaciousness that’s been instrumental in his sobriety for over thirty years now. If there is one beautiful lesson my sister and I have gleaned from all these years of observing his persistence, it’s that the ability to get up again and again after being knocked down is how he’s been able to not just avoid drinking, but to progress in his recovery.
I am 38 years old now and have lost more than one friend along the way to addiction. I’ve seen how addiction can break apart families, ravage communities, and burn down relationships. I have spent quite a bit of time with people in recovery from substance abuse addiction, and now I understand that their disease is a persistent one: it is relentless, unyielding, and often downright brutal. To stay in recovery you sign on to fight an endless war, and you must develop the heart of a peaceful warrior with a commitment to victory against all odds.
The AA meetings I attended as a kid may have scared me off of drinking, but it was Ron’s deep resolution to staying sober and in recovery that imbued in me a fierce resolve to keep pushing forward, no matter how difficult things become. Over and over again I can look at my life and see the theme of persistence show up during my most challenging times. If Ron can face his demons day after day, and persist in their defeat, then certainly I can too.