Monday, August 8, 2016

Fun in Recovery? Yes

One of the benefits of having been clean for so many years is seeing, every couple of years or so, a new batch of people, newly in the process, discovering that it is fact possible to immensely enjoy leisure activities without getting drunk, wasted, or fucked up. Seriously, it is like watching a baby walking and getting somewhere for the first time, or a kid breaking through to a new level on a video game, or a grade-schooler playing a piece of music for the first time without screwing up, or a teen driving a car for the first time without incident. With adults, it's understated, but the signs are obvious; after doing something for about 90 minutes to two hours, there is a look of recognition in a pause or quiet moment, no matter what the activity, when it is possible to read in someone's eyes or face the realization that 1) they are having fun and enjoying themselves, and 2) they register that they have not thought about using since before the activity began. I know I had a few of those moments when I was a newcomer all those years ago, and I see it frequently whenever people get together for what one of my friends calls "sober fun."
We had a softball game yesterday. I've coached for years, and have been a big part of Sabrina's softball career, but it dawned on me yesterday that I had not actually played in a game for many years. And I admit to an intense feeling of pleasure, as all these young bucks yesterday realized that Grandpa still has some game, especially since I hadn't slept in a day and a half after staying up when I got out of work. But it was a lot of fun--I pitched the entire game, got a few good hits, got to indulge my competitive nature without going overboard, and most of all enjoyed the company I was keeping and the game I was playing. There were the usual mix of unforgettable moments, silliness, and camaraderie (I have never before seen a game delayed for a couple of moments because someone broke a nail and we searched the infield grass looking for it. I'm still laughing). I provided one myself with a beautiful slide into second base. Of course, I forgot that I had shorts on, not baseball pants, and so I have a pretty good abrasion on my left shin this morning--but it's like a rug burn, nothing serious. The game itself wasn't all that competitive, although a spirited last inning rally made the final result close.
But it was a lot of fun.
I was sitting in the dugout with another player during the game, the only other one there that has been around the fellowship as long as I have. She used to come to the games we used to play every Sunday at Columbus Park in the summer of 2002, and we were talking about that a little bit. Her son, who played the full game yesterday, wasn't even born yet. My daughter, who wasn't there because she was working, used to wander onto the field at least twice every game from the adjacent playground, and I took more than one diaper-changing break that summer during the game... time does pass. And yet the thing that struck me during the conversation is that of the 25 or so people that used to come and play at least some of the time that summer, at least half of them are still around and clean, and a few others have since died but were clean when they did so. It is so important to the recovery process to find out that you can enjoy yourself clean. That leisure does not require drugs or alcohol. I think back to that summer, and even though I didn't fully realize it at the time, there were a lot of people that participated every week that, prior to that summer, had bounced in and out of the rooms for a few years, and that have been around since. I really think that our consistent get-togethers had something to do with that, that people understood that you could have fun, but also have friends and be social, too, without artificial lubricants.
And there were a couple of times yesterday when I contrasted, for a moment, what I was in the middle of doing with what has been going on around me recently. There have been a rash of overdoses, wakes, and funerals; indeed, a couple of people were late to the game because they had attended a funeral of a young woman that died last week. I looked at the tag list of the organizer of the game on Facebook, and knew that at least five of the names weren't going to be there because they are back out in full-blown addiction. I thought briefly of my ex, hiding out at various places around town, running from authority because jails and institutions await, knowing how much fun she would be having if she was there. There were several women and men there that have been open about how much trouble they have had socializing and finding friends--that were socializing and making friends, and who had a lot of fun, judging from this morning's Facebook feed.
You don't stay clean for the duration without having a stake in a clean lifestyle. It's not just about the drugs. Addict life is, despite its obvious and increasingly dangerous drawbacks, relatively simple to live--there is no need or ability to develop other facets of an existence. When people get clean, they are faced with the awesome task of finding ways to have fun, of developing and maintaining social networks, and of figuring out how to integrate increased responsibility into their lives, in addition to the basics of staying clean, making a living, and parenting our children. And I thought that the downfall of those I had been around recently was not so much that they were irreversibly devoted to drugs and drug use--it was their inability to manage down time, to find a way to fill the number of hours that we used to spend either being high or looking to get high. Nearly every time I talked to my ex after she got her apartment, she would mention how lonely and isolated she felt, especially after she had to be in after curfew... and this is exactly why people who get out of rehab and/or return home from institutions need to get involved in a recovery fellowship. Because, above all else, the fellowship gives you ways to fill that void, to combat that isolation. It's not magic or rocket science. It is a simple acknowledgement of the obvious fact that something has to take the place of what one used to do.
This is something that treatment cannot provide. You cannot think your way out of an addiction, or all of us would have done it long ago. You certainly can't medicate your way out of an addiction. What you can do is gain a stake, an interest, in being and more importantly living clean....Non-addicts and addicts resistant to change might be reading all this and thinking, "Jesus, it was a pick-up softball game, and he's going on and on like it was this life-changing event." By itself, no, it isn't. But a collection, a series, an accumulation of things like--that is exactly how lives change. There were a few people there yesterday that don't even have 6-month keytags yet--but I am reasonably confident that they are going to be around for some time, precisely because they understand that staying clean requires that commitment to changing all facets of their lives. They are making the effort to be around other people in recovery, to go to meetings, to work the program as best they're able to. There were another few there that the lights are just starting to go on for--that were wandering around a little, eyes open, but taking it all in and starting to understand that basic truth.
My Facebook feed was full of notifications this morning, almost all of them connected with the game. I have several new friends as a result, and something to look forward to next week, and a wealth of memories to look back on for a long time to come. And when I logged on, I saw a name in the chat box, someone who quite possibly will be incarcerated by the end of the day, someone who has never bought into the necessity of changing lifestyle as a prerequisite of being able to stay clean and not get into legal trouble. That person is still young, and the lights might go on at some point...but they're not going to go on in jail, and they're not going to go on if one overdoses and doesn't wake up. The chance to live a new way is available to everyone who has been able to make it to a 12-Step meeting, and there is ample evidence that a clean life does not mean that you cannot have fun.
Yeah, it was only a softball game. But I'll bet those of you that are saying it in tones of derisive condescending didn't have as much fun as I did yesterday. I've lost, as well as gained, some things since I've gotten clean. Things like probation and parole officers, caseworkers, and a fear of the phone ringing, knocks at the door, and getting caught doing something I know could cost me my liberty. I would much rather change the bandage on a skinned leg than return to the life where all those things I've "lost" were present.

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