It’s Good To Be Alive!
By Midwestern Mama, creator of Our Young Addicts.
My dad was an early riser.
Each morning at the breakfast table, he would stretch and declare, “It’s good to be alive! Good to be alive!” As a kid, I dismissed the sheer beauty of this morning ritual and squirmed at how he repeated the phrase.
Fast forward to age 49, I now understand the infinite wisdom that he expressed and why it required such emphasis. In fact, on my dad’s 80th birthday in 2009, my sisters and I presented him with a tribute of all the things we remembered growing up and his “good to be alive” mantra was top of the list.
At the time of my dad’s 80th birthday, things in my family life were turning upside down and I had no idea what twists and turns we were in for in the years ahead. From this point forward, our middle son became a focal point. Not because he was the middle kid, but because his attitude, mood and behavior was changing. It was becoming foreign to us and we were wondering what the heck was going on. We were very concerned.
Until this point, life had been beautiful.
A great marriage. Three wonderful kids who seemed to be thriving.
Prosperous careers. Friendships. Community involvement. Fun times on family vacations. A home that provided comfort and joy. Lots of laughs and family time together.
You name it. Indeed, we were blessed. Then, as I said, things started to change.
Our son was using drugs.
Marijuana at first, quickly followed by opiates including heroin. Although his grades were exceptional, his attendance record was putting high school graduation at risk. He was lying, stealing, manipulating.
We saw it, but others said it was just a phase. We suspected drugs, but did not have tangible evidence because he hid it well. It got worse and worse, and for those of you who have been through addiction first hand or as a family or friend, you know what I mean.
In short, things were ugly. Yet in spite of the ugliness, I discovered beauty. Yes, I discovered beauty and beauty saved me.
As a mom and wife, I felt responsibility to hold everything together. I was doing OK at this for everyone except myself. It felt like things were getting ready to fall apart. It felt like things were becoming unmanageable (Step One for those who embrace the 12 steps.)
I did not want things to become unmanageable, so I paused. I sought help and through this help, I rediscovered beauty in everyday life and it was more beautiful than it had ever been. This is not to say that things were not sad, mad or difficult. Addiction is all those things and witnessing it as a parent is horrific. What it is to say is that during this harrowing journey of addiction for my son, I intentionally and consciously began to embrace beauty all day, every day.
Just like my dad, beauty began each morning when I woke up. Waking up, alive and with the belief that this was a new day with new possibilities was an amazing starting point. I even began to say aloud his expression when I woke up: “It’s good to be alive. Good to be alive.” From there, I began:
- Taking time to mediate.
- Taking time to enjoy.
- Taking time for gratitude.
I remember sitting in my son’s room – he was no longer living with us and was sofa surfing at the time – and feeling the morning sun come through his windows; it was warm and reassuring. Yes, the sun rose, day after day regardless of what was happening in my son’s life or my own. That, alone, was reassuring and beautiful.
Beauty continued to reveal itself as my husband and I landscaped our yard and planted a garden one summer early in the addiction years. The physical labor was therapeutic as we lugged bags of mulch and dug in the dirt to plant perennials and annuals that would attract butterflies.
- Bringing a picnic of favorite foods to our younger son’s baseball games in lieu of having concession-stand fare several nights each week.
- Spending my lunch hour at park near my office soaking in the warm sun.
- Going on vacation to hike in the mountains of Montana without much cell phone reception and relishing in the disconnection from all things digital.
The road ahead was nothing short of hard and challenging, but I sought beauty each and every day.
- Thanking God for the beautiful sky – always a different picture from the day before.
- Appreciating the seasons.
- Meeting new friends through Al-anon and online support groups.
- Challenging myself with new perspectives through reading Buddha, the Talmud, and many other philosophies.
- Acknowledging the challenges that every individual faces, whether expressed or contained.
- Putting my experiences into writing and sharing these with a variety of publications.
- Creating Our Young Addicts and knowing that its mission of experience, resources and hope would connect parents and professionals concerned about the rising number of young people using drugs and alcohol.
As our son’s addiction spiraled out of control and blips of hope became mere flickers of possibility, we maintained contact with him and welcomed him home as often as he cared to join us.
- Family meals where we held hands each with our own prayer, wish or hope.
- Caring yet candid conversations where we shared our honest concerns about his addiction.
- Offering help and support for our son to embrace sobriety and recovery.
- Giving him nutritious meals, a warm shower, a change of clothes and a clean bed … only to know he’d head out the next day and not knowing when he’d return.
- Relishing in each and every interaction we had with him because it meant he was alive and that a bright future remained possible. (Trust me, I had begun to think about his obituary because that’s how gripping his addiction had become.)
While the days and nights were dark and the unthinkable was always possible, I sought beauty; I expressed gratitude for what was and tried to let go of what wasn’t.
Fast forward to summer 2014, through many efforts at treatment, my son decided he was ready to embrace sobriety and recovery. July 11, 2014, remains one of the most beautiful days of my life. It is the day that my son began his return, slowly but surely.
Through my son’s recovery, each day has offered up even more beauty than I ever imagined.
Do I look back on the addiction days as ugly? Sure, there was ugliness. Addiction is ugly. But it is the beauty that got me through it and the beauty that keeps me cognizant of today and the future. Without a doubt, as my dad said each morning, “It is good to be alive. Good to be alive.”
Midwestern Mama is the creator or Our Young Addicts, a growing community of parents and professionals who are concerned about the rising number of young people using drugs and alcohol. Together, we share experiences, provide resources and offer hope – no matter where a kid may be on the spectrum of addiction, treatment and recovery. Together, we are the #OYACommunity.