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By Kathleen M. Jacobs

“Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” --Albert Einstein


“The question is not how to get cured, but how to live.” --Joseph Conrad

Over the past ten years, I have been asked – and, I might add, not lightly and not without a great deal of thought by those afflicted – to act as part of a support system for three friends recovering from an addiction: alcohol, opioids, and gambling. I knew nothing about any of these addictive behaviors – nothing. But, I knew each of the three people whose lives had spiraled out of control as a result of each addiction. And while each of these individuals had suffered for many years – at first, thinking that they didn’t have a problem – the continual free-fall that each found themselves in eventually picked up ever-increasing momentum, leaving them with only two choices: continue their respective use of alcohol, opioids, and gambling – knowing that in the end, the prognosis could be fatal – or admit that they had a problem, that they were an addict, and that they were going to commit to a recovery program. And they each reached the latter choice after excruciating pain. And, thankfully, not a single one chose the first. It sounds relatively simple – making that second choice, but it wasn’t anywhere near simple. Accepting that you are an addict takes time – a long time. Accepting that you are in denial is nearly impossible. Accepting that change can be achieved – and even, in time, embraced – is close to torturous. And yet, against all these odds, each one of these addicts has taken every single step of the journey to a restoration of health, and knows that every day for the rest of their lives one challenge after another will knock at the door lightly, but oh so powerfully, with an invitation to return to the days when the drug of choice spoke louder than anything or anyone else in their lives.

One of these addicts began their alcohol use when they were only twelve years old. They are now twenty-five years old, and have spent the last five years sober. The other addict overdosed on opioids and was saved – in more ways than one – from becoming a fatality. The gambling addict admitted to her addiction, only after losing her husband, her house, her car, and her job. And yet, even though their respective resolve is stronger than ever to remain on the other side of the road, they know that without an extremely objective support system and an incredible belief in a power much stronger than themselves that there is a chance – always a chance – that the attraction to their drug of choice just might come knocking at the door when their resolve has taken a hit – for whatever reason. And yet they remain steadfast, even in the midst of impending danger – most probably because of impending danger.

I loved each of these three people in a different way than I love them now. The definition of that young love had to change, in order to help them re-discover the best they could be, as carefully as I could. And I knew only one thing for certain as I accepted this role of support for them: to be present, to be there, not necessarily to provide answers, and certainly not to judge, for neither I nor any other member of their chosen support team had any clear answers. We had each known these people their entire lives. And, as their respective addictions were eventually bought out into the bright light of day, each of us squinting yet completely committed, their denial lingered. Excuses were made, accountability was dismissed, and responsibility became obsolete. But then something happened to change all of that, and denial was no longer accepted. And that’s when our definition of love changed. It was re-defined, and became something even more magnificent that any of us had ever before experienced. And when that moment comes that changes the course of everyone’s life – because it will come, if the addict welcomes it – it becomes solely and completely about truth. And as Martin Luther King, Jr. asserted: “. . . I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

In addition to tangible losses, each of these addicts lost everything that they had ever truly held sacred: dignity, self-respect, integrity, trust. They each, single-handedly, became the most powerful members of their respective families, destroying marriages and family relationships, depleting financial stability that took their families years to build, and traveling an unfamiliar road that, now, they cannot recognize with any clarity whatsoever. And yet, in the end, they became who they were always intended to become. And even after delivering the most sincere, heartfelt apologies to those they hurt along the way, you can rest assured – without a single doubt – that no matter what their future successes, they will continue to make amends to those who suffered from their actions. It isn’t guilt, for they have come to recognize that holding on to guilt – that holding on to the past – has the potential to become as destructive as their drug of choice. So they no longer hold on, they let go. And in letting go, they realize the full measure of redemption and salvation and resurrection. And it isn’t until we recognize and enjoy those gifts ourselves that we, too, can let go and look to not a blinding light, but a light that will, in the end, always show us each the way. And that’s when change becomes something to embrace, something to celebrate – something to treasure.

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