I make no secret of the fact that I am a grateful recovering addict. I remember there was a time early in my sobriety when I would cringe if I heard another addict say he or she was “grateful”. Later next week, by the grace of God, I’ll be celebrating 18 years clean and sober, and more than likely because of that, I have found myself doing a lot of reflecting on how I’ve managed to turn my life around. The theme that appears to resonate most is my learning to accept that the opposite is usually true.
People often assume that the main problem of addiction comes down to an addict's lack of willpower or commitment. Although it may appear that way from the outside looking in, I would suggest the complete opposite is true. I say this because the addicts I've met in recovery are some of the most tenacious, resilient, and creative people on the planet.
As a high profile athlete and public speaker, I’ve written and spoken candidly about my struggles with addiction, mental health, and childhood trauma, and because of this, I have become a voice of resiliency—something that has been both a blessing and a curse. And herein lies the problem, when I look back at the cumulative adversity I’ve moved through, I too am somewhat amazed that I’m still standing, but where I believe my true resiliency lies is in something I share with millions of other addicts who have chosen to literally rebuild their lives. Each day an addict in recovery chooses NOT to pick up that first drink or drug, (s)he is drawing on a level of inner strength that few can imagine. And it is rooted in that precise place that I and countless other recovering addicts around the world begin our day. And if we are so blessed, it is from this place, that we open ourselves to the possibility of greatness.
Having said that, I am confident that the revelations my addiction battles have taught me about resiliency are invaluable lessons that anyone can draw upon, so I thought I would share a few of those with you now.
I think we can all agree that there is no escaping our past, but we certainly have a say in how much dominion we allow that past to have in our present. I’ve begun to think of my past like leafing through an old passport—It’s nice to know where you’ve been and the memories that go along with that, but there comes a time when that passport expires and you can no longer travel on it. The Jesuit writer Alban Goodier reminds us of the freedom of letting go of our past. “Those who face that which is actually before them, unburdened by the past, undistracted by the future, these are they who live, who make the best use of their lives; these are those who have found the secret of contentment.”
No matter who you are, there will come a time when fear shuts you down and holds back. Through my writing and advocacy work for survivors of sexual abuse, one thing has become abundantly clear--the greater your purpose, the less your fear. Anyone can be “courageous”, but without being fueled by purpose, it may be not only directionless but also reckless. The bravest people I know are not fearless, but rather, they have found something within themselves that allows them to step forward when everything inside them is screaming “no”.
My heroes are not those who win accolades or scale a mountain; instead, they are the people who have picked up the pieces after disappointment, and steeped in apprehension, they choose to walk back into the face of uncertainty. Whenever I speak about this, the discussion inevitably comes around to comfort zones and how easy it is for us to slip back into them. Ironically, I’ve always had greater success with making substantive rather than subtle changes. It reminds of something I recently heard in an interview with the author of The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler. Her brilliant advice is to “go so far away that you stop being afraid of not coming back.”
By far the most important lesson I’ve learned is that no matter what has brought you to your knees, making the decision to bend with gentleness and to keep moving forward has repercussions that reverberate far beyond your own life, for the simple fact that you never know who you might be inspiring out there. The people with the greatest impact in my life are not those who have something I aspire to, but rather, they are the people who believe in me. As a husband and a father, the most valuable gift I can give my family is the gift they have so generously given me—the freedom and the space to grow. In the words of Thomas Merton, “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves and not to twist them to fit our own image.”