It's amazing how adversity or tragedy can spark a passion inside of us. You see it all the time. Like people who lose a loved one to gun violence and then pour themselves into advocating for better gun laws. That's not something those people planned on doing; instead, it became something they had to do.
As I wrote in a blog post back in October, I didn't choose this work, it chose me. Lord knows, I don't do it for money. I do it for people and families who are struggling, because I want them to know that things can work out okay. I do it because, in their darkest moments, people need hope. They need to know that things can get better.
I do it for people like Mark.
Back in early January, I received an email from Mark. I don't know Mark, but he told me about his struggles with alcohol, and I replied to him. Today, Mark emailed me again with an update.
With Mark's permission, I'm sharing our email exchange with you. By doing so, maybe we can, in Mark's words, "Pass on the hope to others."
Email from Mark to me on January 2, 2016:
My name is Mark. Today once again I know I need to make a change but fear I can't. You see I've been in recovery since 2003. I have relapsed several times and I'm afraid to tell my family. My wife told me if I ever drank again she would leave me. I have three beautiful daughters. I'm afraid of losing them also. I was a leader in a faith based recovery group. I feel I have let all of those people down. I have a business that is collapsing around me. I work in the oilfield and it is hard times right now for that kind of business. All of these things and more are wearing me down. I know I need to tell my family about drinking again but I don't even know where to start. I'm not sure why I'm sending you an email. I've been reading stories on Heroes in Recovery and your name keeps popping up. What hurts me the most is how I enjoyed helping others. Telling my story. Now I feel like a hypocrite and feel like I can never get that back. I have to make a change and I need to do it now. Any words of encouragement or ideas that might help I would greatly appreciate it.
My reply to Mark on January 3, 2016:
I'm sorry you're struggling, but I'm glad you reached out.
I know you want to quit drinking, because you took the time to contact me and tell me. Maybe you've relapsed a few times lately, but you recognize that you have a problem. And you want to attack that problem again. So, yes...Here you go again. But you know what? Sobriety can take a lot of practice because it's a learned behavior. It takes constant practice, and with learned behaviors we learn by failing. And we learn to be and do better from our mistakes. The relapses are NOT what define us. It's how we react to the relapses. So pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and get back on the recovery road.
Make a commitment to not drink for today. Or even for the next hour or minute if smaller chunks of time make it a little easier. And do your best to keep doing the next right thing. If you mix willingness with hope enough times, sobriety can happen. You know that, because you were sober for a long time. The fact that you've slipped up doesn't make you a failure, Mark. Or a hypocrite. It just means that you're human. Because humans make mistakes. I think your wife and daughters would understand that, assuming you are willing to bust your ass to get back on the right track. If you're willing to do that, I think your family will support you. And you know what? You can still help others by sharing your story. Because the truth about addiction and recovery is this: Someone's story doesn't necessarily end when they stop drinking or taking drugs. Recovery is not a destination, but a journey. And there are oftentimes bumps in the road on that journey. Part of the "story" is how you deal with those bumps.
By getting sober again you can show people that it's possible to falter and still get back on the right path. You can possibly be even more inspirational to those people than you've already been. So my recommendation is to get yourself back on your feet and start working hard to get back to sobriety. Do whatever you have to, Mark. Meetings, counseling, outpatient treatment, etc. Just don't sit there feeling sorry for yourself. Take some action to get back to where you've been. Show yourself that you are stronger than the alcohol. I know you can do it, my friend. Just go forward, be brave, and keep the faith.
Sending you peace, hugs, and positive, sober vibes.
Email from Mark to me on February 4, 2016:
I wanted to give you a update on how I've been doing since you sent me this email.
I have been clean and sober now since 1/2/16. Thank you so much for the email you sent me. It was full of encouragement, strength and hope.
My sponsor wanted me to give my testimony last Friday at our meeting (Celebrate Recovery). I was reluctant of course fooling myself that others would judge me. I had a couple of weeks to think about. During this time my heart was very heavy knowing that I didn't think I could get up on the altar and talk. To me it is a sacred place and how was I going to go up there and still be hiding my relapse from my wife and daughters.
Thursday came (the day before I was set to speak) and I knew either I had to back out or tell my wife. I prayed everyday for a year for God to give me the courage to do this. I always had a excuse not to. Now it was time. We watched a little television as we usually do before bed. She was ready to go to sleep but I knew this was the time. I shut off the tv and told her I had something to tell her. It just came out.
I was fully prepared to pack my bags, hopefully kiss my girls goodbye and leave. That's not at all what happened. She let me talk. She told me she was sad and disappointed but would stand by my side just like she had always done. What a weight off my shoulders!
Why did she not kick me out as she promised so many years ago? Only God knows the answer to that. I really do not know how lucky I am to have a wonderful wife like I have. One by one I told my daughters the next day. They all took it the same way as their mother.
Disappointed but encouraged me to get back on track.
So here I am the next day. The day of my talk.The day my business will be closing.The price of fuel has forced me to do so. I have had a small oilfield delivery service( hot shot) for the past 6 1/2 years and I just couldn't make ends meet any longer. That night I was speaking at church, giving my testimony and touch on the subject of insanity and then sanity. I had planned this day out a couple of months ok. I didn't figure on coming out the other side certainly not giving my testimony and being sober. This was the case though. My words came out clear and spot on. God was there every step of the way. This day did not happen by accident. How blessed I was and lucky to be where I'm at today!
Today I'm looking for a job after 11 years working in one way or another for myself. Bill collectors calling everyday and the same stress that has been there but what's different is I have a new beginning. I'm going to my meetings. Making my calls. Feeding the homeless on the weekends and praying that God will let me be his hands and feet everyday. I'm not doing these things for a pat on the back or for someone to say "great job" I'm doing them to stay sober. To come back stronger than I ever was.
I'm taking it one day at a time, hour by hour, minute by minute and second by second. I just wanted to let you know that taking the time to email me back and give me your words of encouragement made a difference in my life. Thank you my friend and may God bless you and your family.
"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up." --Anne Lamott