Learning to Be Present
“I feel more alone when you’re in the room with me than when you’re not even here.” My girlfriend’s words hurt, but they were true. I needed to hear them because I didn’t know how to be close, and to show up like she needed. All my life I had run from pain with a “Peter Pan” mentality that wanted to just ignore the wars going on inside and around me. I didn’t know how to process life when it hurt. Learning to be present became a major focus of my recovery journey from addictions to drugs and alcohol.
My name is Chris, and I have been sober since 2007. Recovery has given me the chance to learn how to be of service, grow and embrace challenges, particularly around healthy connection and relationships. Today, even as I’m still growing, I can bring life into a space instead of sucking it out.
On the Wrong Track Early
I grew up in Oregon and experienced what felt like instant addiction to anything I tried — drugs, alcohol, whatever. I craved anything that could take me out of my thoughts, and tended to favor everything people told me not to do. Though I grew up in a strict, religious context, I was spiritually bankrupt. At 15, alcohol began to fill the gaps I felt inside.
My life was heading in the wrong direction. Not graduating high school surprised me, but not those around me — my friends and my teachers. My low point came when I overdosed on drugs in a car. Paramedics saved me and brought me to the hospital where my mom worked, which was tough for her. I felt badly that she had to see me in such a state.
The Turning Point
I started seeking help at the age of 19, but the next six years did not seem to bring any lasting change no matter what recovery resources I tried. The groups, counseling, meetings and other efforts didn’t really seem to stick. I couldn’t seem to outrun my past.
And then, in 2007, after moving to live with family in Arkansas, something changed. I finally tried something different from what I had been doing: listening to others, even when it felt uncomfortable. A professor, who soon became a mentor in recovery, challenged me to sit up front and take ownership of my learning in in class. I followed his advice, and things began to change, both in my studies and in my life.
Instead of just asking for help and ignoring the answers when they got difficult, I started following others’ suggestions even when it became hard. I had failed enough trying to do it my own way. Listening brought more growth than debating or disagreeing, and enabled me to learn and grow in how I showed up in relationships.
Beginning to Treasure Connection
With this growth, I could handle challenges differently. When the physical health of my father-in-law — a mentor in my life — began to deteriorate, I put into practice tools learned in recovery.
I did not run from the pain and uncertainty. Instead, we shared and enjoyed our time together during his final days, whether through deep conversation or driving around in a convertible and enjoying the surroundings. One key moment with him during this time actually brought deep healing to me.
Thanks to what I had learned in recovery, I now have these beautiful memories.
Tools from recovery continue to help me grow as a husband and a father. I am grateful for the healthier relationships I now have with my wife and kids.
Aligning with Something Greater
Recovery brought wellness that helped me a career in higher education administration. I served as admissions director for a college in Arkansas. During this time, moments of serendipitous connection started happening that began to reveal that there was something greater than myself I could partner with.
For instance, a colleague sent me a student who was struggling through some situations and making poor life decisions. He opened up and shared that one of the root causes was the shame he felt from breaking a laptop his girlfriend’s father had bought. It turns out that someone had just given me an old laptop that I didn’t need, and it had been sitting in my office for two weeks. The timing of it felt divinely orchestrated.
Passion and Fulfillment through Service
Being of service injects new energy and life into my day-to-day happenings. I don’t try to seek opportunities out or force it, I simply make myself available. When someone needs help, simply saying “yes” can open the door to new and exciting adventures.
I stay diligent in my recovery, because I recognize that I could still go back to the old, destructive behaviors. Staying in community and being open to helping others is a healthy reminder of the new direction I have in life. Today, I get to serve in the recovery community through my profession. After years in the world of higher education field, which I still love, I get to spend each day having impact that brings life and purpose.
Taking OneStep Forward
You are only one step away from finding help. Try putting into practice on these keys that helped
1. Listen to trusted mentors: At some point, every person needs wisdom they do not already possess. Is there advice from a counselor, community member, mentor or trusted friend that you need to put into practice that you haven’t yet?
2. Consider your environment: Part of Chris’ growth came after he left old environments that hadn’t helped him thrive in recovery. Are there places or situations that you need to shift?
3. Value those around you: Appreciation for the people in our lives can unlock greater experiences of connection and purpose.
4. Focus on being present: It’s a lifelong journey, but what are a few areas where you could grow in your ability to stay present and build connection? Try putting down the phone, turning off the television, shutting the laptop, and give those around you your full attention