I took a sick day this week, and I didn’t like it.
Some of that, of course, had to do with feeling lousy. It’s just a head cold, and I’m on the back end of it now, but it came with the usual crud: sinuses filled with green cement, body aches, chills, the whole shebang.
Normally, I would have powered through, dragged myself into work and pushed through until the end of my shift. It’s what I’ve always done, for two reasons: Working in newspapers, deadline responsibilities care not one whit about illness, and the responsibility of producing a weekly section by myself meant that if I didn’t do it, it didn’t get done.
Secondly, one of the ongoing Schemas I struggle with is unrelenting standards, i.e. the idea that I absolutely must be in the captain’s chair to make sure things get done. It’s an exaggerated sense of self-importance and a skewed perspective of my place in the natural order of things. Even if I had taken a sick day from my job as a newspaper editor, someone would have stepped in to fill my role. The section would have gone to print, my standards be damned, and the world would have continued to turn.
I like to think that recovery has given me the ability to continue working on those character defects, but as I dozed on Tuesday afternoon, I started having flashbacks, in a sense, of when I abused the notion of sick time.
It was two decades ago, when I was working in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Oh, I was genuinely ill, but it was opioid withdrawal. At the time, I preyed on the sympathies and naiveté of my coworkers, most of whom thought like I did — that drug addicts were the homeless men and women who congregated along Ocean Boulevard, forlorn shadows in the doorways of bars and empty buildings who couldn’t muster the energy even to panhandle. A junkie, working for a newspaper? Unthinkable. Everyone knew that if journalists struggled with anything, it was booze, so they never suspected, until I dropped a syringe and a couple of bags of dope in the middle of the newsroom, that anything was amiss.
I manipulated their sympathies, and I’m sure quite a few of my coworkers, who were as close as some of us around Cornerstone are now, genuinely thought I was experiencing something of a health crisis. I missed days at a time, and they brought me food; once, my friend Amanda, convinced that the car I had loaned out to my drug dealer was broken down and in the shop, brought me her vehicle to “run errands.”
Mostly, I sat and stared out the window, and I think that’s the part of taking a “sick day” that haunts me, even after all these years.
Active addiction is merely that: existence. It’s staring out the window. It’s waiting for the man. It’s occupying a place outside of the space and time of a vibrant life that passes you by. It’s time spent as a shadow on the wall while the rest of the world moves on.
It’s being stuck.
I think that’s one reason why it’s difficult to just be. If I sit in one place for too long, the ghosts of all those days spent waiting to get high, doing nothing and being nothing, begin to whisper. Time is the most precious commodity I possess these days, and the idea of spending it doing nothing is still uncomfortable, because that’s what I did for so long in active addiction. The 13 years I drank and used were nothing but a chunk of wasted time, moments stolen by the bottle and the needle that I still mourn, in a way.
When I turn around and see my kids seem to get taller by the day, I want to trade them in. But that’s when it usually hits me: While addiction may have stolen time from me then, my past doesn’t define my present. I can take a sick day because I’m actually sick, not because I’m crawling out of my skin, every nerve ending in me begging for another shot in the arm. I can savor the moments I’m living in now, because by all rights, I shouldn’t have them. I’m living a future that my past never planned on giving me, and I owe it all to the recovery we share at Cornerstone.
These are the stolen moments. Right here, right now, because if addiction had steered my destiny as it intended, these moments wouldn’t exist. What was once a thief is now the victim of grace and sobriety, because I’m stealing back and living my best life, one day at a time. And I am truly living, not just merely existing.
The shadows are behind me. The moments I have now are a gift. I’m a blessed man, and I’m grateful for another day robbed from the jails, institutions and death that should rightly have been my future.
Here’s your Friday motivation, friends. I can think of no better song.