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The greatest gift I ever received is the one of hope.

It's an intangible gift; one that can't be wrapped or torn into on Christmas morning. It's not fancy or ornate; it has no electronic bells and whistles; it doesn't entertain for hours on end or provide Internet access or any of the other things we've come to associate with material gifts.

But it's the most powerful, the most life-changing thing I've ever been given. And the beautiful thing about it here at Cornerstone? We give it away every single day of the year, whether it’s on Christmas or April 17 or July 8 or October 21. It’s our commodity, I like to say, and no amount of marketing can truly put into words what a remarkable thing hope can be for those who so desperately need it.

Folks like I once. I walked into my first 12-Step recovery meeting, but inside, I was crawling in on my hands and knees. I felt less like a man and more like some reptile, slithering in with a spirit coated in layers of metaphysical slime. I hated myself and who I had become in my active addiction, and I knew nothing except for degradation, despair, humiliation, shame, guilt and hopelessness.

In recovery, I was given one simple message. A match, as it were, that was touched to the damp kindling of my soul — that no matter what, I never had to get high again.

It seems laughably simple on the surface. But to someone trapped in the hellish cycle of getting, using and finding ways and means to get more ... a cycle that consumed every waking hour, every minute of that hour, every second of those minutes ... it was a flame where before there was only darkness.

I never had to get high again. And by taking a few suggestions, by listening to others whose past was my present and whose present was the future I so desperately wanted ... not only could I put down the drugs and stop getting high, but I could discover an entirely new way to live. That great, cavernous maw at the very core of my being, that gaping hole where life and peace and serenity should be, could be filled in. I could stop being a using addict and instead become a recovering addict.

Unless you've traveled to the depths of despair that addiction brings, it's difficult to get across just how despondent, how far removed from reality and any semblance of life, that you can get. Time loses all meaning, except for the agonizing drag of the second hand as it ticks ever closer to that next fix. Relationships to everyone else become an inconvenience. The simple pleasures of life that most people enjoy disappear; the trappings of comfort a distant memory; the basic necessities become things that get taken care of only after the drugs are bought and used.

Addiction is slavery, and the hellish thing is that, as an addict, I would stare at those mental and physical chains and hate myself even more because I knew I had draped myself in them willingly. The chains were of my own design, but once I put them on, I didn't know how to remove them. Before entering the rooms of recovery, I not only thought I was doomed to live a wretched existence and die alone and forgotten, I actually prayed for that death to come every day. Death seemed like relief; the life that I was living was no life at all.

Recovery taught me that it didn't have to be like that. I didn't have to live like that, and I didn't have to resign myself to a life of meaningless existence, of living like a pariah or a leech or an outcast. It taught me that I could become a productive member of society, that I could pick myself up, make amends to the people I had harmed. It taught me that I could take stock of my life — my heart, my soul, my feelings — and not just get my life back, but find a new life altogether.

Recovery taught me that I could be a better man.

It gave me hope that anything was possible, if I was willing to do a little work and give recovery a chance. For that, I'm grateful.

With that spark of hope, I've learned so much about myself and been able to be that man that I always wanted. I hope, this Christmas, that hope finds you, wherever you are and whatever you struggle with. There is hope for us all, if we know where to look and we're willing to follow that light.

Merry Christmas, family.