*** Submitted by Ellie, who is the Founder and co-moderator of Crying Out Now
My Dad died on Saturday.
Even typing those words feels totally surreal. It was very sudden; Friday night he was out having dinner with friends like any other night. Early Saturday morning he woke up with a high fever and chills, and steadily grew worse, so he went by ambulance to the hospital by 10am. At 1pm my phone rang, and it was my sister telling me Dad had an acute infection and they were trying to stabilize him and figuring out the correct antibiotics. At 1:45pm she called again and told me to get to the hospital, now, because he was failing quickly.
I arrived at the Emergency Room at 3pm, and he was gone. I missed his passing by about five minutes.
His condition was complicated by the fact that several years ago he had his spleen removed due to Lymphoma. The removal of his spleen put him into complete remission from cancer, and he was totally healthy up until the day he died. Without his spleen, however, he couldn't fight the infection and it galloped through his body so fast there wasn't anything anyone could do.
I am almost four years sober, and over the years I have wondered what would happen if tragedy struck. Would I be able to make it through the death of a loved one? How on earth would I handle grief without drinking?
Now I know. And the answer surprises me.
I don't want to drink. I have horrible moments where I just want to escape, to not feel what I'm feeling, to drop away through some secret trap door where life feels normal again. I don't think that is any different, though, than most people feel when faced with unspeakable shock and tragedy. It feels a lot like a trigger, but I don't want to drink or numb myself. I just want to jump into some parallel universe where my Dad is still alive.
The waves of emotion roll over me, sweep me up with their sheer force. I flash from knee-buckling sadness to heartfelt gratitude in the blink of an eye. I find myself smiling at a pleasant memory, and then sobbing uncontrollably because he is just so gone. I slip into periods of numbness, where my mind goes flat and I robotically move through the moments doing menial household chores.
But I don't want to drink, and I am so, so grateful for that.
I write on my personal blog a lot about being in the moment, about feeling all the feelings - good and bad - and getting to the other side of discomfort, sadness and anger. I talk about how on the other side of adversity is growth and peace of mind. Since I have been sober, though, I haven't had to experience this kind of pain. I put into practice everything I have learned in recovery, and I feel all the feelings. I remember that they can't kill me, although there are minutes where they sure feel like they could. I wait it out.
And no matter how bad it is, it passes. Then it comes again, and I repeat the cycle all over again. Bit by bit, I can feel my body and mind healing. Life will never be the same, but I'm learning to embrace my New Normal.
It feels so much like early sobriety, where every emotion - joy, sadness, anger, regret - feels so pointy. Lights and sounds are grating, confusing, and the simplest decisions befuddle me. But now I know I can make it through. That is the gift of recovery; you experience all your pain, all your joy, and you fold your life experiences into the fabric of what makes you you. You don't numb them out or go around them, so you give yourself the gift of growth.
I surrender to the feelings, to the fact that so much of life is outside of my control, it's just that it's hard to remember that when life is clicking along nicely. When something like this happens, it reminds you to be grateful, to accept life on life's terms, because you never know what is going to happen next. No matter how much you wish you could control how life will unfold, you can't.
Surrender and acceptance. They bring so much peace.
My father was a big part of why I finally got sober. During a family intervention, as I sat on the couch sobbing about my worthlessness, drowning in self-centeredness and self-pity, he looked me right in the eye and said, "No matter what, Ellie, we love you. No matter what." He was by my side as I felt my way through early recovery, and he did it with an open mind and a loving heart.
If I were drinking, I could make the feelings less scary, less awful, for a brief period of time. I could try to manufacture the emotions I wanted, hide from reality. What I didn't appreciate, when I was drinking, is that you never grow when you constantly fast forward through the hard stuff. You don't learn to metabolize pain, any more than you get to experience authentic joy. If I were drinking I would be sobbing into my cup, wailing about all the pain. I would slip into the victim role, and miss all the beauty and gratitude that is everywhere, even in the face of all the grief. I would hijack this tragedy to make it all about me.
I was reluctant to even write about how I'm feeling, because these days are not about me, but then I realized that in sharing our experiences - like all the beautiful, honest, brave submitters to this blog - we all grow together.
I'm here, I'm feeling it, and I am going to be okay. I get to experience all of it, and it is full of moments of grace, joy and peace that I would have missed if I were drinking.
I am truly, truly grateful that he got to know me as a sober woman of grace, dignity and compassion. He taught me those values, and it is an honor to give them back to the world.