In my drinking days, I use to have what I called a ‘Sparkle Party’ around Christmas. It was a night where people could come over wearing something sparkly (just because it’s fun) and enjoy an evening of laughs …and a lot of alcohol! This year was the first time I didn’t have one, and that made me really sad. I had so many good times with my friends at those parties, and I wasn’t sure if I would ever have one again. Well last night, unexpectedly, I attended the biggest and best sparkle party I could’ve ever imagined! I was very fortunate to attend Homewood’s 25th Annual Spiritual Renewal Service, which is an event celebrating the gift of recovery, and the creation of 400 pairs of healthy, sparkling eyes, filled with hope, happiness and gratitude. Allow me to share my experience…
I hadn’t been back to Homewood, or even Guelph for that matter, since I was discharged in January of this year, and I was very nervous about the emotions I was confident would bubble-up throughout the night. Buckle up Natalie! This may be a bumpy ride! My first emotion was good ol’ anxiety on the ride there. It wasn’t anything over-the-top, but I could definitely feel it rumbling through my whole body. Luckily, I drove with two friends who’s chatting distracted the anxiety, and allowed me to quietly reflect on what it felt like to drive the route to Homewood again. It has only been 6 months since my life-changing stay there, but as we drove it felt more like 6 years. At one point I started to regret attending the event, as now being mindful of my emotions so well, pretty much guaranteed a lengthy ‘self-analysis night’. Sigh. Nevertheless, I told myself that I would survive. I was going to kick my anxiety’s butt, like the anxiety-pro I am, and soak in every moment of the evening.
When we got to the event centre, my anxiety had lessened, and began to mix with excitement as the memories of the difficult times, as well as the life-changing times at Homewood, came rushing back… vividly. I felt like I had suddenly jumped back on the Homewood emotional roller coaster; the one that scared me, twisted me in so many directions, made me sick, and made me cry, but also made me laugh and feel relief when the ride was finally over. I had no desire of riding that roller coaster again, but there I was, with another ticket for the ride, and my proverbial vomit bag tightly in hand. I wish this ride was out of order.
The Centre was beautifully decorated, and displayed obvious months of preparation. We were all given a pin that said, “Recovery Means Freedom”, and as I was examining it, I immediately bumped into my first wonderful staff member. She said I looked great (which I’m sure she would be saying to everyone, but I still accepted the compliment ), and asked about my family and how we were doing. My family!…OK, hold on tight Natalie, the roller coaster is clicking up the hill! I told her that we were all doing great and immediately I felt my old friends ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’ flood my body. Rather than feeling gratitude, I felt sick as the memories of what I had put my family through were at the forefront of my mind, and they stung really bad. I knew that I should have only been feeling happiness when speaking about my family now, but it quickly became apparent to me that ‘guilt-ridden Natalie’, was still alive and kicking. Damn-it. After chatting a bit longer, I took a quick bathroom break and tried to tuck any negative emotions into my back pocket to be dealt with later. Then, one foot in front of the other, I continued to mingle amongst staff and friends with what I’m sure was a timid look on my face.
Since leaving Homewood, many people have told me that I have a ‘sparkle in my eyes’, and you know what, I can confidently say that I probably do with the amount of happiness and love I feel for life now. And amazingly, last night I got to see first hand what that ‘sparkle’ looked like, because I saw it in so many of my friend’s eyes. It was truly amazing! I could barely even recognize some people, but that sparkle was impossible to miss! Positive physical transformations made my jaw drop, and the happiness in their eyes made me smile from my soul! “THAT must be the ‘sparkle’ people are talking about”, I thought to myself. And WOW, was it a blessing to see!
The night was filled with speeches of gratitude and wellness. And at one point we did what’s called a ‘recovery countdown’. This is where a year, or month, or day is called out, and people stand up and receive a round of applause when their correlating recovery day is announced. As the days of recovery got shorter and shorter, “3 weeks”, “2 weeks”, “1 week”, I could see that the ‘sparkle’ was not so prevalent in people’s eyes. And as they continued to count, I could also increasingly see the physical demons of addiction which were still tightly grasping onto so many new-comer’s lives. All I could think was, “WOW! that was me only six months ago!” I was the one who felt and looked hopeless and scared. I was the one who simply ‘existed’ and nothing more. I was the one who had so much doubt in the program or any chance of fully recovering. And I was the one who still so desperately wanted to die as I saw death as the only way in which I could end my suffering. When a very sick lady with 5 days of recovery, who had difficulty walking was assisted onto the stage to receive a 12 step book, I could physically feel her pain. I could so clearly remember how every step felt like a mile in early recovery. I imagined how difficult it most likely was for her to even stay awake, as it was for me. I could imagine the ‘shakes’ she probably battled, and the memory ‘fog’ that would make it difficult for her to speak properly. And I imagined the darkness that I can guarantee filled her entire body and soul, and the hopelessness that she was feeling with every…single…breath. I so badly wanted to tell her that her sparkle could come back too… But she would have to learn that for herself.
Who knew that I would be attending a sparkle party again!? Certainly not me. And who knew that I didn’t need a fancy dress or shirt to have that sparkle radiating from me? Once again, certainly not me! I know that some days my sparkle won’t be as bright as the next, but what a gift to know that it’s there!
“I put my hand in yours and together we can do what we never could do alone. No longer is there a sense of hopelessness. No longer must we depend upon our own unsteady willpower. We are all together now, reaching out our hands for power and strength greater than ours, and as we join hands, we find love and understanding beyond our wildest dreams”.~ Closing Prayer