Ode to Joy

When I was in treatment I was diagnosed with anhedonia. This is the scientific term for the inability to feel joy or pleasure. I did some pretty serious damage to my body and my brain and in the beginning, I was certainly paying for it. When you flood your brain with dopamine repeatedly for a long time, it can significantly rewire the way things work. Suffice it to say that the experience was awful and it made the idea of recovery so much more difficult. Yes, drug use was destroying my life but at least it motivated some kind of elevation or response from my emotional control centre.

It was not a small problem and it did not right itself for a long time. In fact, I left treatment in early Dec 2021 and the very first moment of joy I remember came to me in August 2022. I was picking blackberries in a parking lot with my family and the sun hit my back just right as I was swept away in one small, fleeting moment, but that one moment was enough for me to put in my pocket to use as encouragement that things might one day be better.

Fast forward to today. I often write about the hard things and the challenges that I feel in navigating the emotional minefield that is my life. That’s because writing is an excellent way for me to really understand what I’ve been through and sort out my feelings. It offers me peace in quiet reflection that helps me understand either how to recreate the success I’ve found in coping or to avoid doing things over again that didn’t work for me. The challenges are abundant and there’s no shortage of heartache in this life, but what I’m thinking about today is the joy.

When we clean up and begin to find our way in our new lives, we have a lot of heavy shit to sort through. I don’t know any addicts who have come out unscathed by the regret of their own bad decisions. It’s not just the trauma that we were fighting in the first place, but the trauma of what we’ve done in our using days, both to ourselves and to others. Coming back to life is a bit like walking through fire and both the extinguisher and the exit are on the other side. I hated hearing it but the old cliche is right, “you gotta feel it to heal it.”

At some point, I guess things began to regulate and the joyful moments began to grow in frequency and intensity. Little by little I could see the light and it was encouraging.

I have mentioned just how important it’s been for me on my journey of recovery to accept and acknowledge the gifts that i’m given by the universe. I look for meaning and I probaby read way too far into every little coincidence, but in meaning I find comfort. The moment I came to terms with my belief in a divine presence, the messages arrived in absolute abundance.

I have likened my drug addiction to a long and slow near-death experience. I still can’t really pinpoint what changed or why it happened but ultimately, I have been given a second shot at living my life. This is especially important to note given my propensity for making dangerous decisions, by all accounts I should be dead. I think about that a lot.

An experience like this, whether through an acute life event or as the result of a decade-long loss of self, is cause for reflection. It deserves my attention. The more I think about everything that’s happened, I realize that have no recourse except for gratitude. The truth of the matter is, if I stay in gratitude and willingness, the next steps reveal themselves fairly effortlessly.

In this awareness, though, there is a new piece of me developing in a way I never have before. To put it really plainly, my tolerance for stupid shit is at an all-time low. I just don’t have the time for it. I’m living my life in a very deliberate way today, which means that I’m selective about who and what I lend my energy to. In a very strange twist, there are suddenly things that would have destroyed me several months ago which now roll right off my back. I’ve developed a barometre for bull. It’s not something I put any effort into, but seems to just naturally happen. Suddenly, I can just tell which things matter and which things just don’t.

I’d be a machine if I hadn’t been altered drastically by the last decade. It would be like spitting in the face of the Creator if I were to let this opportunity pass me by without absorbing from it the lessons presented to me. It’s been like a real-life demonstration of the serenity prayer- understanding what I can change v what I cannot. I’m making decisions in the interest of self-betterment wherever possible. I ask for guidance on a daily basis and I give thanks before I lay myself to rest. I seek to be a vessel, for the work of the universe to move freely through me, and to be a positive experience in the lives of those I encounter.

But one of the biggest priority shifts has come in my dealings with joy. Having been through a lengthy period of emotional emptiness, and having lacked the strategies necessary to cope with many of my traumatic memories, I don’t ever take for granted the gifts of awareness that I enjoy today. Because I have been where I have been, I have come to understand what life is like without happiness and passion and I know with my whole self that I’m not willing to go back there.

Perhaps above all other things, today I choose joy in everything that I do. I believe that I am here on borrowed time, and I admit that it is an absolute miracle I made it through. There is no part of me that is willing to sacrifice even one more day doing things that make me miserable.

I believe that I am here for a reason. I believe that many of my experiences and stories can be helpful to others who feel alone and helpless. And i believe that my purpose is, above all, to let the will of the universe flow through me. I truly believe that if I follow the signs and I do the things I feel are right, deep down inside me, I’ll never waste another day in my life.

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