The Circus

Written March 28, 2017

“You can get the monkey off your back, but the circus never leaves town.” ~Anne Lamott

I’m sure there may be at least a handful of you who’ve heard this saying. Or perhaps you’ve heard someone say, “I’ve got a monkey on my back”. For those who don’t know, it refers to a problem or addiction that you are really struggling with. For the purpose of this post, I will refer to the “monkey” as my addiction. The monkey is the problem or the addiction that is giving me  a hard time.

As my brother and male best friend in my recovery says, “Just because you’re clean doesn’t mean that the utility companies don’t want their money. It also doesn’t mean that people automatically trust you and your partner turns into Mr/Mrs/Ms Right.” It’s what’s called life on life’s terms. This is one thing in recovery that I have learned all to well. And if I’m not careful, those old bugaboos will come back to haunt me and eventually take me back out.

After my relapses and near death experience, I realized that just because I was clean, didn’t mean my family was going automatically forgive me and life was going to be a bowl of cherries. It became very clear to me while my (now)ex husband and I were driving home from one of our nearest detox facilities 2hrs away. I remember it was a very quiet ride home with barely a word spoken between us. I also remember that I pretty much either kept my head down or I looked out my window wondering and worrying about my future. I was also racked with feelings of guilt, shame, remorse and sadness. I feared for the worst, but I feared most for my recovery and my future.

After some time had passed, along with a lot of tears, I was blessed to have many of my relationships begin to heal and recover. My ex husband seemed a bit more compassionate and my sister seemed a bit more caring. Little did i know both of them still had trust issues with me and I knew it even tho neither of them said a word. They didn’t need to. I could feel it.

As time has progressed and that relapse appeared further and further in my rear view mirror, that monkey was never very far behind. I still had some life on life’s terms “stuff” happen. One time in particular is just as vivid in my mind as it was a few 24hrs ago. My ex husband and I were having financial problems that fall and thru Christmas. Money was so tight that it nearly suffocated me. This is just one of many times when that monkey came to visit since the circus left town.

One Sunday evening, as I was winding down for the night, we’d lost electricity thru parts of the house. The worst part was that I feared what was affected involved the refrigerator, electric stove and furnace – and it was going to around 30° that night. After checking the breakers, I reluctantly called the electrician because I had no idea how we would pay for an emergency call on a weekend. Plus I worried about losing roughly $500 worth of food.

While the electrician was in the basement, I was upstairs pacing the floor worrying. I worried about how we’d stay warm, and if we left to stay with someone, how our pets would stay warm? I worried over the food going bad. I had worried so much I thought,  “F*** it, what’s the sense of staying clean?” I was just a couple feet away from my shoes with serious thoughts of going next door to get whatever they were selling. I knew what I wanted. I wanted to run away and never come back.

Finally I heard that voice of reason. It was either that or one of my many Guardian Angels. It was the voice that saved my life that night and many other nights since then. It’s also helped others who have heard this story. The voice I heard said, “Sit the hell down and do a gratitude list, damn it!” So I did. I started thinking about every little thing to be grateful for. The short list I was gratitude that I was able to get the electrician who did work for us before and that he was able to come to the house quickly. As my list grew, the dimly lit kitchen lit up. The problem was solved. Now came the hardest part. The bill.

When I asked the electrician how much we owed. He simply replied, “Nothing”. When I asked him again he said, “After we did the work for you a couple years ago, you gave us nothing but praise and sent a lot of work our way. We owe you a debt of gratitude and now we want repay you.” I won’t lie, I nearly passed out from the shock. I did, however break down in tears. No one had ever been that nice to me and I was overjoyed. My desire to use was lifted from me another day. I continue to remember that day whenever that monkey tries to hitch a ride on my back.

I’ve been told all kinds of slogans and sayings, “Don’t leave before the miracle”, “This too shall pass”, “Keep coming back”, “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time” and perhaps the most important one, “Just for today” which is tattooed on my wrist as a reminder.

Since then, that monkey still comes around on occasion. Sometimes it nags at me and other times it screams at me. I will admit, there are days I’ve come within moments of using some kind of substance to escape my feelings. However, much to the chagrin of some people, I choose to continue to stay the course in spite of and despite a semi-messy divorce, a failed relationship after that, financial issues and even the loss of family thru death and even betrayal.  

Thought for the day… If you’re an addict trying to shake the circus and/or the monkey, do not lose faith or hope. You can do it. Refer to my slogan list and you can get thru any storm.

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