“Death is the final stage of growth in this life. There is no total death. Only the body dies. The self or the spirit, or whatever you may wish to label it, is eternal. You may interpret this in any way that makes you comfortable.” Elizabeth Kubler Ross
The other day I was standing in the sunroom looking out at my yard admiring the beautiful foliage. A feeling of sincere gratitude and joy washed over me knowing that for about another few weeks or so I would get to enjoy the warm weather and the magnificence of summer. I started thinking about how much I wished it would stay this way year-round but where I live, that's not how it works. In the autumn the leaves will change into vibrant colors of purple, red, orange and yellow and that too is a beautiful sight; however, that beauty also gives notice that soon, the leaves will die and fall to the ground. The trees will become bare and look lifeless.
However, even though the trees look like they are dead, they're not. They're entering a state of regeneration, there is work going on inside to prepare them to bloom again in the Spring. After the leaves die and fall to the ground, they start to decay. As they decompose, they are absorbed by the soil and provide it with essential nutrients to feed the tree and other organisms. The leaves that don't decay, provide a layer of insulation to protect the tree and other plants during the cold months of winter. Nothing is wasted in this process.
We never see the trees fight what is happening, they gracefully accept it. They intuitively know there is a higher purpose to what is happening and inherently understand it is required not only for their survival but for the survival of the things around them. They simply embrace the paradox that for things to grow and thrive death is necessary.
“Death is not the opposite of life, it's a part of it” Haruki Murakami
Nature has so much to teach us about what gracefully accepting life on life's terms looks like. Unlike trees however, humans are quick to resist paradoxes, they seem counter-intuitive for survival which invokes fear, sometimes paralyzing fear. In recovery, and I'd say in life overall for those who want to get well emotionally, we learn that acceptance of these paradoxes is a necessity for emotional and spiritual growth. “We surrender to win,” “we suffer to get well”, “we give it away to keep it,” “we die to live.”
It has been more than a decade since I surrendered and started my journey in recovery. Hitting bottom was one of the most painful experiences I have ever endured. But that suffering is what catapulted me into a beautiful life I never imagined was even possible. I had to die to my old ways for a new life to emerge.
I've watched this transformation happen for many other individuals in recovery as well. I have witnessed people who were once indigent and unemployable now leading successful lives. They hold and maintain meaningful careers that give them a sense of purpose. Some have gone into the field of counseling, some have become business owners, others have become dynamic executive leaders.
“The flower that follows the sun does so even on cloudy days.” Robert Leighton
There is a common misconception that once individuals become sober and finish treatment, everything will finally be better, and all problems cease to exist. Life most definitely does get better but recovery and life in general is much like the phases we see with trees and nature. The things we go through daily, especially the most painful things, and the work we do to move through them provide us with growth opportunites that nourish and prepare us for the moments when we bloom. Life and death cycles don’t cease to exist. As old behaviors die, just like the tree uses the fallen decaying leaves for nutrients to grow and thrive, we retain the lessons we've learned from failures and deep hurt. That gives birth to new healthy behaviors to flourish. This process repeats itself as we learn and grow.
If you happen to be going through a hard time right now, remember that everyone does. If you take things one at a time, keep moving forward and as we're often told in recovery, “just do the next right thing” eventually you'll find yourself once again blooming, perhaps in ways more beautiful than you had imagined.