For many of us, entrance into recovery requires support – and lots of it. This encouragement might come in the form of a listening ear; financial help from parents; affirmation that our new endeavors are worthwhile; or even a simple smile from a new or old friend. As long as the support reaches us, the vehicle it takes does not matter.
Our shared experience is the key ingredient that makes this system work. We have known different types of pain and suffering at the hands of our addictions and we are now experiencing varying levels of joy, accomplishment, and sometimes simply the sheer beauty that comes with a life in recovery. Each milestone, no matter the nature of it, is better when you are surrounded by those who have walked similar paths.
Some of these milestones are not accompanied by excitement and pure celebration. Imbedded in the nature of this work is the reality that we will lose people we love to this wretched disease. The YPR-Portland chapter, and the Maine recovery community at large, is currently processing the loss of an amazing life. David Zysk, Jr. was an incredible father, son, brother, and partner. He was a brilliant student at the University of Southern Maine, just one semester shy of earning his Bachelor’s degree. He was an empathetic and incredibly hard-working case manager at Preble Street Resource Center. He was one of the most eloquent, relentless, and compelling advocates this recovery community has ever known. We were also reminded at his memorial service that trying to neatly fit David into any one category would be doing a disservice to his soul. He transcended any and all of the loving words that have been spoken of him.
In the days following his passing, the importance of having a strong support system became even more clear. The community wrapped its arms around each other as we began to grieve – and simultaneously celebrate; what an intriguing duality – the amazing man that was David. We were reminded by each other of the enormity of his heart and soul. I have come to know David even better since he has passed than I had during the time I got to spend with him. His family, coworkers, friends, and clients have shared countless stories that made me weep and laugh, sometimes at the same time. This past week has solidified in me a desire to live and work with a heart as generous, compassionate, and full of fire as David’s.
In August of this year, David collaborated with others in town to put on a beautiful Overdose Awareness Vigil. When it was David’s turn to speak, he began:
“So why are we here tonight?… You know, before we do that I want to ask all of you to take a moment and look around to the people standing beside you—maybe you know them, maybe you don’t. Exchange a glance with them; introduce yourselves to each other. Appreciate this moment; appreciate their aliveness; appreciate their humanity; appreciate your own compassion. Allow for the collective grief that is among us tonight to weigh heavy on your hearts and, also, appreciate that.”
These words are more profound every time I read them. They are a vehicle driven by the desire for heartfelt togetherness. David understood deeply that living a meaningful life meant to recognize and honor the humanness in all of us and to support each other through any given mountain or valley. Recovery expands and doors are opened when we avail ourselves and our hearts to neighbors, strangers, loved ones, even adversaries. To be able to show up for another human in joy and in sorrow is one of the greatest gifts that recovery has given to me.
By leaning on one another for support, we are given the strength to turn around and shoulder each other’s greatest triumphs and fears and anything that might fall in between. In this coming week, I challenge you (I am participating in the challenge, too!) to create space for someone who may need support and, if and when you need it, to ask for support. This asking is not an indicator of weakness, but of strength. May we all find the courage to support and to let ourselves be supported. Let us appreciate this moment; our aliveness; our humanity; and our compassion, and let us do it together. As Maya Angelou said, “The sum of us is greater than all our parts.”
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