By: Jana Greene
I never smiled with teeth showing before I got sober.
When you are trying to shrink back into yourself, your smile can’t be genuine.
For a while, every photo album I had seemed to have this ONE photograph of me from the year 2000. It was taken at work, and as my job was in an elementary school, it was quite literally an awkward school picture for the directory.
On the cusp of my 32nd birthday, hair bleached blond, face bloated, eyes downcast, and a slight close-lipped smile for the camera. The whites of my eyes were slightly yellowed. I was afraid of my own shadow; afraid of myself.
It was taken two weeks before I got sober and stayed sober.
For years, every time I’d come across a copy of that one picture, I’d throw it out. It brought up such primal feelings of disgust. Now, I wish I could find it to share with you.
The image is burned into my brain. I’m not disgusted by that young woman anymore. I just feel sad for her. I know she is me, but she is also kind of a stranger.
I want to reach back in time and hold my active-in-addiction self. Tell her she will be okay.
“You wouldn’t say ‘boo’ to a goose right now,” I’d say.”But one day you will be wild and free. And smile with TEETH showing, even.”
I would tell her that she will not drink herself to death. That she doesn’t need alcohol to function. That the drug is LYING to her.
I want to tell her that its LIBERTY to be free of protecting secrets.
I want to let her know that she will feel like she is dying when she divorces the drink, but she won’t die.
I would implore her to go ahead and FEEL all of those feelings instead of numbing them. They have a right to be felt.
I would tell her that major boundaries are going to have to be built, but that she will survive the fortifications.
I would tell her she will one day be okay with being fully HERSELF – crazy and silly and ridiculous. And that the people who really love her stick around are not repulsed by the real self, but drawn to it.
I would tell her that her daughters will not be ashamed of her. That she isn’t a terrible mother, just a sick one. That one day those children would be proud of her sobriety.
I would tell her that life doesn’t get easier, but she gets more able to deal with life on life’s terms. For real.
I would tell her that she would experience a happy marriage – something recovery would make directly possible. That there is so much to GAIN from living a life free of addiction.
I would tell her to cut herself a freaking break, already. (And that she would be working on this one for quite some time…and that’s perfectly okay.)
I would tell her that God is more than capable of getting her through a recovery life. So capable, in fact, that she one day will not SHUT UP about Him and His infinite goodness and GRACE, and that grace will become the platform of her entire life. A good life, made possible by active recovery.
I would tell her she will smile with teeth, genuine-like.
And I would tell her she is loved. That I love her.
I forgive her.
I cannot find a single copy of the ‘before’ picture, but I can show you the ‘after.’
I can assure you that all of the things I would tell my old self are also true for you, that recovery is there for the taking. That God’s grace is available in the the same measure to you, no matter where you are on your journey or what you are recovering from.
God bless us, every one.