On June 12, 2014, I celebrated 34 years of sobriety. While I had found my own path to recovery, support group meetings were a regular part of my sobriety for the first ten years of my new life. I have occasionally attended meetings during the past 24 years.
When I was about 20 years sober, I was approached by a woman at a meeting who told me she resonated with what I had said and wanted to get sober. She also wanted to continue taking opiates. I am not familiar with any agency that allows a patient to decide their own detox protocol.
I was curious about her background. She told me she was 49 years old. I was floored, as she looked 85 years old. She had given up on life, and her emotional age had yet to catch up with her chronological or apparent physical age.
Several times she went out of her way to tell me that she was “old”. Not old in the sense of being in the sunset of her life, but old because she couldn’t find a way to experience any joy and was essentially “done”. It was important to her that I understood she felt “old”.
I have worked with older adults for a significant part of my clinical career. While supporting them in their continued sobriety, I have developed ways to assist them in increasing joy in their lives, as well as to help them develop a sense of ease in their recovery. These same folks, essentially housed in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, found ways to connect with others and engage in pro-social activities.
Before we began our work together, they felt “old”. But after meeting other people and doing what they loved to do, they were able to move beyond the confines of their physical limitations and their self-imposed prisons to a place where they felt young again. They found joy in their lives, and I felt honored to see them blossom.
My path to personal growth centers on the martial arts. At first I practiced various forms of karate and gung fu (a form of kung fu). During the following 18 years, I was involved in Aikido; and during the last 11 years, I’ve been engaged the practice of Judo. When I work out I feel more alive. I like the martial arts, especially Judo.
Judo is particularly interesting to me because it requires takedowns, a significant knowledge of grappling (techniques and counters applied to an opponent in order to gain a physical advantage), a willingness to be thrown and a commitment to participate until the completion of the technique.
Some believe that a system comprised of energy centers, known as meridians, runs through the body and stimulates Chi, or the life force, and promotes youth and longevity. The martial arts connect these meridians. I neither know if this is true, nor do I understand the mechanics behind how this works. But I don’t need to.
The various martial arts, including Tai Chi and other energy practices, have been followed by millions of people for thousands of years. Many people who practice Tai Chi on a regular basis insist that their practice keeps them young and has staved off dementia. It is difficult to argue with the anecdotal evidence of so many people.
Many years ago, I spoke with one of my mentors about my fear of getting old. I was concerned I would become like one of my relatives – someone who hated being alive. My mentor explained I have a choice in the kind of old person I will become.
She was right. At nearly 50 years old, I am convinced that my commitment to recovery, my practice of the martial arts and my own personal work has kept my spirit young.
I hope you, too, find a way to remain young, even if it is just being young at heart. I wish you good luck as you follow your path to joy and happiness.
Todd Branston is a Seattle therapist who has worked in inpatient and outpatient addiction settings for over 29 years, as well as in the Department of Corrections and as the director of counseling for a large chemical dependency hospital. Branston is currently providing in-home chemical dependency engagement with (mostly) seniors. He believes that sobriety is a skill which can be taught, and each person’s recovery path is unique. email@example.com, askanaddictioncounselor.com