As a 12-Step based recovery person I will always remember the early interactions with my sponsor, a man with 35 years of solid recovery and a very large face of the recovery community. On one of our many car rides, I was approximately 15 days into recovery and I posed the question,
“How can I ever repay you for all you’ve done to help me?”
His response was short and sweet.
“It’s simple, you don’t. You pay it forward”.
It took me two and a half years living in recovery to fully comprehend the depth of what he had said to me.
As a CCAR Emergency Department Recovery Coach, I enter people’s lives with one goal and that is to plant a seed of hope. With the right mix of encouragement, support, resources and hope I can essentially help jump-start recovery in one’s life, but my recent interaction with someone changed my perspective permanently. I entered the hectic emergency room with a smiling face (I usually am full of gratitude) and met someone to be not as ecstatic as I. After, I laid out the buffet of options, this gentleman decided that detox would work best for him but did not have health insurance.
Having been through the system more times than I can count on both hands, system navigation is one of my strong suits. After I made a few phones calls and removed a few barriers, we were on our way to a detox in Hartford. With a light hum of John Lennon in the background (the Beatles tend to be my favorite ride to detox tunes) we made the much needed coach/recoveree connection. Two men separated by age, race, religion and culture met on common ground, that being recovery, and that power that instills a mutual understanding.
This man in opiate withdrawal had shaky hands, a weak stomach and scattered thoughts, so erring on the side of generosity; I stayed for a few moments and helped to get all his necessary paperwork filled out. Just like someone had done for me some time ago. I entered the elevator and turned around to push my button downward, the gentlemen looked up with eyes of gratitude and muttered a familiar question,
“How could I ever repay you for your help?”
I did not know how to respond, but respond I did.
“Someday you can do it for someone else my friend.”
Simply speaking, there is no way to repay a recovery coach for how they help you. It is something that is “unpaybackable” for lack of a better word. What I give is something that was so freely given to me. There is no amount of goods or services to equate to what I do. Not to rip off a cheesy movie I saw in the 8th grade (okay, maybe I am)… but paying it forward only makes sense, it is the cornerstone of my personal recovery today. In my experience, as a person in recovery, I have the ability to cast a stone into the waters of hope. When I do, the stone creates a ripple effect. Some ripples carry on for inches, some for feet and others for miles far beyond the eye can see. May the stones today we cast be carried on the waves of hope, love and gratitude.
“Alone I can’t, together we can”
TJ Aitken is a young person in recovery from opiate addiction. TJ started volunteering at CCAR early in 2017 and currently works for CCAR as an Emergency Department Recovery Coach, providing hope, inspiration and recovery support services to others suffering from addictions. When not involved with commitments to 12-Step fellowships and speaking engagements, TJ enjoys playing guitar and spending quality time with his family and friends.
By TJ Aitken
CCAR Emergency Department Recovery Coach