“Sometimes we are taken into troubled waters not to drown, but to be cleansed.” Lolly Daskal
I had a setback recently in my charity organization. Not just a small setback, but a major setback. One which was heartbreaking, and for a short while I considered giving up the work. After it happened, I was asked by a few friends why I did this work in the first place. Why didn’t I just chill out and enjoy the rest of my life without dealing with such tragic things as addiction? Hadn’t I had enough sorrow with my son’s addiction and resulting death?
Even before this setback, I had friends ask me if I was ready to give it up yet. They wondered if I was doing the work as a gut reaction to my son’s death, and would eventually tire of it. They reminded me that many people start nonprofits as a result of a tragedy, and eventually faze them out.
I gave a great deal of thought to these important questions from my friends, who were seeking to understand. We all have payoffs for what work we choose to do, and some are monetary, while some are not. My payoffs are not monetary at this stage in my life. My payoffs are internal motivations as a result of the intense grief I’ve endured. Grief is an acceptance process. There comes the moment where the curse becomes the blessing; a moment of transforming grace. My son’s death changed me deeply, and my life now reflects that change.
Here are my top 5 reasons why I choose to do the work of Cody’s Fresh Start Charity Works (www.codysfreshstart.org).
- To turn my pain into purpose. When I lost my son, the pain was almost more than I could stand, especially the first year. I have limited memory of the first year after Cody died. It was a chaotic blur in my mind and an unending ache in my heart. Nonetheless, I was fortunate enough to have an extraordinarily qualified friend offer me individual grief counseling every week for a year. She called herself my spiritual director, and she was accurate in her description of our relationship. It was with her spiritual help, I learned to “feel it to heal it”, to accept the truth of what happened, and to move forward with my life. I am able to own my pain, but not dwell in it, and turn it into purpose and my grief into action, which gives me the means to heal. Cody’s Fresh Start is my healing place. Therefore, I can’t imagine giving up my healing place because of a setback, as devastating as it was. I have had a quote tacked to my wall in my office for the past year which reads “You are going to want to give up. Don’t.”
- To end the stigma. I am always taken back at the lack of understanding about the disease of addiction among many individuals, who have preconceived notions, opinions, and beliefs about addicts. If I can show them scientific evidence about the disease, as it relates to the changes in the brain, and get them to open their minds and hearts, it is very rewarding for me. I love bringing awareness to those who are open to learning about the disease. The stigma associated with addiction leads to a cycle of guilt and shame for both the addict and their family. Neither will reach out for the help they need, mainly because of the stigma. In my work, I encourage them to reach out to others, because reaching out for help was a huge part of my own recovery process. Also, when another who has not seen recovery in action is introduced to a person in recovery, the walls of some of those preconceived notions begin to come down. When those walls come down, an opening has been made for hope and compassion. This is the real power in ending the stigma, but it takes someone to start the conversation, and I feel passionate about starting it.
- To be the change. I believe most human beings are redeemable, that our worst mistakes do not have to define us. I have faith in humanity and fundamentally believe in love – that love is the ultimate answer. Also, I believe my thoughts create my reality, and I have the freedom to choose love and the power to create change in myself. If I change how I think, then I will change how I feel and what actions I take. The only possible way I have to effect real change in the world is to be the change. To practice what I preach. I’ve learned a lot about myself when I’ve steered myself in the direction of love. If I practice seeing the light and the love in others, especially those who are impacted by addiction, I connect to love itself. It is in the resulting spiritual freedom of love that I can be the change.
- To add to the world. Creativity is a powerful way to tap into authenticity and be true to who I am. It’s spiritual energy that nourishes my life and a way to replace negative thinking with positive action. Creative energy is everywhere, whether writing a blog, folding the laundry, cooking a healthy meal, or coming up with a new fundraising campaign. Every original act reinforces my commitment to living fully, and that includes making a contribution to the world. One of my son’s last posts on Facebook was “I want to add to the world, instead of taking from it”. It is healing for me to do what he couldn’t do in honor of his short life, and use my God-given gifts to turn away from self-doubt and fear, and contribute to life instead. I believe it is good to share my innate gifts and life experiences with the world and not keep them to myself. In generously sharing, I receive God’s grace and wisdom, and in that sacred space, I add to the world effortlessly.
- To offer hope and help to others. There were days when I felt like good times would never come again, especially when my son was deep in his active addiction. After so many disappointments, it seemed too painful to have hope or expect to find happiness. Caring, hoping, and wishing seem risky, but understanding addiction and knowing recovery from it and its effects are possible, make the risks worth taking. Helping others live in sobriety is incredibly satisfying to me. It gives me a sense of optimism to see others recover from this awful disease, and is gratifying to provide support and resources for the family members, too. Every single day I see recovery working miracles in the lives of people close to me. Also, I can provide support to those parents who have lost their children to addiction, like me. The reality is that we will never get over the loss of our children, but will learn to live with it. I love to support them in their healing process, and help them rebuild their lives around the loss they have suffered. Finding the willingness to believe joy can exist is challenging when impacted by addiction, but I believe there is always hope.
For these reasons, I am able to do more than just survive my son’s death, but to find purpose in it. I find fulfillment in turning my pain into the power to effect change, and at the same time to be true to who I am. The truth shall set you free. This is why I do it.
Mary Cucarola – February 10, 2017