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Just For Today: The Butterfly Effect

Butterfly Effect: The supposed influence exerted on a dynamic system by a small change in initial conditions

Betty was in her late 30’s and had been addicted to alcohol and drugs since her early teen years. She had been to over twelve addiction treatment centers all over the country…this would be her thirteenth time. Upon entering treatment again Betty was filled with feelings of regret, shame and hopelessness ~ she hated her life and did not think she would make it in recovery this time either. Adding to her stress level, she had also just found out that she was pregnant as well. Betty had a young roommate, who had entered treatment for the first time – full of anger, doubt and pride. She would sit silently while her young roommate went on and on about the unfairness of life and “control issues” of her parents. Listening, Betty’s mind would wander, as she remembered similar words coming from her mouth so many years ago. A small part of Betty wanted to tell this girl to “shut up and listen”…but Betty, consumed with her own self-pity, couldn’t speak a word.

Betty’s mother had always been there for her, throughout every single moment of her life. In fact Betty’s mom was the only constant that Betty had. Her mother had put her through treatment repeatedly, bailed her out of jail more times than she could count, had paid off debts and saved Betty on more than one occasion from certain unsavory types that Betty was in debt to. Now it was Betty’s mom who was the one in need, as she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. In fact, this was the very thing that had made Betty become willing to try treatment just one more time ~ for her mother’s sake. Betty’s mother had spent every waking moment worrying and praying for her only child, because she knew that when she died…Betty would be all alone in this world and the thought of it brought her a great sense of dread and grief.

There was also a man by the name of John Hawkins. He was a computer engineer who had worked for many years, (quite successfully), in his field. He was happily married to his childhood sweetheart and had just recently celebrated his 40th birthday. While many people might dread that particular birthday, John and his family had celebrated it with great joy following his 5th year and being officially “cancer free”. It was also in this year that John had celebrated the birth of his youngest daughter Emma. At his birthday party, he had shared with family and friends, his immense gratitude to God for the many blessings in his life.

Betty had experienced a long night of bad dreams, little sleep and relentless thoughts of how hopeless her life was. As the sun pierced the horizon that morning, peeking its way through the bedroom curtain, Betty felt the darkness of depression begin to encompass her. She heard her roommate asking her when she was going to get up, and she simply just closed her eyes ~ unresponsive.  Soon she heard the Floor Tech opening their door, announcing that it was time to go down to hear the motivational speaker for the day. The Tech, (noticing Betty still in the bed), said, “You need to be getting ready – this is a mandatory meeting Betty.” Upon hearing this, Betty pulled the blanket up over her head…indicating her refusal. (Betty knew that they would not really make her do anything this early in the game ~ after all, she was still in detox.)

However, Betty had not taken into consideration that her young roommate didn’t care one bit about her “detox”, she was angry and wasn’t about to let Betty get away with it! Before Betty knew what was happening, the blanket was ripped from her grasp and on the bedroom floor, leaving Betty completely uncovered, embarrassed and pissed. Looking up into the blood red face of her young and hot headed roommate, Betty attempted to ask her what she thought she was doing ~ however didn’t get her words completely out before her roommate screamed “If I have to do this shit, then by God SO DO YOU!!!” Lacking the energy to argue, Betty got up, pulled on some house shoes and went to the meeting “as is”.

~~ There was no way Betty could have known that this simple action of getting up and going to a speaker meeting would alter her life FOREVER! ~~

The speaker that day was a woman in her late 30’s who had been in recovery for the past 10 years. She shared with the patients that prior to getting clean and sober this last time, she had been in treatment over 11 times and that what changed it all was something SO SIMPLE…that she had missed it. She shared that one day, while in treatment the last time, she had contemplated leaving and a counselor had said to her, “Have you ever once actually FULLY DONE THE DEAL the way it was laid out for you? Have you EVER followed the suggestions and directions EXACTLY the way you were told to? If not, then you have only tried the solution found in the middle of the road and you NEVER stood a chance of making it – Why don’t you at least try it? What do you have to lose?” The speaker stated that indeed, she had NEVER “done the deal” and so right then and there, she had decided to do what that counselor told her and from that day to this, she had never found the need to drink or drug again!

Upon hearing these words, (for the first time in over a decade), Betty’s heart skipped a beat and she felt a warm rush of emotion washing over her, (evidenced by the goose bumps on her arms and legs), because she knew that indeed, she had NEVER FULLY given herself to the recovery process. Listening, she realized that maybe…just maybe…if she took all the suggestions and followed directions just the way they were given to her…maybe things would be different this time. At long last ~ Betty had hope! Upon leaving that meeting, for the first time in many many years, Betty talked to God and asked for help. Throughout the remainder of her treatment experience, Betty began to do things differently and so to began getting better. A new sense of purpose and hope for both herself and her unborn child had begun to consume her, replacing the dark state of suffocating depression she had known just a short time ago. Ultimately Betty successfully completed what would be her last treatment.

Throughout Betty’s experience, her roommate who had early on observed that Betty was WAY sicker than she was ~ saw first hand, a miracle occur before her eyes. She saw that the very same woman, who seemed so hopeless and limited, had become a new woman right before her eyes. Though young and angry, she wasn’t stupid and had surmised that if Betty could do it, well, then she would too! Several weeks later, she completed treatment as well!

From that day forward, (and in her own way), Betty continued to ask God to keep her clean, AND she prayed often for the needs of others. She used her sponsor, read and reviewed her recovery text book to better understand her problems and the solutions to them, she worked the 12-steps under the direction of her sponsor, actively participated in her home group and strived to be of service to others whenever possible. Betty experienced some major mile stones during her first year: She had the opportunity to make amends to her mother and to be with her mother, right up until the day her mom passed away from the cancer. Betty was by her mother’s side and holding her hand, giving her mother the peace of knowing that Betty was going to be OK. Also in that year, Betty gave birth to a healthy baby boy!

(Unbeknownst to Betty or anyone else, her son would grow up to discover a cure for cancer, saving MILLIONS of lives WORLDWIDE!)

When Betty’s first year anniversary rolled around, her home group through a HUGE party! They gave her a cake and cards. Her sponsor presented Betty her first 1 year medallion.  Betty was so happy!

That same night, the man she had never met – (John Hawkins) – arrived home to his wife and 5 kids from an extended business trip. Having missed him, they had their own celebration for his return with dinner, followed by kisses and hugs from his children, as they each received the “special surprises” he had gotten each of them while away.

Strangely however, Betty couldn’t shake feeling like somehow she had not accomplished much else beyond her recovery or made any real difference for others in the course of the past year. She of course, had no way of knowing all the other lives that had been affected by the decisions that she had made “just for today” over the past year.

NOW… WHAT IF ~ Betty had decided to NOT get out of bed that morning to go and hear that morning speaker? WHAT IF instead ~ Betty had made the decision to remain in bed and listen to the negative thoughts in her mind telling her she was hopeless, a waste of bed space, useless and give up the fight? WHAT IF ~ Betty had decided to instead leave treatment?  (Let’s look and see)

…. Betty had experienced a long night of bad dreams, little sleep and relentless thoughts of how hopeless her life was. As the sun pierced the horizon that morning, peeking its way through the bedroom curtain, Betty felt the darkness of depression begin to encompass her. She heard her roommate asking her when she was going to get up, and she simply just closed her eyes ~ unresponsive.  Soon she heard the Floor Tech opening their door, announcing that it was time to go down to hear the motivational speaker for the day. The Tech, (noticing Betty still in the bed), said, “You need to be getting ready – this is a mandatory meeting Betty.” Upon hearing this, Betty pulled the blanket up over her head…indicating her refusal. (Betty knew that they would not really make her do anything this early in the game ~ after all, she was still in detox.)

Betty’s roommate didn’t care one bit about her “detox”, she was angry and wasn’t about to let Betty get away with it! Before Betty knew what was happening, the blanket was ripped from her grasp and on the bedroom floor, leaving Betty completely uncovered, embarrassed and pissed. Looking up into the blood red face of her young and hot headed roommate, Betty asked her what she thought she was doing, and her roommate screamed “If I have to do this shit, then by God SO DO YOU!!!”

But Betty, no longer cared. She simply rolled over and closed her eyes. The tech left with Betty’s roommate, whose loud protests became increasingly faint as they went down the hall and into the elevator. Alone with herself and her thoughts, Betty gave in to the messages she had chosen to listen to, put on her clothes and left treatment. Well this was all her young roommate needed to see upon returning to the room. She had been waiting for that “just right excuse” to leave herself and this was it. She packed her bags and left treatment as well.

Rather than throwing herself into recovery, Betty threw herself back into active addiction. Sadly as a direct result, Betty lost her unborn baby. Because he was never born, he never grew up to discover that cure for cancer, and so millions would continue to suffer and die around the world. Betty’s mom died, but she was all alone. Betty had never found the time to come around to see her and on her final day of life, Betty’s mother was filled with fear and wept for her beloved daughter that would now be all alone.

On the night that Betty would have celebrated her first year in recovery and received her one year medallion, she was instead at a slammin’ party! She had achieved that gleeful state of wasted that old addicts and alcoholics rarely get to experience. That same night, the man she had never met – (John Hawkins) – never made it home from his business trip to his wife and five kids. Unfortunately John was killed by a drunk driver…named Betty.

What difference could one seemingly hopeless addict/alcoholic who gets in recovery possibly make?

If one addict/alcoholic remained in recovery for 25 years and in the course of that time contributed, (in some way), to just 10 other addict/alcoholic(s) per year getting into recovery, (who then go on to stay clean and sober themselves) – how many people would that be? 250 people over the course of 25 years

Now what if each of those 250 people, in the course of 25 years each contributed, (in some way), to 10 addict/alcoholic(s) per year  getting into recovery, (who then also go on to stay clean and sober themselves) ~ how many people would THAT be? 62,500 people over the course of 25 years

Ok…we will do this one more round ~ So now, if each of those 62,500 people, in the course of 25 years each contributed, (in some way), to 10 addict/alcoholic(s) per year getting into recovery, (who then also went on to stay clean and sober themselves) ~ NOW how many people would that be? 15,625,000 people over the course of  25 years

Even if each of them had only contributed (in some way) to just ONE PERSON’S RECOVERY per year for 25 years, that last number would have come to: 1,562,500 people as the ripple affect of that ONE PERSON so long ago!

Here is what else those numbers represent: The number of children who are not being neglected or abused; The number of drivers that aren’t being hurt or killed by a DUI driver; The number of parents that aren’t getting “that call” in the middle of the night and don’t have to spend their days worrying about their child; The number of spouses that aren’t grieving for the love they once shared wtih their true love; The number of employers that don’t have to regret the person that they hired; The number of good friends that don’t feel used and betrayed; The number of prison beds that aren’t being filled; The number of boys and girls who don’t suffer from the lack of having BOTH parents in their lives….and the list goes on.

Here is what I have found:  “Just for Today” is not JUST ABOUT ME. Rather “Just for Today” IS about ALL the lives affected by what I CHOOSE to do with this day!

I can’t change yesterday and I’m not promised tomorrow. All I have is THIS day and what I do in the course of this day will affect hundreds, if not thousands of people that I will never know. What effect do you want to have?

© 2007 Rebecca Balko