“You Look Fine So You Must Be OK.”
During this past week I’ve had some very soul-deep conversations with family members who are living with serious illness. Like with recovery from addiction, many illnesses don’t present themselves on the outside. To those who care about us, if we look OK, we must be. How very deceiving that can be as we silently struggle to actually be OK.
Sometimes it is beyond difficult to mentally deal with the things our illnesses bring. It’s more than complicated to explain how we are “doing” with someone who hasn’t stood in our shoes.
When I got home from treatment for both alcoholism and anorexia, my friends and family were quite relieved to see I was sober (in 2002) and healthy (in 2008). In their eyes I was OK but moreover, they felt rid of their fears for my life because they witnessed a woman taking her life back. What they didn’t see was the underlying issues still looming relative to my physical, mental and emotional well-being.
Just because I had received the initial treatment to recover from addiction didn’t mean I was “over” it. As a matter of fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It was only the beginning. The hard work was yet to come.
The same holds true for anyone who struggles with a health issue which is not visible to the human eye. Sure, we can suit up and show up even when we don’t want to, putting on that “happy” mask for all to see. Yet it’s not so easy to talk about what’s really going inside for fear we’ll see the ugly sign of trepidation on another person’s face as they realize we actually aren’t OK. So we end up just smiling and telling them we’re fine. It’s less complicated that way.
It has been my experience that people who don’t have the practical understanding about what is required for healthy recovery often feel compelled to come up with some golden solution for what I struggle with. It’s this innate need we have as human beings to fix the people we care about. But whose needs are being served? Is it truly for the person going through the health issue or for the person trying to do the fixing? My intuition tells me the answer is the latter.
It isn’t up to me to make you feel better about my struggles. Recovery is the freaking hardest thing I have ever gone through in my entire life. Honestly speaking, I don’t have to imagine hell because I’ve already been there.
So please if someone you know is living with a serious health issue, whether it’s recovery from addiction or any other difficult disease, don’t ask if they’re OK because that question is more for you. If you really want to help, ask if they are finding some peace within the chaos.
Share your insight! If you have a helpful suggestion for the loved ones of someone recovering from addiction or other serious health issues, please take a moment to post them here.