When I write articles or opinion pieces in the field of addiction and recovery – even on topics like love and forgiveness – I default to discussing topics supported by evidence based in research, published in respectable peer-reviewed journal articles that prioritize facts, methods, and theories confirmed by rigorous statistical analysis, characterized by circumspect, careful language that only addresses ideas supported by data, and only offers carefully vetted conclusions that are painstakingly checked, rechecked, and revised to ensure they’re reflective of the data-driven, evidence-based, peer review process.
Not this time, though.
For this article, I want to talk about hope.
I know – there’s research on the role of hope in recovery, life, and personal success.
But I want to talk about hope in terms you and I have a personal, experiential knowledge of. It’s the hope that comes around every year. It’s directly connected to a phenomenon in the natural world that represents the power of hope. It’s emblematic of the idea that hope never dies, but instead, reminds us that human capacity for hope is virtually boundless and capable of infinite renewal.
In nature, the example I’m talking about is the hope offered every year by the arrival of spring.
I understand springtime is not everyone’s favorite season. Some love the changing of the leaves in autumn. Some love the opportunity to sit by the fire with cider or cocoa and embrace the Scandinavian concept of hygge, which basically means cozy, feel-good comfort. Others love the heat of summer and the endless twilight, complete with lightning bugs, and this year – the blessed, joyful racket we’ll hear when the cicadas down south re-emerge after a 17-year dormancy.
Springtime, though, for me, is the season I love most, for a variety of reasons. One is that it encapsulates and represents the best of what recovery has to offer for people seeking long-term, sustainable health and wellbeing.
I’ll explain what I mean.
Springtime and Recovery: Celebrating Life
In my neighborhood, right now, day lilies have decided it’s time to bloom. Winter storms weeks ago, and now, happy yellow flowers atop fresh green stalks. Tiny buds and hints of deep red are beginning to appear on the rosebushes I see on my walks. And down in the southern states, cherry trees are already resplendent in their full pink and white glory.
I know because my friends and relatives send me pictures.
After the year we’ve all been through, these simple, natural examples of the cycle of life remind me that no matter where we are and what we’re experiencing, the difficulties will pass. Time has a way of healing wounds and giving us the space we need to rebuild our inherent strength and resiliency. There is no better example of the power of nature – of which all humans are undeniably a part – to bounce back from adversity than the example we see every spring, when vibrant life returns from the cold and dark of winter.
That makes spring a fitting metaphor for recovery – and a great way to reconnect to the power of hope, which many people in recovery lose sight of.
Five Ways Spring Brings Hope for People in Recovery
- Spring arrives after a cold, dark, often challenging period of time. In winter, the days are shorter, the nights are longer, and the discomfort of the cold weather drives us inside. In many ways, time in active addiction is like winter. We isolate. The discomfort of addiction drives us deeper into ourselves, and further away from the world and the people who can help us. For many people, addiction is a warm blanket that protects them from the harsh, cold realities of life, stress, and trauma of the past.
- Spring represents rebirth, renewal, and restoration. From iconic religious imagery to the things we can see in our own backyard, the arrival of spring means the return of life. Trees and flowers show us what that means in a very real and tangible manner: bulbs that were invisible underground and branches that were bare transform before our very eyes. Flowers shoot up and open their petals. Trees bloom and show us the color we missed all winter. The return of life reminds people in recovery that the work they put in during the long, cold months of winter – all the energy they spent facing and managing their addiction – can yield beauty, joy, and new life.
- This run-up to this spring is unique among any I’ve ever experienced, because, as we sit at the cusp, another amazing thing is happening, aside from the trees and the flowers: the COVID-19 vaccines have arrived. And along with them, legitimate hope that the worst of this long, dark, uncomfortable, stressful (and deadly), coronavirus pandemic is coming to an end. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel – and the fact that it’s happening as the world around us is returning to life is fitting, and gives me hope.
- This spring, we can fully embrace the spirit of renewal. We can restore our appreciation for all the things we took for granted before the pandemic. Shopping without a mask. Going to a concert. Eating indoors in a restaurant – even though when the warm weather comes we should sit out on the patio. Taking our kids – if we have them – to indoor sports practices and/or extracurricular activities. Visiting our relatives. Hugging our friends. I’m not a big hugger, but I admit it: I can’t wait to hug again.
- This spring, people in recovery can recommit to all the things they didn’t do enough of before. This includes the things they took for granted by not taking advantage of when they were freely available. By the way, one aspect of taking something for granted is leaving an option unused and on the table, in addition to taking options and not fully appreciating their value. The things people in recovery can recommit to this spring – and plan to use when safe – include connecting in-person to loved ones, going to in-person meetings every day, attending in-person outpatient treatment like group therapy, and the simple gratification of enjoying social fellowship of family and peers without the latent worries about mask wearing, social distancing, handwashing, and all these things we’ll hopefully be able to leave behind one day.
The thing about spring is that although the return of spring after months of winter works as a metaphor for the transformative cycles many of us go through during our lives, it’s also not a metaphor at all: it’s reality and there’s nothing abstract about it. It’s right there in front of our eyes. Flowers bloom, because they’re alive. They don’t need to represent rebirth because they are rebirth – right before our eyes. If you go hiking in a state park and see young deer in the woods, they don’t represent new life, they are new life.
Hope is Real, Hope Happens, and Hope Matters
The images I just mentioned – flowers blooming, young animals in the forest – offer all humans who care to notice a reminder that the cycles of life will continue. Embedded within these cycles are lessons of hope that people learn time and time again.
Why do these things fill us with hope?
Because almost all of us have experienced feeling psychologically cold and emotionally alone – and then experienced the thrill of coming out of our isolation and feeling alive, connected, and vibrant.
That’s the metaphorical version of the hope that spring offers.
What we’ve also felt is the difference between stepping outside all bundled up against the weather and stepping outside in shorts and a t-shirt and reveling in the feel of the warm spring sun on our skin: that’s the practical, concrete, non-metaphorical version of the hope spring offers.
When we see those first buds on the trees, we know brighter days are on the way, and the darkness of winter will, by necessity – and the movement of the planets – give way to the light of spring and summer.
For people in recovery, the arrival of spring teaches us that no matter how long and dark our winter, time will pass, the darkness will fade, and – if we do the work of recovery – we will rediscover the vitality and light dormant within us. We will remember our capacity for renewal is infinite. And we will be reminded that yes, indeed, for all of us with eyes to see, hope springs eternal.