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Transferable Skills

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Six weeks ago, my little brother took his own life after several decades of dealing with emotional pain. He was 44 years old and had struggled with bipolar syndrome and alcoholism since he was a teenager. His death still feels like a knife in my soul, but with the help of OA and the Twelve Steps, I’m learning to handle life without him.

For a week after his death, I was in shock. I felt numb and lost. Being a proactive person, I wanted to know how to navigate this new journey of grieving. I had never grieved someone so close to me, and I had no idea what to expect or what to do. About a week into it, I did what I knew had helped me before: I went to the beach for a “cry date” with my Creator. I did a lot of crying, walking, and writing. The trip gave me the hope I needed.

The first thing I realized was that feeling lost wasn’t new to me. I remembered feeling the same way when I went into treatment for my eating disorder and joined OA. Since then, I’ve somehow gained seven-and-a-half years of abstinence, so I reminded myself that, for my grieving, I didn’t have to figure it all out on my own. Before, there were people who knew better than I, and they were there to help. So, I just needed to trust this new journey.

Now I see that the learning I’ve done in OA has blessed me with transferable skills. I may not know every step, feeling, or experience of grieving that lies before me, but I’m confident that I’ll work through them, just as I’ve worked through my recovery from my eating disorder. One thing I discovered on my cry date was that I could Twelve Step my grief. I am powerless over grief. It’s going to come, and my job is to let my Higher Power handle it for me, not to numb it through food behaviors. Writing letters to my brother and my HP helped me work the Fourth Step as I faced the guilt and anger that come with a loved one’s suicide. Sharing those feelings with my sponsor helped me tease out what was mine and what wasn’t.

The first day that I felt good after his death, I realized Steps Six and Seven on this journey. If I truly want my HP to manage my grief, I have to accept and enjoy the good days. Guilt about feeling good this soon has no place in my program. Grief does not need to become my new identity.

I also realized that day at the beach that I needed to put all my extra energy into self-care. My abstinence has to be the most important thing, and this loss could easily cause me to slip. I’ve had to pull back on some service work, but I know I’ll be better equipped to serve in the long run. As the promises tell us, “No matter how far down the scale we’ve gone, we will see how our experiences can benefit others” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 84). I can’t say I’m excited about my new journey through grief, but I’m grateful that I have the OA program and Twelve Steps to guide me. As Step Twelve says, I’m “practicing these principles in all my affairs.”

— Kym, Aloha, Oregon USA

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