I stood, stooped over the table, holding open the lid of a display box. Inside the wooden box contained a grid of neatly arranged packages of vibrantly colored hot tea flavors. An elderly woman peered through her glasses at the tea arrangement while slowly picking up each one, her long frail fingers inspecting the them as if she were handling rare gems.
“How about this one?” she would attempt to read the fine print of tea flavor and look up at me over the thick lenses, her eyes gray and seemingly empty. “That’s the lavender you just asked me about. It’s a lavender-flavored black tea. It has a small amount of caffeine.”
This was a recent sunny Saturday afternoon at the restaurant where I work. I had just picked up several tables and was abnormally busy. The anxiety inside me grew as out of my peripheral vision I saw my other guests looking around for me with empty drink glasses and the tell-tale signal of closed menus in front of them. Meanwhile, the older woman in front of me slowly places the lavender tea back and is scanning the other four flavors she has already inspected.
This is the moment when my mind flashed back to three years prior. I would have been enjoying a Saturday afternoon in the sun having fun with friends. Maybe I would be hiking or traveling. I would have been feeling good about myself as Friday afternoon I would have delivered a killer presentation to the executive board to wrap up the week. That was my life before Meth.
Standing in an apron, sweat dripping down my back in the middle of a chaotic double shift while re-explaining that the orange box is camomile and “ma’am, I’m not sure if that would pare well with a cup of soup” is my life after Meth. I became absorbed with self-pity, guilt, and shame. Yes, I’ve accomplished insurmountable progress in the past 200+ days; I’ve remained sober, I’m in the last phase of rehab, and have created a stable financial situation for me and my family. But…standing there in that moment I felt like a colossal failure.
Tears were welling up in my eyes as I closed the display box. The lady had settled on a tea and now I had to switch into high-gear and salvage my other tables because my kids and I are dependent upon tips. My body ached from the night before and 11:00 pm was many hours away. ‘I’m doctor waiter.’ I thought to myself as I took the order at the next table. ‘Here I stand with a doctorate waiting tables as I did 25 years ago. Real nice.’
The day went on and the self-destructive self-talk ensued. As I was clearing off the dishes from a table, a hand reached out and grabbed my wrist. I looked up and a middle-aged blonde woman who I recognized as a regular guest of the restaurant was staring into my eyes with a stoic look that startled me. At first, I thought she may be having a heart attack.
“You need to hear this.” She was trembling and grasping my wrist. “You are important and the work you do here is important. I come here to escape the madness of my life and you are someone who helps me feel warm and appreciated. Your smile and wit are sometimes the only chance I have during the week to laugh. You matter to me.” And with that, she let go of my wrist and went back to eating.
I slowly walked away from her trying to absorb what just happened and retain her powerful words. I matter. What I am doing is important.
The lesson for me is that my addiction has taught me a new level of humbleness. What I understand now is that living in a state of humility is being the best person I can be and giving my all regardless of the circumstance. When I feel the pangs of self-pity or the weight of shame, humility is the edifying component that transforms my perspective and enables me to live in the moment, to live in gratefulness.
At this very moment, I will breathe in the peace that results from generating positive energy into the world and projecting light onto others; that peace is rare and I am fortunate to have found it. Being humble means being grounded.
Before Meth my life was affluent, but empty; accomplished professionally but shallow and dark. Recovery has shown me a new way of living, one that I would never have known without the experiences brought about by drug addiction. I’m so grateful for the path I’ve taken. I will gladly take an extra ten minutes to allow that elderly lady to choose her favorite flavor of tea. To her, the choice is of utmost importance and my patience with her is my gift back to the Universe.