When I hear the word “angel,” I immediately think of ethereal beings with wings and flowing robes. But what I have experienced on my journey to recovery is that there are true angels that walk among us. If you are paying attention, you will witness people doing extraordinary things that to me, make them angels. According to the dictionary, an angel is a person of exemplary conduct or virtue. I came across quite a few of these on my way to finding recovery.

Looking Back Before Recovery

Every year around this time, I reflect on how different my life is without alcohol. In the fall of 2006, I had a wakeup call that would scare most people, and I was lucky that with the help of others I was able to find recovery. Everything, and I mean everything, changed and life began to improve. But I also recognize that I am a newbie to the journey of self-discovery. I realize I will never stop evolving, growing, or changing until I take my last breath. What a miracle!

Normally I begin looking back on that fateful day and cringe at how ugly it was, but usually end in a posture of gratitude for where I am today. This anniversary, however, what stood out to me were the people with whom I crossed paths who embody the definition of angel. They are the real heroes of my story and without them, I do not think I would be where I am today. Seventeen years ago, these individuals showed me through small words and deeds that my life was far from over and there was light to be found in the darkness.

Stranger Angel: A Moment of Kindness During Despair

I go more in depth on my story on our platform (login required) but suffice it to say I owe a huge debt to those who showed me that while life was soul crushing, it could and would get better.

When the ambulance took my husband away in the fall of 2006, I did not know what would become of our lives. I did not know anything about recovery or that it was possible for people to live wonderful productive lives after years of substance misuse. So, to me, it felt like the dark night of the soul. In fact, I remember crying the most gut-wrenching howl, screaming to the heavens, with the pain of reality seeping in that I was stuck in a nightmare with no way out. I have never felt so alone in my life. While in this free fall into panic and darkness, I needed a glimpse of the light, a flicker of hope. That is just what I found in the chaos of the emergency room.

While my husband lay on a stretcher, and people were running in and out of the paneled curtains separating one chaotic scene from the next, one man’s words were the balm that would serve as a temporary link between despair and comfort. Besides being physically tall and burly, this young ER nurse had a presence that was as comforting as a warm blanket. I was a puddle of tears, shaking and confused, and he looked me straight in the eyes and told me something I will never forget.

It was not only what he said but the way he said it.  His tone was warm, but his delivery was serious.  He said he understood what my life had been and that what we had been doing was extremely dangerous. He told me that my husband could have died, that I could have died. He continued by telling me that it was not too late to get help and that the time was now. What I heard was, I care. I see you. I see you are hurting and do not see a way out. It is not too late. I felt his compassion and received just enough hope to carry me through the next step in my journey, which was treatment for substance use disorder. Honestly, I do not know how things would have worked out if this ER “angel” had not been kind enough to tell me that we could change course and right the ship.

Recovery Angels in the Form of Family Support

The next “angel” in my story is my sister. While raising three young children of her own, she offered without hesitation to care for my girls who were five and eight years old at the time. We needed them to be cared for so my husband and I could go away for six weeks, and it was comforting to know they were loved by family. As disruptive as it is in a child’s life to have both parents abruptly leave and then to move into another home, she made sure they kept to their routines, had fun activities with their cousins and gave them a stable environment. I know this was not easy on her and I do not know how I can ever repay her for that. Going to treatment for me would have been a nightmare had my children not had somewhere safe to stay. I will forever try and repay her kindness by staying on the right path and being there for her whenever she needs me.

I cannot mention my journey without acknowledging my parents. Those two angels are also a big part of my recovery. Although they had no idea how far I had fallen into the endless cycle of substance misuse, they were ready and willing to support me however I needed. They helped me find and paid for my six weeks in treatment. They also kept our dog, Daisy, which was a huge comfort. We have paid them back in full and made good on our promise to live a healthy life. They admitted leaving me at treatment felt like a death sentence, but later said they see it as the beginning of a new life.

Recovery Angels in Others’ Lives

I bet most people who are in recovery can think of people who helped them along the way. People they wish they could thank personally but may not ever have the chance. I recently did a podcast with Josh Villarreal, and he told me about is journey with drugs and alcohol. When he explained how he ended up in a psych ward instead of a prison I teared up. The story is so incredible that you would have thought the police officer involved would have thrown away the keys. Instead, he listened to Josh, realized he was hurting and cut him the break of a lifetime. I know Josh would agree that this police man was his hero and helped save his life.  His incredible story can be heard here:

This recovery anniversary I am not cringing at the past but rather seeing the beautiful tapestry of countless blessings that were put in my path to recovery. I hope that somewhere in your past you can spot the angels that encouraged you or gave you a little bit of hope to get you to the next step.

Maybe reading this will help you remember that there is always a way out, no matter how bad it has gotten.  Where there is breath, there is hope.

A Thank You to All Recovery Angels

So, this is a love letter to all you moms and dads, siblings, friends, first responders, and many more that did not turn away when things got ugly. The ones that loved unconditionally, showed compassion, and said a kind word. I apologize for not saying it more often, but without you and my faith, I would not be here today. We never know how a few words, or a good deed can change the trajectory of someone’s life!

So, love when it is hard. Take a minute and really look into someone’s eyes and offer some encouragement. Offer to help with family duties or take care of a pet. All these things allowed me to focus on crushing this disease and learning to live free. You never know when someone will look back on their life and credit you for being their angel.

For more information on substance use, please visit our Substance Misuse resource pages. If you’re a Youturn Health member, you can log in to watch Elizabeth’s Story to hear more about how she overcame substance use disorder.

Elizabeth McKissick, Director of Communications, Youturn HealthElizabeth is the Director of Communications at Youturn Health. Elizabeth has been in recovery for substance use disorder for 17 years and is a strong advocate for sharing her story in the hopes of helping others struggling with dependency and misuse.