Aging and Wellness in Recovery, Part II
This is the second installment in a three-column series dealing with aging and wellness in recovery. The first column focused largely on identifying and counteracting threats to sobriety that commonly occur as we grow older. This column will attempt to provide a more in-depth focus on the qualitative aspects of wellness in recovery associated with aging.
Potential Benefits Associated with Growing Older
I believe a good starting point here is developing a fuller appreciation of the many benefits that people often experience as we grow older. To do this we need to consciously break away from the negative stereotypes commonly associated with aging in our youth-obsessed culture. The various societal stereotypes associated with aging share a common theme of decline, in which older people are characterized as being “over the hill” and experiencing serious declines in regard to their intellectual capability, physical attractiveness, strength and agility, overall health status, and sexual prowess.
Best-selling author Gail Sheehy shatters these stereotypes in her Passages series, which began with Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life (2006), originally published in 1975. In her books, Sheehy examines the various stages of adult life, vividly portraying how each stage presents it own unique challenges and opportunities for creative change that pushes us forward to grow to our own potential. Passages portrayed in her series include “The Forlorn 40s,” “The Refreshed (or Resigned) 50s,” and “The Golden Years,” during which she contends we can reap the best of what life has to offer.
In the first part of this series I discussed how the various adjustments associated with retirement can be particularly traumatic for many people as they often involve significant loss issues. The flip side is the profound opportunities that retirement can bring to our lives, provided that we are able to focus on the portion of our glass that is more than half full and embrace the qualities of flexibility and creativity needed to enrich our lives with an exciting new sense of being and purpose.
Briefly stated, some of the many benefits that we may experience accompanying aging—and retirement in particular—include:
- Finally being able to escape from life in the fast lane
- Being able to devote the time to cultivating hobbies and traveling, and renewing our precious relationships with our spouse or partner, our children and grandchildren, and other significant people in our lives
- More fully exploring the spiritual side of our nature and the world around us
- Developing a renewed sense of purpose that might include embarking on a new course of studies or an exciting new career, and/or actively committing ourselves to fulfilling opportunities for “giving back”
- Devoting the time and energy, and acquiring the awareness that may enable us to experience exciting new levels of health and wellness
A Personal Example
Let me share with you some reflections concerning my own life following retirement at age sixty-four, to illustrate both the challenges associated with retirement and ways by which we can enhance the quality of our lives in our older years.
For years I had managed to sandwich my writing and completing my PhD in psychology with a demanding full-time job entailing a two-hour daily commute. As this had taken a toll on my marriage and other qualitative aspects of my life, I eagerly looked forward to retiring from my day job, getting off the fast lane and being able to fully pursue my passion for writing and speaking.
The beginning of this chapter of our lives entailed a rather bumpy ride for both my wife Ann and me, as we chose to move 1,200 miles from Southern California to a rural community on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. We were sad to find that our new surroundings were quite isolating compared to what we were used to. I felt professionally isolated, and Ann discovered that she deeply missed her close ties to family back in California. We were also continually bummed out by the weather.
Moving down to Tucson, Arizona five years ago in many ways constituted a fresh start in my retirement. I chose to use this transition to focus more on the spiritual side of my life and engage in some heavy soul-searching in an effort to bring my life more into alignment with my intrinsic core values.
Over the past several years I have consciously chosen to devote a significant amount of the time and energy to seeking a closer relationship with my higher power, and prevailing on him/her for guidance and direction in “cleaning up my act” in regard to areas of my life I had previously neglected. We weathered some real problems in our marriage, which I believe were largely attributable to my failure to fully honor our covenant of marriage and place Ann first in my life. While I consider myself a spiritual rather than a religious person, over the past several years I have joined Ann in turning to a structured source of spiritual inspiration in an effort to bring a more wholesome sense of balance to my life. For me, a major benefit of growing older is adopting a greater sense of gratitude for the abundance of blessings our higher power bestows on us each day.
Knock on wood, at age seventy-four I can honestly say that most of the time I feel immersed in what has become by far the most fulfilling period of my life. I consider myself blessed by living in a city of over half a million that has somehow managed to maintain a friendly, small-town atmosphere, while boasting (at least by my standards) a pleasant year-round climate. Additionally, living in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains places us smack dab in the middle of a true hiker’s paradise.
Following my intuitive guidance I have opened up exciting new vistas in pursuing my passions as a writer, speaker, social commentator, and activist on behalf of causes I believe in. My most recent book project is The World According to Jack, a dog’s-eye view of the world around him, complete with self-help advice for other dogs. The senior author is Jack, our over eleven-pound Chihuahua, assisted by yours truly.
Ann and I continue to work on the quality of our life together. I know that for me this will be a lifelong process, and I also know that I am making day-to-day progress in this most important realm.
Considering my overall physical health and energy, I really couldn’t ask for much more. While now in my mid-seventies, on most days I jump out of bed feeling like I’m thirty-five! I can honestly say that in many respects my physical health and energy level is better today than it was when I was twenty-five.
Again, the intent of this column has been to focus in greater depth on the qualitative aspects of wellness in recovery associated with aging. The third and final installment will deal with shifts we may wish to take in both our outlook and behavior to maximize our enjoyment of quality sobriety, good health, and overall fulfillment in our later years.
Until next time—to your health!
Sheehy, G. (2006/1975). Passages: Predictable crises of adult life. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.