Friday, April 05, 2013

Facing the Fountain of Youth

It has been said that the line between youth and age is the point when you stop yearning to look older and begin to hope you look younger. The search for youth is an old--and timely-- story. It was five hundred years ago this week that the explorer  Ponce de Leon, searching for the fountain of youth, claimed Florida as his discovery.

That makes us laugh today because we may think of Florida as the Fountain of Aging giving its reputation as a retirement destination. Or maybe it’s a fountain of youth denial given the prevalence of plastic surgery. But Ponce de Leon was just one of many who had sought the secret of youth. The ancient story of the search for the Holy Grain was also a search for a way to stay forever young.

Today those with the same desire have an endless bounty of pseudo-miracles to prolong our appearance of youth. We have lasers, Botox and plastic surgery. And many of us know the shock of the mirror and the discrepancy between what we feel like versus what we look like in that reflection.

There is also a cultural disappointment as so many of us age together and the pressure to look young intensifies. Years ago when the middle-aged “Baby Boom” was predicted we imagined that having an older majority would mean more acceptance of aging. We were wrong. Rather than the demographic bump offering us permission to de-babe, it has instead created even more pressure to not go gently into our wrinkles and gray hair.

How does this apply to us as people in recovery? Well, if you’ve been around awhile or you plan to be in recovery a long time –you’ll need to come to terms with your beliefs and choices around aging and appearance. Just as we keep examining our insides we also do have to face our faces and come to terms with our outsides. And yes this does hit woman harder than men. Again, culture.

Sure we can blame media and marketing but the focus on “them” ignores the fact that the search for youth is not really about looking younger. What Ponce de Leon and those who sought the Grail wanted was not a cosmetic fix but immortality. They wanted to not die.

And of course many of us came into recovery because we didn’t want to die—at least not the way we were going to if we kept using. But the truth is that we will die and recovery offers us the chance to relay think that through. Only when we understand that we’re going to die do we ask the crucial questions:  What do you want to do with your life? And with whom do you want to spend your precious time? Maybe accepting death –really accepting it—is the best secret to living young.

As so many of us—and I’m in here too—try to erase our age with lotions and lasers we are trying to change reality. But that may also be magical thinking, just like looking for the fountain of youth. 

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