Like most Americans, I remember exactly where I was when I learned that two planes had struck the World Trade Center towers. On my way back from a dentist’s appointment in Philadelphia, I walked into a coffee shop where about 30 people had gathered around a TV, stunned at the very early footage. At the time, my husband and I worked in a federal building across from the Liberty Bell and he was still at work. I felt an overpowering need to get to him. For so many of us, 9/11 was a day when we sought the comfort of loved ones.
In the weeks and months that followed, we couldn’t take in the horror of this huge loss of life. I had never heard of Al-Qaeda, but suddenly, it was the topic of every conversation. The America we knew was forever changed by this profound attack on our soil.
Ten years later, this major event in our history remains etched in our minds, especially for those who lost family members and friends. Whenever we’ve experienced a loss, anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays are so loaded with feelings. Hopelessness, anxiety, and depression are some of the emotions that may surface or worsen. However, this is the time to remind ourselves – there is no problem that drugs or alcohol can’t make worse.
When terrible things happen, we may wonder, “Why try so hard when so many problems are beyond our control?” But whether we’re dealing with a death, an illness, or the daily challenges of life, our ability to cope is greater if we’re sober. If you feel your anxiety or depression deepening—or you find yourself turning to drinking or drugs—seek help. If you anticipate a certain event or time of year to be more difficult, be proactive. Plan to touch base with a counselor or make meetings with your sponsor. If, in the case of 9/11, the anniversary programs on TV make you feel worse, turn them off. Your mental health and sobriety come first.
The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is also a time to remember that recovery—whether on a national or personal level—is worth the effort. We owe it to the people who have lost their lives to make good use of the time we have. Although the process isn’t easy, it can bring out the best in us, often uncovering strength we never knew we possessed.
This Sunday, I’ll call my friends who were directly affected by the events of that devastating day and see how they’re doing. I’ll think about the firefighters and other first responders who didn’t go into their professions for the salary, but because they believe in the mission; they risk their own lives to save others. Most importantly, I’ll remind myself how lucky I am that I’m still here. Despite the struggles we face, we must be grateful for our lives—and commit to making them count.
Deni Carise, Ph.D.
Chief Clinical Officer, Phoenix House