Updated: Apr 6
Every once in a while, I take a small pause and reflect on how far I have come. I need to do that, and it helps me keep my life in perspective.
It seems like yesterday that I sat with my head in my hands on the back porch of a house I didn't know. My shoes were missing, and if you asked me how I got there, I couldn't tell you.
Despite being disoriented, this was familiar territory. My addictions consistently took me to this place and places like it. I say "my addiction," not to absolve me of ownership or responsibility, but to indicate that I lost my power of choice to behave long before these moments became so common.
My life had become alcohol and drug-fuelled.
It would be many years of sobriety before I learned that I was actually running away from myself using the drugs and booze.
The momentary relief from the suffering was worth the destructive aftermath I was creating, or at least so my best thinking thought.
During an epiphany, I realized I couldn't go on like that and something needed to change, or I would die.
At the time, I was 24 years old, but I could already feel the impacts of hard living on my body. My health was deteriorating quickly. My skin was always red and flush, I would frequently have wrenching stomach pain, and after every bender, I would have trouble keeping down a meal for a few days.
At the time, I saw a counsellor to deal with the daily torment in my head and keep work from firing me. It was helpful, but I knew I needed more, something different, and so did he.
Thankfully after this night of getting lost and waking in a strange place, I had already had a session booked. If I saw him after a particularly wild binge, I always was more open and a little more eager to listen. The pain of withdrawal always seemed to open me up, even briefly.
During that session, he suggested a treatment center. Unfortunately, the idea didn't land well. After more conversation, he said, "You are going to die; I can see it in you," he continued, "If not by the beating you are giving your body, it will be in some tragic accident."
Those words landed heavy and with a lot of truth. Despite feeling awful, I always had a sense of invincibility. The feeling that no matter what, I would survive. These words shook that hard shell, and someone else was finally telling me the truth.
We talked some more, and he encouraged me to stay off the booze and drugs for the next few days. He could see I was in a bad way.
My counsellor pulled the trigger on the 30-day treatment, and I became elusive and evasive with his phone calls. I was afraid.
Addiction is funny that way. I was hurting badly, but the thought of changing was frightening. The idea of 'not using' drugs or alcohol overwhelmed me with anxiety.
He finally pinned me down and gave me my intake date.
After treatment, this would be the longest stretch of sobriety since I was 12 years old. It felt weird and uncomfortable. It would be two more years of suffering before I would put together much more than that.
Once I finally allowed the idea that I could never drink or drug again sink in, things got better. I surrendered. My fight was causing a lot of my suffering.
It was August 16, 1998, when I woke up again lying on the floor of my one-bedroom apartment, alone, in shambles, that I had an overwhelming acceptance of this idea. After that, I committed to not drinking or drugging and learning a new way of living.
About twenty-two years later, I am sitting and writing this hoping that I can distill my sobriety down to nine lessons that I learned and pass them on to share and inspire.
If I could say one word to describe the recovery journey, it would be healing. Healing is the journey, and the journey is healing.
Here are the nine lessons I came to know.
Life is hard.
I used to ignore this simple truth. Life as a human is a complicated endeavour filled with challenging moments. I didn't feel prepared for this.
Difficulties presented themselves, but I always was told I should suck it up to forge on in life. The message was to ignore the 'hardness' of life, which left me feeling isolated.
We do not learn, connect or heal in isolation, and I had to learn to talk about the difficulties, be vulnerable about how I felt and communicate about how difficult life is at times.
Emotions are there as a guide.
Learning to feel my emotions was the most rewarding work I had in my healing journey. Unfortunately, I thought feelings were terrible, and that is how I classified them. I avoided the shitty ones and chased the 'good' ones but never allowed myself to feel anything.
Emotions live in every moment. We do not exist without an emotional experience occurring, and it served me best when I began to open up to that. It is not easy to do when you have cut yourself off from feeling, and admittedly I am still in that work today.
Life is not something to be controlled.
Learning that life was not something to be controlled was another profound and true reckoning.
I spent a good portion of my life, including my early forties, struggling to control things beyond my control. It was exhausting, but the notion of letting go did not feel safe. The harder I worked, the more I would be able to control the outcome.
Fear prevented me from allowing things to unfold.
This control strategy lived deep inside my wounds and played out in my daily life and closest relationships. A lot of it was under the surface and created an incongruence with how I was showing up that I can only describe as feeling gross and out of alignment.
'Letting go' is a practice in my life, and I know today that the only thing I can truly control is my actions and behaviours. This practice is a foundation for me to build on.
We can choose not to feel.
So many people that I am meeting in my coaching practice live from the neck up. Their thoughts run their lives. I recognize them because that is how I lived.
I don't remember the day that I made the decisions, but there was a time in my life when I decided that I did not want to feel anymore. My best recollection would say it was sometime in my early years of development. This choice resulted in a disconnection from my heart.
After all, it hurt too much to feel heartbreak and misery attached to life's experiences in that time, and so to survive, I disconnected.
There is such a thing as heart intelligence.
Connecting to the heart was such a foreign idea to me. How does that work? I used to think to myself.
I learned that underneath all the actions I was taking to distract myself and stay disconnected, there was an intelligence that wanted the best life for me.
The life in connection, community and peace and the only thing I needed to do was to pause, be still and listen.
Have you ever walked in silence through a forest? Or sat and listened to the ocean? Have you taken your shoes off and walked in the sand, feeling every grain touch your feet?
There is a healing energy that the natural world emits. It is natural coherence at its best, yet many miss out on its healing properties by not taking time to be in nature. I missed out on that for decades.
The world was built on 'busy'; many are moving too quickly and not taking time to commune with the environment that supports our life.
Change is the only constant.
Everything is constantly changing. Relationships are changing; we are changing, the world is changing and resisting that causes suffering.
One of the most important skills I learned over the years of recovery was to be okay with the uncertainty of change. This acceptance of change links closely to the ability to 'let go,' but it has a different energy.
Change reminds me to cultivate that ability to adapt and stay present to my experience. This 'noticing' allows me to arrange myself to move towards the desired outcome I would like to see for myself as the change is occurring.
I think of it in this example.
My body is changing, getting older. That is the fact that I cannot deny, so to adapt to that truth, I eat healthy, exercise and see my doctor. I accept that change is occurring and become a willing participant in its unfolding. Does this mean that I will live to be one hundred? Not necessarily, but I will give my best effort.
Gratitude is the foundation of a beautiful life.
It is easy to become ungrateful, and I do not blame anyone who feels like life has been unfair. I still catch myself in those moments, wanting something different than what I have. This mindset takes us away from the joy and participation in my life.
Ram Dass said, "You took birth here because you have certain work to do that involves the suffering you do, the kinds of situations you find yourself in. This is your curriculum. It's not an error."
This is my life, and I created it. If I want something different, I can make that too, and I will do it from the place of gratitude for my curriculum. That is the work.
It is simple but not easy.
It is easy not to drink, use drugs, shop, gamble, cheat or get swept up in the array of things that are not good for you. The mechanics of it are merely don't pick up or use. This leads to the question of "Why is that so hard?"
I didn't like discomfort and would go to great lengths to avoid it. I reflect on that as I nearly died running from my pain and discomfort.
When we acknowledge that life is not always easy and not always comfortable, we allow ourselves to move closer to what we want. How? You may ask.
This moment is the moment that creates the next moment, and so on. So if I really want connection and love in my life but am unwilling to lean into the discomfort of meeting new people or being in the vulnerability of a relationship, I cut myself off from that. In most cases, unknowingly.
Is this a comprehensive list? I would say, "No," but it lists some of my reflections after twenty-two years.
The biggest question I get about my sobriety from those I have supported is, "Do you miss it?" The short answer is "No," But it is more complex than that.
I recognize it took a lot of time to develop a flair for creating the life I wanted to live, free from alcohol and drugs. After allowing the shame that I held onto about my addiction to pass through, I no longer looked for a way out, and I no longer found myself reminiscing about those times.
There are so many gifts in the recovery process that revolve around self-awareness, empowerment, confidence, and embracing life on life terms I cannot express how grateful I am for having to walk that path.
And to those in recovery, I tilt my hat to you for choosing to walk that path. To those who struggle with alcohol and drugs, please know, from my heart to your heart, there is hope!