During my stay in San Francisco, I celebrated five years of recovery. To put it plainly, this means I have been completely free from alcohol and drugs for five years.
(but not cupcakes)
Five years ago, my addictive relationship with alcohol brought me to a place of crisis. Wayne Dyer explains the term ‘crisis’ to be a situation in which a person does not have the resources to cope.
I did not have the resources to cope with my situation. I was destroying myself and the person I loved (Tyrhone). I was full of shame, confusion and self-loathing. I had no idea what to do. I didn’t even know that it was my unhealthy relationship to alcohol that had created such chaos in my life, but I had a hunch.
The mood swings, obsession with partying and drinking, depression and destructive situations I had been in over the previous 14 years gave me a clue, but were not of themselves strong enough to burn through the power of my denial.
My addiction was more powerful than me at that time.
Coming to the end of my own resources felt like the worst thing that ever happened to me, but it turned out to be the best.
At home, alone in my apartment, I ran out of ideas about how to reassemble the wreckage of my life. I still had a job and a car and a home and people who loved me. The ‘wreckage’ I am referring to was a mental, emotional and spiritual bankruptcy which wasn’t obvious from the outside.
As soon as I had run out of my own resources for handling my life, something miraculous happened. I was given the idea to go to a recovery meeting for alcoholics.
This may not sound very miraculous to you after what I have explained, but I know that this idea was implanted in me by a power greater than myself. It spoke to me from within, via a voice which was mine but from a deeper source of self than I had ever felt before.
Maybe it had tried to get my attention before, in fact I have no doubt that it had. But I hadn’t been in enough pain to listen until that day. I listened as though I had no other choice, because in some ways, I didn’t. I Googled AA as though I was being directed by an invisible force.
The thought to do so had never occurred to me before that moment. I knew not a single soul in recovery, in fact that word was not yet part of my vocabulary. I was not even sure I was an alcoholic. That night, there was a meeting around the corner from my apartment which I had lived in (and drank in) for over 3 years. I went.
Something kept me going back to that meeting and others in the area. It was hard not to drink, but there was something among those people which I had been seeking my whole life: connection, joy, honesty and love.
I got a sponsor, which is someone who walks you through the twelve step program of recovery. She was the first woman I met at that very first meeting. And she did so much more than guide me through the steps; she became an example of selfless love by offering her time to me and teaching me that I was worthy of forgiveness.
It would only take me another four years before I would believe her, but I kept working at my recovery because everyone told me not to quit before the miracles happened.
The work was challenging and liberating at the same time. I felt like I was swimming upstream.
Everyone I knew at that time, except for my new recovering friends, drank. I still worked as a flight attendant and would pour wine all day long in the business class cabin.
I would get into my car at the end of the flight and burst into tears from the sheer exhaustion of battling the thought that I would never sip Chardonnay again. As I drove past my favourite bar on the way home I would grieve the fact that I would never stumble out of it again (p.s it is suggested to take it one day at a time, but it took my brain a while to catch on).
I attended six weddings of friends in my first six months of recovery. I felt beyond awkward, uncomfortable and like I could jump out of my skin. I wondered if I would enjoy celebrations ever again. But, I waited for the miracles.
They came when I was ready to see through the fog of my self-pity. I had to say goodbye to my old life before I could welcome the new one. It was scarey. All I had was a fledgling faith that it would get better. It did. Then it got worse. The more honest I got, the more painful it would get, for a while.
Overall though, things have gotten better than I ever dreamed they could. I’ve experienced amazing things in recovery. It has been a journey I would not exchange for anything. I don’t even have the words to describe the miracles I have experienced, as most have them have occurred within me.
You know the presence that gave me that first thought to go to a meeting? I have developed a deep relationship with it. I am conscious of a power which guides me to the truth as long as I am willing to show up for the lessons. This doesn’t mean my life is pain-free, far from it. At five years into my recovery, I have much to learn and I have no doubt that there will be more lessons ahead.
But the journey I have experienced so far forms the basis of my faith that I am being taken care of, no matter what.
In San Francisco I attended a Recovery 2.0 workshop run by Tommy Rosen, who had just released a book of the same name. I had been following him for a while and was inspired by his work of integrating yoga and meditation into the twelve steps of recovery.
I listened as Tommy shared parts of his addiction and recovery story. I heard him talk about fear and resentment, steps and sponsors as I sat, delighted, on my yoga mat with a copy of his book by my side.
Then I followed his instructions for the powerful yogic breathing exercise, ‘breath of fire.’ I had done it before, but not like that. I was completely and utterly present. Nothing else existed for me except my awareness of my breath (that only took me thirteen years of yoga!).
I focused on the sharp exhalations with my arms outstretched as instructed. Then, as directed, I brought my hands toward each other at my heart center. I felt a buzzing energy between my hands as they hovered in front of my heart. My mind was empty and my only awareness was of this tingling energy. It felt like I was holding something.
Tears began streaming down my face and I began to sob. I was not sad, nor was there any particular thought which led me to this powerful emotional out-pour. It just felt like something was being released from me. Part of yoga philosophy is that trauma and emotion is stored in the body, and while I had practiced yoga many times before, I had not experienced such a physical reaction as this.
I felt a huge sense of calm afterwards. Surprisingly, I wasn’t even embarrassed that I had been sobbing in a room full of people!
Throughout the workshop, there were many words Tommy said which struck me to my core, but particularly these:
“Rock bottom happens when the addict tells the truth.”
“Become thrilled by the subtle.”
“If you have recovered from addiction using the twelve steps, shout it from the rooftops!”
I realised that my recovery had indeed begun when I started to tell the truth and that over the course of five years, after shedding a river of tears and discovering a source of inner guidance, I had indeed become thrilled by the subtle; the breath in my lungs, my boyfriend’s eyes, the shape of a leaf. Things I had never been able to notice before.
I had also decided a while back to forgo my anonymity as a person in recovery, in the hope that it would encourage others to seek help for their addictions and de-stigmatize the disease. His words made me feel positive about that choice.
During the workshop I experienced the different aspects of my journey – travel, recovery, yoga and meditation – coming together like a magnetic jigsaw puzzle. I felt the presence of that same power which directed me to my first recovery meeting five years before, leading me further along the path toward my truest self.
Five years ago I could not have dreamed up the evolution I would undergo in recovery. Ironically, I came into recovery because I ran out of choices. Now, I have all the choices in the world and yet I choose my recovery every single day because I am so in awe of the gifts it has given me.
The Kindle version of Tommy Rosen’s book, Recovery 2.0 is currently on sale for $1.99!