March 6, 2009. Eight years ago. I finally had enough. I finally decided that the life that I was living was not the one I wanted. So what did I do?
I asked for help. I surrendered. I listened when I didn’t want to. I followed suggestions that I didn’t want to. I showed up when I didn’t want to. I changed almost everything in my life, even though I didn’t want to. I stayed the course even when it got hard, uncomfortable, and exhausting.
I faced self-imposed shame and guilt. I set boundaries. I stopped filling the empty hole inside of me with all things toxic. I stopped running away. I made amends. I faced consequences. I forgave myself and others. I allowed myself to feel every one of the emotions, without judgment or analysis. I was honest with others and myself. I made mistakes. I got hurt, disappointed, betrayed, manipulated, and knocked down.
I stayed the course. I chose to not bury, hide, ignore, and deny. After 25 years of doing it my way, I chose another way. It was hard. But my life before March 6, 2009 was harder.
Over the years, the things that kept me sober have changed. I have evolved and so has my recovery. This is a list of my most current eight. Some may resonate with you now and some might serve you later. Take what you need and leave the rest.
- Stay Grounded. Yoga, meditation, and staying connected to my community are the ways I stay grounded today. Some days, I need all three. Some days, it is just one. And by yoga, I mean easy poses: I sit crisscross applesauce with one hand on the ground and one on my heart, for five minutes. I sometimes sit quietly. Sometimes, I repeat the mantra, “Everything, at this very moment, is okay.” It’s not elaborate. It’s not lengthy. It’s doable and simple.
- Acknowledge What I Need. This doesn’t mean I always get what I need. More often than not, I don’t. But I acknowledge my needs anyway. This is important for me. When I do this, I feel heard. Sometimes what I need is voiced to a person, written down or just shouted really loudly as I am driving in the car. This has not always been easy. I feel vulnerable when I admit that I need something. But I have found that the alternative—stuffing it down—causes a lot of problems.
- Trust the Process. I played competitive golf for many years. When I made a swing change and had to play in a tournament, it was important that I trusted that what I was working on was the correct change. It was important that I didn’t abandon my training before this new skill was mastered. This same process is integral for me today. I do the footwork, make the best decisions I can with the information I have, and then trust the outcome. It may not go as quickly or exactly how I want it, but I continue to trust the process and the path.
- Live Open Heartedly. Ahh, vulnerability. It’s not easy. Living with an open heart doesn’t mean I am a doormat. I live open heartedly—with boundaries. I do this mostly because I want to feel all the love in my life. When my heart is open, I feel the love from my family, my sweet little boy, and my friends. I am completely willing to feel hurt and the pain of loss, disappointment, and betrayal in exchange. This has not always been the case. For many years, I lived very shut down and closed off. I am not longer “afraid” of my emotions. I’ve embraced them. They are part of being a human and experiencing my human-ness. And feeling the full range of emotions actually widens and deepens my ability to feel love.
- Tell the Truth. The truth always seems simple. We learn this as five-year-olds. But for many years, I didn’t. I didn’t tell myself the truth, or anyone else. I didn’t tell the truth because I was afraid—avoiding pain, heartbreak, consequence, and disappointment. Today, it is a pillar of my recovery. Mostly, I focus on getting the truth straight for myself. When I live in the truth, I’m living in reality rather than fantasy.
- Trust My Instincts and My Soul Voice. I denied the little voice for many years, thinking I knew better or that what it told me was wrong. The voice is my connection to something bigger than me. And that something bigger definitely knows better. I have to get quiet to hear that voice. In the past, I would do everything to drown it voice out. I would stuff that voice down with food, booze, shopping, television—whatever worked. Acknowledging my soul voice doesn’t mean I have to do anything. It doesn’t require me to act. I just listen.
- God, Buddha, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, The Ocean, Higher Power. I found a connection to something bigger than myself. This used to be a very difficult concept for me; to actually think that something other than me was in charge. Early on in my recovery, a good friend asked me, “Do you believe that I believe?” I replied, “Yes.” She said, “That’s good enough.”
- Stay Willing, Open and Teachable. That’s quite a task! I have learned so much over the last eight years. I remain a student in all things. This can be exhilarating and terrifying all at once. But I wouldn’t have what I have, or experienced all that I have, without being willing, open, and teachable. I don’t know everything. I don’t want to. But I do want to be open to new ideas and information that allow my life to grow and blossom, rather than become stagnant and withered.
I am beyond grateful for the past eight years. I don’t want you to think that any of it was easy. It was not. Nothing that I have attained in my life was easily achieved—but it was worth the effort I put in, each and every time.
Patterns can change. People can change. Neuroscience says that it is so and I am living proof that it is possible. I am a miracle and so are you. So, if you are reading this wondering how the hell are you going to survive the next twenty-four hours, much less eight years, you can do it. Take it one moment at a time. I am not an anomaly: there are over 23 million people doing recovery.
Today, I celebrate. I celebrate family, relationships, lessons learned, and lessons that still await me. I stand with an open heart, willing, and teachable. I am present. I acknowledge that the only thing that is certain is change. So, I am flexible. Long term recovery is built one moment at a time. Living long term recovery out loud begins when we stop doing what doesn’t work and commit to working on what does.