Today, my precious first-born graduates from High School. My God, wasn’t I just at her kindergarten graduation? All of us parents share the same wistful feeling about time with our children – it goes by much too quickly. She’s a healthy, balanced, focused, driven, joyful, beautiful and brilliant young woman now. What more could I ask for? I must step aside and watch her grow.
If there is one thing I have learned from my recovery, it is there is no shame in starting over. I do it everyday. We all do. The previous 48 years of “all or nothing” thinking really limited my growth and perspective and that hindrance ultimately led to a dependence which became an addiction. Now I know. To paraphrase the brilliant Maya Angelou famously, “Once you know better, do better.”
People ask me all the time, “How have you stayed sober?”. The answer is simple: each morning when I open my eyes, I thank God for another day of life and I commit to not drinking that day. I have other things I do, and attending a 12-step program is not one of them. I did for the first 12 months and decided I needed to broaden my resources and thinking, and have happily managed a workable – if not patchwork – program on my own. I am enjoying life today instead of enduring it.
Here’s the point I want to make today: you can change at any time and begin a new path. My 18-year old daughter is graduating from High School tonight with beautiful dreams of her own. There were days when she was very young when I would find myself in a heap of laundry and tears on the telephone with my oldest sister saying, “I can’t even take care of myself. I am so afraid and overwhelmed.” But life marched on, didn’t it?.
The takeaway I want anybody reading this today to receive is this:
Never Be Afraid Of Starting Over
Perfection is an unrealistic expectation and illusion that does nothing but create resentment and discontent. Wouldn’t you be happier saying you tried something and enjoyed the moment rather than standing still in perfect silence, terrified by the prospect you can never be perfect? Motherhood taught me so many things, and especially raising such a determined little character as my daughter, Isabella Bernadette. When she was 3 and just starting out hosting “play-dates,” I would be so desperate to please the other Mothers, I would constantly intervene and scold her, telling her repeatedly to “share” with the other children. Her response?
“I want to share with ME!”
Don’t we ALL? Who can argue with the brilliant logic of a 3-year-old little girl?!
The thing is, we all have to learn to be our own cheerleaders and personal life coaches. Instead of looking in all the wrong places (e.g., malls, catalogs, bars, escapes), the answer can be found within. I guess I was too skeptical, cynical and afraid to trust myself. I know better now, so I am doing better.
So happy to bring you this insightful piece from my Recovery Friend, Rose Lockinger. If you are new in your Recovery or simply in need of a fresh perspective, Rose’s piece reminds us to expect a journey full of twists, turns, surprises and mini-victories. In short, like all things in life, when doing the work of Recovery, expect the unexpected and welcome the lessons as they unfold. xoxo Joan
You know how people always say that we take two steps forward, one step back, well in no other place in my life have I found that truer than with my recovery.
See, I have found that the healing process is never linear, although sometimes I would like it to be. Sometimes I want to believe that it will be achieved perfectly but this is never the case. Like it says, progress not perfection, this process of healing involves progress. It never just continues in a straight and logical manner but rather it ebbs and flows, and there are times when I feel like I’m actually healing and other times when I feel like I am completely regressing.
I didn’t understand that this was the way of things when I first got sober and I guess I sort of believed that my life would just get exponentially better day in and day out. The reason why I thought this way is because my life changed so dramatically and so suddenly that I just thought it would continue in this manner forever. The Steps seemed to work perfectly and the further I got into them the better off I became.
I found that I stopped lying as much. I stopped craving drugs and alcohol, and I even started to believe in God, in fact so much healing occurred in that first year of recovery that to a certain degree I kind of felt like I was destined to become the most spiritual being on the planet. That I was destined to be free from all of my character defects within the next year or so, but then reality kicked in and coming down from my little spiritual hilltop, I settled into my new way of life and I began to see that not everything was being healed as quickly as my alcoholism was. I began to see that many of the things in my life that were particularly ingrained were going to take a lot of work to get over and possibly more pain before they were ready to be healed.
I have also found that certain times in my recovery, I thought that I was healed from something, or that I had finally overcome some trauma or defect of character only to be reminded a couple of weeks later that it was still there and there was more healing to be done. I’d get these epiphanies and believe that I understood something that would allow me to change or heal, and to a certain extent I would, but then it would just lead me to more parts of myself that need to be healed.
Without getting too far into the abstract, I sort of believe that this is the way that life works. We are born whole and pure, without any attachment or damage and then through the process of our life we pick up damage and get hurt by people or things. Then once we are ready, we begin the process of healing from this hurt, attempting to get back to a place of wholeness, but the process is unique and there is no set road map. With each layer of healing that occurs another is revealed just like the peeling of an onion, and so the job is never done It is always ongoing.
I’ll give you a recent example from my own life to help illustrate this point. It is something that I have written about a lot and talked about even more, but has been probably the most important thing that has occurred in my recovery and has been one of the greatest sources of healing for me.
For years I hated my ex-husband, but after working my Steps I healed a little bit from the pain that I felt he inflicted on me, and so for a time I was okay. I believed that I had achieved peace with this part of my life and in all honesty for some time, I had. I wasn’t yet ready to really dive into that situation and experience true healing and so I only peeled back the first layer of the onion.
Then I moved back to my home state so that I could be with my kids and in doing so, I had to invite him back into my life. Not in the sense that we were getting back together, but in the sense that we had children together which required regular interaction with him.
Being home and being around him brought up things in me that were tremendously painful and I really struggled for a number of months with this. There were some days where I’d thought I found peace in the situation, only to have it destroyed the following day when he’d make some offhanded comment to me, or I’d find out something he said about me to our kids.
I’d go to meetings and I’d hear bits and pieces of information that I needed in order to heal from the situation and I’d leave these meetings thinking I had finally found the secret that would unlock my healing and allow me to act neutrally towards him, but this just didn’t happen. As the months went on and the pain got greater, I continued my lurch towards healing by taking two steps forward and one step back.
Then something happened that allowed me to know that I truly had healed from the wounds of this part of my life. I finally felt the true acceptance of who he is as a person and what the situation was. I no longer felt anger towards him. In fact, I just felt compassion and realized that he was doing the best he could.
So that’s been the story of my healing, a process that is messy sometimes and seems to move in directions that don’t make sense to me, but in the end, work towards my greater good. Sometimes I am aware that I am moving in the right direction, while other times I’m not even sure where I’m going, but through it all, I usually wind up feeling better.
Of all the adjectives one could choose to describe my personality, “Gentle” would most definitely not be among even the first twenty that come to mind. I have a very tender heart, but years of burying and covering up my vulnerabilities have created a somewhat tough exterior. This happens to many of us in life. It usually takes nearly half a century of living before you start to think about yourself as not merely a physical being but a spiritual one. I am almost one year past the mid-century mark in physical years and this is certainly true for me. More than anything, I want to prioritize spiritual growth over other pursuits right now. So my “Word of the Year” for 2017 is GENTLE.
The death of a beloved classmate last summer reminded me of a guiding principle for my High School education, a quote by Francis de Sales, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” Weeks before Lori’s passing, several of my classmates and I were in daily contact with her via group text messaging. She reached out to us in her most frightened, vulnerable state for support as she awaited news and guidance about her recent diagnosis of breast cancer. The outpouring of “gentle strength” from my group of High School friends was, at times, mind-blowing. We walked hand in hand with Lori through her life’s most harrowing journey until it was time for her to leave her physical body. It was the most beautiful, intimate, raw experience of my adult life so far.
The courage it took for Lori to open herself up to so many friends from so long ago dismays me. I will be forever humbled and convinced that gentleness is the ultimate spiritual practice.
Everybody knows compromise is a good thing to practice in business and ultimately in life. Bending one’s will to move toward another’s best interests leads to successful relationships and a satisfying life. Nobody likes a stubborn old goat!!! Learning to practice gentleness begins with ME: embracing an open, courageous, accepting heart means I also have to be vulnerable when I don’t necessarily want to face it. Approaching a life of gentleness as a practice rather than a goal allows me to make small choices on a daily basis that ultimately lead to the value of gentleness. Before letting myself become completely angry, for instance, I try to think less of what I want from any situation or person and more about how wonderful it is the other person crossed my path. I can think about people and things this way because of gentleness – I am learning to accept what is and forget the rest. This practice leads to alot less brooding about what ought to be and frees up lots of time to just be in the moment.
So, in 2017, I will continue to joyfully pursue the practice of gentleness in my life. Earlier today, I read a beautiful reflection on gentleness, and I share it here with you as a special gift for you to take on your 2017 journey:
“It’s the hard things that break; soft things don’t break. It took me so very, very long to see it! You can waste so many years of your life trying to become something hard in order not to break; but it’s the soft things that can’t break! The hard things are the ones that shatter into a million pieces.” C. JoyBell C.
HAPPY NEW YEAR and may you joyfully experience the softness of a bigger, fuller, gentler life of authenticity this year!!!!
Remember that pivotal scene in “Bridget Jones’ Diary” when she tells her friends that Mark Darcy has told her he likes her “very much – just as you are“? They react with wide-eyed amazement. “Just as you freakin’ are?,” one of them repeats with disbelief. It’s so simple yet rare to have that kind of love, right?
Imagine enjoying that kind of love for self: developing the ability to look in the mirror each day and say to yourself, “I love you, JUST AS YOU ARE.” This is the best way I can describe my life after 555 days of soul-searching sobriety.
For some unknown reason, my sobriety has yielded the spiritual gift of truly deep and unfailing JOY. Because of joy, I have had the courage to explore many new paths in 555 days – paths I would have had to ignore while drinking, to make time for hangovers!
Here is what 555 days and approximately 2,220 cups of coffee, accompanied by lots of reading, thinking, sharing and exploring has opened up in my life:
SpiritualityAdmitting you are powerless over a substance has a way of removing a huge burden from your shoulders and opening your eyes to the Spiritual Journey we are all on. When I meet people now that I am sober, because of the Grace and Humility that sustain me, I am more likely to search for whatever good I can find in that person and connect in any way to the story of their life – not just their outward appearance, or even their words;
CreativityBefore I got sober, I had to think for several months about exactly what it was that I wanted for myself that was more important than numbness. For years, I have had a yearning to write about many things, but of course, the fear of looking stupid is a powerful inhibitor. No, I decided to try it: to give up numbness for the feeling of expressing myself on paper, even if nothing came of it, was a risk I decided to take. I am SO thankful I did!;
IntuitionIt is so lovely to open up space in your life for peace and quiet. For a long time, my drinking and subsequent numbness was the crutch I had to use to “get there” – my pseudo- place of satisfaction. Sobriety can deliver enormous intuitive capacity to the person in long-term recovery. Through quiet reflection, which is definitely a necessary daily practice to ensure I am not going to drink during each 24-hour period, a feeling of calm and reassurance that I can rely on my very own skills to deal with whatever life challenges me with that day. I feel 100 percent more competent and trusting in my intuition;
Financial Sobriety/ Simplicity Early in sobriety, it is common to consider all of the things that are “out of control” in one’s life as a result of the chaos regular numbing creates. Broken relationships, employment and financial disasters are often the “Big 3” demons someone committed to long-term recovery must confront. What I am experiencing personally is such personal fulfillment inside, my spending habits and attitudes toward money are changing. I am starting to actually enjoy making changes to build a nest-egg rather than finding reasons to use money to cover my pain today. Somehow, I have finally internalized the message that I HAVE enough because I AM enough. THIS is a miracle! To read more about this concept, visit Meadow Devor’s blog @ http://www.meadowdevor.com.
In short, learning to love yourself “just as you are” is one way to express growing up. Being a grown up was never very appealing to me, at least not every single dimension of it. The personal responsibility and accountability part of being a grown up have strengthened the most during my 555 journey. I believe myself when I say I will do something, unlike before, when a voice inside of me was constantly bickering in the background and telling me I would somehow mess things up entirely.
I have been mad at Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright since they insulted women voters (and subsequently “walked back” their remarks) this Spring.
But I am also a recovering alcoholic in my first year of recovery, with a blog, so I have to be careful not to be the “grump with a brainstorm” and do or say anything that is just going to make me feel less at ease with an already strung out world and ragged emotions
Part of the recovery process is learning to deal with our emotions without hurting ourselves or others. Without contributing to the trashy landfill of uselessly spent hurt that contaminates our world. So I am learning about breathing and mindfulness and affirmations. My Mom introduced me to the affirmations part of healthy thinking many years ago. Fearful of what might become of 4 beautiful young girls setting off on a month-long journey through Europe in 1988, my Mom wrote an affirmation and stuck it in my backpack and asked me to read it to my traveling companions each morning before starting our day. I was absolutely amazed when one of the friends I went on that trip with told me more than 20 years later, that she still uses the affirmation and it works! It goes something like this:
God is always with me. Therefore I am always safe and at the right place at the right time.
I know it said more but that is the essence of the affirmation and demonstrates the simplicity of the act of centering one’s thoughts, focusing momentarily on one’s breathing, tapping into the abundance within, and bringing that goodness forth into one’s day. It is such a healthy practice. If you are a recovering alcoholic, finding solace and the strength to navigate a world of conflict without numbing is essential. I think it is impossible without a personal meditation practice.
After all, if a person’s entire sense of personal safety/security is centered on a person or thing outside of him/herself, that leaves the person very vulnerable to the unpredictable influences in the world. Fear is extremely dangerous. We must constantly find ways to mentally transform fear into love and connect with some sort of constant assuredness to live in this crazy world. Not sure what I’m getting at? It is simple. If we learn to practice controlling our thoughts for even 10 minutes a day, preferably at the beginning of the day, it becomes a protective shield against negative outside influences and we feel better, make better choices, and affect the world more positively.
To my daughter, who is about to begin her Senior year, and all the other people I love, cherish and see struggling in the world, I wish 4 simple internal messages to be written on their heart:
I have abundance within that never fails to protect and lead me closer each day to fulfilling God’s purpose for my life;
I have unlimited gifts that are meant to be shared lovingly with others;
Time is on my side – there is no expiration date or end to the amount of love and goodness I can experience and share in my lifetime.
4. Spirit is Infinitely Intelligent and will support me through any and all hesitant beginnings, sticky middles and rocky endings in my life – all I have to do is Ask and listen.
Life is difficult but joyful. Finding one’s purpose is the most gratifying experience of the human condition, and learning to access our Infinite Love within is the most simple yet powerful tool to combat fear and overcome paralysis. Affirmations lead to love. Love leads to action. Action leads to wholeness. Wholeness is our essence. Our essence is goodness. Start today!
These days, I find myself dripping in happiness. After months of working hard to train my mind to stop being afraid of living, there is now an abundance of joy in my life – more than enough to share without fear of running out. I think I found happiness because I intentionally set out not to find happiness but purpose. We ALL want to be happy, sure. For many, the definition can include many things/pursuits/achievements that bring happiness to one’s life, which, as we all know, can be fleeting.
I tend to oversimplify but that’s the way I get to the core of challenges so here is what I am trying to say: I found happiness accidentally by searching for purposeon purpose. And the sweetest discovery is this: happiness is the sum of the good thoughts, deeds and people you surround yourself with. It is HORIZONTAL, not vertical, as our culture portrays. Further, one is more likely to experience joy and happiness in moments of absolute stillness….absent struggle, thinking, working, climbing, scheming, toiling, or anything of the like. Brilliant!
What has amazed me in this magnificent experience is that my purpose is revealed to me when I am re-energizing my soul, daydreaming, napping, walking, baking, or doing any number of things that are not centrally focused on intensely pursuing happiness. It found ME, not the other way around!
Here are 9 general beliefs/practices I have adopted that I believe are positively contributing to my experiencing a life of maximum purpose, satisfaction and happiness:
Ask God for an open heart To me, God/Inner Light/Higher Power is Central to anything growth-related. Several years ago, my husband and I were struggling in every possible way – trying to dig ourselves out of a hole we thought would lead us to happiness. I started intuitively praying many times a day, just asking God to give me an open heart so I would be willing and able to accept our fate. It worked and it stuck.
Stop resisting what “is” The meditation/mindfulness gurus all say that being “present in the now” is the key to living a more satisfying life and they are right. But it takes lots of practice to train our non-stop thinking selves to just be calm and receive our surroundings without reacting or doing anything. At the root of all heartache is the desire to change/resist/fight something outside of our control. I think because, as human beings, (especially in the Western world), we have become so conditioned to “control” our external surroundings using our magnificent scientific abilities. Don’t do this anymore! You’ll be so much happier, I promise.
Work to face fears/make things personal I love love love this the most and have been practicing this the most lately. Probably 25 years ago, I heard a very wise theologian speak about racism. His reasoning to counter the mind and heart’s tendency to divide “us” and “them” was simple: look into the eyes of the “other” and think of their Mother, who loves them so. Everyone has a Momma! It helps me to catch myself judging others when I personalize someone or something I might be inclined to disregard. Make friends with people who are different than you, encourage your children to do the same. It only brings joy, I assure you. After working hard to seek situations where you can personalize the “other”, the Universe just starts making it part of who you are. I started by volunteering at a food pantry. I was terrified by the “others” at first. Now they are my friends.
Lolligag, daydream, rest If you have been reading any of the current buzz about personal and professional success these days, everyone is talking about a Sleep Revolution. It seems we are finally learning that trying to squeeze more productivity out of an already empty person is futile. We all need to re-charge. We all need to learn and understand our personal energy limitations and “indulge” in that which renews us. I am a daydreaming, napping, slow walking fool and much happier for it!
Connect with an animal My husband amusedly looks at me fussing over our adopted cocker spaniel and tells me, “I don’t know THIS woman!”. I have gotten more joy from the simple experience of loving an animal in the past few years it is amazing. Eckhardt Tolle wrote an entire book about the spiritual connection between human and animal in “Guardians of Being.” The primary benefit of loving an animal, not surprisingly, is that the very act of petting and tending to one’s dog, for instance, causes one to simply be present.
Embrace vulnerability Authors, bloggers and life coaches like Martha Beck, Glennon Doyle and Brene Brown are all talking about accepting our vulnerability and supporting one another’s courage in expressing that vulnerability. It does lead to joy because it takes such courage to be open and honest. And it lifts the weight of perfection from our shoulders – multi-tasking and perfection are mere facades of a happy life. Why not embrace our imperfection, learn to laugh about it and accept it, and be joyous and happy?
Replace “dread” with curiosity I dread most things, especially social occasions. Let me tell you, what a miserable existence that is. Learning to control my anxieties with deep breathing, accepting the now and enjoying being present are helping me to dread things less. I may not necessarily look forward to a “command performance,” but at least I am practicing methods that help me get through social obligations without upsetting everyone around me.
Learn from criticism Boy, could I resent a person who told me the truth in the past! I am practicing the art of really listening to people. If the messenger offers sincere, loving advice intended to show you how you appear in the world, listen. The lesson is far more important than your ego.
Befriend your alter ego And speaking of egos, I hereby confess that I have happily enjoyed “alter egos” – my inner hero I want to express outwardly – for decades. It started in my twenties when I moved away from home for the first time. I wanted to be “JD” instead of “Joan,” because “JD” was a spunky, brave and light-hearted go-getter ready to take on the world. In my forties, I was “Piper,” the super fun-loving Momma who could still enjoy a night of dancing. Now, I am mellowing into “Pippa,” my 50’s alter-ego. “Pippa” is a mature-ish woman who knows who she is, loves to love and comfort, and looks forward to the future instead of mourning the past. In my 60’s, I will be “Poppy,” that still-cheeky woman with a secret or two and a sense of humor, but wise and gentle, as well.
So, my friends, I share the greatest discovery of my recent months with you today: Happiness is Horizontal
You are much more likely to experience it in a state of relaxed acceptance of the present moment! Enjoy and Namaste.