It doesn’t really bother me to say I’m an alcoholic. Not that I nonchalantly or indiscriminately blab it out, but when appropriate, I own up to it. But that’s because I now know that it’s a mere fraction of who I am. That is not my only adjective. In fact, I am a creative, strong, humorous, prolific, wise, open-minded, friendly, caring person in the process of discovery, recovery, and ongoing un-covery. I used to not be able to say any of that.
Spirituality can be defined in numerous ways but it largely refers to a belief in a power governing the universe that is greater than oneself, the sense of interconnectedness with all living beings, and the quest for self-knowledge, meaning, and purpose in one’s life… A regular spiritual practice allows us to find meaning and purpose in our lives … and can be a powerful tool in recovery from any condition.
Like the onion itself, my mask has many layers. For years (okay, decades), I didn’t even realize I hid behind one. When I caught wind of it, I thought it must be “only sometimes in certain circumstances…” on a kind of “as needed” basis, like when I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin, as they say… which was basically all the time…
I was a high bottom drunk. In my alcoholic, comparison-based mind in the early days, I perceived that as underachieving as an alcoholic. I had no DUIs, no rehab stories, no arrests… I was a high bottom drunk. But therein lies the key word – Drunk. Someone early on told me he was a high bottom too, but “just as sick as that guy living under the bridge.”
What if my alcoholism is my greatest asset? Not when it was alive, active, and devouring me––no. But when I came to my senses long enough to catch my breath. More like the moment it became my reality check, and then the climb back up from that. If I hadn’t hit the place where I was able to admit that my life had become unmanageable, I would likely never have done the depth of work on myself that is requested/required in The Steps.
To think of recovery as linear – a continuum of getting better and better – is misguided at best. Recovery is messy as hell. It is a series of becoming undone, reforming, and blooming – again and again. Anyone who tells you it’s plain sailing once you get sober, or that your inner turmoil is a reflection of your broken spiritual state, is entirely misguided. I just turned six years sober and have never felt so broken and undone in my entire recovery journey so far. No amount of spiritual work is touching the surface, only easing the pain and my relationship to it.
There is a lot of emotional dysregulation … with substance abuse disorders. Animals serve as role models for mindfulness … while someone in recovery is relearning how to navigate the world of an emotional being … To conquer the anger, shame and guilt of a relentless feeling disease, requires an honest inventory. With pride set aside, the recall of our memory is best in a non-judgmental setting, [with] unconditionally-loving pets, whether it is pet therapy or animal assisted therapy.
As you forgive others, you begin to forgive yourself. As you stop focusing on their mistakes, you will stop punishing yourself for your own. Your ability to release what you think of as the sins of others will free you to release yourself, putting down the weapon with which you punish yourself so savagely. Forgiveness releases the past to divine correction and the future to new possibilities.