Are you in recovery or are you around recovery? There is a distinct difference. Everyone is not so quick to embrace the “We” of the program, but the recovery process was impossible for me to embark on alone. So let’s get down to the how and why of connection.
I just returned from a weekend retreat to Bill Wilson’s house in East Dorset, VT. This is an annual recovery retreat that I have attended for a few years. As I came into my body and into my heart, I felt deep gratitude for the experience to connect with like-minded people who are recovering from a spiritual disease. Connecting with others who understand because they have felt the same emotions and entertained the same thoughts, is an integral part of my recovery. My problem is two-fold: a physical craving for more alcohol or drugs AND a mental obsession. I am reminded that my problem is not unique and there is a common solution. Sitting around discussing our deepest, darkest secrets or regrets is not where any of us start this journey and that’s certainly not what I am suggesting. However it was important for me to notice the walls I had put up, and be willing to take them down and let people see me. I had 3 core beliefs that had motivated the construction of my walls and these beliefs needed to be uncovered for what they really were.
#1. Asking for help is a sign of weakness.
#2. Needing others sets you up for disappointment.
#3. You earn love and acceptance.
I actually felt tremendous shame in admitting I needed help. I associated needing help with being flawed, weak and open for attack. Picture this…a teacher gives an assignment, she outlines the requirements, the deadlines, and asks for any questions. In my head I felt confused about an aspect of the assignment, but NEVER in a million years would I have raised my hand and asked my question in front of the class. Asking for clarification, or help of any kind, would make me look stupid right? I felt like in life, I missed the class where the directions were given out and I was also too scared to ask for help or admit that I didn’t know what to do or where to go to find the answer. Then I came into recovery and I hear a slogan, “Go to meetings, ask for help, and don’t drink.” I understand the action of going to meetings, I understood the idea of not drinking or doing drugs (although that was a challenge) BUT asking for help…how does one actually do that? How did you ask for help without feeling “less than”? I was a bit puzzled.
Next, why would I ask for help and start to “lean” on others for support? Aren’t I just setting myself up for disappointment? In my past experience, human beings had proved to not meet my expectations. Sometimes I trusted them, only to find that they gossiped or judged me. I thought that relying on myself was the only safe way to proceed. I could have expectations of myself and I would not be disappointed- because I was not a wavering variable. I could be a constant in my own life, and by needing only me I could be happy and avoid being hurt. Simple and fool-proof, right?
Last, but certainly not least, I believed that love and acceptance were things you worked for and earned. For example, if someone came to me seeking love and acceptance, I should wait to give it to them until they proved to be worthy. Vise versa, if I needed help and went to someone seeking love then I should need to prove myself worthy of love. I did not consider myself in early sobriety to be worthy of love and acceptance. I felt shame around the actions I had done, words I had said, thoughts in my head, and the feelings that I just could not shake. I did not believe, for a second, that someone could love me in the state that I was in. I felt I needed to change in order for others to love me. I also thought I needed to change in order to love myself.
At their best, these beliefs gave me a false-sense of safety and strength. The idea “I don’t need you, I can take care of myself” fed my ego and kept me feeling better than those weak people who need each other. At their worst, these beliefs kept me alone, detached, scared, hurt, and shameful.
However, self-reliance failed me. My inability to cope with life led me to a jumping off place. My code of conduct and set of morals was clearly not working. The Great Me, Myself, and I were not able to take on the world in the same matter that we once could (I don’t think I ever successfully conquered the world in this mindset.) I found that, “Alcohol was a great persuader. It finally beat us into a state of reasonableness. Sometimes this was a tedious process; we hope no one will be prejudiced as long as some of us were” (Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 48, 4th Ed.)
I guess it was time to ask for help, admit that I could not do this alone, and let people in. Ugh.
The first person I did this with was my sponsor. I started out by asking her for a ride to a meeting. Then I asked her how she did not drink or use drugs for one day. As she showed up to give me a ride, read the big book with me, or answered my phone calls- I saw that I could perhaps rely on others. This reliance and trust on others started to spread, I slowly developed a network in AA. The third idea around earning love was the hardest to uncover. I really did not think I was worthy of love, but the people in the program loved me until I learned to love myself. This does not mean that I was completely codependent on them, but it does mean that they actively showed me that I was a person that deserved love unconditionally regardless of how much I relapsed or made mistakes. I learned that I didn’t need to be “good enough” for belonging and connection.
I am describing what vulnerability looks like in my life today. Being vulnerable means I can be seen in an imperfect state. When I lie out of fear, it is neither good nor bad. It just is what it is. When I overreact out of a fear of losing control, it is neither good nor bad. It is simply my reaction. Can I share my life experience with others and actively seek the truth? Can I love myself regardless of the hundreds of “mistakes” I make on a daily basis? Do I believe that I am good enough? As long as I continue to connect with others in an authentic manner, let them see me for who I really am, then I can continue to recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” – Brene Brown
What does vulnerability sound like, feel like and look like in your life? Are you willing to throw life-long conceptions out the window and find a way of living that really works?