What path will you take?
I was totally confused. I did what they said and yet I still picked up. I still relapsed. What the heck was wrong with me? They told me to get a sponsor. Check. To get a job at a meeting so I became the coffeemaker. Check. To sit up front and listen more than I speak. Just suit up, show up, and shut up. So I did. And yet I still relapsed.
I did not know that there are many paths to recovery from addiction. No one challenged me to find my own authentic path.
How is it that with all of our scientific study, medical-assisted treatment, and a therapist on every corner that we have not figured out how to help people recovery from alcohol and drug addiction find their own authentic path to recovery?
I have learned through excruciating trail and error (relapse) that recovery is not a one size fits all effort. Even though I did exactly what everyone told me to do, I did not stay clean and sober. The discouragement that comes from chronic relapse sucks the hope and joy out of life. It is one of the most vicious cycles to be caught in.
Finding my own authentic path was something I stumbled upon rather than a planned and intentional choice. I happen to attend a yoga class because my back hurt and I was gaining weight. Someone suggested I try yoga for my back. I had no idea that this ancient healing system would seep into my relapse prevention toolbox and become my go to relapse prevention tool.
I realized yoga was having the most positive impact on my sobriety of any other activity. It became clear that there are many paths to recovery from addiction. My job became figuring out my own authentic path to recovery from addiction. Instead of doing what everyone else was telling me to do (their intentions were good!) I looked inward and began to assess what was working for me and what was not.
This does not mean I did only what I wanted to do. There were still times in which I had to dig deep and find the motivation to do the next right thing for my recovery event though I really didn’t want to.
Compliance vs. Engagement
One of the benchmarks of knowing what my authentic path actually is began with recognizing the difference between compliance and engagement. When I would engage in recovery activities to make someone else happy or because I thought I was “supposed to,” I was just complying. My heart was not into it at all. This was not helpful.
When I was engaged, I was curious, listening, and really wanted to be doing that activity. It wasn’t just seat time. I was there to learn, to change.
I gave myself permission to not go to those places and do those activities in which I was merely going because I thought I was supposed to. Instead, I found those activities and places that made me interested, excited, and curious. These were the times when I was all in: physically, mentally, and spiritually. This is when I started a transformation that took root and changed my addiction from a liability to an asset.
In early recovery I started to think about what actually made me interested, engaged and happy in recovery. An AA speaker meeting I was attending was all about war stories and the big suck factor of addiction. I left feeling worse than I went in. No one told me it was ok to not go back. It was clear I had to try a different type of meeting. Once I realized this meeting was not authentic to me, I stopped going and found a different one that was about living in the solution rather than living in the cycle of addiction.
I finally landed in the AA meeting that was to change my life for the better. The people, the steps, the message all spoke to me in a way that gave me conviction that I was in the right place.
I knew that one aspect of my authentic path to recovery was exercise. It was undeniable that I felt better after a cardio workout. My mood was elevated and I had a more positive outlook on life. And I had hope for the future that made each day without a drink or a drug a little better.
Even though I do not always feel like working out, I did it any way. Finding a friend to work out with and a gym where I felt connection helped too.
It was essential, in early recovery, to find at least one person that I could be 100% honest and real with. Someone who I could tell exactly what I was feeling without shame or fear of ridicule. I found that person in the halls of AA. I told her everything I was thinking and everything I was feeling. Even when I did not exactly know what I was feeling or even have the right words to describe what was going on with me, I talked with her. It felt like I was telling on myself and that was sometimes scary. I had never been this vulnerable with anyone. She understood my thinking and that helped me to realize I was ok.
It became clear that my mind was dragging me around and taking me places that I did not want to go. After yoga class one day, I stayed to hear a speaker talk about meditation. That speaker was Jon Kabat-Zinn.
He inspired me so much that I began a meditation practice that day. I have practiced almost every day since. I became a student of learning how to watch my mind and direct it so it could no longer drag me around.
Now I am watching me. I am gently guiding myself to be the woman I always knew I could be and always wanted to be. I watch my thoughts and behaviors. I have learned how to be comfortable being uncomfortable and to be ok with the fact that things often times do not go the way I think they should.
Meditation has become a powerful part of my authentic path to recovery because I have become skillful at training my ruminating mind to focus and stay in the present moment. I saw that the number one thing that was making me unhappy and taking me closer to that next relapse was my own thinking mind. My habit of mind was regretting the past and fearing the future. Meditation has been an enormous help in learning how to stay in the present and let go of the regret and fear. While they still visit, they do not dominate.
Finding my own authentic path in recovery has been a journey that I am so grateful to be on. I have learned, and practice, living happily clean and sober every day.