I decided to become an Uber driver. I was in a new phase in life and found myself alone a lot. My world was getting too small, too soon. The extra money would be nice and connecting to people, even momentarily, was appealing.
So I started the car.
What does driving for Uber and recovery from addiction have in common? More than you think.
The relapse prevention tools I had learned over the years of riding the waves of life in sobriety showed up in the back seat of my Uber driving in the form of empathy, joy, & kindness.
I had learned from the hours logged on my yoga mat and meditation cushion that my addiction had severed the connection between my mind and my body. My body held feelings that my mind refused to feel and accept. So I numbed.
I got clean and sober and began incorporating yoga and meditation as one of my top go-to recovery tools. Slowly, pose-by-pose, breath-by-breath, I began to access and accept the deep rivers of emotion that were buried in my tissues, fascia, and soul.
One time in yoga class during hip openers I started sobbing on my mat for no apparent reason. I asked the teacher about it after class and she told me the body remembers our experiences; our history. The yoga postures wring the trauma and dis-ease out of the body and the teacher assured me that my experience was a common one.
The emotions were brought forth in yoga and meditation for me to see, accept and begin the healing path.
I gained something else that class. This was my first real glimpse at self-compassion. I drove home thinking, “Holy crap, I have gone though a lot (and put others through a lot) and maybe it was time to recognize that and to befriend myself. “
Empathy, particularly self-empathy, was foreign and felt strange to me. Yet I somehow innately knew it held one of the keys to healing the cycle of addiction in my life. So I stayed with the experience of empathy even though it was uncomfortable and stirred up lots of doubt.
Over time, I saw that empathy is a very helpful relapse prevention skill. Empathy for others and myself is critical to me remaining happily clean and sober. The Big Book of AA states, “We stopped fighting everyone and everything.” Empathy, according to Brene Brown, gives me the ability to connect and be with my own pain and suffering and that of others.
When practicing empathy, I feel close to others and myself. Empathy acts as a bridge over the gap of disconnection and loneliness; both of which fuel addiction.
Driving Uber one night made that connection via empathy so incredibly obvious.
I was picking up passengers in Boston. It was the week before Thanksgiving and I was on Commonwealth Ave picking up a Boston University student. She got in the car and we exchanged hellos.
I felt a heavy air that I wanted to bypass and ignore. It scared me a little. I noticed being uncomfortable. I paid attention and thought I would ask her about herself. She said she was a freshman at BU and it was her first time being away from home. I suspected that heaviness was from being homesick because of my own experience as a freshman away at college.
Empathy arose within me and I recognized it.
I felt vulnerable but shared with her my own experience of being home sick that first semester in undergrad school. She opened up like a beautiful rose and shared how this had been the longest she had been away from home and how much she was missing her parents and sibs. She couldn’t wait to get home the following week for Thanksgiving Holiday to see them and “sleep in my own bed.” We chatted about being homesick and away from those we love for the two-mile drive through the Boston traffic.
When I dropped her off she smiled big and I felt how much lighter she was.
So was I.
One dark winter night I was driving in Massachusetts’s second largest city, Worcester. My Uber app pinged to pick up a male in an industrial part of the City. I felt a bit hesitant, as that section of town was not one I felt entirely comfortable in, especially at night. I am a small female.
I went to the back of a warehouse and waited for my passenger feeling apprehensive. Eventually a young man came from the back of the building and got in my back seat. I hit the app for directions to the drop off location and we were off.
I glanced in my rear view mirror trying to asses if I was safe or not. I wasn’t sure. The young man smiled. I relaxed and I asked if he just got off work. He replied that he had. We talked about his job.
Then there was silence between us. One of the most helpful skills of an Uber driver is figuring out if your passenger wants to talk, listen to his or her music, or just simply sit in silence. So I let the silence between us grow and waited for an internal cue or external prompt.
Suddenly, he blurted out in a shaky voice “I am going to be a Father.” I was ecstatic! With heart-felt enthusiasm and joy I congratulated him. He thanked me and said he was only twenty-two. “Just a kid myself.”
He went on to explain how excited and joyful he was and how petrified he was too. This will be his first child. He shared his fears and doubts. But mostly, we shared excitement and joy.
I dropped him off at his apartment about twenty minutes later and honestly felt a sense of deep happiness for him. He felt that from me and I thought we might even hug. The inclination was there! As he left my car he waved goodbye and entered a huge tip in the app.
Joy in recovery has helped me to heal the trauma and regrets of my past. The joyful experiences of today, like this ride with this young Dad-to-be, help to rewire my brain from the patterns of self-destruction to the joy of living happily without drugs and alcohol.
It was windy, freezing cold and early morning at the Boston Seaport. It was seven degrees outside. My Uber App lit up for a pick up nearby.
If it is a major thruway with no shoulder to pull over on, Uber will sometimes send the driver to the back of the building. This is exactly what happened on this frigid February dawn. I turned onto an alley and realized the app was sending me behind the building. I glanced in my rearview mirror to plot my turn around when I saw a businessman frantically waving his arms at me. It was clear that he was my passenger.
He got in the back of my vehicle complaining loudly. “What the hell is wrong with Uber?! They always go to the back of my building! You drove right by me!” He was really upset and angry.
My first thought was to tell him there is no safe place to pull over in the front of the building. I also thought about telling him I was just following the directions on the app.
Instead, mindfulness kicked in and kindness seemed like the best choice. So I said “I am so sorry. It is absolutely freezing out. You must be so frustrated. And I drove right by you!” I went on. “I am going to make sure we get you to exactly where you need to be as quickly and safely as absolutely humanely possible!”
He sighed and sat quiet for minute. Then we shared some small talk. He thanked me as he left my vehicle and I wished him a good day.
I actually felt pretty good about the exchange despite the rocky start. He had slightly recovered, albeit somewhat begrudgingly. For me I knew our exchange ended quite well given the potential for disagreement.
Being kind to him was the right choice.
Being an Uber driver and in recovery do have a lot in common. I see that empathy, joy, and kindness support my sobriety. Living happily and at peace with others and with myself builds with each positive experience.
One act of shared empathy, joy, or kindness builds the happiness circuits in my brain that lead to the next act of empathy, joy, or kindness. And momentum builds.
I like this path!