Sitting on the therapist’s couch I felt it — the familiar ache running up my spine, lodged between my shoulder blades, running up the pattern around my jaw and temples.
“Why does it still hurt? I thought it would be better by now.” She was kind, my new therapist, with a shelf full of books, some of which I’d read. The ones about the power of narrative medicine, and the body’s physical response to stress, and addiction. She had asked me if I was meditating and we talked about the cascade of benefits: physical, mental, emotional.
“I’ve been reading books about meditation since I was in my 20s. I know the benefits. But somehow, I still can’t do,” I say as I choke back tears.
“Maybe you just weren’t ready for them, she says.”
But you are now.
Some things you need to do to experience. No amount of research, or hearing from others who have done it, or listening to TEDTalks and podcasts will take the place of the experience. There are some things you must do.
Today marks 1000 days of continuous sobriety from alcohol for me. This a huge freaking deal. They don’t give out chips for this day at Twelve Step meetings and there’s no formal recognition, but it doesn’t matter. 1000 is a beautiful, round number, and for someone like me it’s a day I never thought I would experience. I could get to 48 hours or 36 hours. I could get to a few weeks or a few months. But 1000 days of living this life without a glass of wine or 17? 1000 days of feeling everything?
It once seemed impossible.
And here I am, having done nothing extraordinary.
I listened to how other people got sober and stayed sober and moved through the world, through its nuisances and joys and griefs and every days. I drank bad coffee and wrote honest things on paper. I told other people about what was going on and I listened when they made suggestions. I prayed. Slept a lot. Did Pilates. Volunteered. Amended. Drank gallons of fizzy water, long after the physical craving for alcohol blessedly left me.
But, and here’s the deal that a lot of people don’t realize, that is just the beginning.
What’s next, what you do with your one wild and precious life next — that’s recovery. If you choose it to be. And I have.
Here I am, doing what is extraordinary. Choosing to feel all of my feelings, to confront physical pain without numbing out, and to show up present, flawed, trying, and real. Here I am with mornings that aren’ filled with shame and dread to normal starts to the day, to say some prayers and do some reading, to jump on the computer and do my work. Here I am in a video conference meeting, here I am picking my son up from carpool. Here I am trying to train our new puppy. None of it happened right away. All of it is in progress.
I still wake up with my old fears. I pray to listen for God’s voice first thing and then I forget by the time I make breakfast. I go from zero to 60 at times, I get all fight or flighty, and I still drink too much caffeine like it’s going to soothe me. Old habits die hard.
The truth is that at 1000 days I am just a beginner. Nearly three years after I first waked into 12 Step Rooms, I realize how much I have to learn. “Shoshin” is the Zen Buddhist term for the beginner’s mind. I feel it as I start to re-read texts I read when I was a true beginner at recovery, the words taking on a whole new meaning now that that alcohol is long washed away. (Oh that’s what a co-dependent is! Oh that’s how trauma gets lodged in the body.)
I know nothing at 1000 days and I also know what I need. At 1000 days this beginner knows I have to go deeper into my own recovery. That means:
Though my beliefs around alcohol have changed (it’s not that I don’t “get” to drink, it’s that I don’t have to drink), that doesn’t protect me from the first drink. Heck, I always thought it tasted like poison and was poison and was bad for me and that never stopped me from drinking.
I need to be surrounded by people with strong foundations in their own recovery. I look to women who have not just more time, but really solid programs of recovery. Over time you start to get a sense of who really has it and who doesn’t.
While I drifted from 12 Step Fellowships for a time I find myself returning back there. The routine and ritual work for me, and though I don’t agree with everything in my particular fellowship, I believe it truly does hold more than a way to get sober — it’s a design for living.
Sometimes people ask me when I’m going to be “done” with this whole recovery thing. Haven’t I put in the work, they ask? I used to fight with this concept that I have a daily reprieve from alcohol, but I think I’m returning to it. Not to live in fear but in a healthy respect for where I’ve come from and also where I hope to go.
That’s why I write this today — not just for myself but for the person who may need encouragement. I hold up my story, like a million women before me to say, hey, see the broken bits? They can be put back together and made new. Every broken part of your past can be used for your future. It’s the story of my faith. It’s every promise God every made to me come true, 24 hours at a time.
My therapist works with me on a meditation I can do on my own, whenever I feel the tension in my upper back. She tells me to visualize the pain, and its color, and to let that color dissipate as it is bathed in a gold light. I smile, thinking about my rose gold Adidas sneakers. Perhaps like Dorothy I had it in me all along, the oldest lesson of them all. When I glide out of her office, I offer grace to myself, and again, and again. I have a beginner’s mind and the start of something I know is solid.