I want to write more often and then I don’t because I guess in order to write more often I need to write more often, not just think about it. It’s a lot like me and the gym… If I go more often it is much easier to go more often. But alas the road to hell is said to be paved with good intentions. I want to be the kind of person that is more disciplined in my approach to life, and although people I know may find this surprising, I really do battle to stay consistent around certain things in my life, which I do believe to be personal values. Such as learning, creativity, physical wellness and health.
I really do believe that consistency is the key to success, that small wins are often more important than the big wins, and that with patience and practice we can achieve most (realistic) things we set our minds and sights on. I have proven to myself that recovery is simply about being unfailing in my commitment to being well (and not drinking!). It’s been easy at certain times and excruciatingly painful at others, but I have stayed true to my promise to myself and kept on going.
I used to believe that if I did somehow end up in hell, so would everyone else I knew and loved, and then hell wouldn’t be too bad. I know a sinner or two who can mix a mean Margarita… But not being of the religious ilk, I started to realise we can impose our very own wretchedness on ourselves by simply not being true to who we believe and know ourselves to be. Being in the clutches of substance abuse is in itself some kind of fiery inferno that destroys our very being. No need to visit Hades to experience that. Simply lacking the ability to show up in my integrity when I am drinking is my own version of being in the fiery abyss.
In my work as a coach I see people living through their worst nightmares whilst trying to overcome active addiction. The return of feelings and emotions can create a personal place of torment. Guilt and shame feeling like internal fire and brimstone. And often the only way through it is through it. With steady determination and focus on the desired outcome, we can achieve a remarkable amount. The good things is most people don’t die when their feelings return even though it is surprisingly uncomfortable and totally unfamiliar to someone with a substance use disorder.
And yet when it comes to certain practices in my own life, there is far more resistance than consistency. I really do have the best intentions around my personal health and well-being, yet am more than happy to overlook the importance of me when making decisions to skip a gym session, to take some personal time or to engage in something that is good for my soul. My ascent from the hell of addiction was was an up and down affair. There were numerous failed attempts from my early twenties into my mid-thirties at giving up, including a short stay in rehab. I would give up drinking because I saw the destruction it was wrecking on my life, only to succumb to the abusive affection of alcohol a. some point (normally a few months) down the line/
After rehab I was determined to be done with drinking and shitty behaviour, but without the ongoing work of being sober and well, and not realising that recovery wasn’t just about abstinence, I inevitably went back to drinking. I really only hooked into my personal recovery when I finally came to understand that it wasn’t about a quick fix or a miracle cure, and that if I wanted to be well it was going to require work, commitment, consistency and lots of personal growth and development. And for almost twelve years, I have been doing just that. Well most of the time anyway…
There have definitely been behavioural relapses over the years, but I am grateful to never have used substances to achieve an altered state of consciousness that so often accompanies the return to previous, unhealthy behaviours that is part of a relapse. I’ve had issues with food, money and some really fucked up relationships, but I haven’t gone back to drinking or using. If I have to be completely honest there has been some behaviour that I would consider an emotional, mental and spiritual relapse, I just didn’t drink or use. So my recovery has had better periods and worse periods, and where it wasn’t so good I mostly wasn’t conscious and aware of my behaviour and engagement with the world, and showed up in a way that wasn’t exactly well.
That being said, I am adamant that none of us can move in a straight line of progression from when we decide to stop abusing ourselves through the use of addictive substances and dysfunctional behaviour, to some imagined and much better point in the future. I am not referring to the use of substances, return of symptoms or relapse. I am talking about life not being on a perfectly mapped out line from here to there. No ones’ life is like that and we shouldn’t expect that in recovery, it’s just not achievable.
We need to be able to experience joy, peace, contentment, fulfillment and whatever else it is you are searching for, through the process of recovery. Because if we aren’t enjoying the daily , weekly and monthly stuff, then what on earth is the point of doing all the hard work? There milestones of recovery, abstinence and clean time are not marked by the arrival of choirs of beaming angels or shiny red Ferraris (as one of my more actualised clients pointed out) so we need to celebrate the small wins, the baby steps, the infinitesimal changes, improvements and growth that we are achieving as we move through life.
That takes me back to my original thought of the more often I do certain things in my life, the more often I do them. Health is something I really do value, so the more often I put on my shoes and go to the gym, the better I feel and the better I feel the more inclined I am to engage in my workout programme and on and on, ad infinitum. Just like the more often I write and practice this set of skills the easier it is to fill the page with words and the more I am inspired to write. It’s the same with recovery for me.
And the way I see my recovery is not necessarily the text book definition, but rather that of me not indulging in the use mind-altering for fun, pleasure and recreation. So basically to get drunk and high in order to have a jol, escape or check out, and to hell with the consequences. I am completely abstinent from alcohol and narcotics, but have used what would be considered “not okay” substances in certain programmes. I’m okay with that. I haven’t abused anything alcoholic, illegal or pharmaceutical in over eleven and a half years, but perhaps certain people would question whether I had been clean if I used prescribed tranquilisers during certain crisis situations or medication that might be on the “banned list” for those of us with a substance use disorder.
My recovery is strong and I commit to it constantly and consistently. I don’t tell others how to be well, but I do ask them what they believe recovery is and then assist and support them in finding their way though that idea. Recovery and life are not only about the achievements, but in the small successes that could go unnoticed if we are not looking for them. Essentially we could be blind to some of the transformation if we are too focused on the end goal. I believe it is mostly about how we show up and engage with life on a daily basis, and how we do this from day to day, that determines our wellness. Not how many days since we last used.
Because along with good intentions, I do think that the road to hell is also paved with unconsciousness, lack of awareness and lots of coulda, shoulda, wouldas. By living in the presence of life and recovery there is more joy, more peace, more courage and more passion then if we believe that when we get to a certain recovery point we will feel rewarded, affirmed and validated. If we’re not feeling like that in your daily practices, processes, work, life and play, my question to you is what do you need to do differently? Of course there are a whole string of other questions I’d also like to ask you, but I’ll leave those for another time and place.