On 25th October 1997, I found freedom from addiction, and my recovery journey began. With this article, I hope to help those who are just starting on the recovery path to find their way.
Recovery is a new beginning.
For me, early recovery felt like a grieving process. Addiction had permeated so deeply into my life that its ending felt like a loss of my identity. Suddenly I felt like a stranger in my own life. What had happened to all of the people, places, and rituals I had built my life around? These things now seemed meaningless. Who was I?
If only I had known that, amid the wreckage, I was taking the first steps on a new path. I was mourning the loss of everything I had known and spent many days wondering if there was any point in carrying on. Even just a glimpse of the incredible path before me would have been a very welcome light in the darkness. As it was, I was struggling to see the next step.
Looking back, I can see that deep down; I knew this was a new beginning. I somehow knew I was on the right path, and so I kept believing. I just needed confirmation!
If you are just starting on your recovery path, you may find yourself in a similar place. My invitation is to take a moment and see if you can find that place inside where you know you are on the right path and that this is a new beginning. Even if you can only find a speck of that knowing, that’s enough! That’s confirmation!
Recovery is an initiation.
I suffered a lot in those early days of recovery. I had unfinished business to take care of, I was heavily in debt, I was a physical wreck, and my mental and emotional health were poor. It is one thing to suffer in the knowledge that there’s an end in sight, but it is another thing to suffer day after day without that light at the end of the tunnel.
If only I had known back then that there was a point to my suffering. If only I had known that recovery would not settle for any half measures. If only I had known that my pain would not cease until I took the time to listen deeply to myself and get clear about what really mattered.
The pain, anxiety, the existential fear, were all signposts towards the things in my life that desperately needed attention. Just like tribal initiations mark the transition from child to adult, my suffering was initiating me through new levels of learning and growth. I was finally becoming an adult!
If you are suffering in your recovery process, and struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, reframing your experience as an initiation may be of help. If you can learn to listen deeply within yourself, you may come to see that your feelings are communicating a deeper message. A message that holds the blueprints for a new way of life.
Recovery is an integral process.
Like so many people, I relied heavily on my mental processing in early recovery. I wanted to understand what had happened so I wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes. I dug deep into my past in search of answers. In this exploration, I got honest about the times I had been shamed, abused, neglected, and traumatised. I admitted my shortcomings and began making amends to those I had wronged.
While this process was useful and necessary, other parts of my development were getting overlooked. I was maturing a lot mentally, but my physical body was still a mess, and I was little more than an emotional dwarf. A functional recovery that is sustainable over the full trajectory of life requires balance. The best way to maintain balance is to work recovery as an integral process giving equal priority to the mental, emotional, and physical. All the mental processing had left my development a little lopsided, and I needed to balance the books.
If you are just starting in recovery, my invitation is to work it as an integral process. One of the primary triggers for a slip or even relapse is the feeling of being overwhelmed. The best way to avoid being overwhelmed is to maintain balance. To do this, start with the simple things.
For mental wellbeing, keep your living space in order, pay your bills on-time, and take care of daily tasks. Our minds don’t like clutter.
On the emotional level, learn to be present with what you are feeling. Give your feelings space, and listen to what they are trying to tell you on a deeper level.
For physical health, get enough good quality sleep, get the right nutrition, and stay hydrated.
These things are basics, but it is worth remembering that great and successful lives work on a foundation of small disciplines. Get the little things right, and the more important things will be much easier to handle!
Recovery is a frequency.
I lived most of my life tuned to the frequency of addiction. I thought that the impulsive grasping at reward, and rejection of the mildest discomforts, was a reasonable and valid way to live. Not surprisingly, I attracted people into my life that lived on the same frequency. The frequency of addiction is chaotic and deceptive. It doesn’t always appear that way on the outside. I was an expert at maintaining my duel identity so that my addictions could thrive unnoticed.
Once addiction ended, two things needed to happen. One was to take a stand in the face of my old frequency. I had chosen to change my life, but that old frequency of addiction wouldn’t vanish overnight. The other thing was to start raising my frequency to a level where those old addictive behaviours could no longer take hold.
If you are starting in recovery, it is worth thinking about what is needed to raise your frequency. It can be challenging to know where to begin this cleanup. My first move was to stop associating with people who didn’t support my efforts to change my life.
Recovery is creative.
I’m often surprised when people tell me they are not the creative type. We are all creators in that we have at least had a hand in creating our lives as they are. Looking back to the dark days of addiction, it is easy to see how I created my life to be that way. Sure there were underlying factors that had not been dealt with, things that I didn’t personally choose, but I was responsible for the choices I had made in how I dealt with those things.
My life is a much better place now because I created it to be this way. If I can create a better life, anyone can, including you!
If you are just starting in recovery, I recommend taking some time to ask yourself this question.
What would I like to create?
Sit down with a pen and paper, and let the ideas flow freely. Some of the most creative and inspiring people I know are those with strong addictive tendencies. When creative energy is fueling addiction, it is not well invested. It’s time to set get it flowing in the right direction. It’s time to consciously create!
Recovery is a privilege.
Many people postpone recovery because they can’t face the thought of who they think they might be without their vices. We don’t realise the extent we have been a slave to something until we find freedom from it. Freedom is a privilege for those who have known slavery. There comes a time for some of us where we wake up to the full potential of recovery and see that it is a privilege worth investing ourselves in!
I wish I had known how lucky I was in those early days. I wish I could have known some of the things I know now. I wish someone would have sat me down and told me, but no one did. Not all who enter recovery awaken to the privilege of this freedom. Some secretly wish they could somehow go back to sleep, and carry on their old life in blissful ignorance. If you have read this far, you can know beyond doubt that you are not one of them.
If you are new to recovery, you may like to re-read the last two paragraphs and allow them to sink in. You don’t have to believe my words yet, but if you follow my guidance, you may find a place inside of yourself that accepts them.
Recovery is Transformative.
How could it be anything else? How could recovery be experienced as anything other than an incredibly transformative journey? It’s taken me many years to see it this way. If I could go back and speak just a few words to myself in that winter of 1997, it would go something like this.
“All is as it is meant to be. You are taking the journey that your soul agreed to. You will use everything that has happened as a means of forging your true character. Your pain will both heal and awaken you, and your work in this life will be to help others find the same freedom.”
Think for a moment. What words might your future self speak to you about where you currently find yourself, and your path ahead? What would your future self have you know if they could just speak a few words to you? What would your future self say that would give you that deep inner knowing that all is as it’s meant to be. That one day, as long as you stick to your path, the pieces of the puzzle will all come together most remarkably?