Recovery is difficult to define and every time I've tried, I've given up because words seem shallow, in trying to describe its depth.
Yes, the standard definition is to recover what was lost and for me, that was a connection to Jesus, my mother and writing. There is more, but those are the big ones. When I first came into recovery over ten years ago, I was not connected to any of the things that created me and hadn't been since I was about twelve years old. My life had been going in the wrong direction for quite some time, until I came into recovery and tried to live a different way. It's bigger than that and this is where I struggle to define it in a way that can be understood by another, or even by myself.
Basically, when I am not connected to the things that make me, ME, I am lost without a sense of direction and purpose. I don't know which way to go or what decisions to make around my relationships, work or free time and I have no moral compass to guide and direct my decisions. As an adult, I can do whatever I want, but doing whatever I want has consequences that can cause pain, chaos and unmanageability in my life and in the lives of my friends and family. When I make choices out of fear, discouragement and despair, I can keep going in the wrong direction, one choice at a time and it can cause me immense frustration to be constantly turning around and starting again. It causes me so much frustration and disappointment that it would be far easier to pick up a substance to make it all go away, at least for a little while, then it would to persevere and keep trying again. So, I strive to live by spiritual principles that encourage me to make choices based on my hope and faith in God and trust in His plan for my life, making decisions based on the truth, which also happens to be the definition of sanity. To live sanely, seems a worthy goal to attain.
This doesn't mean I need to be a Jesus-freak or Bible-thumper, but it does mean that I need to honour who I am, what I believe and how I was raised. To sin is "to miss the mark" the mark or goal being to live as Jesus did; in a loving, forgiving and helpful way. That's a super simplistic definition, but it will have to do. If you replace the word sin, with mistake, it might make more sense. I still miss the mark and make mistakes on a daily basis, but the difference is today I don't go out and engage in addictive behaviours or substances to make it go away. Instead, I work a “program of recovery” around it. In recovery, I face where I "miss the mark" not work hard to avoid it. In that respect, I've taken out the middle man, the substance and behaviours, and go straight to the source. For me, that source is Jesus.
I know how it feels to be separated from God and I never want to experience that feeling again. I have fully recovered my relationship with Jesus. I know I am forgiven and loved and I strive to live according to His will for my life.
My relationship with my mother was the first intimate relationship I had with a human being and its importance continues to impact my relationships today. For the longest time, I thought all my issues were about my relationship with my father, but the further I go into my recovery and personal development, the more I realize the significance of my relationship with my mother. For the longest time, I thought she didn't care about me. The quieter she was, the louder I became, until eventually I just gave up talking to her at all. I took her tendency to avoid conflict, to retreat inside herself and her quiet way, very personally. I made how she showed up in the world, about me. I wanted her to be different; more verbal and emotionally demonstrative of love, but that wasn't her way, that was my way. Once I finally admitted to myself that I really did want a relationship with her, instead of being resentful about not getting my needs met in our relationship, I began to take the lead by asking my mother for what I needed from her. One day, I remember stopping everything and standing in front of her, tears in my eyes and saying "I love you, Mom - Do you love me?" It was one of the most vulnerable times in my life, to ask the most important person in my world, if she loved me. There was a HUGE PAUSE until she said "Yes, of course I do. Now, stop being weird and get out of the way of the tv!"
In those early days of recovery, it was almost funny being so awkward in trying to live in a different way, trying to say all the things I would normally just think, out loud. It was foreign and terrifying to me, to take the time to identify what my needs were and then gently ask for them to be met. I was used to feeling strong, by being bossy and demanding, so to be willing to accept that I may ask for what I need and not get it, but still be willing to try - for me, that was real change. These were the courageous acts that began changing my relationship with my mother and the world. My children and I lived with her throughout the early days of my recovery process and she saw the very worst of me, as I fought against the erratic, selfish and self-centred parts of myself and lost the battle more often than I won. I never had any peace because I kept creating chaos, but I couldn't see how to stop. I kept trying to fix my life, but because I was going the wrong way, the more I tried to fix things, the more they fell apart. Only out of pure desperation, did I become open to the idea of seeking God's will, not my idea of God's will, for my life. There is a big difference and these big ideas are hard to condense into small, quick blog posts! More on that another day.
Anyways, when things didn't turn out how I expected or hoped, it was with LOUD overwhelming tears of rage, pain and desperation that I processed my lack of control over my life. My emotions can overwhelm me at the best of times and this was before I was diagnosed or medicated, so I had LOTS OF BIG FEELINGS. Through it all my mother told me, again and again, out loud, that I was safe, everything would be okay and she loved me. She walked with me, sat with me, talked with me, hugged me and held my hands in the softness of her own to ask me if she could pray for me. She was everything I wanted her to be when I was younger because, in my recovery, I found the courage to tell her how I much I loved and wanted a relationship with her. First it was different, then it was good, but it was absolutely what I needed so desperately at the time; to see, hear and have evidence that I was loved. She never left me. Never shut her door on me and my children, even though people in my family told her she should, that it was time to let me go. Instead, she told them to mind their own business. When I was weak, she was strong for me. Words aren't enough to convey what it meant to be so close and loved without conditions, by the woman who had carried me in her womb and birthed me into existence. For her to see all the ugly parts of me and never waver in her love or decision to be by my side. My mother showed me that I was worthy of loving, by loving me. In return, I learned how to love her back and to appreciate her quiet, loyal and steadfast nature, to see and acknowledge her, instead of always demanding our relationship be all about acknowledging me. It brought me back to myself in a way I can't even begin to explain. That to me, is recovery. I recovered the love I have for my mother and her love for me. What a gift to have that bond restored before she passed away.
Today, I bring that unshakeable love with me into my relationships with my children, myself and others. Her love is always with me, never leaves me. I've heard it said that the relationship with our parents is where we first develop a concept of God and before recovery, God and my parents were all very far away and out of reach. Today, even though both my parents are deceased, in some ways I feel closer to them than I've ever been because their concern, loyalty and softness toward me, live very securely, in my heart. No one can steal that from me. As the only child of my mother and father, I have fully recovered their love for me. I know they loved me and I strive to live as a person worthy of time, love and attention from myself and others.
As for writing, I have always written. I rarely remember speaking much as a child, until I became I teenager and began yelling about everything, especially all the "elephants in the room" that no one talked about. I wanted ACTION & CHANGE and I wanted it RIGHT NOW! Of course, I didn't get it, so then I went back to not speaking. Truthfully, I don't think anybody noticed one way or the other. Writing has always been much safer than speaking, so whatever happened, big or small, I wrote about it. I have written daily, but at the very least weekly, since I was about eight years old. Writing was where I marked all the things that mattered because writing was where I mattered. It was the place where my feelings were heard, my thoughts were processed and I could ask WHY? the things, people and places were the way they were. It was the first place where my inner world became visible and a place where I could see I existed —I could see ME. I still feel more comfortable writing than speaking because I have space to think and develop my thoughts before they are examined for errors and often, I talk too openly and reveal too much when I speak. This is because I'm truly terrible at small talk about nothing and the one thing I've never been able to stand is heavy silence. I like silence, the comfortable kind, when there is nothing beneath it. But silence with the weight of things unsaid, is painful and uncomfortable for me. I guess that's because I grew up in silence where nothing was discussed openly. But, truthfully, I've stopped caring so much about the small mistakes I make, as I've made peace with the flaws in my writing and in myself. I would rather say it imperfectly, than never say anything at all.
When I came into recovery, my writing changed. I started to pray over it, that it would be useful to someone struggling or feeling alone, which gave it a new sense of purpose and it was kind of thrilling, to show up to the page to write and some lesson, wisdom or insight would be revealed to me as I went along. I wasn't alone in my writing anymore. God was in it now and it was different —as though we were writing it together. Until recovery, I didn't realize how many years of my writing had been focused on thinking I was taking control and instead, I was actually repeating a vicious cycle of patterns and problems, rather than having an open mind to spiritual solutions. Recovery groups and writing the 12 steps (multiple times, in multiple groups) has improved my ability to connect with myself and my writing, but it does require my attention. It's kinda like a jealous lover of sorts, it won't show up to love me unless I value its place in my life. I've learned to show it I care by giving it my time, space and energy because I know how it hates to be rushed.
Half of life and writing, is just showing up and letting it happen. I show up, but its in control. It's it’s own thing, separate from me, but also a part of me, which is why it’s kind of hard to explain. Writing is the action I do, that makes me feel most like myself. It is a BIG part of who I am and what makes me, ME. Before I entered into recovery, I forgot I was a writer! Can you even believe that? It seems so strange when I think that I could be so separated from my thoughts, feelings and emotions, that I could forget that I have a skill —almost like having amnesia. But it happened, I forgot myself. For the longest time, since I was about twelve, I thought I couldn't write or create without a substance to sustain and inspire me. Today, I have recovered my ability to write honestly, from my heart —as though I am still a person, writing to myself, trying to understand myself and the world around me. It is my version of dancing, like no one is watching. My hope is to be an honest, useful writer, that writes with courage and conviction to help both writer and reader, connect to ourselves and our Higher Power.
So that is recovery for me - I told you it's hard to define! To recover what was lost, means all of what makes me, me; what I believe, who loves me and what I can do —all of the strong foundations on which I am meant to build my life. Without them, I keep going the wrong way, on the wrong path, trying to be someone better than who I am and too stubborn to stop, turn around and find a new way. Recovery, to me is when I stop living by default and start living on purpose and it has been a fight of equal parts strength and surrender to reclaim my life —to not allow substances, circumstances, systems and definitions to have the audacity to try and tell me who I am.
So, what is Recovery, to you? What are the parts of yourself that direct and define your choices, your path in life? What is the gift, skill, or talent that you have with you, to help you, as you walk that path? What is not working, no matter how hard you try? What do you need to accept, to move forward? Where do you need the courage to risk being vulnerable, to do or say to the people in your life? Who/What do you believe in and how does this belief shape your choices in your life? What are the character traits of your Higher Power? Do you trust that there is a plan for your life? What parts of yourself have you lost, that you desperately need, to survive?
I encourage you to journal about these things to connect to yourself and your Higher Power, to find the answers you need.
For me, recovery was critical and finding a new way to live essential and that required turning my belief into action. For me, that meant quitting smoking, drinking and engaging in unhealthy relationships because that turns love and care for myself into action. But, did that mean I had to call myself an alcoholic or an addict? Why couldn't I just stop drinking, smoking, etc? Why did I have to call myself anything? Or go anywhere?
Let's talk about that next week.
Frances Stone, Ms. Recovery Writes
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Thanks for reading!
Chapter Three is Sunday, Oct 29
of #firstdraft #blogyourbook
Frances Stone is the Author of A Reflection of Love ~ A Different Kind of Love Story, a Recovery Counsellor and a Radio Co-Host of Talk Recovery Vancouver, a show about addiction and recovery issues, located in the DTES of Vancouver, BC. In her spare time, she does laundry and mothers three clever, curious and challenging little humans.