The topic was "openness and willingness"and the young alcoholics shared their frustrations with not getting it right: a false judgment they'd had about a co-worker, or a pointless fight with a boyfriend, a fear of failure, or just an impending sense of revisiting the same issues over and over. "Are we just not being open and willing??" they seemed to be asking themselves and the room.
Then an older woman who's been in the program a long time spoke her turn. "You can feel pissed that things don't turn out the way you want 'em to but I can tell you one thing: you won't get anything until you're ready and you can't control when that happens. Let that shit go and you'll be ready when you're ready."
Back in August, on my "virtual" birthday, I decided to quit a lot of things, not just booze, but drugs and men, too. At the time I thought I might just do it for a few months, but each day was further and further from some kind of I-can't-go-back threshold. Well, that was the case with alcohol and drugs anyway. It was much, much harder to quit my addiction to romance, to quit what I thought was "love" and the men, fantasies, and the emotions I'd attached to it. This is the one area I've really, really had to learn the very, most fucking rock hardest of ways.
The month of September would be my self-imposed month of healing. First, I gave two weeks notice at my job, proposing I freelance for them. They accepted. I budgeted savings for a few months and would get work when the time came. I thought if I was still burnt out, I'd work early mornings at a bakery or take any job that paid the bills - I honestly didn't care (and was very privileged not to) because I just wanted to clear everything out. I booked a trip to New York to take a self-help coaching course called "Change Your Life", an immersive weekend intended to help confront one's deep-seated fears, toxic patterns and ultimately, emotional blocks. Following that weekend, I booked an intense yoga and meditation retreat. That would be September. A total turnaround, I guess.
I thought it was going to be hard. I thought I would have to descend down a long tunnel, crawl across muddy earth, dig into ratty, overgrown graves, then push through a tornado to find myself on the other side. Here begins the long, arduous journey to self, I thought. But it wasn't like that at all. The strange and wonderful thing was that I was so, so close to me. I was actually right there. I just had to get out of the way. I had to get out of my own way. I'd feel myself dialing up the drama, chaos and distraction, and hear: sshhh just get out of the way.
A year before that, after falling down drunk and badly injuring my shoulder, I'd heard: slooooow down. I was moving slower, but I still liked to make messes just so I could clean them up. I wanted everything to be unjust and hard. I did. Me. Getting close to myself meant actually seeing myself action by action, projection by projection, poison arrow by poison arrow and I could only do that at a very slow pace, with substances and toxic relationships out of the way, self-care driving at the center. Now nothing could come between me and myself.
Were these the primary inklings of self-love?
At "Change Your Life" weekend I plopped down just in time for the first session on Saturday morning. The leader went around the group and asked why we were all there. One woman said she had a difficult relationship with her daughter and wanted tools to repair it. Another guy said he was there to fix his business. A couple answered together saying they were looking to heal from recent infidelity, not saying whose.
"I just quit my job, quit an affair, quit drinking, quit smoking and I'm here to get real," is what I said. We got into the nitty gritty of our families, our psyches, and our sorrows on the first day. By 5 o'clock, I was done. I sat back onto the couch near to an older man named Harold, the guy looking to fix his business. "So you're in recovery?" he said.
"Um, I'm not sure if I am. What does that mean?"
"Oh so you're not in the program?"
"Like AA? No..."
"You said you'd quit drinking so I thought you might be."
"Ah yeah, I just quit drinking cause I'm trying to clear out all the stuff that clouds my brain..."
"Good for you. How many days?"
"I guess I'm on week 3 now. Yeah 21 days or something. It was pretty hard at first but now I'm feeling like I'll never drink again. I feel pretty good."
Harold and I went for coffee and talked for hours about addiction. I'd never seen myself as a legitimate addict, an occasional one perhaps, but not like "those people" who were "real" addicts or alcoholics. But the more I spoke with Harold and heard about his journey to recovery (a harrowing and fascinating one), the more I saw exact parallels with my own life, not just in substance consumption but in the obsessive thinking and repeated patterns that had become exponentially worse since my divorce. I had a total Oprah a-ha moment: I'm a fucking addict.