I received a call yesterday from a girlfriend who I know from my 8 years in active recovery (for those of you who don't know, that's an addiction recovery program - Alcoholics Anonymous being the best known example). She was contemplating no longer going to meetings, or working a programme at all, and wanted to hear how "life after recovery" was going for me. The conversation was illuminating.
Let me start off by saying that recovery saved my life. At my bottom, suicidal thoughts were threatening to take me out and, without the help of meetings, the Steps, the Big Book of AA, my sponsor and my fellows I'd likely not be around today to tell this tale. So this is IN NO WAY designed to critisise recovery or anyone in it. It's simply my truth.
In 2015, after much deliberation and praying, I decided to stop working a programme. I had been struggling a lot. I knew I wanted to be of service, that my life was to be of service, but this felt like an old sweater that had grown too tight.
It felt scary, to say the least, stepping away from the structures that had held me through the worst time of my life, structures that had nursed me and brought me back to life. If I left, was I being like an ungrateful child? Was I saying it hadn't worked? Was I saying I was "fixed" or that I had graduated? Those thoughts kept me coming back for probably a year more than I wanted to. I didn't want my fellows to judge me, and I was judging myself too.
In the end it came down to the question of where I found my higher power. When I first landed in 12-step recovery I had zero connection to anything Greater than myself. I was a confirmed atheist who judged anryone who was religious or spiritual as stupid, desperate, or duped. Being welcomed by a community of people who had a LIVED EXPERIENCE of Higher Power made all the difference. "Pick anything you want as a Higher Power," my sponsor told me. "It can be fucking Micky Mouse for all I care. Just make sure that whatever it is, it's not you."
And so began my relationship with a Higher-Power-that-wasn't-me. At first it was a tree (funny, now I think about my deep connection to trees). ️️ Then it was a rainbow. After a while I didn't even care about using the "G word" (i.e. God). I was comfortable imagining this divine presence as God, Buddha, Allah, the ocean, trees, animals, you name it... What was important was that there was a LOVING FORCE that was there to soothe me when my brain was being nasty to me, or trying to convince me to do something unhealthy. Any impulse I had, I could stop, listen, get quiet, and contact that force outside of me for guidance.
At first this was very important. My instincts had been so warped by my addiction that I couldn't trust them. I needed to check in with sponsors and fellows to hear the Truth. I REALLY NEEDED THAT. When I checked in purely with my Higher Power, it still felt as if I was touching in with something that was separate from me, and my stupid human ways.
But then, as time passed, and my connection to my inner voice became stronger, I felt like I needed to check in with others less and less. Furthermore, I didn't want to label a part of me "a disease" anymore, as so many of us in the rooms did. And I didn't want to see that part of me as anything less than divine. I wanted to accept and love this place in me, not in a patronising way, but in a way that welcomed my anger, fear, and jealousy as a part of my wholeness as a human being...As a divinely human being.
The final straw came in 2015 in the form of a disagreement with my sponsor. I had 11 sponsees and felt overwhelmed and trapped. As someone who considered workaholism a primary addiction, it also felt out of step with my recovery in that programme. When I suggested to my sponsor that I would drop some sponsees, she told me that if God wanted me to have fewer then it would happen organically. Dropping them myself, meant I thought that I knew better than God.
That thought scared me shitless. Was I being self-willed? Was I being an ungrateful brat? Should I be thankful for the hours and hours of recovery work I was putting in every week, even if it often felt exhausting and frustrating?
And then, one day, I tuned into my body, and I knew. I knew that this was a crossroads. Was I going to continue to place my wisdom and Higher Power outside of myself, or was I going to embrace my own intuition and impulses as deep wisdom in themselves?
Today I recognize my wisdom as consisting of five parts:
That means that if I feel super drawn to something, I don't need to fear that desire, I can simply sit with it. If it's a longing for something that I know I can't have, then I don't need to dismiss or berate that feeling, I simply get to love on it, as part of my human experience. AND, if it's a desire for something that might be part of my unfolding story then I get to embrace myself as the Creatress, the Divine Weaver, the woman who co-creates with the Great Mystery to determine how fate will play out. I am not simply an observer, watching the unfolding will of a Higher Power who knows better than me. I am She. I am Goddess.
It's important to note that I don't see the 12-step rooms as a necessary barrier to this innate wisdom. In my case I ended up leaving them behind but I could equally well imagine a scenario in which I had stayed. This is simply the way it has unfolded for me, for this small being. This is simply the co-creation that this spirit has chosen for herself.
So what does my spiritual practice look like today? Actually, it looks a lot like it did when I was officially working a programme, just without the particulars of that space. I still need tribe - my sisters in NYC, in California and increasingly all over the world - with whom I gather regularly in person and online. ️ I still have spiritual practices, I still check in with my closest sisters when I want to talk things through, I still pray and meditate, I still see service and surrender and sisterhood as necessary parts of my continued well-being. Whilst in many ways it's the same, it just feels different somehow. It's a more embodied experience - involving a lot less attention to texts and a lot more to my bodily sensations. Nature also feels like a crucial component these days, as does ritual, ceremony and attention to my menstrual cycle. I know, I know...being in the rooms wouldn't stop me from doing all those things. I get it. But, I suppose what I'm saying is, I left, and I'm not dead, and I'm not sinking. I didn't collapse into an addiction-riddled mess and I didn't forget all humility and start acting like I know all the answers. My spiritual practices today are a continous weaving in and out of knowing and not knowing, of observing and creating, of surrendering and using my will for good.
I'll be forever grateful, especially to the four people who sponsored me.
And there is life after recovery.
A former birth doula in San Francisco, I now work a few hours from NYC (and Boston) as a "Soul Doula" - offering women one-on-one retreats to reconnect to their own innate wisdom and power through connecting to the cycles of Mother Nature and their own cycles. www.doulaforyoursoul.com