What to say about the sky? I haven’t really known, so thus far, I’ve let my pictures do the talking.
The above was taken just a few hours ago in one of my favorite places on Earth: the top of the big hill on the main road into/out of Tyler State Park. The huge expanse of unobstructed, endless openness that greets you when you’ve hoofed your way up that steep incline has an effect that I can only describe as spiritual. Transcendent. Other-worldly. I’d say that the view “takes your breath away,” but unless you’re a world-class athlete, you don’t have much left to lose after completing the climb.
Today’s humid, stagnant morning air had me wheezing even more than usual.
Physically, right now, I’m not…shall we say…in great shape. At 13 months sober, walks in the park are my go-to form of exercise (when I do ramp it up to running, I head to the all-flat canal path). And at 42 years old, with a sedentary job and an increasing affinity for big meals, long naps, audiobooks and Netflix crime-show rabbit holes, I’ve…shall we say…lost some leanness from my old CrossFitting, strict-eating days.
It was an inevitable expansion, bound to happen once I chose to abandon my addiction to alcohol and address my mental health issues once and for all. Anyone who knew me as a pizza-housing, cheesecake-hoarding, egg nog-guzzling kid knows I was not born to be a skinny girl. Thickness, for me, is homeostasis. It’s my natural state.
Alcoholism and eating disorders were my attempt to erase the reality of who I am and blot out the confusion over what I’m doing here. Recovery, in contrast, is a crusade to embrace and explore.
We’re back in “hard to explain” territory now, but I never feel quite as equipped for this monumental mission as when I am out in the fresh, open air under a big, beautiful sky.
The 12-step program posits that a connection to a higher power is your path out of hopelessness, which I absolutely believe is true, whether you label yourself an addict or you’re just a regular old flawed human being. Even in the depths of anorexia (back in college) and the grip of dueling alcohol and attention addictions (basically all of adulthood), I understood deep down that the physical remedies I sought for a sick — maybe “unfulfilled” is a better word — soul were all a series of fool’s errands.
I knew the only true solution had to do with spirituality, but I had no clue what that meant, much less what it looked like in practice.
In the aforementioned recovery program, they talk about having a “spiritual experience,” and it sounds like it’s supposed to be a singular event. You quit using substances (maybe activities or people) to escape real life, and then you do this and that thing, and then you wait. One day, it happens. You don’t get “cured,” per se, but life gets better. The hole in your soul gets filled. You get “restored to sanity.”
My sanity still kinda comes and goes, so I’m clearly not there yet.
I actually think, based on my own experience, that “spiritual experiences” can happen every day. Anytime you’re trapped in the tunnel-visioned vicious cycle of work stress, financial strain, self-doubt, fear of the unknown, the future, the virus, the world, you can gain perspective on your problems by expanding your environment. Anytime you’re hearing the old sick soundtrack that drove you to drink, drug, shop, send texts, cruise social media, stare in the mirror and hate your body….you can get out of that stifling, claustrophobic head space and find solace in something bigger.
Any time you’re feeling hopelessly, insanely human, you can take a walk and seek out a swath of sky and say your prayers without even having to speak.
IDK…it works for me. 🤷🏼♀️ Come to think of it, it always has.
I remember staring up at the stars, awe-struck, at Girl Scout campsites or while out on the big back deck at my grandparents’ farm in Wisconsin. I remember sitting in a dark auditorium on a school field trip to Chicago’s Adler Planetarium and feeling something swell inside me as we toured the solar system via the gigantic domed projection screen above our heads. In those moments, I wasn’t high-strung or socially-awkward or terrified of failure or wrapped up in the pursuit of perfection. I was free.
It would be years before I started looking for that feeling in a bottle, a skinny body, the shallow assessments of strangers. It would be years before I started confusing spiritual hunger with a physical need for something tangible to be located, held, consumed and controlled.
Damn, that disconnect is the root of so much misery and wasted life.
Of course, hunger is a basic survival instinct, keeping us going — and growing — when we want to give up. It’s a healthy thing. I think for me, the key to living sanely, serenely sober in a (insert your own adjective) society is knowing which appetites to indulge, and which realities to embrace.
Walking through the park, looking skyward, I’m reminded that a well-fed, size-12 woman is nothing but a tiny speck in a vast, incomprehensibly beautiful universe. Thick or thin, we are all very small. Why that is so comforting to remember, I’m not sure there are words to explain.