Predictably, the drive from Chicago to Philly — which my hubby and I did Thursday in one fell swoop — knocked me flat on my ass. Every time we travel out to visit my family, the journey there is one big jolly sing-a-long, and the return trip seems like a never-ending chore.
So, it was noon when I finally dragged my body off the couch and away from the New Year’s Eve “Twilight Zone” marathon on SyFy, and went for a walk in the park.
No matter how lethargic and unmotivated I might feel, fresh air and movement never fail to give my brain a much-needed boost. I do my best thinking on the trails at Tyler State Park.
As you can glean from my happy face (yes, that’s a happy face), I do a lot better walking now that my hamstring has finally started to heal. Only took like a month and a half of lumbering around at an excruciatingly slow pace! 🐢🙄
The healthier I am physically, the clearer everything seems mentally, and there’s always plenty to process after recovery milestones and time spent with relatives.
Considering that my third sober Christmas was viewed through the eyes of a first-year Counseling Psychology grad student, I gobbled up even more food for thought over this recent holiday jaunt.
School has triggered my appetite for knowledge, and oh boy, the world sure is a feast for an aspiring therapist! I see every social situation or human interaction as a kind of study guide, an opportunity to observe my course concepts in action. I guess you could say I’ve become a student of humanity, and I relish any chance to learn.
(So, basically, I’ve given up hope of ever just blending into a group like a “normal” person. 🤷🏼♀️)
I used to look at myself as “the black sheep” or “problem child” in my family because no one else in my bloodline has admitted struggling with addiction or mental illness or “needing help” from a therapist. Relatives have said things to me like, “I don’t understand why you became an alcoholic. You had an ideal childhood!” or “Where did you get all this anxiety? You were always good at everything!” and it underscored this idea that I was different — and not in a good way. I was “other”; I didn’t fit into the imaginary box that families like to erect around their pretty little corner of the world.
Now, through experience and observation, I’ve learned that all people are deeply flawed and complicated beings who are struggling with something. Most people are stuck in some kind of habitual behavior pattern that doesn’t necessarily serve them or facilitate their pursuit of happiness. In many cases, they’re unaware that they possess the most incredible power in the universe: The power to change.
Harnessing this power has completely altered the course of my existence, and I look around and think, “You all seriously need to try this! It’s amazing!”
Please don’t get me wrong: Quitting drinking 2 1/2 years ago didn’t “fix” me, and even with the help of therapy and the 12 steps and hundreds of recovery/psychology books and podcasts, the process of self-discovery moves so slowly that it makes a hamstring injury seem like a quick hiccup. Actual progress takes constant work and a ton of patience, and it isn’t a straight-line journey from A to B to C that’s filled with nothing but sunshine and success.
Choosing to embark on this journey doesn’t make me “better” than anyone else. It just makes me a better version of me. And that change automatically ripples into my relationships, my work…everything I touch.
My philosophy on life can be boiled down to eight words: Everything. Gets. Better. When. You. Work. On. Yourself.
Or, my little sister’s favorite quote works here, too: “Everything you ever wanted lies on the other side of fear.”
So, even though my journey might not twist and turn in the same direction as the next person’s, our issues are pretty similar at root. Anxiety, depression, addiction, perfectionism, codependency, low self-esteem, people-pleasing, poor boundaries, rage, resentment, judgmental attitudes, a need for control, an inability to communicate effectively with loved ones…these are all symptoms of the human condition. They all spring from fear and underdeveloped coping skills. We don’t want to feel pain, so we stay stuck in our rut. We get comfortable in our misery. We snuggle up with the “devil we know,” believing it’s preferable to striking out into the unknown alone. Meanwhile, time keeps ticking, passing us by. Leaving us behind.
It seems so simple, but it can feel impossible to grasp: We don’t have to live like that! Anything that prevents us from improving our quality of life — obviously not including chronic disease, serious illness, mental/physical limitations or systemic social constraints beyond our control — can be changed if we are willing to push through fear and cope with pain. Or, if we are merely willing to ask for help with the pushing.
I developed this mentality over decades of tentative trial and colossal error, of flirting with change, then running away from it, and circling back again. Now that I finally stopped f*cking around and committed to doing the thing, I feel so empowered! I feel like as long as I keep walking this sober path and working on myself, no matter how rough the road gets, I can tackle every challenge life throws my way.
And one day, as a therapist, I feel like I can make a real difference in the world. I can be the hand that helps with the pushing when someone decides they, too, are ready to change.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I’m grateful for alcoholism and all the hard lessons it forced me to learn. If I hadn’t experienced a complete breakdown, I would have continued spinning my wheels forever and ever — or worse, run my life off a cliff. I would never have dug deep into my core issues and started laying a new foundation for a healthy and purposeful life.
Never again will I feel ashamed to be a recovering addict. That’s my “thing,” no different from anyone else’s “thing,” and wearing the label doesn’t mean I’m some broken, weak weirdo. I’m a normal human with normal problems who had the strength and courage to say, “The way I’m living isn’t working. I’m going to do something different, even though it scares the SHIT out of me.”
Everyone reading this has the power to do the same, if you so choose. My hope for 2022 is that you find it, feel it, and start walking your path.