“Try to give it up to your higher power,” my mom wrote me in a text, shortly after we’d hung up from my second distress call of the week.
Her message popped in just before I left for an appointment to get my 3-years-sober celebratory tattoo, and my entire body was a crackling live wire of rumination and worry.
It wasn’t because I’m a needle-phobe, though. I got over that with tatt #2. The issue du jour — yet again! — was work.
In short, it’s a shitshow. The “other shoe” I was afraid would drop since I agreed to re-join this chaotic company on a part-time basis back in January…well, it appears to be in motion, spelling the imminent demise of my rough-and-tumble marketing “career,” about six months too soon.
I was counting on this paycheck to get me through my next semester of grad school, or until it’s time to transition from the 100-hour “practicum” that starts in January to the full-time internship our program requires in Year 3.
So, add financial stress to the ever-present professional anxiety/depression that’s been hanging over me since I left journalism and started over from scratch in my 40s, and I quickly slip into an emotional spiral. It’s so easy to lose perspective, abandon my recovery toolbox, and let my agita run amok!
This is why it hasn’t been the getting, or the staying, but the living, sober that’s toughest for me. Even after almost 3 1/2 years.
When your idea of “giving it up” for half your life was saying “f^ck this!” and escaping into intoxicated oblivion, you have no real concept of “a power greater than yourself” — other than the ABV of the booze. 🥴 You have zero practice connecting to that power in times of trouble — other than the bedtime prayers you said as a Sunday School student (“Bless Mom and Dad and my Samantha doll…”) Or methods you’ve seen modeled in media…😆
Learning to “let go” takes time. And to be thrust into turmoil every day with underdeveloped coping skills and no security blanket…I mean, the stress might not “drive you to drink,” but it sure as hell can drag you back into the miserable muck, wanting to “check out” in other ways.
So, yeah, I was wound up extra tight this week. It was crazy; I found myself simultaneously celebrating 41 months of freedom from alcohol and freaking the f^ck out about this job. And you could not script a better study in contradictions.
I specifically designed my new tattoo as a reminder: that we are part of something bigger, and we miss the whole point of life when we get wrapped up in our materialism, petty dramas, and all the desperate ways we try to control our circumstances.
I designed this tattoo as symbol of spirituality, as I understand it; to me, it’s less about dogma or worshipping a deity and more about simply getting out of myself. Stepping off the hamster wheel in my own head, so I can show up in the world and be present in the moment/for other people.
I have always felt the most spiritually awake and aware in the great outdoors, amid all the wondrous elements and forces of nature — grass, trees, water, sun, moon, stars, sky…
This ⬇️, for the uninitiated (or the “not old”), is the Ojibwe saying from the mysterious post-it note pinned to Tony Soprano’s hospital room wall while he’s laid up recovering from a gut shot. It always resonated with me, even back in the early aughts when Season 6 aired, and I filed it away with all the other self-help wisdom I was failing to actually apply.
“The great wind,” or “the universe,” is what I would call “God.” And “blowing around” in open space and fresh air lifts my spirit like nothing else ever has — nothing natural, anyway. There’s something about the woods, the mountains, the river and creek banks, and the massive expanse up above that…I don’t know… “scratches the itch” of emptiness inside me.
Meanwhile, mighty Earthly forces work to counteract that elevated consciousness. Underneath all the deep thinking (and colorful inking), the “higher power” struggle is most definitely real.
I suspect I’m not alone in this struggle. It’s tough, in general, to live in this world and keep faith, trust, and hope alive. It’s tough trying to surrender that “rugged individualism” ethos we were raised on, to relax the reliance on willpower and personal responsibility we were taught would lead to a “successful,” fulfilling life — and if it didn’t, it’s because we weren’t trying hard enough or there was something “wrong” with us.
That may be why my instant, knee-jerk reaction to every difficult situation seems to be CLENCH! 😬 CLING! 👊🏻 Shrink inward, narrowing my focus from the bigger picture to the granular bullshit! Spin off into a funnel cloud of catastrophic thinking, laying waste to all the hard-earned progress and personal growth that come with time in recovery! 🌪🙇🏼♀️
The (Tasmanian) devil is most definitely in the details for me, I guess you could say. It’s wild, really, that I can gaze upon the breathtaking beauty of daybreak in the peaceful stillness of my local park, or the glow of a starry night in the countryside (or select segments of suburbia) while my brain noisily churns through maddening minutia — emails, meetings, the machinations of trying, having, to make money — like a garbage disposal with no off switch.
So, with this tattoo, I seem to be saying one thing and doing another, and if there’s anything the world doesn’t need more of, it’s preachy hypocrites!
I truly do want to get better at “giving it up,” as my mom advised. If grad school, therapy, the 12 steps and quit lit have taught me anything, it’s that addiction springs from an inability to rise above the sludge of human existence and connect to our humanity. Emotional instability feeds our craving for comfort, and clinging to control is our way of coping with chaos, self-soothing uncertainty, or easing the pain of not knowing our fate and feeling unable to shape our own destiny.
If I wanted to remain a prisoner to all that, I never would have put down the booze 41 months ago and started the long, slow, draining climb out of my proverbial “rock bottom” hole.
My mom was with me the day I embarked on that journey — which, in hindsight, was as close to a “spiritual experience” as I’ve ever had or can imagine having.
It’s fitting, because Mom has always been the faithful one in the family. And even though I long ago stopped attending the Lutheran church she took me to as a kid, and I haven’t identified with any organized religion since age 19, she and I have talked at length about recovery and spirituality and how it’s all basically the same deal.
Recovery requires letting go of your control-freak death grip on self-centered self interests so you can be a useful/helpful person. That’s the goal of the 12 steps: recovery through unity and service. It’s also the essence of spirituality: aligning your energy with the kinship of all living things, taking your place in the grand scheme, and going with the universal flow.
That’s my goal in becoming a counselor, and it’s important to remember that as I navigate the latest rough patch in this means-to-an-end job. I am, in reality, bound for something better: a pursuit where the purpose trumps the paycheck. And isn’t that what riding this “great wind across the sky” is really all about?
The bigger picture of my career path — and my 41 months in recovery — is actually quite beautiful. I just need to step off the damn hamster wheel and let my higher self take in the breathtaking panoramic view…and BE GRATEFUL, for God’s sake!
So, yes, I get that mucking around with Earthly minutia is not the path to serenity…but that said, I must admit, I do like what I see when I look in the mirror (and I don’t regret spending the money). 😉
2 thoughts on “Elevation”
In spite of this upcoming news, you didn’t resort to a drink to get you through the day. That in itself, is big, really big! They say there’s a reason behind everything that comes our way. That being said, be patient with yourself and let the wind carry you. You are destined for great things in due time. Your patients will be the beneficiaries or your counseling. Of that, I’m sure. Just take it one day at a time as you have been doing for the last 41 months. You got this! 💪🏻🙏🏻
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You are so kind! Thank you so much for the supportive pep talk; it brought tears to my eyes. It means a lot that you took the time to read and comment! Happy holidays to you and yours! 🥰