“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” ~Rumi
As I stood on the doorstep of that rehab facility, I felt completely empty except for the overwhelming weight of anxiety and shame. In that moment, I wondered what all the normal people were doing today. How did they cope? And how was it that I couldn’t hack life and that things had spiraled so far down?
It’s hard to admit you have a problem. To be honest with yourself when you’ve numbed everything out for so long seems ridiculous. To finally share it with the people around you is also daunting for so many reasons, not the least of which is actually having to give up your most trusted coping mechanism.
At that doorstep, I felt at some strange in-between place. On one hand, I knew I had to leave the past behind me, and yet my future was something I couldn’t even begin to imagine. I had no wish for the future. No agenda. I was just desperate.
What had led me here was a brutal struggle with alcohol that had consumed my entire life. I had spent years trying to meet everyone else’s expectations and maintain the illusion of perfection in order to feel loved and accepted. I had never learned to feel my feelings or cope with tough situations in healthy ways, so when faced with uncomfortable emotions and circumstances, I numbed myself out. But this came at a huge price.
My job hung in the balance as did my closest relationships. And I couldn’t remember what it felt like to experience joy because you can’t selectively numb emotions. When you numb any, you numb all.
The other thing that had led me to this threshold was a very small and almost inaudible voice. I had this message that I needed to “come home” and that “I needed to do this by myself, for myself.” While I didn’t understand this message at the time, there was an odd comfort and something that got enough of my attention to get me here.
What struck me most as I found my sea legs there was that in this setting, I could finally be honest. I could say out loud that I had a real problem with alcohol, that my life was in shambles, that I was scared and that I felt hopeless. To be seen and understood is quite possibly the greatest gift that any person can receive.
That facility was filled with a cast of characters, but I was in no position to judge. I just saw the raw, authentic beauty of people owning up to their life thus far and genuinely trying to create some meaningful change. This was humanity laid bare. It was full of trauma and distress, and also humor, knowing, and compassion.
We were on a tight schedule with regular urine tests, limited exposure to the outside world, and no access to sharp objects. While I physically felt incredibly confined, my heart and my mind were gaining a freedom they hadn’t had in a long time. It’s funny how that happens.
I was beginning to feel things. I felt a lot of anger, shame, resentment, and fear. I learned that I was angry about a lot of things, including all the times I’d compromised myself to please other people. I was deeply ashamed, embarrassed, and sad that my life had spiraled so far out of control. I was also full of fear because my future was not something I could begin to imagine.
But I also started to feel freedom and hope, and we had some seriously good laughs. (Addicts do really ridiculous things!) I began to understand that feelings are big, and I’d only ever managed them by drowning them out.
I began to learn that when I feel these big uncomfortable feelings, I can let them move through me. And, when I make room to feel the crap, I also make room for joy, bliss, and a lot of gratitude.
I never thought I’d say it, but my recovery has, hands down, been my greatest teacher. When I removed alcohol, I was able to come home to a deep place within myself. I was able to make peace with her and even start to love her.
Self-love came slowly. It felt foreign to me. But, the prospect of it had a gentle quality to it. It felt inviting and hopeful. I could look at myself in the mirror and see past the puffiness and sadness into a part of me I knew more deeply. I felt like it was possible to reclaim the parts of me that made me feel alive. I started to ask myself questions like: What do I like about myself? What activities and people would bring me joy? How do I want to show up in my life?
I began to see that I’d put so much energy into avoiding my life, numbing out, and trying desperately to hide my addiction. I wondered what I might be able to do if I used that energy to create a life that I actually enjoyed. I also decided that if I was going to go to all of this trouble to turn my life around, I wanted to be deeply happy and create a life that brought me a deep amount of joy.
I began to make the tiniest daily choices to be on my own side. I started to take care of myself. That body that I had ravaged, I started to treat with compassion by nourishing it, hydrating it, moving it, and letting it rest. I came to understand that it was actually wise, and not only should I listen to it, I could trust it.
I sought out the help of doctors, therapists, energy healers, spiritual leaders, and anyone who could help me excavate everything I wanted to numb out—feelings of inadequacy, unhappy relationships, anxiety, and a deep sense of disconnection from myself—and release me to a future full of possibility. I just decided to be on my own side, love myself a little harder, and show up as my messy authentic self. That felt good, freeing and often, amusing.
Going to rehab was one of the best/worst things I’ve ever had to do. It was the worst because it felt like a last stop. It was the best because it absolutely saved me and was a gateway to a future I never could have remotely imagined. Recovering from addiction has been an incredible gift.
If you think going to rehab sucks, entering the real world sober isn’t a whole lot better. There are many times I remember why I wanted to numb this place out. We live an intense world that thrives on numbing out. Choosing to be mindful, conscious, and authentically happy is not for the faint of heart.
The difference now is that I am in charge of my choices. The voice in my head is a lot more like that whisper—gentle, encouraging, and compassionate. I reminds me that I am in the driver’s seat and that the simple, mindful choices I make in every moment have a profound and transformative impact over time. How I take care of myself, how I show up in the world, and all of my intentional actions can make a very big difference.
I realized that when I was saying “no” to alcohol, I was saying “yes” to me. I was saying “yes” to my health and vitality. I was saying “yes” to my mental health, my joy, and my peace of mind. I was also saying “yes” to the people that I loved and the kind of life I wanted to create. I was now living from a place of reverence for this human experience. Now, I wanted to celebrate it, savor it, and enjoy it.
We all have raw material in our lives, and it’s what we choose to do with it that matters. We can let the past torment us or we can meet it, acknowledge it, and choose to create a different future. We can breathe life into this new way of being.
Today, I make my well-being my top priority. I try to infuse my moments with joy. For me, this means simple things like listening to music I enjoy, getting outside, wearing my favourite color. It also means doing things that bring my mind, body and spirit joy—these things include yoga, meditation, journaling, getting a good night’s sleep, and drinking lots of water. I’m also sure to surround myself with good people. I believe that joy is a choice, and we need to open our hearts and our minds to let it in.
Recovery is possible, and so is joy.