Seeking Sanity: A Recovery Perspective

I have been sitting on this blog for a little while. I would say it has been slowly forming since 11/9/16. My thoughts and emotions have been heightened along with a good majority of people in the world. I have bounced from fear, confusion, sadness, outrage, shame, concern and ambivalence to a feeling of trust and ease. Then I’ve bounced all around again multiple times. We are all being bombarded with facts, ideas, perspectives and opinions. In the midst of this, it is hard to know what is real. It has prompted me to take some time to listen to the silence in between the noise and allow my own ideas to arrive so I could write. My aim was to write from a place of calm and clarity rather than write from an emotionally charged place. And, now eleven days after the election, I am clear enough to sit and put ‘pen to paper’. I’ve decided to pass some wisdom along that has been gifted to me as a person in recovery from alcoholism.
My life has been shaped by my recovery which I have committed to for 23 years and 8 months. I have needed to fill up a very large toolkit in order to not take a drink in all that time. Life has tested me in many ways since I began on this path so many years ago. There were times I battled with depression, anxiety and deep grief. I have been present for many dramatic and traumatic events in the world. Throughout it all, I have used recovery practices to support me, buoy me and help me create a rewarding life. Now these practices are second nature. Because of this, I am able to call upon on these tools to keep me sane amidst the current political climate. I know many people in the recovery community who are doing the same. I also bring these recovery tools to my role as teacher, therapist and artist because they really work. So, now I share them with you, my reader, a list of recovery practices that are at the top of my toolbox.
The concepts on this list originate from 12-step programs, but also have been enhanced by many people from whom I have been lucky to receive guidance from along the way:
  • Be of Service: If I can be useful during this time, and help at least one other person feel a little more grounded, a little more trusting, a little more safe, this improves my life. This is one of the most fundamental things I’ve learned in recovery. Time and time again I see the wisdom in this advice. If I do something thoughtful or useful for someone else, I feel better about myself and the world. Since fear and resentment are often fueled by self-centeredness, I have found that making the effort to listen to someone’s struggle, do a kind act for another person or a group, or support a cause I believe in takes me out of myself. It also gives me a sense of purpose, which brings a feeling of well-being and connection.
  • Find Gratitude: No matter what is happening, I have found that there is always a slice of goodness somewhere. It is powerful medicine. This is not meant to trivialize pain or invalidate feelings, but instead simply asks a change of perspective. A warm bed, tasting coffee in the morning, receiving a smile from a stranger, these little things can increase peace of mind. And bottom line for me – if I’m in a more relaxed and grateful place, I am so much more effective in my life.
  • Meet Calamity with Serenity: This takes a lot of practice and I work to find balance and ease when the ‘shit hits the fan’. This requires introspection in whatever form works for me in the moment. It can be prayer, meditation, doing some art, walking with mindfulness, exercising, dancing, or simply resting. I need to be resourced and shored up to get ready for whatever challenge is up next. This also requires me to notice when fear starts running the show. I have found it so helpful to write my fears to get them out of my head. When my fears don’t go away, I find it helpful to talk to someone else and get a reality check. Most of my fears are usually not based in reality, but some of them are. When I identify which fears need my attention, then I am more informed on how to act.
  • Take it One Day at a Time: This is basic stuff and most people have heard this adage. I first learned to not pick up a drink one day at a time, and then to endure painful feelings one day at a time, to deal with stress and uncertainty one day at a time and to manage grief one day at a time. So, today I face the unknown future of my country and worry about how it will affect my life and lives of people I love. I’m doing it one day at a time. When it gets especially difficult, I can do it one hour at a time.
  • The Serenity Prayer. This prayer has been a saving grace for me and so many others. It goes like this, ‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.’ This prayer was coined by the American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr and started being used in sermons in 1934. (Wikipedia). I looked up historical events from 1934. Hitler was coming into power, Gandhi was engaging in civil disobedience acts, Duke Ellington was at the height of his fame, Babe Ruth was playing his last season of baseball, and there was an earthquake in India/Nepal that killed over 10,000 people ( Life is always full of beauty and tragedy. There is so much I cannot control. I have realized that one of the only things I can control is my own behavior and how I respond to what happens in my life. Acceptance gives me space to breathe. I can’t fight reality. But I need to balance acceptance with courage, so I can take action on my beliefs and convictions where I am able. And the wisdom to know the difference? I come back to my need for time to listen in between the noise. This directs me to the small part I can play in the big picture.
None of this is rocket science and many of you may be familiar with these basic ideas, but the operative word for me has been ‘practice’. I need to be reminded on a daily basis that my day will be brighter, and much more productive, if I am practicing these principles in my life. Otherwise it is easy to spiral into negative thoughts and behaviors which brought me into recovery in the first place. Now more than ever, I am seeking sanity.
If you have any comments or questions, I would love to hear from you. Or find out more about my individual session work, teaching and creative work.