Recently, I found myself repeatedly exposed to the idea that, for the alcoholic, learning to live sober is like learning how to breathe underwater. Taking a drink was like coming to the surface for air, a deep refreshing breath. That way of living was killing me. Sober, I have had to learn to live in a new way where I don’t go to that surface for air but stay breathing where it is a challenge and takes a divine gift. This gift I get through my spiritual connection to others and the world around me. Maintaining this connection is the most important thing I do.
I began to build this connection listening to others talk about their own experiences and learning how to relate to them. Instead of a dismissive attitude of disbelief, I was open to hearing that, once, these graceful, dignified women struggled as I did with the problem of drinking. Met with compassion and acceptance, I slowly began to believe that transformation was possible for me, too. Once that connection was made, I began to heal. My problems were not worse than those faced and overcome by many of the people whose stories were shared with me. I could and would be able to build a good life despite how bleak and desperate my situation seemed. I strove to make and maintain connection with women who reinforced that they feel as I do, think like I do, and insisted that recovery from seeming hopelessness was possible. I had never known such a connection to other people. It was authentic, deep. It carried the weight I needed to start breathing in a life without alcohol.
I began to work the 12 steps in my recovery program. These helped me discover what was blocking me from a full connection to my world and to others. I found a sense of a higher power by reducing the amount I relied on my ego self, a false self primarily fueled by that toxic type of fear that fuels reason to arrive at unreasonable conclusions. I no longer had to defend myself from the world and its people. I could be with the world, see what it brought to my life, and in doing so found a true self, a self which intuitively made better choices, who could navigate the ebb and flow of life with a heck of a lot more grace than the version of me that was always fighting to feel safe and protected.
In order to maintain a calm clarity and connection to this “true self,” I began the practice of meditating. I found it so useful in my 12-step routine, that I began to explore many ways to take a “sacred pause” to become quiet in my mind. The clamor of life can be noisy. My first reaction is that I need to act more, do more, be more. When I feel tense or disturbed, I learned how to stop and get quiet. Sometimes I found that the best thing for me to do was nothing, to let life unfold as it would. Letting go of the past, letting go of the future, letting go of even the present moment leaves me with only myself, existing in complete peace, pure, without motive or care. From this place comes an overwhelming sense of serenity which has carried me through some extremely intense moments of difficulty. It has taken daily practice, multiple times during the day. Giving myself 5 minutes of calm contemplation several times a day makes me more able to carry that peace with me as I carry out my tasks. That feeling of serenity is a sense of being fully connected to myself and what has been described as “a great inner reality.”
Learning to breathe underwater is a task I had to learn. I learned it from others, the wisdom of the ages, and through my experience with the 12 steps. I am no longer disconnected from the world by my addiction or my thinking because I take daily actions that keep me plugged into what life has to offer. The result is an immense gratitude for the life I currently have. Though difficult at times, I have a plethora of tools and friends who help me navigate and embrace the life I have been given. I am no longer alone but connected with others and myself in ways I never could have dreamed I could be while using.