Recovery Messages & News

Spiritual Growth, Mental Gymnastics – You Decide

By Michèle B., Grateful Recovering Addict
Written August 6, 2015 – 597 days sober

It’s a rainy day here in Calgary. The rain always gets me introspective on life and what it means. Today I found myself thinking about spiritual growth and what I am starting to identify as the stages of spirituality that I have been experiencing living in sobriety. Ok, that’s not entirely true. Today I found myself doing my usual internal beating and thrashing about trying to ‘figure out’ what’s going on up there in my head, getting all caught up in sticky thoughts and fantasizing about sticky situations I was going to scream and shout my way out of…and then it dawned on me – This is it. This is the spiritual growth I’m always attempting to calculate into fruition, seeking it previously in substances of pretty much any kind and now seeking it in books, recovery support groups and therapies, yoga classes and that ‘just right’ balance of vegan diet with a side of pepperoni.

I often times feel that trying to live in sobriety, in ‘awareness’, feels too microscopic, too analytical. There are an overwhelming number of sources for information – Anonymous Meetings, sponsors, group therapy and doctors, etc. You name it, I’ve gotten an opinion from it! Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed that I almost have myself convince I want to run in the opposite direction from this new way of life, back to something that, at times, I still perceive to be a ‘more comfortable’ way of living. (I know this is a lie that the addict within throws to the inner spheres of my head in hopes it’ll one-day stick somewhere but still, some days…)

So I was thinking about what it means to feel really uncomfortable in my own skin. What has happened around those times when I am most uncomfortable? I don’t mean the uncomfortableness of the past where I was out of control and couldn’t remember exactly what I was up to, but a true deep in the core of me, uncomfortable-ness. Where does the discomfort come from? What is the outcome? Why does it keep coming back? I wasn’t able to answer all of these questions but I did start equating my discomfort to my spiritual growth and to my deeper understanding of myself, as a human being, and how I interact with the world around me. When I am out of sync, the whole world seems to be. When I am feeling healthy and stay open to the ideas of a Higher Power, a spiritually enriched life that will change me for the better, I hold space for acceptance that I am who I am today, and tomorrow there is the possibility to shift who I am just a little bit. I think this is my spirituality taking hold and transforming me.

When I am unaware, I am not experiencing spiritual growth. As I start to learn awareness, I start in on a new stage of spirituality. I start on a path of spiritual growth and soul healing. Once I’ve entered into this stage, I can’t turn back, similar the cucumber / pickle scenario that we’ve all heard, you can’t unknow what you know. Awareness starts to grow in all areas as I am ready to permeate the different levels of myself. This can be (and has been on pretty much every single occasion) extremely uncomfortable. To witness, from the seat of self, how I have behaved and handled any given situation, in a not so favorable way, may warrant feeling uncomfortable. Feelings of anger, anxiety and shame to name a few, can easily turn into reactions. Suddenly my thinking became my feelings and my feelings became my reactions. Reactions like blame, rage, manipulation and deceit are all understandable to me, as my own shame creates these reactions as a self-defense mechanism against prior wrong-doing, wrong-action. This then increases the discomfort of awareness because it is re-affirming the learned negative behaviors still at play in my life.

Once this level of awareness is attained, I find I am now presented with a proverbial fork in the road, a new stage of spiritual growth presents itself for achievement. My Higher Power is demonstrating a trust in me, to make a decision based on my own awareness. The fork in the road is this – I can continue doing what I have always done, which always leads to the cyclical pattern of my uncomfortable awareness. Negative thinking – negative feeling – negative reacting, play over and over ad nauseam until a new course of action is chosen. This new course of action takes work. HARD work. Work I don’t always like to do, but it is in this work, that one achieves next level awareness and next level spiritual growth. Coincidentally both of these things are something I am actually looking for in my life. For me, both self-awareness and spiritual growth tend to bring about more discomfort! This discomfort comes also from knowing that I’m STILL living amidst my own learned patterns, made even more frustrating as it all started with the discomfort of how I WAS living amidst my own crappy behaviours…Never the less, once I can accept the ‘broken record’ behaviour of living my life on its own painful repeat, I have to believe that there must be a more effective way of handling these thoughts, as they turn into the same
uncomfortable feelings.

It is here that I find myself today. I am ready to work through alternatives. Again, the fork in the road. One way leads towards a reaction that will bring a more positive outcome, such as talking through my uncomfortable feelings speaking in the first person. I can do this by journaling or literally talking to myself, or even better, by sharing with another person. What I mean by ‘speaking in the first person’ is sticking to the facts of my own feelings and not the facts of another’s wrong doing. This is important to note, so as not to once again find myself going the other way, back down the rabbit hole of reacting in anger, self-defense or blame towards others. Instead, I work on owning my feelings, on owning how I ‘used to’ behave, and how I ‘just’ behaved. Discussing it openly and praying on it. Praying for guidance that will lead me out of the muck and mire of my own head and into the light where my awareness lives.

None of this comes easily to me but over time, even if I start to acknowledge myself and my self-will (*run riot”), and even if, afterwards I get emotionally overwhelmed, and EVEN if, I react negatively towards others, I have set in motion some positive change within myself. Working towards a different outcome stops the soul hole from continuing to expand. It takes the cycle ever so slightly off track, deviating away from what I’ve ‘always’ done. Over time, with enough practice in curbing that self-righteous will within me, I will find that I am ready for the other alternative, the other path at that fork in the road.

This is the path of non-reaction. That’s right kids, NON-REACTION. Like not reacting…at all. At this stage of my spiritual growth I am thinking this is clearly a myth. Just kidding. Seriously, at this stage I am ready to look at each situation and start to trust myself even more to make a right decision. The decision being ‘Do I need to react?’ This is not the same as ‘Do I want to react?’ I already know the answer to that question. Of freaking course I do!!! Many of us may always ‘want’ to react. We may always ‘want’ to scream or blame, deflect and deny. I know I do. However, this realization is now more a matter of acceptance and not action. Can I accept that I may want to tell someone off and in the same moment, see that I do not NEED to do that? Accepting that the thoughts lead to negative feelings and boom, yup, there they are, those negative feelings. Can I accept those feelings too? Can I start to see that those feelings don’t require any reaction from me? This is a whole new kind of awareness. The awareness within the awareness that I have now taught myself (With guidance from my Higher Power of course. I can’t really do spirituality alone… believe me, I’ve tried).

As in previous stages, I may be aware that no reaction is necessary and yet there I am, reacting all over the damn place. Against all that is logical within me, the aggression or the sadness, or whatever that uncomfortable feeling manifests itself into drives a reaction. The difference is that this time, as I observe myself, I KNOW that no reaction is needed, but I had one anyway, like déjà vu. Also like déjà vu, I immediately accept the conditions of my life in that moment. I slowly peel away the layers. I slowly reveal myself to myself at a pace that only my Higher Power will decide on really. With self-love (not shame) and with patience (not expectation) I will slowly become a more ‘casual thinker’ so to speak. The hard work will (I have faith) pay off and all that work will transform into new habits.

These habits will always find places to be exercised. The people closest to me can at times be like a mental gymnasium. That’s life. If I am lucky enough to be breathing, I am blessed to be given all of these challenges along my path of spirituality, my path of enlightenment. These challenges may only appear logical to my Higher Power, my Goddess within. Even that, the need for reason and logic, will transform to a kind of acceptance. I will learn overtime that with awareness, and the practical application of spirituality in my daily life (praying, meditating, trusting and accepting), that within all of life’s daily ups and downs, triumphs and challenges, the truth will be revealed. These truths are gold, gifts from my Divine Goddess straight into my Universe, my world, my heart. They will broaden my understanding of myself.

Who if not myself, is most worth getting to know, and learning to love? My relationship with my Higher Power will always guide me but only when I am open and working on awareness. She is just there, inside of me, waiting to share with me all of her beautiful mysteries. Now untangle yourself from this web of confused awareness I have just ensnared you in and ask your Higher Power about it. Go forth and be the Amazing Spiritual Being that you truly are.