I have been reflecting lately on the process of recovery and sobriety, growth and change. In some ways, early sobriety was a lot harder than it is now, but in other ways it was easier. In the early days, there was a lot of day by day, minute by minute, wrestling with my addictive behavior and struggling to learn new ways to live. Yet, the goals I was working toward were concrete and specific: don’t drink, practice honesty, reach out to people, be kind to yourself.
Now though, I am many layers deeper in the issues that have me tangled. Of which alcohol abuse was only one, thin layer. Things now are more complex and less straightforward. My habits and reactions and perspectives at this stage also seem that much more ingrained, having had the benefit of time to cement themselves in my being.
These days seem harder, the nights longer and more fitful, and my hold on hope feels more tenuous. I feel like I am fighting myself all the time; I am often unsure of what exactly my aim is anymore, or if I really want to get there anyway. I feel as if my stamina is exhausted, and I don’t know how much farther I can make it.
I am just finishing that book I started months ago, by Dan Allender, on sexual abuse recovery. At the end of the book, he breaks the healing process into different stages. One stage he calls Entering the Dark Woods, about which he writes:
“This stage begins to put flesh to the bones of our life and intensifies a lot of heartache and internal war. The changes provoked by the journey will disrupt most of our core relationships. We may feel as if we are in a freefall. Everything is a mess, and if it were possible we would levitate ourselves back to the tame path and return to base camp. The problem is that we can’t go back and we are terrified to go forward.”
Allender calls the very next stage Crossing the River, which he writes “is dirty, painful, and slow -very slow. [During this stage] the struggle with sabotage intensifies, and travelers often return to self-harm, sexual darkness, or addictions”
I’m a mix of both those stages right now. Very much feeling the inability to go back, but also the equal terror of moving forward. As well as a renewed intensity of both desires and acts of self-sabotage. All the internal structures I built over the years are built around generally unhealthy ways of coping, of shutting myself down, of numbing and ignoring. I am practiced at functioning amidst stress and trauma. I am terribly unfamiliar with actually addressing my wounds and caring for them.
In fact, I would say I am woefully unequipped for “dealing” with things. My version of “dealing” mostly involves making superhuman efforts to go beyond my issues, without ever sorting through them and allowing them to change and heal.
But then again, that’s not entirely true. Certainly it feels that way, and there is some truth that I have lots of bad coping habits. Many of which are coming into the light more clearly as I continue to work through things. Which is when I start to feel that this uphill battle may be a little too uphill for me to handle.
I was pondering this the other day as I was driving to an AA meeting, contemplating how I am almost four-years sober and I feel like I am saying the same things I was saying four years ago. Which is when I have the conversation with myself that I am having here.
Things are harder now. More complicated and more deeply entwined. But I am more equipped to handle things now. Which is something I don’t always realize in the moment. Because I am still building the skills I need to match my more formidable circumstances, and that is a daunting and difficult process.
When things are as dark as they are for me right now, it can seem that however far I have come is not really that far after all. It can seem that this current darkness is just as black, maybe blacker, than the darkness that has been there in times past. Because the darkness is so intense, I regularly forget that the light I have to combat it is steadier and stronger. The pale light I have in my hands appears so weak against the vastness of what is surrounding me. But I, and my tools, have grown in proportion with the challenge of facing my demons.
Circling back to the beginning of this post, yeah the challenges I faced a few years ago were less complex than the ones I face now. But it is thanks to facing those things then, and facing into progressively harder things, that I am able to be where I am now. Now, when I have the support system I have, the confidence in faith I didn’t have to the same extent then, the strength to make fewer of the harmful choices I was making then, the ability to hold on even when I have no certainty that I can hold on through this. But doing it anyway.
Overall, this season in my life feels pretty shitty. I am thankful for a lot of things, but most days I would hand this all over and quit if I could. Even on the best of days lately, it’s a miracle that I am still standing -I started writing mercy there instead of miracle, but honestly it doesn’t feel like a mercy to keep on living, so I edited myself. That’s the truth of it. It’s ugly and raw, and I hate it.
But I am grateful. Grateful that, while twenty-eight years feels like too long to live miserable and hurting, I am fortunate to be working through all of this while I am relatively young. I am grateful that I have three-and-a-half-years of sobriety under my belt, as well as the supportive community and resources that has brought with it. I am blessed to live shoulder-to-shoulder with brothers and sisters who are as messy and tangled as I am, who do what they know how to help me, and who are able and willing to be passionate about my life when I do not know how to do that for myself.
Some days I can just as easily resent these gratitudes as I can appreciate them. I feel the heaviness and rough, cutting texture that is the underside of all things. I feel the work of it. The injustice and impossible pain of it all. I don’t know how to bear it.
But I look back and see the path I have walked. I see that I am bearing it. I don’t understand how, I don’t often understand why, but, by the grace of God, I am still moving forward.