It’s Day Six of 2018. Is your resolve shaky? Are you rethinking your decision to change? To stay sober, stay sane, stay steady on your new course?
Are you starting to give into the voice that says: “Maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe I can stay the same.”
I get it. I hate change. Saming is my favorite.
Too bad for us.
I have a girlfriend who is in the Navy. A few years ago she received orders to Afghanistan. She is a sailor without combat experience, so you might think that she started asking a lot of questions. What lies ahead for me? What should I expect in my new world? What kind of work will be asked of me?
But she did not. She did not want the perceptions of others who had gone before her to cloud her own experiences. She wanted a blank slate.
This is not my way.
In order to function in times of change, I gather as much information as possible. I read books and interview experts and make notes. These notes then become my tools to function in my new circumstance. In that spirit, here are two truths my recovery coach told me years ago that continue to help me in times of change:
- Change is a motherfucker.
- Everybody white knuckles it sometimes.
Why change is so hard
“Motion and shapeshifting are great nourishers of the soul.” – poet Coleman Barks
We have spent years creating an environment that sustained our old, younger desires. That environment is filled with tools and skills and relationships that once served us, but no longer do. It takes work to extract ourselves from that space and understand how best to proceed (or not) with people who want us to remain the same. Those people may love us – truly, they may. But we are going to test that love by changing. We are going to develop new tools and skills and relationships. Our souls demand it.
What does this “real work” look like? For me, this work is monitoring my constant internal dialogue. Separating the wheat from the chaff. Are my thoughts true? Or are they self-defeating, ridiculous, spinning thoughts? Did I say the right thing to my friend? Could I have done that work project better? Am I parenting my boys right? Each of these thoughts can open up into a rabbit hole of quiet self-destruction.
For a long time, I used cocktails to stop the spinning thoughts. This worked like a charm. Until it didn’t. Today, I have chosen to be present in my life and not numb out/disengage. This means instead of shutting my thoughts down, I have to work to sort them out. I place a distinct pause in the stream of my inner dialogue; I recognize the fear that is most often driving the thought; I trust that I really am doing the best I can do and that this effort is enough; and then I continue my forward momentum.
THAT IS WORK. And to keep up the work, we need desire – visualizations of the good things that lie ahead and a deep belief that we can attain them if we just keep moving. Keep placing one foot in front of the other.
“The secret to walking in the South Pole is to put one foot in front of the other, and to do this enough times. On a purely technical scale this is quite simple. The challenge lies in the desire.” – Arctic explorer Erling Kagge
Say these words aloud: “Life isn’t fair. Thank god.”
If life was fair, my life – and yours – might actually reflect the harsh realities of some of our poorest choices. Think about all the near misses, the sliding doors and holy shit moments that we survived by the skin of our teeth. I do not think we walked away from those moments entirely unscathed. Instead, I believe they brought us here – to this moment – where we can understand our true desires.
Desire is the fuel that propels us forward into a new landscape. We have resisted change with all of our strength (btw: this is also an answer to the question “Am I strong enough?”). We may have even lost a decade or two in the process.
But our experts, our teachers, have taught us that nothing is wasted.
We are wiser. We know ourselves and we recognize our own bullshit. Our desires are now comprised of a very short list of non-negotiables, the things we know we can no longer live without: Peace. Healthy relationships. Joy. Self-love. Clarity. Trust.
Feed the fire of your desires. Do not give into the voices of despair and doubt. Know that there is hard work ahead. Wrap your mind around the truth that change is a motherfucker. Let your knuckles get white, so your soul can get stronger.
Get up, travelers. Get up and keep going.
From Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
Erin W. is the managing editor and lead writer for the She Recovers blog. She lives in Virginia where she has been working on and blogging about recovery since 2013. After years of trying to do recovery alone, she discovered the beauty of connection and friendship through She Recovers in 2017.
Good words … thank you
So true. Thank you for this
This a brilliant and informed blog. I needed this!
This is just what I needed. What a poem. Change is hard, but we’ve got help!
I am 11 days sober, white knuckling through today and yesterday, thought I “had this” three days ago; it’s my second weekend without wine and the couch – my old pattern was to always leave a little remaining in the bottle just to make me feel better the next morning (although my head was hurting or foggy), repeat. I love waking up feeling good but the evenings are a MFer!
Jackie, 11 days is huge. And yes, evenings are a MFer. People say “change your environment.” That’s hard when the “bar/cocktail party” is our couch. I recently put together this list of suggestions for getting through the first days/weeks. Maybe some could be helpful to you. I posted it on our She Recovers FB “secret” page. Are you on that? If you’d like to be, friend Dorothy Rae on FB and we’ll get you hooked up. My love to you.
1. Get a day counting app on your phone.
2. Fill your head with podcasts/books suggested above.
3. Tell your husband, your sister, your best friend, your therapist … whoever you think will SUPPORT you. But tell someone IRL. This is the life changer.
4. Jump in on the posts on this page a few times a day.
5. Pour out all alcohol in your house.
6. Know that everyone, EVERYONE, white knuckles it sometimes.
7. Only listen to the signs/messages that support your decision to not drink. If what you are watching/listening (in your head, on your TV, in your conversations) does not support this decision, turn it off/walk away.
8. Go to a 12 step/recovery meeting. Don’t overthink this. Just do it. One time. Just walk in and sit down and listen. Don’t feel like you have to say anything or give anyone your phone number or do anything but sit there like a bump on a log with your ears wide open. If you are afraid of someone seeing you, then go to the next town over. But GO.
9. If you can, book one of the retreats/LA event. Use this as a carrot to help you keep the resolve to stick with it.
10. Stop trash talking yourself in your head. Treat yourself like you would treat a friend whose in a shitty situation (b/c you are).
3 days again and this is exactly what I needed to read. Thank you.