The truth pattern of recovery: Clarity. Rock Bottom. Acceptance. Gratitude.
Lately I have developed a healthy fear of answers. Answers seem to have too much rigidity around them. Black and White. You’re Wrong, I’m Right. Answers tend to turn ugly, quickly. I much prefer truth patterns – overlapping similarities – in the stories of my friends and in the lessons I find in books, blogs and podcasts. Truth patterns allow me to make sense of my life and be more comfortable living in it, even though it is quickly becoming devoid of hard and fast answers.
As I listen to and read stories of women recovering from addiction, adultery, divorce, or trauma, I have noticed an overriding truth pattern to all of our stories. It goes like this: First we have a Moment of Clarity. Then we have our Rock Bottom Years. Then we enter the Acceptance Phase. And finally Gratitude finds us.
Moments of Clarity are often mistaken for a rock bottom. Moments of Clarity are dramatic bursts of hard truth. They are an epic hangover, a terrible fight, a hospital visit, a police car. It is that time when he called you a name. It is that night when you fell down the stairs. It was that day you got pulled over. It was that phone call when you learned he was cheating.
Yours are different than mine, but Moments of Clarity come to us all. And when they do, we turn and run like hell.
In the Rock Bottom Years, we desperately shut out the Moments of Clarity. We convince ourselves that it is fine, or it didn’t happen, or it was/wasn’t our fault. Whatever we need to sell ourselves in order not to change, we buy it fast and we buy it furiously. Lock, stock and barrel.
If we are lucky, during these years we start to see a therapist, get a real best friend, read some smart books or pick up a creative outlet. We experience flashes of truth. A conversation turns in an unexpected way. A story we’ve read won’t leave us alone. We feel a softness inside of our hearts, an unyielding certainty, and we know that if we continue to ignore it we will be lost forever.
Who knows how long Rock Bottom lasts or why it ends?
As my friend Mary told me, as she was accepting that she needed to leave her husband, “I don’t know why this is happening now, because the truth is I was done three times ago.”
I get it. As women, we really like to run things to ground. We want to be able to say to ourselves: “I did everything I could.” We are compelled to turn over every single rock, try all possible solutions, before we allow ourselves to call time of death. And so often we believe it is better for our children if we stay in rock bottom – hands clenched, breath held, heart still – hoping it will get better.
In recovery rooms there is a saying: “It takes what it takes.” But we can’t let it take us.
Acceptance happens when sameness becomes too painful. When “I did everything I could” becomes part of a plan to change, rather than a plan to stay the same. When we are finally ready to bury notions of fairness and grand plans of control.
Acceptance looks like walking into your first meeting. It’s calling your parents and telling them what’s been going on in your marriage. It’s looking at your finances and seeing the price tag of lock, stock and barrel. It is sitting your husband down and saying: “I’ve been drunk the past 10 years. I need you to see me.”
I think acceptance is a place we stay for a very long time. It’s a spectrum and depending on the day or month or year, we can feel stronger here or less inclined to stay or even apathetic about it. We can go in and out of acceptance – back to rock bottom, another moment of clarity. But it is hard to stay away forever because there are people here that we learn to trust and like. We lean on them. They lean on us. We put our burdens down and sit with one another. Together, we learn to trust and like ourselves again.
At first there are tears. But eventually there is laughter. And that laughter – the laughter of shared truth mixed with the dizzying freedom of acceptance – is the most intoxicating cocktail I have ever experienced. It is potent treatment for all our wounds. And as the laughter starts to die down, silently and totally unexpectedly, Gratitude slips in, takes a seat next to us and becomes our new best friend.
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.
Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.
Beautifully said Erin ! I look forward to meeting you at SSI 2 this summer.
Thanks, Glenda! Cannot wait.
I find myself reading your blog posts over and over and over again. They are just so powerful and it’s amazing how eloquently you can put into words exactly how I feel.
Thanks so much, Margaret. I am living in Gratitude these days.
This is SO good. Such truth here. Thank you! I, too, will be at SSI 2. Excited to meet you.
SSI 2 is going to be amazing! Cannot wait.
Perfectly timed for where my heart is today…for sure at the Acceptance stage…I love how you described all of this as so fluid. It helps me feel hopeful for ongoing growth in recovery.
Hi. Thanks for your words! I white knuckled in my marriage for years. I desperately tried to save our marriage, and I doing so, lost myself… I barely had a shred of self esteem left before I finally went to rehab twice in the same year – I’m now 3 years sober, my ugly divorce was finalized in June, and i have a year long, happy relationship with my boyfriend, who I met in AA. My self esteem is a struggle still, but I’ve found my internal rebar and learned that I’m stronger than I thought. I have a happy, loving, empathetic 10 year old daughter, who is the light of my life. This has been hard on her, but I hope she sees me in a different light than before. I have a therapist. She has a therapist. My hope is for her to gain tools for communication, to love herself and to understand that she can achieve happiness through herself, without relying on others for verification. Tools I wasn’t given as a child or an adult, but I’m trying to lead by example now!
Kathleen – what an amazing story. Having children raises the stakes and (thank god) forces us to do the hard, right thing. I love that you both have therapists. I think everyone should have a therapist! (For me, my therapist ranks right up there with my morning coffee and my dog.) Your hard work to build these tools is an example both for your daughter and for other women in recovery. Thank you.
I think I spent most of my adult life in rock bottom, with occasional moments of clarity I just drank more to avoid (I couldn’t possibly accept being an alcoholic!) My biggest moment of clarity triggered a much needed breakdown, the breakdown led me to quit my job and train as a yoga teacher, and the yoga teacher training gave me the tools I needed to get sober AND accept that I had been an alcoholic all along. SO much gratitude for that moment of clarity!
Thank you for this post. I’ll link to my blog post about my pre-breakdown moment of clarity in the website link below