I’m coming up to my 19th anniversary clean and sober, and this time of the year for me is typically a moment of reflection – a chance to be grateful for all the beautiful messiness my life has become. I’m still not sure how I went from standing alone on a subway platform with the intention of taking my life twenty years ago, to standing in front of an audience of 200 people looking to me for guidance and hope.
With each year that passes, I’m more inclined to accept the fluidity of uncertainty and all of its slippery elusiveness. I now define transcendent beauty not by how far I’ve come, but as an ephemeral strength woven into the texture of every moment – a space that is quite often etched in suspicion, euphoria, and longing. For far too many years, it was my inability to coexist with the discomfort of uncertainty that fueled my addiction. And today, it is not as though I’ve made peace with this discomfort as much as I’ve softened its edges and muffled its storm.
I was reading Marsha Lederman’s column in the Globe & Mail this past weekend, and something she said certainly struck a chord with me. “We spend so much time in our social and occupational echo chambers, insulated. Venturing out may be a shock to the system, but it also seems essential for discovery.” When it comes to an addict’s journey back from the self-annihilation of addiction, the one thing every addict is longing for is ‘connection’ to community. And how ironic that the further (s)he travels down the rabbit hole of an active addiction, the more tenuous that connection to love and support becomes. It is a bitter truth to swallow; yet, I’ve had to acknowledge that it was my fear of connection that brought me to the edge of that subway platform.
I believe that I am one of the ‘lucky ones’, in that my addiction delivered me to a place where everything else in my life had been laid bare, and I was forced to confront my greatest fear – the belief that I was unworthy of love and self-respect. As is the case with most addicts in recovery, it didn’t take very long for the ‘pink cloud’ of early sobriety to wear off, and for the real work to begin. I was no longer drinking or drugging, but I was yet to excavate and unravel all those feelings that took me to a life on the margins. Sobriety has been a process involving the internal work of making sense of, and at times room for, depression, anxiety, and childhood trauma. There has also been what I would refer to as the ‘external work’ – learning when to reach out for help, and when to jettison toxic relationships from my life.
During the past 2 years, I’ve entered a new phase of my life, one in which I have taken on somewhat of a leadership or mentoring role. I have to admit, for a natural introvert like me, it’s a position I’m reluctantly allowing to grow on me rather than one I’m wholeheartedly embracing. In order to feel more comfortable in this role, I’ve started to see myself as a ‘shepherd’ as opposed to a leader. It may simply be a matter of semantics, but I really do identify with the core responsibility of a shepherd, and that being, by maintaining absolute communion and attention, (s)he avoids losing anyone traveling along the same path.
From the very beginning of my sobriety, I’ve tried to steadfastly follow one guiding principle – to simply ‘do the next right thing’, whatever that may be. And now that I’m no longer the person standing on the edge of that subway platform, but am the person standing in front of an audience, I am trying to embrace, and hopefully model, three core practices, so I thought I would end by sharing those with you: