Early on in sobriety I had regrets over the time I considered wasted in a drunken state of existence. Besides the path of chaos and upheaval I left along a good bit of the length of the Mississippi River, I used to think about how I was behind everyone else some 15 or so years, just in living life. I got sober at the age of 32, which at that time seemed quite old. Now at the age of 62, that seems young.
I have posted before about how my specific recollections of the past are not really the same of other folks directly involved in those past experiences. I have also reflected on the concept of the Wounded Healer in recovery and the true blessing and responsibility that entails.
I am perhaps more reflective on this as I lean toward my formal “retirement” from a 40 hour (make that more like 60-70) per week employment to an existence where I will be more selective in how I spend my time and energy.
I definitely consider my getting sober as a benchmark of change and difference. In sobriety, I have never once just laid in bed, wishing I could just go back to sleep for the entire day because I could not face life – or immediately jumped up to look out the bedroom window to see where my car was because I had no recollection of coming home the night before. Those are the simple gifts of sobriety.
The challenge of sobriety is living into the recovery of “practicing these principles in all our affairs.” I thoroughly enjoy that today I have the opportunity to put back what I have taken. Today, I have that choice.
By their wounds, we are healed. We often speak of the ‘wounded healer’, the person who is able to be an instrument of healing because of her own wounded and the way in which those wounds have been used. In my experience, many of those who have endured great pain and have transcended its damaging effects have a remarkable power to draw others to them when they are in need of strength and consolation. – Kenneth Leech, We Preach Christ Crucified, p. 25.
The Twelfth Step of AA goes “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and practice these principles in all our affairs.” I realize discussing this very simple statement could consume many, many blog posts. A quick rewrite for me goes – “Through the process of recovery, I live in a world of gratitude, solutions and possibilities. I want to share this message of experience, strength, and hope with others who came from the same place as I. As well, in claiming my place in this world, I also want to live this message in everything that I do.”
I recollect saying in a recovery meeting once that I really enjoyed that folks in recovery were highly qualified to be a part of recovery solutions of others. A trained counselor shot back about the need for their professional expertise and training. To me, this is where the wounded healer concept comes in. Professional services, counseling, and so forth are great – I have used them a bunch – but I also know that having lived through addiction and into the process of recovery provides one with a sense that cannot be obtained except through the experience.
This understanding is one reason I am attracted to the idea put forward in messages like the Anonymous People film. If the significance of the wounded healer is true, then those in recovery have an obligation to live into the Twelfth Step. It’s not a matter of ego, it’s a matter of doing the next right thing.
Children respond to me pulling out my camera in a classroom in Hualcayán, Peru.
So, I have this new understanding of being powerless. The power has been out since last Thursday in this remote northern Andean village where I have been for the past couple of weeks, and with a couple more weeks to come. Turns out being without electricity really did not make a difference. The only real downside was that all the laptops eventually went dead, meaning no more internet. Solar charges were only good for iPads, iPods and other devices that could not hook into the tenuous 2G network up here. I came to like it. I got much more in tune with the village life where electrical outages are common and can last a couple of weeks.
It reminded me of a much simpler and enjoyable time. When we were painting the inside of a building that will turn into the Hualcayán Museo in a couple of weeks, there was a tinge of nostalgia that was very satisfying about the experience. The same with eating dinner by candle light, visiting other folks in their homes and shops illuminated only by candles or cooking fires. Seems we outsiders were the only folks with flashlights and headlamps. My solar charger was the only one in the entire village. No one had a gas generator either. The folks of Hualcayán simply take it one day at a time on this issue.
One of the most memorable parts of the experience was a conversation I had with a student who traveled to Peru from the U.S. on this project. She was very self-critical of her work down here, second guessing herself way too much. So we discussed how doing things the first time is messy and not precise. We were able to talk about her work and let her know that she was doing an absolutely spectacular job. After the conversation I took her aside and commented that I was not certain what led her to such intense self-criticism of herself. I shared my experiences of dismal feelings of self-worth in my past life. I noted that mine came from my alcoholism and that it has taken a long time to feel comfortable in my own skin. I was just wanted reassure her that she was a spectacular young woman doing phenomenal work. She was quite appreciative of me sharing my experience, strength, and hope.
So here is my punch line for the day – I thoroughly enjoy that recovery is present in all of my thinking – whether in the loss of electricity, or someone in distress for who knows what reasons.
Now I am sitting in Caraz, a town with power where we will have meetings the next two days about collaborative projects on a new museum planned for this small town in the Huaylas Province. I look at the chair next to my bed and see an iPad, cell phone, and iPod being charged with power. Sometimes powerlessness is the better choice.
“We often speak of the ‘wounded healer’, the person who is able to be an instrument of healing because of her own wounds and the way in which those wounds have been used. In my experience, many of those who have endured great pain and have transcended its damaging effects have a remarkable power to draw others to them when they are in need of strength and consolation . . .” Kenneth Leech, We Preach Christ Crucified, pp. 24-25
This type of thinking is often discussed in the context of working with other addicts. I have often thought how incredibly blessed we are to be able to share our experience strength and hope.
But I think this type of service goes much further than discussions of addiction. Some years ago I made the acquaintance of a woman who at the age of 50 was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She commented to me that the diagnosis was the first challenge that she faced in her life. She had an idyllic childhood, married her high school sweetheart, raised two perfect children, was financially secure, etc. But with the ms diagnosis she soon became confined to a wheelchair and miserable.
I was recently sober then and suggested that she consider a support group. She refused saying that she could not relate to “those” people. Instead, she had all the fillings in her teeth replaced and tried every new medical treatment on the market. She seemed unwilling to “transcend the damaging effects” of her disease.
I counter that with a friend of mine who is facing a lung transplant at the age of 40 after a life with cystic fibrosis. Long ago she seemed to “transcend the damaging effects” of her disease. She lives a vibrant life. Although clearly anxious with her unknown future, she is anything but miserable, despite hospital stays that are becoming more frequent. She is a poster child for living into what is possible.
I think too of my granddaughter who at the age of 13 has marked her 5th year in remission from a four-year bout with leukemia. She too “transcended the damaging effects” of her disease. She plans to be an architect and has for the past several years. She has followed in her mother’s steps excelling in sports such as softball and soccer.
I think of how when my granddaughter and friend facing a lung transplant share their experience, strength, and hope, they too are carrying an incredible message of recovery.