Ever have one of those moments when you look at a picture of you and it seems foreign? Is that me, you think? Do I look like that? I look fatter. I look angrier. I look… ugh.
The discomfit with the outward appearance then causes reflection on all the inner stuff the picture doesn’t show but you know lurks.
I had one of those moments recently. It wasn’t pleasant. I had lost contact with the various touchstones in my life that keep me centered, healthy and grateful. I lost the present with an absurd focus on the future. I lost the me I worked so hard to find.
In rehab terms they call this White Knuckling. For those trying to stay sober, they lose the joy and health that one fueled it and have lost contact with their inner state. Emotionally they are a wreck, imploding and even doing the destructive behaviors they would only do when using or drinking or behaving compulsively. The white knuckles snuck up on me because I didn’t want to drink. At least not yet anyway.
But old habits were returning. Working too much. Compulsive eating. A lack of patience with others. Frustration with myself.
Good habits were fading. In my search for a “new” workout routine, I stopped doing the one thing that really worked for me: yoga. My running declined. My clothes hung poorly off my growing gut and swelling love handles.
In recovery I often wrote a reminder to myself called the four Ps: Positive. Present. Productive. and it’s been so long since I wrote them I forgot the fourth P. That says a lot. I lost one P entirely and two of the other three were fading like the family photo in Back to the Future.
My picture wasn’t an actual photo this time. Usually it is. This time the picture was a living moment. I tried to do yoga again after a layoff of at least a month.
I’m no cover of a Yoga Journal on my best days, but I used to have a good practice. I was told I had some beauty to my practice and I even taught some others with confidence. All of that…. every bit of it… had disappeared when I huffed and puffed and grunted and moaned through a short yoga practice. I stumbled and staggered and strained. Midway through I looked up and caught a glance of my body in the mirror and it hit me.
I was white-knuckling life again. I looked it. I felt it. I could see it. The outward merely reflected the inward chaos.
I was filled with self-loathing.
In recovery when someone relapses the first advice they are often given is get back to a meeting. In fact, we are often told go to 90 meetings in 90 days to re-establish the habits and to make sobriety the intentional priority of each of those 90 days. Everything else comes second.
I hadn’t relapsed and had no intention of doing so. I don’t need a meeting to stay sober. But I needed the intention. I needed the focus and I needed to rebuild the habits that keep me healthy.
So I drafted my own 90 in 90 plan. I call it 90 BLANK in 90 days.
The blank, I realized, involve many things for me.
- Yoga. A must.
- Spiritual exercises including quiet prayer and journaling.
- Healthy exercise
- A vast decrease of chocolate
- Art, like playing the guitar or working on my novel.
- Time for others
- Learning Spanish
It’s odd, but all of these things were the touchstones of discipline that I used to get sober, get healthy, and get focused on being a better person with proper priorities. I needed them all back in one way or another if I was going to rid my mind of the self-loathing that had grown.
So I crafted a schedule. I stated the intention of each day going forward. I weaved in the above activities starting with yoga and spiritual disciplines every day. The other stuff weaved in and out, but intentionally so.
The first three days were hell. I hated how bad I felt during yoga. I hated seeing my belly hanging over my waistband. I hated struggling to do poses that had been doable just a few months before.
But I took the advice of my yoga teacher to try to observe myself without judgement.
“Where you are is where you are,” he’d say.
I didn’t want to be where I was, but, for now that was it. I couldn’t change it immediately. But I could return to my practice and know it would recover. I could recover, too.
After two weeks a spiritual mentor checked in. I told her, “I’m much better. Well, that’s not true. I’m much less EFFed. I’m getting better.”
The work continues and will for many more days until I hit the 90. It won’t stop then I realize, but the milestone will be important. I need the achievement of following through. I need to know I did it and will continue to do so.
This life I chose is not a fad. These things I believe are not temporal. Because in the end, I am convinced I didn’t choose it really. God chose me. And to be what She chooses me to be, I have to be the me she chose. The only way to do that is to live as me, every day, with the intention necessary to live it well.
Recovery is an active, present verb in my life and will remain so. I’m not sure I entirely got that before. The whole “one day at a time” thing doesn’t make much sense until you live it, one sober day, one healthy day, one loving day after another until you welcome it.
I wish I hadn’t lost track of these things and wish I didn’t need to also consider my life in recovery. But in seeing myself in the photo for what I was slipping into, I stopped the slide and returned to the disciplines I established. I came home and this home I’ve built is lasting.
For that I am pleased.