This past weekend, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a bunch of women in recovery. Let me back things up a minute and explain some things…
I have been in recovery for over 20 years and I work a 12 step program. My drug of choice was alcohol. I wasn’t physically addicted to alcohol, I didn’t become an everyday drinker, but once I started drinking, I couldn’t predict how much I would drink.
Once I took the first sip, I lost control. I couldn’t predict if one would be enough, or if I would have to bring the bar home with me. My life had become unmanageable. I was facing jail, humiliation, loss of my driver’s license and so much more.
Today, I attend NA meetings. My journey began in AA, but after a few years, I switched fellowships. This is not a plug for either program- whatever A, you’re working- wonderful… rock on.
My experience is, NA deals with the disease of addiction- the obsessive compulsive behavior that drives us. The obsessive compulsive behavior that makes us lose control.
About ten years ago… I was working the AA program and met a few women from NA. They got together and had these really cool gatherings where they taught each other spiritual stuff. They learned how to fellowship, relationship and support each other. I had been looking all of my life, for these people. I immediately grabbed hold. I had found my tribe.
We met every few months and I learned so much. I was gaining confidence in me and my ability to become whole.
When these women gathered, I cleared my schedule and made myself available. They were mostly connected by sponsorship, and at one particular gathering, a few more people joined us. It was all fabulous. Until it wasn’t.
Out of left field, someone felt vulnerable. (Not one thing had happened… it was a series of small things. I guess it’s always the little things that we overlook, isn’t it?)
We had met at least three or four other times, same group plus a few others… but all of a sudden, someone felt uncomfortable. Also, because word was getting out, about our gatherings, more people wanted to attend. We had grown. In order to establish some boundaries or rules to protect the group, we decided to sit down and talk about what the future looked like for us.
Our trusted leader said that we should vote on how to continue from here on out. Well- it was brought up, everyone else was connected by sponsorship, and I was an outsider. They worked NA and I was AA. Now, things have gotten personal.
They decided to openly discuss options and vote about how to continue with the gatherings. There were tears, there were raw emotions and lots of feelings. Someone said- Gosh, if I do something that you don’t like, am I going to be voted out? They were literally considering in an open forum, whether I should be able to be there with them.
Everyone had the ability to be heard. Each one of us had an opportunity to talk or discuss what we felt should happen.
It came down to a vote. Does Denise, get to continue to be a part of the group? Will she be allowed to come to our gatherings? I must say, honestly… I wasn’t worried. As much as I didn’t like the feelings associated with this vote… somehow, it felt familiar.
Abandonment issues? Hmm…. (I gotta say, writing this, brings some awareness in so many areas. Perhaps I will share about those things on another day.)
Before it got down to an actual raise your hand, now- sort of vote, our leader said- ENOUGH! This is how it’s going to be, Denise is in. She fits and that’s the end of it. I had also agreed to switch fellowships and work the NA steps. That is how I ended up in NA.
I loved these women. They had become my family.
All of that being said, I now had a little armour up. How can you not? I knew in my mind who was on my side, and who wasn’t. Things changed. It was a new beginning and an opportunity to grow, if- I took the challenge. I did.
We met for many years like this, once or twice a year, and sometimes several times a month. Depending on who was celebrating clean time, and who was willing to plan a gathering. We watched plays together, we went to fine dining together, we stayed in condos, hotels and even at each others homes. We attended camping retreats and these women had my back in some of the most wonderful and the most painful times. I feel without them, I wouldn’t have survived the death of Paul… At least not clean.
I grew to trust these women. We really were a family. AA helped me to find myself and to trust the process. These women and NA have taught me how to live.
As the years rolled by… people moved, people left the fellowship, and our gatherings stopped. We would see one another at other events, but over time- our connections faded. I am super thankful for what I learned along the way… I owe them deeply for their support. I honestly feel like I grew up. I learned how to own my feelings, I learned how to express my feelings and I learned to feel safe.
SO…. now- back to present day. I have switched sponsors and have a new sponsorship family. My new family has similar gatherings. We meet in the Spring and the Fall. If I am being honest… Stepping back into the vulnerability has not been easy.
So, back to this past weekend… I have a sponsor- a woman who guides me in my step work and I admire her in so many ways. When I joined the family, I was without a home group. I hadn’t been working the steps regularly and even though everyone in the program thought I was a really spiritual person… I rarely connected in prayer or meditation.
I felt like a fraud. People looked up to me as this spiritual person. As a matter of fact, many people often introduced me as their “spiritual friend”, Denise.
I remember explaining to my new sponsor, “I didn’t ask to be put on that pedestal.” I felt when they defined me in that role, they put me on a pedestal. She explained gently, “People cannot put you somewhere that you are not willing to be.”
Talk about an eye opener… I guess I knew this.. but I didn’t really understand it, until just then. *I may explore this at another time… honestly- this is worthy of a separate post all together!
I remember the first time I went to this new retreat, I was in physical pain. I was feeling pretty toxic and very vulnerable. I have arthritis, and at the time, I was experiencing quite a bit of sciatica. I am a massage therapist who lived in pain for more than five years. I am a yoga teacher who has arthritis and never talked to her Doctor. I was 16 or so years clean… and felt toxic and depleted. Hence… the fraud feelings. This spiritual person that everyone sees… feeling depleted and not worthy.
I remember so vividly how vulnerable I felt. I felt naked. I felt like everyone was pointing a finger and whispering about me. (Not true at all… but I couldn’t tell my mind that.)
What I was feeling was real. It hurt. It was making me sick. It was keeping me sick. Just like depression can cause physical pain, so can many other feelings.
I survived the first gathering, and gladly signed up for the following retreat a few months later. Because I didn’t die… I thought maybe, just maybe… I could do it again.
The next time we got together, there was a small informal meeting and I felt like it was time to be honest. I still didn’t have a home group. I wasn’t spiritually connected, I was healing so many layers within, but I was trying to do it alone. I shared from my heart and I allowed everyone to really get to know me. I cried. I allowed them to really, see- me.
The strangest thing happened. Someone made a comment. (Which is rarely done when someone speaks, we try to not direct talk to them… we honor what they’re willing to share and may even share something similar to show them they are not alone- but rarely do we comment directly to them.) When one person made a comment, there was a little grumbling and maybe even some snickering or laughter… and then someone else made a comment.
SO, here I am… feeling vulnerable. Feeling like I was growing and wiling to share from the heart… and someone jabs at me. (Totally not how it happened… but again, this is how it felt. You couldn’t tell me any different. I felt like people were making fun of me for finally being honest.) I felt naked, raw and totally willing to close back up.
That’s my old behavior. Fight or Flight? Ya… I run. See ya… I am out of here. Most of my life, I would quit you, before you quit me. I would bail on the opportunity when things got tough. I learned very early that I didn’t have a voice. (Again, not true today… but as a child, this is what I learned.) I learned that I couldn’t count on people… I learned the very people who should love and protect me? They were some of the ones who hurt me…
I stewed about it for several hours and when we got together a few hours later at another little circle, I shared how I felt. I can’t even remember the language I used at the time, but I did tell them that it was uncomfortable and that I felt like they were making fun of me. Again, tears… lots of hugs… and even a few people who took it personal they felt like I was jabbing back at them.
This is exhausting. This stuff is painful. When you don’t learn this stuff in safe environment at an early age, you have to plow through it as an adult. Again… I wanted to run.
The group listened. They assured me that it wasn’t at all like I had imagined it. They even honored my feelings and agreed to remain quiet from now on when someone shares or speaks out in vulnerability. Even though I know, with all of my being… they wouldn’t hurt me, they wouldn’t intentionally want me to be in pain… that is what I felt.
SO…. that is a little snippet about how things got rolling in my new sponsorship group. Yikes- right?? To be honest, most of the time when we get together- things are wonderful. We grow. We nurture each other. We support and hold space for each other. That is why I love this fellowship and the women who are walking the journey with me.
The gathering this past weekend was planned a few months ago. We all agreed to bring food, we all speak out as to who is coming and who is not. We arrange the car pooling and mark of the dates in our calendars. I am looking forward to getting together and sharing, growing, and just being. (insert huge exhale here…… )
Well, about a week before it all plays out, I find out the rules have changed. (My rules… not anyone elses. I am sharing what it felt like for me, to learn that the “sponsorship retreat” was not just for or about our sponsorship family.)
This may not seem like a big deal to anyone else… unless of course… your name is Denise… and you had an experience years before with almost being voted out of a group with people who you loved and admired. Even though that was not going to happen… it brought back some old feelings. immediately, I began to feel “off”. My body aches. My back hurts. I am feeling chubby and bloated. I have been having headaches. This is me, when I am feeling vulnerable.
To top it all off, I had some words with my sponsor that didn’t feel real nice. I love and adore this woman. She has taught me so much and I know in my heart that she would never hurt me. But… in the moment. I felt like a little girl being punished for something that I had no control over.
I am a 53-year-old woman with over 20 years clean. I am working a spiritual program and I have healed from so much… but, in a matter of minutes- it’s all reduced to this. “I don’t know, if I want to go now.”
For the next few days I spoke to other people. I was able to speak about my feelings and hear how others felt. I even made some decisions for myself, to make it be okay. I decided to just tip my toe in the water and see if it felt safe. Instead of going to the gathering for the entire weekend, I would just go for the day. Try it out. I made plans and I pushed through the fear.
I even created a special time for those with the same fear to meditate and pray to connect us and move out of the fear. (That is huge… because honestly, I just wanted to be a brat and not go.)
Saturday morning, I arrived at the gathering. Guess what? It was wonderful. These women love me. All of them. Family or not… they are wonderful people. (When I say family- I mean connected by a sponsorship family tree…)
Today, I am okay. I feel like I am moving forward and when I can be honest about what I am feeling, I can work through it. When I push through fear, I am offered so many gifts.
Today, after I finished writing, I called my friend and also my sponsor to run this post by them… sometimes I just need to check my motives and make sure I am in balance. I needed someone who knew what the story really was… to read it and say it was okay. I didn’t want to give away anyone’s anonymity or step on toes…
Each of these lovely women gave me some pearls. My friend said it was wonderful to see me honoring my feelings. She told me that she was proud of me. My sponsor told me to not be so harsh on my self and that she was also proud of me. (While describing the blog to her, I said things like- I needed to put my big girl panties on… I needed to suck it up and trust the process… although those things are true… they are a bit harsh. I am learning to be a little gentler with myself for these things I am learning… )
Fear can be so paralyzing. It has trapped me many times… Just for today, I am more than my feelings, I am not defined by my past or by my imagination. I am safe. I am worthy… and believe it or not- So Are You!
Until next time, Peace and Love Peeps.