.on getting here.

“So I know it’s just a spring haze
But I don’t much like the look of it
And all we do is circle it
And I found out where my edge is
And it bleeds into where you resist
And my only way, way out is to go
So far in” — “Spring Haze” (Tori Amos)

This post has nothing and everything to do with parenting. This is a subject that has been the work of a strenuous inner-dialogue, though it’s the first time that I’ve written anything publicly on the matter.

The day that my maternity leave ended, a large road construction project began smack dab in the middle of my route to work. As such, I’ve had to take a longer detour into the office each morning. Along this detour, I pass a settlement of recovery houses by the side of the road. The whole mismatched complex boasts the sign, “Serenity House” at the entrance. From what I can make of it, there are two residential houses with satellite trailers sprinkled on the grounds. Each morning when I pass (a few minutes before 8am), there are small throngs of folks hanging out at picnic tables outside. They are mostly scruffy smokers, some young, some old. There are a number of questionable fashion choices and scraggly haircuts. For some reason, seeing this sight in the morning (maybe because it’s early and I’m still very tired) brings about in me an extremely visceral reaction.

The reaction comes from the truth that I used to be one of those people. For years. This isn’t something that I talk about a lot anymore. To be honest, I’m not sure it’s a topic I’ve ever touched on this blog. In my teens and early-twenties, I had a serious alcohol and drug problem. I first got clean at 17, relapsed at 20, got sober again at 21, and have been clean since then (over eight years). My “program of recovery” has evolved to look very different from the 12-step prescription that’s so prevalent in America today. I don’t go to meetings, have a sponsor, or believe in an interventionist god. I’ve done all of those things in the past, and they were helpful in their own way, but the dogma couldn’t overcome the lack of authenticity that I found in myself in that space. For me, and I can only speak from my personal experience, the constant attention to the problems of my past (and other people’s chaotic lives) kept me in a sick spiral. Breaking out of that mode of thinking about recovery, like breaking out of the cycle of addiction, has been one of the most formative intrapersonal experiences of my adult life.

I find that this topic ruffles a lot of feathers within the structured recovery community. It’s never my intention to offend, but I can’t help but think that the subject upsets people because it casts a little grey area on the black and white rhetoric of 12-step programs. The bent is usually something to the effect of, “those who don’t go to meetings are dry drunks who will use again.” Nothing in life is that clear cut. I value my sobriety. I value my formative years in a structured program of recovery. But now, I value the time and energy that it takes to attend to the life I’ve built out of that recovery. Perhaps that’s a selfish conclusion (i.e., I’m not paying forward the time and attention given me by others). Still, I feel that the life I lead today best enables me to be of service and love to my wife, our son, my friends, parents, and colleagues.

When I sit back and think about what it took for me to get here, I’m floored by the complexity of my experience. While I hit a low “bottom” when I was actively using, I think that I sustained more unhealthy behaviors and relationships over time in recovery than at any other point in my life. Some of this was the by-product of getting sober so young, but some of it is what happens when sick members justify the behavior of other sick members. Dis-ease breeds dis-ease. This was by no means my across the board experience, so I don’t mean to sound petty. I was also inspired to new levels by many of the friends I’ve made in my years in recovery. There are some beautiful, healthy, intimate, vulnerable, loving people out there. And I’ve had the good fortune to share the road with many of them during some difficult times. That said, I haven’t found 12-step programs to be the magic bullet promised. I’m always striving for authenticity, which is fluid, not prescriptive. It’s like the dilemma in R’s last post about food: How do we strive toward higher ideals without sacrificing our critical thinking?

I don’t have the answers to that question, but I’m learning to trust my intuition more readily. I can make healthy choices for myself and my family. I can eat cleaner, locally grown foods. I can parent my child openly and actively. I can protect and strengthen my marriage each day. I can make smart choices of how to spend my time, money, and energy. I can find a way to work for myself while empowering other people. I can fight for my civil rights. I can strive to be a better friend and a better daughter. I can choose to tell the truth. I can choose to amend my behavior. I can choose to accept and love myself as a whole and unique person. I don’t think it’s true humility to walk through each day thinking of oneself as an emotionally diseased person who must submit their agency, as one is not to be “trusted.” I want to find my humility in reverence to life, to nature, and to the experience of love. I don’t need religion for that. And, I find, that as I strive for these goals, I’m able to measure myself by the yardstick of my own life. I spent much of my young life fruitlessly comparing myself to others. Inevitably, I always prided myself on my seeming superiority or chastised myself for my seeming inferiority. But when I take myself on my own terms, I can see the ways in which I have already outpaced my best self of last year. And I hope that I’ll be able to say the same thing with each subsequent year. Mostly, I don’t want to quell that deep inner voice with the thunderous pronouncements of external direction. If I want to teach my children that they need to learn and follow their own internal compass, then I have to be willing to lead by example.

All of this is just to say that I’m the most satisfied that I’ve ever been. Not because everything has fallen into place, not because I’ve solved all of the conflicts in my relationships, and certainly not because I think I have the answers, but because I am slowly surrendering what I think I “know” to what I actually need.


6 thoughts on “.on getting here.

  1. This was an inspiring post to read this morning, J – thanks for your thoughts. I loved the part about having outpaced your best self of last year – I think that’s the incredible thing about this life and all of its challenges – that it allows us to surpass the knowledge we have of ourselves and the expectations we have for ourselves.

    Your thoughts about finding strength in a fluid, authentic sense of self remind me of Audre Lorde’s essay “Uses of the Erotic”. She writes: “The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves… The erotic is not a question only of what we do; it is a question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing. Once we know the extent to which we are capable of feeling that sense of satisfaction and completion, we can then observe which of our various life endeavors bring us closest to that fullness.”

    This text has been so inspiring to me lately because of the way it emphasizes presentness and trusting ourselves and our feelings to make decisions about what we’ll do in life.

    Much love to you, R, and B,

  2. I think your experience points to the fact that there are many ways to heal–as there are many ways to enlightenment. For some the 12-steps clearly work and help and are the way forward, while for others there is more at play, and more ways out of the darkness. I wouldn’t invalidate your experience because you aren’t helping others in the same position where you once found yourself–you are helping others in other areas of your life. And if branding yourself a user or an addict doesn’t help you in any way (I doubt it would help me, if I were in that situation), then there seems no reason to adopt that label other than continued self-shaming.

  3. I think one of the most difficult things an individual can do when seeking internal peace is to forgive themselves for who they were when they were young. . . . This journey of discovering your internal rightness, your internal peace, is as individual as we each are. Growing out of disfunction, lies and pain into a healthy, loving, truthful individual is a path only you can choose. It is not easy, but it is so worth it in the end. Good journeying . . . .

  4. Jax,
    The power of synchronicity……I was just having this exact conversation with a trusted friend this week. I totally identify and relate to your feelings. I am in that same place. I have spent virtually my whole life in the world 12 steps and like you have great appreciation for all that provided me, but it starting feeling not “right” for me, at some deep level, some time ago. I am striving to live authentically in every area of my life and this does not seem the right partnership. I believe my experiences there help me to be of service to my staff, friends and community. Nothing is lost. Like you, I just don’t feel the need to be mired in the past and want to live each present moment. I have total gratitude for what was given me and my life works because of this.
    I appreciate you taking the time to share your feelings, I related in a BIG way!
    Peace to you and the family,

  5. i can really relate to what you shared. through pregnancy and now being a mother, i’ve found it harder to get to meetings and the meetings i can make has changed. this has made me be more dependent on my higher power and less dependent on people (in a good way). when i first got sober i formed relationships based on who i was. as i’ve changed, some of those relationships have gone away because my new self would be compromised if i did or one (or both) of us couldn’t get past our old patterns. i still enjoy going to meetings (when i can) and find peace there. the ways i practice service have changed and are not always in the venue of a 12 step program. for me, it’s good for me to remember what i was like to be grateful for what i have and who i am today. it also helps me have compassion for others who are spiritually sick (especially when i am judging and want to say “i would *never* _____” and i have to stop myself and say “well, actually….:)”. i think it’s great that you have found such a place of peace. i can really see how you will be of great service to so many women as a doula (and the great work you are doing as a wife and as a mother). i’m so proud of who you are and am glad to be your friend.
    hugs and love,

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