What would you respond if I asked you point blank, in front of an audience of hundreds what your spiritual awakening in life was? Oh, and completely caught off guard and with coffee spilled across your previously favorited shirt. On the spot…on your marks…get set…and GO! Answer on the spot what your most vulnerable, private, and spiritual moment was with your most down to Earth authenticity.
If you are like me your mind goes to a place of panic and a million different excuses to get myself out of doing anything that intimate or deep in public. I, however, was asked to speak on what I felt about spirituality and my own spiritual awakening recently. I happily agreed to be a part of this day conference with the thought that I was going to be on a panel of judges evaluating speakers talking about spirituality. THIS is why you ask questions before you agree to volunteer for things. (I could be a smart ass and spell out why the word assume applies here…)
So I showed up. Dressed the best I thought a person presenting in a classroom should in a dress I felt comfortable in yet put together. I took time to do my hair and make up with a tad bit more care than I spend every rushing every morning for 10 minutes. I even bought those fake eyelashes everyone is wearing these days and took my time to apply them to look as Hollywood glam for a Saturday in Kalamazoo as I could. (The real story here is that the left one kept kinda coming undone like a bat winking at the world and this was NOT the look I really pulled off that day.) I swallowed a small army of vitamins and antibiotics to keep my disgustingly deep cough and bronchitis at bay so I could speak clearly.
I showed up and there was a large room filled with strangers and some familiar faces with a large stage and a microphone. This was when I realized with a sinking feeling that I was going to be up there speaking in front of all these people within the hour.
I would’ve felt more comfortable with being there in my underwear with acne medicine spotted all over my face at that moment. So I plastered a smile that doesn’t move at all to appear as normal and okay with this realization and scanned the room. I spotted the breakfast goody table. This prompted me to immediately ditch my protein smoothie and cruise right over to a Diet Coke and a sprinkled donut. ( Because carbonation mixexd with sugar and carbs cures all, right? )After eating the frosting off one very amazing donut and swigging down half a can of Diet Coke I was able to take a deep breath. I could have pulled aside the guest who asked me to speak and said my cough was too aggressive to speak on stage or I could face the reality that I was imperfectly here and do my very best. After all, I was here to talk about the very fact that my upbringing and beliefs of the world being so rigidly black and white were my blockade against any spiritual connection for years. I was here to tell my story and my understanding of spirituality. I took a deep breath and pushed aside the urge to inhale the top of another doughnut for false sugar superpowers.
MY spiritual awakening.
So I put my big girl panties on.
Imagine a person that didn’t even believe in a spiritual awakening being asked on the spot to do this exact thing. If I didn’t have my cue cards and sugar induced new found courage, would I spiral into a shame circle and clamor into sweat? Mind blank? For many others the very word spirituality would trigger a memory of Sunday school or Catechism class. Anxiety and humor could make the mind trickle to pockets of smartass humor of mockery of spirituality to images of SNL church lady portrayed by Dana Carvery. The Hanukah song sung by Adam Sandler as well as reflections of Tammy Faye Baker are not my premise here.
In order to tell my view, I need to go back to my own personal dimensions of how I viewed the world pre-full blown alcoholism. Light years before I had a clue as to who I could be in recovery. Before I had an inkling of who the hell I even was.
I STILL DON’T SO BEAR WITH ME!
Nearly all of my thinking in life has been in shades of black and white. Most of my worst thinking was done in the context of severe black and white when I was still very sick. (Just ask those who have known me for a hot second.) For me it was stringent and clear cut. It was either the beginning or the end. Chicken or the egg. You turn left or right at the crossroad. Ying to Yang. The start or the end of something. No in-betweens. I have concluded that part of this stems from my solid Catholic upbringing. This way of living and being was that you were either good or bad. Period.
This is why I was such a flaming hot mess when I first approached sobriety and recovery. I fell flat on myself so many times. You either are good and accomplish recovery or you are bad and fail. There was no in-between, just categories. You get better or your don’t. This is the same lens I viewed healing from trauma and couldn’t figure out for the life of me WHY I couldn’t get it. I was doing everything I was supposed to. It took every single painful relapse and failure to realize that just as healing cannot be linear, neither can recovery.
The very lens of black and white I self-imposed on my life was what I viewed my own spirituality and religion. Two separate ways to identify myself to seek God, my Higher Power, a connection and more then that a purpose. So this is the scary part with the truth of my story comes out and I must share. I always have known how to fit into the “good category” of life. I knew how to earn merits of accomplishments from the start of elementary school when marks determine your worth of good or bad. A’s are good and less than that is not. I know how to push myself while running a race to the point of excelling past the person I seek to beat. I know how to work obscene amounts of hours, put on a brave face, and have everything appear to be in “perfection” or in the good category.
Then I suffered horrible trauma. My life was forever uprooted. Everything I had worked so hard to project that I was good and had a purpose in this world was shattered. I didn’t know how to cope so I allowed myself to be pulled into the time out category of life. I drank to numb and not feel. When I was numb I didn’t care that was no longer good. I felt worthless, ashamed, and completely alone. Yet the progression of my disease proved that I couldn’t even be a “good alcoholic” and hide it anymore. There was never enough in the bottom of a chardonnay bottle and I never felt numb enough. I was a fallen angel or disgrace.
So I tried, in vain, to get into recovery for two years. I went into inpatient treatment 5 different times within these two years (over three months of my life when you put them together) and tried so desperately to be “good again.” Yet I kept falling. My first rehab everyone thought I was a staff member there to spy on others. I took notes until my hands nearly fell off in group sessions. I read, I reviewed my notes. I treated it like a class that I wanted to be the shining star in and judged pretty much every other person there. I was just a wine drinker who took it too far after all….I was not like these other people with the real problems. I was going to apply these principles to practice and life would be great. I would excel and never need to numb again!!!
Its hard for me to laugh and cringe with pain while reflecting upon how I felt. I would come out humbled a bit more each time and try again. I wanted to scream. WHY wasn’t I excelling at this? I knew how to do it so many areas! For me recovery was either success or failure. Relapse was failure. I was really, really good at the relapse part.
By the time I was in my fifth rehab stint I was so incredibly sick of myself and my own bull shit. I came into an entire way and self told myself that I really did not have all the answers to master this recovery thing. I took a step back and didn’t introduce myself with a laundry list of accomplishments, just as Kate. Kate, another person seeking to find help and recover from so many things in my life. Alcohol drinking really is just a physical and ugly symptom of my disease. I surrendered and allowed myself to be receptive to forms of help I was never open to before. Here, I was offered EMDR therapy to help unlock the horror of my own personal attack and trauma. The spiritual awakening from that session will forever change my life.
EMDR can be really scary and amazing all at the same time. (google it if you are unfamiliar.) What it did for me was unlock something that allowed me to let go of the biggest resentment in my life. My anger with God, my higher power, for allowing these things to happen to me. After what I will call my awakening, my body literally went in to heal mode. I slept for the soundest two hours I ever have in the past three years. I needed to.
After I woke up, I was exhilarated, I was going to take control of this awakening and grow from it. It just had to mean so much more. I spread out my notebooks, notecards, and recovery materials all over my queen sized bed trying to make sense of all of this. I (thankfully) caught myself. I was doing exactly what kept setting myself up for failure. I was trying to control and make even my own spirituality black and white by solving it. The truth to this was there was no black and white here, and if I did that I was going to miss out on all the beautiful messes of grey and pink swirled in the middle of it.
I now am such a huge fan of the grey and pink swirly mess in the middle. Its so much easier to be there.
So I breathed and prayed to God to allow him to trust me through this process. I prayed that I would be able to feel the different layers from hot pink to soft and fluffy grey speckled white. I scooped up my materials of learning and allowed my personal journal to be my compass. I went with my gut to surprise everyone, myself included, and submit myself back to Wings of God for needed continue healing. I admitted I was broken, and finally allowed the early process of recovery to unfold. The beautiful up and down process of recovery that has allowed me nearly 200 days of continued sobriety to date.
Before I went on to stage and spoke of my process in this journey of recovery, I looked for inspiration from my own personal sheros. Women in likeminded recovery really get each other. My friend Robin calls us “sober goddesses” and I adore that. I reread what Dr. Brene Brown tells us about spirituality. “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power great than all of us and that our connection to that power and to one another is ground in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.
Dr. Brown brought us this definition to publication in the Gifts of Imperfection. “For some people, that power great than us is God, for others, its fishing. Some are reminded of our inextricable connection by faith; others by expressions of shared humanity. Some find that religion is the best expression of the inextricable human connection that is guided by love and compassion. Other believe no entity has done more to corrode that connection than organized religion.”
I work on just showing up daily personally. Knowing that I am enough, reminding myself really, and working on my own definition of spiritual fitness with layers upon layers of grey and pink. Another personal shero of mine, Glennon Doyle, states that her main spiritual practice is self forgiveness. I love this. I have learned to forgive myself daily for not understanding or know how to be “good” or perfect in recovery. I cry in the grey areas and laugh in the delight of pink goodness brought to me and do the best I can. I got up and faced my fear in the love, compassion, and warmth of an audience of recovery. Messy layers with spilled coffee, messed up fake eyelashes, and probably a few doughnut crumbs.