I’ve spent the last year learning what it means to trust myself in dark places. I don’t mean darkness in the sense of depression or danger. More like learning to feel my way through the dark without automatically reaching over to turn on a light and asking myself what I need to learn in this place before moving on. Part of that has been separating from outside influences so that I could practice thinking for myself. I haven’t abandoned my support network but I’ve definitely taken a different approach to weighing those influences.
As many of you know, I stopped identifying as an alcoholic over a year ago and wrote about it here last August. I don’t want to talk about moderation or even specifically about drinking. All I’ve ever really wanted to talk about is my journey in learning how to take care of myself.
In hindsight, I can see that much of my life was dedicated to searching for the answer to “Why?” Why do I feel the way I do? Why did this or that happen? Why am I the way I am? At various times in my life I abused relationships, money and substances because the answers to ‘why’ were temporary and fleeting, never satisfying my deepest needs to feel safe and loved.
I’ve always been eager to embrace anything that I thought could be my ‘answer’. I’m the person who goes out and buys all new workout clothes when I rededicate myself to exercise. It was suggested to me at one time that I was intolerant of wheat, dairy, corn and coffee so I gave it all up cold turkey. I spent years in sales positions and suffered from constant anxiety attacks because I thought that making myself do something I hated was the way to overcome my fear of it. 4 years ago I reached a point where anxiety took over my life and medicating with alcohol wasn’t working so I embraced the label of alcoholic and stopped drinking for nearly 3 years. Some of my choices weren’t everlasting. And you know what? That’s ok. Every time I’ve taken a step to take care of myself, a truth has been revealed that I can take forward with me.
If each of us can embrace what is needed at this very moment to take care of ourselves and not worry about the label, making a lifelong commitment or what people will think of us, we will build upon the truths that create lasting change in our lives.
I’ve come to understand that seeking the answer to ‘why’ is a good start but it doesn’t even begin to encompass all I want to know. A better question is, “What happens next?”
For me, what happens next is that I’m embarking on an adventure where both my kids will be in elementary school and I will have uninterrupted time to focus on a business I love. It means that I’m diving back into finding God in all places after a season of needing some distance from noticing those details. It means a commitment to cherishing my body in its current state so that I can learn to love it in all its states. It means finding where I can serve and how I can offer grace. Most importantly, it means not being afraid of what might be asked of me because that fear has had a habit of keeping me from taking risks.
At least that’s the plan. The beauty of life lies not in the plan fulfilled but in the surprise of the plan interrupted. Just keep asking, “What happens next?”
You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. Perhaps you do carry within you the possibility of creating and forming, as an especially blessed and pure way of living; train yourself for that — but take whatever comes, with great trust, and as long as it comes out of your will, out of some need of your innermost self, then take it upon yourself.
–Rainer Maria Rilke, from “Letters to a Young Poet”