I always wanted to change. Change who I am, how I am, how I act. I used to see a girl in a movie – or walking down the street – looking happy, comfortable. I imagined that she had always been treated kindly, cared for, probably had a lovably overprotective dad. I’d imagine all this and think, I’m not that. I’m different. What if I hadn’t grown up in a chaotic home? Would I be more confident? If I hadn’t been through too much too young, would I have been more like her: sweeter, softer, happy?
I used substances to change myself until I was 32 years old. By then, my life was chaos and the shield that drugs provided no longer felt like it was shielding me from anything. I began my recovery journey in 2012 after meeting a young man and a cool, older, motherly woman who offered me the solution of Alcoholics Anonymous. They started by telling me about their own struggles. I related to everything, and they asked if I’d always felt “different,” like I was “missing something everyone else seemed to have.” I was in. Yes; I had felt both and until then, I had never uttered this dirty secret to a soul. We talked for an hour and the woman became my first sponsor.
Every preconception about myself was challenged in recovery in the most wonderful way. There are limiting beliefs we have about ourselves yet feel are core traits. We feed these beliefs to keep them alive. The first step to challenging them is realizing they exist.
I had one sponsor who gave me “marching orders.” She was tough, bossy, and younger than me, but I was desperate and did whatever she said. My orders were to do one random act of kindness, call two women in the program, and make a gratitude list. I was to do these things every day plus go to meetings. As I did my first random and anonymous act of kindness, I felt like a fraud. I thought, if this person only knew what kind of person I am, they’d want nothing to do with me. Yet, here I was doing something selfless. My idea of myself as a strange, dark “other” was being challenged.
I changed small things like how I dressed myself, what I did with my spare time, what I watched and listened to. I realized the music I listened to (though I will like metal until the day I die and have Opeth’s Isolation Years played at my funeral) did not make me feel good. I thought about how full of light I felt when I was doing random acts of kindness or connecting with someone else in recovery. I wanted to align myself more with that energy. Punk gave me positive, powerful energy. I increased that and decreased the metal in my media diet and felt a more resilient energy. More small shifts followed.
I also underwent some big changes, though I hardly noticed them happening. Step work impacted me in deep and quiet ways. After I read my personal inventory to my sponsor, I got a flash of what it is like to be that unthreatened girl, walking down the street, feeling like she has every right to be just there. I had the influence of so many unique, wild, loving, humanitarian women in AA. I learned how to be a woman from them.
I have done daily gratitude lists for four years. I can see now how wonderfully it has warped my thinking (and positive psychology has the science to back that up). In any difficult situation, I first see the part where I have power or an advantage. Now I may seem like I’ve changed a lot but I’m more the same than ever. I am living as my true self. I look after myself. I don’t sedate my experience. I’ve started healing and peeling the layers off.
My advice? Here are your marching orders: do random acts of kindness, make gratitude lists, connect with others who are doing well in recovery, take a look at your media diet and experiment with some changes, and listen to your mood. Learn about what the real you – the person you may have been subduing – likes. If something fills you with that feeling of light and goodness, repeat as desired. Follow the light.