“I was asked once what my aspiration in life was. My response? To eventually satisfy my soul, enlighten my spirit, and awaken my true self.” – Laura Rwagasana
Entering the world of Recovery was initially intimidating and slightly overwhelming. I had lived a life of isolation for the last few years of my disease. My confidence, self-awareness and most importantly- faith- had dwindled. I was taught that recovery means rebuilding oneself in order to change behavior and regain strength. To do this, I needed to go to meetings.
I attended Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) for the first time in 2016 and I was welcomed with open arms. My fire engine red hair and apparent lack of self-confidence labeled me as a newbie upon entrance. Although it was a seemingly warm environment, I was still unsure whether or not this is where I belonged. There was one big, BIG obstacle (entity really) about AA that had me in discomfort- the repetitive reference to “God.” I hadn’t grown up with any religious teachings or influences in my household. It was not part of my immediate family culture. Stories of Sunday school and Communion were only shared by my friends and classmates. I rarely attended church and it was usually a last minute attempt to appease my grandparents when we did. I considered myself lucky. Church never intrigued me, only confused me. The appreciation of religion was something I thought I would acquire with age. Yet, contrary to my belief, the spark was never ignited.
My parents had both been raised with religious traditions growing up. It resonated with them. At one point, my father considered becoming a minister. Even though my parents had adopted spiritual values into their own lives, they jointly decided not to impose the same formalities on me. I was more than ok with this.
Since then, I had become an expert in avoiding religious topics. I was embarrassed about my lack of knowledge. I would excuse myself from any faith-based conversation with the defense that “I had my own private beliefs.” It was a complete cop out. Had I felt confident in my beliefs, I would not be ashamed of sharing them. However, I knew I wasn’t. That lingering insecurity was due to a missing piece in my life.
In AA, the concept of God was openly discussed and tones were authoritative. HE is in the literature. HE is in the Steps. HE is the topic of conversation at one point in every single meeting. When I was expressive about my hesitation, the common response was “just replace the word ‘God’ with something else.” As if it is that easy.
Don’t get me wrong, I had never been opposed to believing in a power higher than myself, but in my recovery I have already made many compromises. I felt like HE was just thrusted upon me- no room to breathe, think or argue. My inner resistance had thick veins.
Aside from this, I found some great aspects of AA. I began to socialize without having the safety blanket of a bar between myself and other people like I had in the past. It was a common joke amongst friends that a three-foot wooden plank was my permanent wingman. In AA I made new friends and started networking as if it came naturally to me. Most importantly, I was able to tell my story without any judgement. When people would ask about my faith though, I would default to my avoidant behavior.
After about a year of sobriety, I felt strong enough to peel back some of my layers and started asking deeper questions. I was advised by many who knew my quandary to practice mediation. This was tough. Every time I tried to meditate my mind started to reveal, almost heighten, all my anxieties. In the book, “The Untethered Soul,” by Michael Singer, this voice is called the “inner roommate”. Essentially, it’s that tiny voice that doesn’t shut up. Meditation just made me frustrated because it was yet another thing I couldn’t do- at least not right away.
I learned the keys to practicing meditation:
– Sit in a comfortable, quiet space
– Ground your feet on the floor
– Place your hands on your heart
– Play soothing and low mediation music on in the background
– Feel your heart
– Take a clearing breath (in through the nose, out through the mouth)
– Keep your mind present by concentrating on the count of your breath
– Repeat, repeat, repeat
During every session that stupid “inner roommate” would throw me off-center. It would whisper “you suck at this,” “are we done yet?” or “give up!” I didn’t give up. I kept bringing my attention back to my breathing- defying that “inner roommate.” It took months of practice before I started to feel a little bit calmer, quieter- some may even say ‘balanced’.
In mid-2017, I decided to dig a little deeper and I inquired about yoga. I had used yoga as a method of exercise in the past. However my inability to stretch, balance or even touch my toes turned me off from it years ago. I am anything but a pretzel. I decided to invest in classes at a small studio (out of my regular crowded mainstream gym) to hide from the embarrassment. The atmosphere itself lifted me out of my anxieties. The smell of burnt sage and incense was strange but reminded me of a day spa. The dim lights and soothing music make it instantly comfortable- almost relaxing. My self-doubt and frustrations were still there, though discouraged by my inflexibility, I managed to push through and kept practicing.
This is how I ultimately found spirituality. Yoga and meditation were a gentle guide leading me to find God. While AA is assertive in their views, the practice of yoga and meditation were forms of spirituality that allowed me to express my uncertainties. Together they introduced God to me in a new way, as if meeting for the first time. I started to pray, along with guided meditation, and my goal was to express gratitude. That was my ticket in. See, in my disease, the only time I prayed or believed in God was to ask for help. “Please God, get me out of this DUI and I swear I will never drink again.” I never expressed any form of genuine gratitude. (Nor did I follow through with my promises). I was selfish.
Yoga pushed me. It was challenging but it also brought me peace. I allowed the gift of light inside. For once I was actually grateful. I was praying, meditating and practicing yoga on a daily basis. What more could I include? Oh yes, literature. I could now revisit the Big Book of AA in new light without grimacing at the presence of God. I opened myself up to embrace the discomfort and explore it instead of close. The more I opened, the less I cringed when the word “God” came up.
Yoga was my backdoor into spirituality. I had never believed in a particular power greater than myself- even though I knew that one had to exist. My practice allowed me to become increasingly in-tune with myself and reinforced my recovery in AA. Now I know that my recovery is a multi-dimensional process which includes the spiritual aspects along with my physical practice and concrete support step-system. My journey still continues and my questions have not all been answered. However, now I am able to ask those questions without hesitation, without fear of the unknown.
Singer, M. (2007). The Untethered Soul. New Harbinger Publications. Oakland, CA. Print.