I learned from the Buddhist teachings that the best conditions to practice Dharma and meditation are when life is just kinda ok. Meditation and the ability to absorb the teachings come with greater ease if we aren’t hungry, wondering where we are going to sleep, and no major loss or drama happening in our relationships. Yet it’s taught there has to be some level of discontent or suffering to motivate us to reach for our happiness from inside. If we are rolling in money, love, sex, and sense pleasures it’s easy to get lazy about developing our inner world, to think it’s unnecessary. I think the same goes for any type of self-growth, including the paths of recovery.
Lately things have been going so smoothly- financially, with school, with relationships -that I’m starting to think, recovery? What am I recovering from again? Do I have to obsess about alcohol daily for the rest of my life, when I find myself fine without it? Can’t I just be a non-drinker and leave it at that?
I stopped going to AA. I stopped working on the steps. I stopped my morning prayers.
But underneath I know this is dangerous. I don’t know if it would take a lot or a little shaking of my current comfort level to lead me to a glass of wine. And I don’t know that one glass would necessarily be the end of the world. I suspect that I could very easily have just one glass.
In recovery circles they say if you want a drink, to play the “tape” forward to what would happen after that one drink. I used to think one drink would lead to too many and I’d immediately be right back where I was 6 months ago. Depressed and lost. Having to wake up and start over again with a new Day One. But I’ve thought about it and I don’t think that’s true. The truth is more dangerously deceptive. I think I could have one drink. Then the next week I’d have two. Then maybe I’d get drunk every few months. Then every month. Then maybe a bottle of wine alone. Until it was a bottle of wine alone a few times a week. This could take a year, or two, before I noticed. By then I’d be so far away from where I am now it would be hard to find my way back. So when I think yes, it’s been 6 months, virtually no cravings, you are fine Sara! You probably could have one glass of wine! A louder voice replies, No Thank You.
I don’t ever want to go back to where I was 6 months ago. So I ask myself, what is my ‘program’, what am I doing now and what more can I do, so that when the next inevitable blow from life takes a swing, I am ready?
Earlier this week I reached out to my very small circle of sober women, who I keep connected to via email daily. I told them I’m a little too happy and it scares me. That I’d stopped praying. That was the first step. They listened, understood, and together set me back on the path. I realized I needed to figure out what my personal program is, and what I can add to it to make it stronger. I decided to make a list of my ‘non-negotiables’, the tools, rituals, and self-care routines that I must use and practice in order to remain on my path of healing, regardless of what my life looks like externally – good or bad. That way when I start to get off track I have a little road map leading me back to feeling my best.
The habits and routines I know I need to stay committed to are:
~ Good sleep hygiene. Going to sleep and waking up at regular times, and not looking at a screen after 10pm. Instead I turn on my essential oil diffuser, take my melatonin, and turn on a positive, soothing podcast. Sometimes I allow the podcasts to play all night, and I wake from some pretty deep and substantial dreams!
~Meditation. I have a meditation app on my phone called Insight Timer, and I use it to either do a guided meditation or a timed self-guided meditation. I like it because it provides stats and gives you stars when you hit milestones, and who doesn’t love a gold star? Meditation has been one of THE most life-changing habits I’ve taken on. It’s teaching me to sit through uncomfortable feelings both on and off the cushion, and to take some time before responding to people or circumstances that in the past may have triggered a quick and regretful reaction.
~ Connecting with myself. For me this means journaling, whether it be one page of gratitudes or a few pages of free-writing.
~ Connecting with tribe. I’m part of a small lovely gratitude circle of women across the world, and we (almost) daily send each other our gratitude lists. Sometimes they are typed in the body, sometimes they are photos of handwritten journal entries, and sometimes we vent frustrations and confusion. It is all welcome and accepted.
~ Eating well. Not all the time, but I make sure 90% of my diet is whole, unprocessed food and that I drink plenty of water.
~ Moving my body. Several days a week I take walks around the ponds that are just steps from my house, usually while listening to a podcast. I pause frequently to take in the dozens of varieties of birds and wildflowers. I don’t worry if my heart rate goes up and down or if I get sweaty or not. I don’t even call these walks exercise, because I have an aversion to exercise. Yet I find that if I miss my walk I just don’t feel right for the rest of the day. When I come home my body is humming, my mind is focused, and I’m ready to start my day.
These are just a few of the my non-negotiables. I don’t do them 100% of the time, but when I start feeling “off” it’s usually because I haven’t been doing some of these regularly enough. Just being aware of this makes it easier to identify just what I need to do to feel better and get right back on track.