Shortly after I started in private practice as a lactation consultant, I got into conversation with someone who was considering going into private practice herself. She seemed hesitant about making the leap, so I offered some encouragement, to which she replied, “Well it’s easy for you, you’re so confident.” I had literally only just met this person. While I could sense that the remark came from her own insecurity, it hurt me and left me feeling judged. It’s very easy to make assumptions about people you hardly know – they may appear confident and self assured – but you may know nothing about their fears, insecurities, anxieties, and mild neuroses (we all have them!), and the experiences they have had in their life which have shaped who they are. You may know nothing about the obstacles they have had to overcome to get where they are today.
I’m an alcoholic and I’m ‘in recovery’ in the sense that one is always in recovery once you stop drinking. This is not how I define myself, but alcoholism and recovery are part of my story, and I suppose part of who I am now. I started drinking in earnest when I went to University. Didn’t everyone? I look back on years of oblivion but somehow I managed to scrape through and qualify with a degree in engineering. I started working as an engineer as soon as I graduated and the drinking continued. And continued. Until I reached a point, aged 24, when I finally admitted to myself that I had a problem and that I was utterly miserable. I knew that alcohol affected me in a different way to most other people. Just one drink seemed to trigger a compulsion to have another, and another, until I could drink no more or was unconscious. So I started attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Belfast where I was living at the time. Initially I found it helpful. I realised I wasn’t alone and that there were people who could help and support me. But 3 months in, instinct told me that I just couldn’t face a lifetime of attending meetings – it felt to me like I was jumping from one addiction to another. I didn’t want to have to depend on AA. I have great respect for AA. I know it has helped innumerable people around the world and that it continues to do so, but it wasn’t for me. I decided to go it alone. I knew there had to be some other way for me, I just wasn’t sure what it was.
I moved to Dublin and started attending weekly ‘Women for Sobriety’ meetings in St. Patrick’s Hospital. I don’t know if this organisation is still active in Ireland, but I attended meetings for approximately two years (this was around 1997). And they played a huge role in my recovery; a process of letting go of the past and learning to love myself, and actually getting to a point where I had some measure of self-esteem and confidence. The thing is, for the time that you are drinking, you don’t grow emotionally or spiritually. And you emerge very fragile and raw. I think this is particularly true for women. Even though you have stopped drinking, the feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, low self-esteem, lack of confidence and low self-worth linger and hold you back from being truly free and truly yourself. Women for Sobriety was founded by an American woman called Jean Kirpatrick and is “self-help recover program based on the unique emotional needs of women” – http://womenforsobriety.org/beta2/. It is based on Buddhist principles, and is focused on helping women to let go of the past, break the cycle of destructive negative thinking and move forward to become strong and emotionally secure. One of the 13 WFS ‘New Life Acceptance Statements’ (http://womenforsobriety.org/beta2/new-life-program/13-affirmations/) that resonated strongly with me was
“I am what I think. – I am a capable, competent, caring, compassionate woman.”
For for the most part, I have become this woman. But God, it has taken so long. And there has been much pain and a lot of tears shed along the way. Recovery wasn’t just about my own alcoholism, it was also about breaking through the residual effects of growing up with an alcoholic parent. That’s a whole other story, but in short what it meant for me was growing up with a feeling that I was never good enough, never worth the effort (ie the effort that my father never made to stop drinking), and a feeling of shame at the very core of my being that I brought with me into adult life. I think that anyone who has grown up with an alcoholic parent, particularly if they have grown up in a small community where everyone knows everyone, and knows about your parent’s drinking, will relate to this). I also carried a huge amount of anger about my father’s drinking and his inability to stop. But as I negotiated my way through my own recovery, I came to understand that he just wasn’t able. I feel that there was a pain deep inside him that was too great for him to ever be able to function competently and responsibly in the real world. Shortly before he died in 2001, I made my peace with him.
The next big step for me in terms of my recovery was meditation and yoga. Long story short – I lived in Australia for 3 years where I tried various styles of yoga and meditation. I traveled around Africa and South East Asia, and spent 7 months in India where I lived in an ashram for almost 5 months. I eventually came home and completed a 2 year teacher training course at the Mandala Yoga Ashram in Wales and taught for many years thereafter. This sounds so cliched, but Yoga helped me to find myself, my ‘real’ self, the part of me that was hidden during the years that I was drinking. It was a process of releasing years of pain and negative emotions (sitting on my mat and weeping as I moved or held poses or simply sat in stillness), finding light in my heart and unlocking creative energy. It’s hard to put into words but I know the yogis among you will get it.
So….what was the point of this post? I’m not even sure! We all have a back story and shit that we’ve had to deal with in life. I know I’m not unique. Yes I am strong now and yes I may appear confident. But I also still experience occasional anxiety and insecurity, existential angst, and frustration. Normal stuff I guess, and what it is to be human. But I accept myself for who I am and I try to accept others for who they are. I’ll finish with a little quote from Sister Stan;
“With gratitude and praise, I make peace with the
world, with everything in my life, not excusing or
ignoring but acknowledging everything as
part of me.”