"We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement."
~ Pema Chödrön
In my first few years of sobriety I believed that people with sober time who were in pain must not be "working their program right". In my mind, I imagined that they did not have - or were not calling - a sponsor, did not "work" the Steps or were not going to enough meetings. I especially (secretly, of course) thought this about people who relapsed. Little did I know at the time, my judgment of others was a projection of my own fears. And that the kind of sobriety I wanted happened to be the kind that meant I would be feeling everything as I learned to live life on life's terms. In the beginning I believed that doing "everything right" in the 12 Step program would ensure a peaceful, pain-free life.
So I was very hard on myself to "work the program right" by calling my sponsor and other women from meetings, "getting through" the 12 Steps, going to many meetings, serving in various ways, etc. I'm not saying that these actions did not improve my life. They certainly did, and do. Without them I would not be sober today. And newcomers to 12 Step programs often need the structure and rigidity they may experience in the beginning. That was exactly where I was supposed to be at the time and I am grateful to all of my spiritual guides.
Fifteen years sober I realize that there is so much I still don't understand about life, myself, my body, my brain, and the world. Aside from living the Steps in my life, psychotherapy helps me and I take medication that helps with my chronic depression and anxiety. As the result of learning from good examples in the program, practicing new behaviors myself, and studying Buddhism over the past several years, I have learned not to be so hard on myself all of the time. I have learned not to "beat myself up" with what I think I should (gosh I hate even typing that curse word ;) be doing, thinking or feeling.
Not too very long ago, I worked full-time in a professional position, swam at the YMCA in the mornings before work, ran in 5 and 10Ks, felt like I had dealt with a lot of "family of origin issues", sponsored several women in the program, felt like I understood a lot about myself, and was excited about life. That was "Me" at that time.
Last year my estranged father, Alan, shot and killed himself. I also lost one of my very best friends and the only constant parental figure I really had - my Mother-In-Law, Susan. Those were the "biggies" of the year but there were other events (including major sinus surgery, a long rough recovery from that surgery, chronic back pain, my mother's struggle with alcoholism, and another dear friend's death) that made it the hardest year of our lives.
Today "Me" sometimes struggles to leave the safety of her home. I often feel overwhelmed with things in life that seldom overwhelmed me before. I seem to be "back" to a time of "shoulding on myself" more frequently and harshly. I should be exercising more, I should be going out and enjoying the world in this way and that, I should be able to get off of the medication I am on, I should be able be able to keep my home clean and the refrigerator stocked, I should be more in touch with friends and family...the list seems never-ending and it is all too easy to add to it. On the days "the shoulds" become a deafening cacophony in my mind, I can become paralyzed with fear and unable to do much more than get back into the bed with a book and a kitty or two.
It was my very first sponsor that used to tell me "should shit". So when I'm not okay with me - with who, what and where I am - I have tools today to help me, including reminding myself of the phrase "should shit".
The fact is, I've never been here before. In this place. An estranged father who killed himself with a shotgun that I never would have guessed he owned, and finding out just shortly before his death that, along with major depression, he was also suffering from schizophrenia. Losing dear Susan after developing such a close and intimate, albeit long-distance, relationship with her. My husband, having lost his father to alcoholism several years earlier, now suddenly losing his mother, who had been sober and following her own spiritual path for 30 years, and packing up her house of 40 years.
Thankfully, I have been learning and believe today, that for me, it's about staying with where I am. Regardless of how incredibly painful some days can be. It's about accepting who I am today and that I may be in a completely different place tomorrow. And that's okay. When I can love myself enough to let me be wherever it is I am, my mind becomes clearer and I have more peace.
At a retreat last year I heard a speaker say that, for her, every "should" she has about her life is tied to an "old idea". One of the books that helps guide my life today states, "Some of us tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely."
Along with my husband and my friend, Michelle, Susan was among the people I counted on the most to remind me that taking it easy during a hard time is not only okay but very important, that I am okay exactly as I am, and that everything is going to be okay, no matter what. I still think of calling her just about every day.
I feel you with me sometimes, Susan, but I miss you terribly and I'd rather have you here in the flesh. I am very grateful for the parts of Steve and me that came from knowing and loving you. Thank you. ♥