Since July 9th, 2017 I've spent 168 days sober as a snail and dare I say, magical things have been happening. I've made friends with self-confidence and have uncovered a deep understanding of and with myself. As I reflect on the year, my decision to free myself completely from alcohol is the most beautiful gift I could have ever given myself.
Removing from my life-equation, the variable(s) that always made me feel compressed, powerless and just plain unhealthy has transformed the way I show up in the world each and every moment of each and every day. It has changed the way I think about and value myself and what I deem possible. Just the other evening as I was having dinner with some dear friends of mine, I uttered the words: "since quitting alcohol I feel like I can do anything". It's not the first time I've said that, and it's also entirely true!
Transferring my power back to its rightful place inside of myself expanded my being, it opened up my thought process to face life head-on and to consciously work through difficulties in both my day to day experience as well as my subconscious. My commitment to the process of choosing long-term gain over immediate satisfaction engaged the alchemical process of turning dark matter into light - a process comprised of the uniting and accepting of contrasts.
One of the juiciest truths out there is that this world is comprised of opposites: happy/sad, united/divided, angry/elated, rich/poor, young/old, dark/light, alone/together, night/day, dead/alive and on and on (literally).
At some point, our culture decided to ignore one half of the whole and we began to hate on the darkness in favour of the light (probably around the same time men started to fear the mysterious wisdom and innate knowing of women). In doing this (fearing the inner world) we forgot that what takes place in the shadow(s) of our psyche is equally as important and necessary in the formation and development of our humanity as the more rational and logical processes. As a society we have been instructed to fear unpleasant feelings and to run the other way - towards happiness - as soon as possible. But the expectation of continual bliss and the A.S.A.P approach isn't how these things work. There is no quick and simultaneously lasting way to uncover the parts of ourselves that we keep hidden from the light. It's also entirely normal to experience and feel things that are unpleasant and less straightforward than comfort - though comfort is certainly an easier pill to swallow.*It should be noted that the process of self discovery doesn't always have to be something that is gut wrenching or horrendously painful. This is only to say that it is not all butterflies and rainbows*
Since the process of figuring oneself out requires some real dedication and at times, assistance from a professional by way of a therapist or a few self-help books (yes, I said it), it makes sense that the majority of us don't know where to start or even why to start. We figured out that though it might not be a long-term solution (whether this conclusion has been reached consciously or not) there are indeed ways to up the serotonin and dopamine levels in our bodies to temporarily numb the pain and confusion of what lies beneath that which we are willing and able to deal with. In fact, there are almost endless ways to do this. The fast-acting formulas for jumping back on the happiness train include but are not limited to: alcohol, food, cigarettes, weed, binge-watching tv and movies, sex, and even religion or spirituality at times.
We want our joy and we want it now!
As long as we ask ourselves to be in a constant state of bliss whilst fearing the unpleasantries of life we will always be striving for a state of being that isn't natural or healthy. As long as we run towards the light at the first sign of darkness, the more we will require that drink, that hit, that drag, that food coma, that meaningless sex interaction, that whatever it is, to pull us back into a state of familiarity and ease.
That state of constant happiness is an illusion and when it lasts only for so long, we are left wondering what is so wrong with us that we can't be happy all the time or thankful all the time or excited all the time. We think things like, "but my family is so amazing, how can I be upset right now?", "my boyfriend just surprised me with a beautiful dinner tonight and I'm mad at the world - what is wrong with me!", "this is such a great opportunity that anyone would jump at, why am I not happy?!" and so on and so forth.
When the light switch is turned off we run to the bottle or whatever our numb-out-of-choice is to fix the situation - that's how uncomfortable we are with any feelings that do not equal joy or moving forward or achievement and the like. Anything that is not in the spectrum of happiness terrifies us. Anything that is slow or unfamiliar, less obvious and more challenging is viewed as unideal, right?
The thing is, we really aren't taught this stuff! We aren't taught about our inner world. How could we possibly learn this from a culture that totally dismisses the land of feeling or inner-knowing as being unscientific and unproven? We can't because 'it' doesn't value doing the work. 'It' doesn't even think there is any work to be done! We don't really know the first thing about true self-discovery because our parents (unless you grew up with a psychoanalyst as a parent or close family member) weren't taught this. Nor were their parents or their grandparents. Our society has been so focused on forward movement and on growth and tangible results that we have totally obliterated the mostly invisible process of turning the inner soil. Why value what you can't see?
Here's an excerpt from a book I finished recently that touches on this nicely:
"The lily images the process of inner transformation, which begins in the muddy depths of the unconscious and only flowers when it finally emerges into consciousness. This is why the ego is unaware of the really important inner changes, and the individual so often feels that nothing is happening. The alchemical processes that change our whole being grow silently in the depths, transforming the structure of our psyche from within." - Llewelyn Vaughan Lee, The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul.
Unfortunately, it is not common practice in our culture to value that which we cannot see and we have been led to believe that anything worth doing should be logical, clearly visible and that we should see results almost immediately. But how is this working for us? We know very well that the accumulation of things doesn't result in happiness, so what does? Where does this so-called happiness even come from?
For many people, happiness arrives in the form of love or a partner and that is truly a wonderful thing, but what happens when that person can't fulfil every single one of our needs or when we aren't even sure what we need to be happy? What about when our needs start to change and that which we once required in order to be happy no longer does the trick? What if (and I hope this never happens) our partner passes suddenly and we're left alone to figure things out? What if the things that temporarily define us disappear? Whether that is a person or a group of people, a job, a paycheque or a fan base - what happens then?
The things that we use either consciously or not, to help ease the suffering of being alone, feeling unsatisfied in a relationship, unhappy with our jobs, not feeling beautiful or confident enough, these coping mechanisms steal us away from ourselves. They keep us from having to dive in to figure things out. After all, not being able to see the bottom can be scary!
We've come to a time in human existence where our inability to value the things we cannot see or immediately understand is no longer working for us. Sure, we can blame society and we can blame 'the Great American Dream' culture, but at the end of the day, complaining does little to change a situation. And though we've all heard it a million times and at this point probably sounds like some cheery cliché, there's really only one person in your life who can change anything about your current state and that person is you.
It really all changed for me when my boyfriend at the time asked me a seemingly very simple question. He said, "why do you drink?". I was caught completely off guard by his question, so naturally, I said: "what do you mean why do I drink?" He continued by saying "well, there must be a reason why you drink. Maybe you're covering something up or trying to cope with something that is painful." And that my friends was the turning point for me because as basic as that question may seem, I had never thought to ask myself WHY I drank. After all, I lived a nice life with nice friends and a nice family in a first world country where everyone regularly has their fair share of drinks, so I never thought to ask myself why. But once I did, it opened up a whole new territory and nothing has ever been the same since.
Yes, the point is about asking yourself that question, but you can ask yourself why all day and find excuses lining up, one after the other. It's really more about what you decide to do with that question and whether or not you're ready, willing and able to reallllllly ask that question, to exhaust the usual excuses to get to the real dirt as to why you do or use whatever it is that you do or use, in order to change something about your current state of being. Where will the question of why take you? Where will you allow it go? All of this is up to you.
However, though it must be a self-governed journey, you don't have to do it alone.
I began the job of excavating my life and my history (really) two years ago when I decided to reach out to a psychoanalyst for assistance. Prior to that, I was doing my best to think things through on my own, but I only got so far doing that. Until finding my current therapist, I had a few sessions with a young Counsellor and a couple with a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist but that didn't cut it for me. In my personal opinion, I felt that these methods were not nearly as deep as the one I was looking for and luckily, eventually found.
I understand completely that the thought of paying a therapist each week doesn't sound very appealing, but it could be and most likely will be life-changing if you find someone who you resonate with. I recognize the privilege of having access to a therapist and I am so thankful for that, but I also work hard to ensure that it is a part of my life. Besides, no one says you have to stay in therapy forever!
The thing to remember here is that this kind of work takes time and requires loving patience. Whether you go it alone or with the help of a professional, find someone or a group of people in your life who you can confide in and who can cheer you on when the going gets rough. Some people won't need or want that and that's fine too (I didn't, really). Unfortunately, you're most likely not going to find encouragement from our culture as we (as a whole) just don't value the life-long process of discovery when it involves the excavation and the rebuilding of our internal belief systems. After all, it sometimes means separating ourselves from the flock/tribe mentality and that doesn't sit well with a lot of people because it generally isn't the easiest thing to do.
There are so many things that could be said about this process and for sure, this blog post could be ten thousand times longer to include many more perspectives. However, the point of this is to encourage you to follow the little nudge inside of you and to tell you that I know first-hand that choosing to do something that is hard and following through on that decision is rewarding. If you show up for it every day with a willingness to confront some less than easy things, your work will pay off in the long run.
Honestly, I decided to embark on a Year of Sobriety (after already cutting down and monitoring my intake) because part of me didn't want to and that resistance was very telling to me. I knew that inside of that resistance was a whole heap of lessons and the nitty-gritty of what I needed to learn to become the fullest version of myself and so, even though part of me didn't want to cut out alcohol from every occasion for a whole year, I knew it needed to happen. Want and need - two very different things.
Since quitting alcohol, I legitimately feel like I can do anything because I believe in myself 1000%. Because even though sometimes I wouldn't mind a 6-ounce glass of a beautiful California Cabernet Sauvignon, the clarity I find after sticking-it-out finds the original need for it has passed. When I'm sad, I'm sad simply until I'm not anymore and usually it means that I need to scan my life to see what is upsetting me. I take a look around and I deal with it either by accepting it and letting it pass, or trying to actively change it through healthy things like sleep, nutritious food, a walk outside, a journal entry, a cry, a bath, a drive in the country or a change in my personal relationships, work life or how I spend my time. Sometimes I'm sad because the people around me that I'm close to are sad and trust me, that is reason enough to drink! But I don't anymore. I don't take the easy way out because the only person I can control in this crazy existence is me.
Lately, I've been laughing harder than I have in the entire last decade of my life. I'm really here, guys. I'm present and not passive, engaged and not dismissive and I'm really here, in this moment with you whether that moment is a happy one or a crappy one.
I realize that a lot of people roll their eyes at the whole concept of New Year's and New Year's Resolutions but in my humble opinion, there ain't nothing wrong with deciding what's gotta go and what's gotta happen in order to feel happier. Whether it's booze, food or binge-watching, we can have the best intentions to cut down and we can try our hardest to not let that 'thing' control us, but without knowing why it's around in the first place, or why we turn to it to feel good or to create an alternate reality, none of it can change.
The question to ask ourselves is why.
So grab a pen and a journal and get down to business. Make 2018 the year you dive into the deep mystery of the self. Create a network of people to support you whether it's one friend or five, seek counselling or therapy and join whatever groups you need and want to join to feel supported in your decision to explore the less than ideal realities that we keep hidden because we've been taught to think that anything that isn't joy is not okay. Well, it is - it's actually essential to being human and it need not scare you for long.
You can do this. Trust me when I say that I never thought I could or would, but I did and I am. Yes, it is a process that never completely ends, but it doesn't have to be such a chore if you show up loving your whole self. Maybe I'm a strange bird, but this kind of work enthrals me and I'm here to share some of that excitement with you and for you as I realize that not everyone holds that same level of excitement with regards to this work. Whatever your take on the matter just know that it's worth it.
Okay, almost there.
I spent New Year's Eve on a date with myself. I politely declined offers to hang and I did exactly what I wanted - I went for a sunny walk in the afternoon with my Ma and later in the day watched Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring) as I ate delicious Indian food and thought about my next steps in 2018. As I watched LOTR, one scene stood out to me.
Frodo and the Fellowship have come through Lothlórien (haha, I can't believe I'm referencing LOTR right now!) and meet with Galadriel, the 'Lady of Light' - the powerful Elf who speaks to each of the Fellowship using only her mind (a very feminine, intuitive quality that does not need the logic of speech to be heard). Upon greeting the Fellowship she can see that they are very tired and offers them a night of rest. Later, Frodo awakens to the image of Galadriel walking by him and knows intuitively to follow her. They say nothing as she dips the glowing vase into the the great pool and fills it with its water.
Galadriel: Will you look into the mirror?
Frodo: What will I see?
Galadriel: Even the wisest cannot tell for the mirror shows many things. Things that were. Things that are. And some things that have not yet come to pass.
The mirror/water that Frodo looks into is at first, completely dark. Soon the water transforms into images and Frodo sees the past, the present and a terrifying future that tries to steal the ring from Frodo's neck (in other words, tries to take his power from him). Frodo falls back as he resists the urge to hand over the ring and Galadriel continues the lesson/passes the test by resisting Frodo's offer of the ring herself. Once that epic scene passes Frodo continues:
Frodo: I cannot do this alone.
Galadriel: You are a Ring bearer, Frodo. To bear a Ring of power is to be alone.
[Galadriel lifts her hand up. A ring adorns her finger.]
Galadriel: This is Nenya, the Ring of Adamant, and I am its Keeper. This task was appointed to you, and if you do not find a way, no one will.
Frodo: Then I know what I must do. It's just… I'm afraid to do it.
[Galadriel bends down to meet him at eye level.]
Galadriel: Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.
Galadriel shows Frodo that she too has her own Ring of Power, thereby sharing the knowledge with Frodo that everyone has their own Ring of Power to bear and to do so, is a solo journey. Frodo knows that in order to protect the Ring he must break off from the pack (thus breaking off from the tribe mentality) and carry his burden alone. He understands that the work that must be done is not something that others can do for him.
I swear I'm not a LOTR obsessed person, but even so, the story of the Ring is an ancient tale that directly relates to present day. At some point, (three epic books later) Frodo returns to the Shire (a lush, green space) after venturing into unknown territory and having fought his demons, and the same can be true for us.
When you look in the mirror, what do you see? When you see your face staring back at you, you see your past, your present and possible future...are you happy with what your present looks like based on your current state of being? We all have our own personal power - whether or not we give it away to something outside of ourselves (or someone) or whether we protect and carry our power inside of us, is up to us.
I gave my power away to things outside of myself for most of my life. Whether it was needing approval from other people, wanting to fit in with the status quo because I thought that was how things were supposed to be or even to a God who I believed was judging me right or wrong - heaven or hell. I gave my power away to relationships and eventually to weed and then, alcohol. I lived in a fog, a mere fraction of myself in order to cope with my reality - so many dreams, so many desires and not the faintest clue how to make them happen. Alcohol gave me the confidence to be the kind of person I thought I needed to be - happy, full of energy, comfortable with guys, and uninhibited when truthfully I felt so different from what the world taught me a young woman should feel and be.
It wasn't until I faced the reality of just how unhappy I was and how rushing home from work to drink a couple glasses of wine or a few beers wasn't doing a single thing to get me closer to loving myself, that I could begin the process of thinking differently about things.
It wasn't until someone asked me WHY I drank that my reality was shattered.
So, I'm here to be that person for you.
Why do you do it? Why do you use that substance or that person to change your way of being in this world? Why? There has to be a reason.
The truth is, there's probably a whole book full of reasons and that's ok. Humans are complex beings!
Choosing to ask yourself why, choosing to answer honestly and choosing to follow those sparks of light into the less than pretty places, is our ticket to real transformation. This work is about feeling, it's about intuition and it's about trust.
I shall leave you with this quote:
"Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life." - Golda Meir
Best wishes for 2018 everyone! Let this be the Year of the Mirror.
- Carissa, xoxo
*Join the private Facebook group for women interested in the journey, Hey Sister here.
*Oh, and watch the LOTR scene here.