Sometimes I feel like water- flowing within my natural essence, brimming with being…. alive. Some days there are rocks- a forgotten gallon of milk at the grocery store, other days there are boulders- a flat tire on the way to school drop-off and I’m forced to navigate around or flow over these obstructions repeatedly until they become smooth around the edges. Sometimes there are waterfalls, tiny trickles over small rocks and pebbles or vast ravines that plummet and disperse, the news a friend’s cancer is no longer in remission, or the family pet passing. These waterfalls displace our energies. They cause us to shift our perspective and find a new grounding.

Sometimes there are whirlpools, swift circular motions produced by opposing currents causing a downward spiral.

This is exactly how my mind operates when I get caught up and lose my connection to my higher power-when I lose myself. The dam of reason breaks and I am flooded with every and any insecurity, fear, doubt and conditioning. Each one louder than the next, trying to break the surface.  There’s no time to pause and no breath to catch. I am drowning in my own pain.

In the past my mind and habits ruled me after spaciousness, clarity and presence circled and washed down the drain. There was a long period of my life ruled by self-seeking, self-serving, and “self-will run riot.”(Big Book of AA) I was the storm that caused the ebbs and flows, with my reactions to people, places and things around me. I’m learning how to set aside my pride and admit my guilt of existing, rather than co-existing. I’ve discovered that I am still the storm, my reactions and thoughts either gale force winds on the sea or a light breeze that ripples across the surface of a still pond on a summer day.

I’m grateful to be embracing a new wholeness of living- but sometimes I miss the ignorance of blame and lack of accountability. When I was driven by story and reaction I released all responsibility for my feelings or other people’s. Everything was always someone else’s problem or completely my own. I flipped between being the self-righteous accuser and the pitiful victim. In either circumstance, I felt something was owed to me for the severe injustices that life had been throwing my way.

Today I see all this myself with much more clarity. I am extremely aware of my self-defeating habits and patterns. At this point in my life, I am able to witness myself having an argument, lashing out, or turning to isolation and recognize that the reality in front of me is no longer dictating my feelings. My habits, patterns, and conditionings are.

I know I am being irrational, reactive, angry, depressed, and self-destructive. I know I am pushing people away that love me, building walls, and starting fights for no reason. I know I am acting from a place of fear, not love. I know there is a more compassionate, loving way to engage with myself and the world. I just haven’t figured out how yet.

The opposing currents are the ones within myself.

It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlpools that my mind concocts. All I have to do is flow near the outskirts of insanity and the whirlpool sucks me in. First just a piece of me is consumed, then little by little all sense of logic and rationality is out the door, and I am drowning in pure madness. A part of me loves it. I know it well. These dark corners, where hiding out used to mean being in control and knowing it all feel eerily safe. In the past I would get sucked into a whirlpool and stay there, sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks. Another part of me loathes it, because now I know there is a different way to thrive in life.

I’ve started collecting tools needed to surf the currents of life and flow by unscathed, not harming myself or others mentally or emotionally with my mental blackouts and relapses. Like wax on a surfboard they help me maintain balance and find my way back home to myself.

The first is examining your emotions and sitting with them, really allowing yourself to feel, honoring these parts of yourself.

I am an expert at this.

I know rage tastes like cold, hard metal. Depression feels like a hot, heavy blanket. My disappointment from unrealistic expectations feels like the room is closing in on me, and that nothing, including myself will ever be good enough. Anxiety feels like I am being strangled, unable to breath or focus, like a thousand tiny birds flipping and flapping in my brain and in every cell and fiber of my being.

Having awareness creates the space for acceptance and then action to promote balance and healing.

To be crystal clear: I must sit with how I am feeling before I can act to create a different feeling. I have to honor my pain, anger, and jealousy. I have to see what’s true in the story and what is false. I have to feel the feelings before doing something different will really make a difference in my life. If I skip the acceptance piece and move straight into action, those feelings are just going to bubble up from the shores of my being and suck me down and under, like a riptide, until I learn to float and breathe in the discomfort of choppy waters.

Learning how I feel and what my emotions are began the process of learning how I was hurting inside and how I could find freedom from the past in the present. I had to get sober before I could get this real.

For me it’s as if people have been asking “Hey, how you doin?” and my entire life I responded “fine”, never really bothering to admit there might be a little or a lot more going on with me.

I’m practicing being more thoughtful and intentional with my words and in my relationships. Whirlpools present themselves and sometimes I do get sucked in, but now I have tools and the spin cycle is exponentially less severe than it ever was in my drinking and using days.

The real beauty of this experience for me is that the whirlpools, the big events or even the tiny slip-ups all are for my own growth in sobriety and as a human. The experiences are less violent to my psyche. Today I know that the water will always ebb and flow, but I am not alone- She is guiding me through in and around whatever storm arises.