That Familiar Stranger

You can only read the last chapter so many times

I had to wait a few days to see if it was just some sort of shock residue. Fearful, painfully emotional, angry, and tear filled at the moment of impact. This was tearing me apart, calculating life itself, the depths and the entirety of it. Alarms and fireworks went off, despair, pity, resentment, were Roman candles popping off repeatedly. In the immediate aftermath of devastating news, all of the old behaviors arrived. They all staked their claim to various parts of the psyche in a confounding symphony of hammering. The catastrophizing fireworks, the destructive impulses, the fear and anxiety involved in not knowing. They were all skipping their warmups and going to extremes when I heard a knock on the door. No, not the tangible, real door; Rather the one that opens when another closes. When I pulled it open to see what it may reveal? I was shocked! It was… me? In that moment I opened the door, I became the person that awaited inside, and the person that I was, was now just a part of my story, a chapter that could be read again but never again taking the place of the person I am today. For what awaited me was the person I am now, the fear and confusion was much more quickly abated, giving way to insights, directions, and the inherent change that I was surprised to find had formed someone else while I was practicing the practicing. A strange metamorphosis that I am still trying to comprehend as well as appreciate.

Photo by Sonya Taraban from Pexels

The other day we lost our only source of income, a job loss. I could say more, but since people are going through some version of this in many cases, I will simply leave it at that. It leaves us at the mercy of unknown outcomes in a world filled with great uncertainties. That is why the meeting of a stranger at the door of my thoughts was as surprising as it was most welcome. It is also a reinforcement to this program of practicing, the never ending tools that are available for those simply being willing to search, and work for them. Even after all of these days, this is not something I would have ever suspected. It is one thing to have great insights, grand examples, and introspect. But if you can’t apply them in some way to real life, then the experience needed to keep them in your practicing fades. The motivations become lost, and along the way lazy thinking slips in there and well… meh… Meeting myself at that door was not how I thought change would announce its arrival, but I willingly shook my own hand and said welcome.

After the initial blow of trying to comprehend the meaning of the news; The starting up and shutting down of the fireworks show going on inside. What came to mind was self destruction, catastrophizing, that we’re never going to make it thinking. In the past this kind of thinking would have lasted days and weeks, and the destruction caused was fairly complete because of my considerate personality. Looking back at past events, I can even see myself manipulating my own destruction avenues, making sure that if I hurt I wanted folks to know it. Today I found those avenues blocked by larger than life signs, the signs that get moved around and farther away from those areas of destruction that I used to wander through. The various mantras and sayings that I used throughout my recovery stood guard against the anxieties and fears. I found myself reaching for a box of pity, and finding a better way of thinking. I found myself searching for a fear to define this, an emotion to apply to it all. Finding instead an emotional order that has learned how not to spend foolishly when those energies are needed for other matters. I heard my brother’s voice reminding me that sometimes my only job was not to make things worse. My own voice reminding me that conflict and resolution have their ways as they travel through my being. The once narrow and bumpy roads I expected have had much infrastructure applied to their width, and grade.

Photo by Javon Swaby from Pexels

Did I expect any of this? Excuse my language, but hell no! Even with everything I do, I often question if I have a program? Am I doing something the right way, or just going through the motions? Is this or that thing I do or say really bring about change, a better way of thinking? I am left with an answer to a question that I didn’t want answered at the moment, I expected my childish behaviors and wallowing to win out and comfort me in my pity blanket. That didn’t happen? Something else did that threw my tantrums into a timeout, and that part of my story is an absolutely exciting turn of life, and recovery, as it is a very real departure from that person I knew before. In this case it is truly the promises that are spoken of being honorably kept. I am still filled with an overwhelming amount of “I don’t know’s?” The fears are still there, the depressing thoughts, the dreaded thoughts of unexpected changes, the lack of savings or safety net. What is missing is the extra fuzziness from trying to grasp it all, take control, look at the entire Google map trying to decipher the individual trees. What is missing is the arbitrary anxieties my mind would run off with and spin into oblivions. They’re all still there, they are just right sized, not given a reason to grow because those thoughts are now well behind the thoughts in the front of my thinking. They are well behind the thought processes I have acquired along the way. Those maladaptive thoughts even stand weak behind those very first steps and lessons learned in my recovery. As much as I am elated with the progress, I don’t know when this great shift of being happened, or if it just happened now? But in hindsight, the entirety of recovery was needed at every point, and every point was needed to get to this one. That is the messaging I get from this, not just the growth today, but the growth along the way that produced this unexpected new foundation.

This thickening of the emotional skin is not the same as the old saying of just toughen up. It is a culmination of a new way of life that I started off nine years ago this month. I have often agreed with the occasional thoughts of “Shouldn’t I be farther along by now?” Although I have never felt this sudden shift to the point where I am decidedly farther along than I thought I was. It’s an overwhelming gratitude bubbling up with a whole bunch of what’s next? Instead of what’s wrong? It is the first teachings about the next indicated right thing, and the latest educations in self and emotional sobriety. It is the combination of the Big Book, the life revealed, the work put into one’s self, and the willingness to look beyond addictions for the answers that couldn’t be found while in active addiction. Although I am filled with this newly discovered self, it in of itself brings with it its own inherent cautions, signs, and lessons to be continued. It brings with it its own responsibility level, its own life level of acceptance. In those first few days I had to check myself to see if this was just some sort of misapplied apathy, some protection mechanism that will come back later to do that destructive work. When it all sunk in, set in place, I was acutely aware that I had changed, and change invites more change, more work.

Everything happens just like it’s supposed to

When I was in early recovery I knew that those early lessons helped me through the bigger life battles I soon found myself in. The health, and financial battles I had to navigate were both buoyed by the lessons I had just attached to the front of my thinking. The interpersonal difficulties that led to a better self awareness, the crunchy societal lessons I learned were not an outside job, rather an inside one. At each step along the way in this program there were many smaller increments, minute raises in elevation, a transiting from one area of understanding to the next. They did not come in order, skipping from one applied thought, one applied action to the next. Somehow it all came down to one moment in my life to accept the change, accept the better way of life I live today. When it all came crashing down, my foundation strengthened, my walls did not buckle, a few places of reinforcement were needed. But I’m still standing, inside and out, able to respond to the next indicated right action, better thought, with uncluttered abilities. The last year was filled with the very things I needed to see to get to this stranger inside me. The emotional quotient needed to get to the other avenues of self knowledge. I wouldn’t have gotten here, if I didn’t have that first meeting, that introduction to AA, and a program that freely offers solutions. I wouldn’t be so grateful today for a world filled with I don’t know’s if I hadn’t become at least willing enough to listen.

The call is to live in the present, to live in the real life of its own terms, discover a belief in something bigger than yourself. Squarely standing at the intersection of Eternal Avenue, and Mystery Lane of life, I hold fear and anxiety, hopelessness and doubt, in the pocket of the overcoat I wear. That overcoat of learning, acceptance, willingness, and change that was tailored just for me, and freely given to me by others, and by that… familiar stranger.

Photo by Jenna Hamra from Pexels

Authors note: I am sure there will be more on the emotional aspects of this new chapter of life. Recent writings have been similar and almost repetitive. In finding that emotional sobriety, a new form of finding myself is in the making. As I have said before, sometimes you just have to let it cook for a while after following the recipe.

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