As a sober woman, I get the privilege and honor of being a part of other women’s recovery journeys. This past weekend I met with one of my friends in recovery. She was having a particularly difficult weekend. She had some serious emotional upheavals and even though she had a lot of recovery, she was struggling. “I can’t seem to find my toolbox,” she said, referring to the many spiritual tools she has acquired along the road to happy destiny.
“Yeah,” I said, “I lose mine a lot too.” We decided it would be a good idea that once she found it, she should put a big neon flashing strobe light on it so it would be easier to locate next time. We joked about it, but the reality was that she was making some choices that were not in her best interest. She knew what she should do, what would keep her on the beam, but despite all the knowledge, she still chose to do things that could jeopardize her sobriety.
Some of the issues she was struggling with were huge. I mean they were big, bad, dark, scary, monster in the closet in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm huge! Others were not that big, but were significant to her. We talked about the challenges she was facing and the choices she made. We discussed and agreed on what were good choices and what were bad choices. And we laughed at the insanity of doing the wrong thing even when we know it is wrong.
As we laughed, my dear friend was able to gain some perspective. I saw something in her eyes that said, “Okay, I got through this and it’s not so bad now.” It was as if she was able to look at her challenges in the rear view mirror instead of in the windshield. This got me thinking about how we often look at situations in our lives.
My first sponsor told me to always keep my eyes on the road and only occasionally glance in the rear view mirror. She meant that I should focus on today and keep the past in perspective, in the rear. I think that whole rear view recovery thing can be taken a few different ways. Yes, my sponsor was right. If I continued to live in regret, doubt, shame and guilt, I would never be able to live in the hope of today. I got that message loud and clear and get a little better at that every day.
But rear view recovery can also describe how I look at the big hairy monsters I face. When I see them coming at me, head on in the windshield of my life, I kind of freak out. It’s like having a mack truck speeding down the highway heading directly for me. My fingers wrap around the steering wheel in a death grip, every muscle in my body tenses up and I am literally paralyzed with fear. As the truck gets closer I brace myself for the impending crash. My mind races trying to figure out if I should turn this way or that. Should I slam on the brakes? Should I veer off the road into the ditch? Should I close my eyes and hope for the best?
This is what it feels like when a big problem, dilemma or situation pops up in my life. My first reaction is to freeze. Oh my gosh, what do I do? The little energizer bunny in my brain hops on that wheel and goes to town, spinning, spinning, spinning. Thoughts fly through my head. I know what I should do, like call my sponsor, take a breath, grab a tool from that darned tool box. Where did I put it again? And I know what I shouldn’t do. I shouldn’t steer into the oncoming problem, ramping up my anger, rage and control as I go. I shouldn’t close my eyes and pretend that the truck isn’t actually coming right at me. I shouldn’t slam on the brakes and hope the problem miraculously dodges me.
I have tools so that I can use them in situations exactly like this. Even in a split second, I can reach for my tool of reason and quickly decide that the ditch looks better than the front end of the truck. I can use my tool of awareness and keep my eyes open and on the truck and see if it swerves back into its lane. If it does, I can avoid the ditch altogether. I can also ask another person in the car if the truck is actually heading toward me at all. Maybe I am imagining the truck is crossing the line. Maybe I had a bad driving experience before and am so terrified that it will happen again that I just expect it to. Maybe there is a barrier that I can’t see and the truck is nowhere near my lane. Maybe it’s the curve of the road and my perception is skewed. Maybe, just maybe, I’m not even driving the car, but am merely a passenger and it’s not my problem to deal with anyhow.
When the truck finally passes and the strong wind buffers the side of the car, I can breathe again. I’m still a little shaken by the close call, by the emotional turmoil that I experienced, but I’m okay. I came out on the other side. The truck didn’t hit me. I didn’t have to crash into the ditch. I didn’t even have to pull hard to one side. I stayed the course, used my tools and got past this obstacle. And even though my heart still races and my hands are cramped, I’m otherwise okay and intact.
As I exhale, I glance back in the rear view mirror. I watch as the truck, the giant, looming, chrome monster that was threatening my very life just seconds before, gets smaller and smaller. A moment later, as I take another breath and realize I’m okay, I peek once more in the rear view and watch the truck disappear out of sight.
That’s the way it is with all of my challenges today. Some of them do a little more damage than others. Some even leave permanent scars. But eventually, they all end up in the rear view of my recovery. Most of them are no longer visible when I look back. Some, however, will always be there. And I am glad. Because they remind me that no matter how big they are when they are coming at me, I can and do get past them. And with time and the right perspective, even the largest obstacles become small specks on the horizon of my life.