7/13/2015

We Heal In Community

We Heal in Community by Ashley Neese

All of my years going to A.A. meetings taught me one of the most valuable lessons of my life: we heal in community. There is a special magic that reveals itself when we allow ourselves to let it all hang out in front of each other. Sharing honestly in a group of people with similar intentions sets our spirit free. It wasn’t until I started teaching and leading groups on my own that I recognized how much my A.A. experiences shaped the kind of leader I want to be today.

In my early years of getting sober it was critical for me to be part of a group of people that were not getting wasted. I needed a place to go, to listen, to share, to connect and to relate. I needed to hear every story of darkness, despair, tragedy, sorrow, pain and fear. I also need to hear that there was hope for someone who hated themselves as much as I did at the time. That it was possible to learn how to take care of myself and experience the laughter and joy that was dying to get out of my depleted, lifeless shell.

The day I raised my hand in an A.A. meeting and said “My name is Ashley and I’m an alcoholic,” was a defining moment, a radical step towards the light I had been running from since I could remember. It’s hard to pinpoint when it all happened, when the overwhelming bouts of anxiety and depression made themselves regular experiences in my life. For years therapists told me I took a turn towards the darkness when my parents split up. Or maybe it was the moment my mother left me crying on that soft beige couch at my psychologist’s office and told me that she never wanted to see me again. Or it was the night I got on the tour bus of an L.A. based rap group after their show, high as a kite, fifteen years old, wanting to lose my virginity as fast as possible because I didn’t believe it was sacred, that any thing in life mattered.

The moment that life changing phrase came out of my mouth, “I’m Ashley and I’m an alcoholic”, a weight the size of Georgia lifted from my center and I felt a flash of what I would later name relief come over my body. It took me years to begin to understand just what a big threshold I crossed over that day. It was the first time I admitted, to a group of strangers, that I was like them and that I couldn’t do my life alone anymore.

Fast forward over fourteen years later and I am still showing up and sharing my soul in community. I have experienced time and time again that when I share the truth with others in a safe space, it takes the power out of the pain, fear or frustration and allows me to live a little lighter, a little more free. There is a saying in the rooms that we are only as sick as our secrets. These days I make it a point to share honestly with friends and in groups on a regular basis to let the energy that is weighing me down start to evaporate. I want to travel light and they way that happens is with you.

I’ve had times in my life where I have stayed away from opening up in front of groups and while nothing terrible happened I didn’t feel as seen. Even after writing and blogging for years there is a very different energy when you are sharing your truth in front of live humans. You really have no where to hide! And that is what I love about it. I am done hiding. Period.

There are loads of studies out there that prove what we have known intuitively for ages, that we heal the best in community with others. A.A. worked for me because it was a group of people moving towards a common goal, a sober life. As I grew in my recovery and stopped defining my life by my past behaviors, I sought out communities where people were living in a way that resonated with my spirit on a deeper level. While the groups that I participate in have shifted over the years, the need to let myself be witnessed in front of others remains. In our ever advancing fast paced culture, coming together to share, heal and grow along side each other is more important that it has ever been. We need this real deal type of connection for ourselves, each other and the planet.

Today I have the honor and joy of teaching and leading groups of women where we slow down, celebrate each other, listen deeply and tap into our inner wisdom on levels that blow me away every time I show up to hold this sacred space. Since declaring my new moon intention to create a container for more women to heal and shine last year, I am in awe of how the groups have been growing and presenting themselves to me. Each time a woman comes to a circle with a new friend, I see the chain grow longer and the ripple effect reaching beyond what I ever imagined possible.

It’s been said in many traditions that the greatest spiritual teachers are the ones who have lived in darkness. While I don’t believe it’s an either/or scenario, I feel in my heart of hearts that even in the throes of my addiction I was created in this lifetime to help other women tap into themselves and change our world.

xoa

Comments

  • nicole

    Oh Ashley, you are beyond words, my friend. I just love this post. It literally brought me to tears. I’m just beginning to find a community of like minded souls. I just have to trust that it will come, and not force it. It is such a wonderful feeling to be able to share, and be comfortable with it. I remember I didn’t share in AA meetings for 2 years, it was frightening for me. Which is funny, because I’m 100% Leo, so, usually not afraid to share. Ha! Today, it’s a little different and I feel a little more comfortable, yet still hesitant at times.
    I’m trying to arrange something sooner than later to come down and have some work done with you. ( I told my husband that’s what I wanted for my b-day present:))
    Can’t wait to connect in person soon! Your soul is amazing, girl.
    xo

    • ashley

      Hello Nicole, it is such a treat to hear from you in this space. I know the work that is involved finding your tribe. Those moment where you wonder if if will ever happen and those times when you connect and feel affirmed you are on the path. It’s up and down and every place in between! Years ago I had a sponsor that told me in order for her to sponsor me I had to raise my hand at every meeting to share. I’m not suggesting you do that at all, looking back it was pretty intense but at the time was exactly what I needed. Within a month or two I felt so much better sharing at group level.

      I love that you are a LEO and I always really appreciate your honesty. It’s so refreshing to connect with other women on the path that are just doing their best to stay present and be of service. I adore you and look forward to the day that we connect in person, I know it’s going to happen soon! Wishing you a beautiful week. Lots of love. xoa

  • Natalie

    Beautiful Ashley, thank you so much for sharing… This resonates on a deep level. I feel like I am somewhat in the same situation as you were some years ago. Hating on myself, not being able to share, and struggling with addiction (food) as a way of suppressing emotions or plain exhaustion. Although I know life can be so beautiful, I don’t feel it in my heart. I feel miserable and it makes me sad – and saying that makes me feel guilty because I imagine if I just disciplined myself a little bit more and become a little more grateful it all would be all right. I feel like I am trapped in a vicious cycle and I don’t really know how to get out. I hope this wasn’t too whiny, just trying to open up a little. Thank you, Ashley. love, N

    • ashley

      Hello dear Natalie, thank you for being part of this conversation. I am grateful to hear you connect to your feelings. Recovery from anything is a long road with many small and big changes to make along the way. Finding a community of people in a similar situation can be helpful, especially in the begging when we’re struggling so much. I also am a huge fan of a dedicated yoga practice, it helps on every level. Tommy Rosen’s book, Recovery 2.0 is amazing for all addictions. He goes into great detail about using yoga as a tool to set yourself free. Super powerful, loads of practical wisdom. Thinking of you and sending love. I am glad you felt safe to open up here. Love, a

  • Hope

    As always, the love, the love, the love. <3

    • ashley

      Thank you for the love Hope. It means the world! Amazed how far we have come since college. Love you so. xoa

  • Emmie Rae

    Such a beautiful, beautiful post. This has come at such an appropriate time for me – you have put words to exactly what I have been thinking of over the last few days, Community is so so important and almost completely unrecognised for healing. I went through enormous healing in my 5 months of yoga teacher training, and it is that presence of women, that safe community space that really facilities the shift. Really powerful stuff. You are doing such gorgeous work! I’m very inspired to take steps in setting up something similar here in Sydney. So much love from across the ocean x

    • ashley

      Hello dear Emmie,
      It is so wonderful to hear from you! Thank you for taking the time to write, it means the world to me. I am grateful these words resonated with you and YES YES YES! Start bringing women together it is super important that we create community with each other. Women have been gathering for ages in healing and sharing and we need to bring that back. So much transpires when women have a safe place to be seen and heard. I cannot tell you how much leading these groups has changed me. I might have to write a post about it soon! Keep me posted and let me know if there is anything I can do to support you. Lots of love from me to you. xoa

  • Leonie

    What a great joy reading your messages Ashley. I follow you now since almost two years and there ist so much changeing. Its great observing how you unfold so rapidly after all the struggel you went through.. It feels good to know that there are people who are willing to heal on this earth. Deeply inspiring!!

    • ashley

      Hello dearest,
      Thank you for writing and being part of the conversation. I am very grateful for your thoughtful words and am so happy to be in community with you! Thank you for the encouragement and love. Thinking of you and sending hugs. xoa

  • Jessica

    Thank you for sharing this and thank you for holding the space. Love! xoo

    • ashley

      You’re so welcome Jess. Grateful you are here. Wishing you a gorgeous weekend. xoa

  • Christina

    After being in recovery a couple of years I totally get what you are saying…unfortunately I keep letting others hold me back.. like my husband. I am so much more worried about everyone else that I neglect me. I wish I had your strength.

    • ashley

      Hey Christina,
      Recovery is such a process, I totally get it. It took me years to learn to put myself first. Holding space for you in my heart and sending love your way. xoa

  • Rachael

    … And you are doing just that! .You are brave, strong and beautiful and we are all brightened by your genuine light. All of the love.

    • ashley

      Hey dear Racheal! Such a wonderful surprise to hear from you over here. Your words mean the world to me. Thankful that we are in community together and that we help each other shine brighter. Big hugs. xoa

  • Jen

    Just so beautiful! You are amazing and this piece is incredibly brave and meaningful. Love.

    • ashley

      Thank you so much Jen! I am really grateful for your love and support. xoa

  • Laura Paterson

    Hi Ashley,
    I’m a follower of your blog over in London! I’d like to congratulate you on your sobriety and your journey so far.
    I’ve got to be honest and say that whilst I was growing up I had a parent who eventually went to AA and it was a challenging experience. There were a lot of problems within the group, and it felt as though the AA group became a substitute addiction to the alcohol. I wish that my father had the openness and honesty that you have. Our whole lives became about what the AA group said, instead of us as a family being valued in the present, after the years and years of pain we had to put up with.
    Seeing how open, honest and real you are is really refreshing. I value your journey so much, and gain so much strength from you expressing your vulnerabilities, strengths and joys on this journey.
    I’m going to open my heart and learn to express my own fears and journeys within communities like this one you have created here. It may be an online platform, but it resonates so much truth, and has such an important space in many many peoples hearts I’m sure.
    Thank you for giving me the space to share this experience with you. It is coming from a purely loving and open heart space. I want to celebrate the love you have for yourself, and that love which is projected out towards others like me. Good luck on your journey, I’m sure the next part will be the most exciting part yet, filled with unconditional love and hope.
    Kind regards, Laura Paterson x

    • ashley

      Hello Laura,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to share so honestly here. I know a few people who’s parents were in AA and they have shared similar stories with me. It can be really challenging for people to navigate AA groups when there is such a strong dogma there. It wasn’t until I stopped going to AA (I’m still sober) that I was able to see how much I needed to work through my relationships in a different way.

      I am grateful to hear that you are going to open your heart and share in your community. It is such an important part of our journey as women and people to share and connect with others. Whatever platform you choose will no doubt have a real impact on your life and countless others. It’s important to create the community we long for and trust that there are others that want the same thing. The more you share your truth the more you open that space for others to do the same. It’s such meaningful work, really it’s the bright spot in my life.

      Reading back over your words this morning has filled my heart with immense gratitude. Thank you for shining light and love over on this corner of the world. You have such a bright spirit and so much wisdom and compassion to offer. Thinking of you as you embark on you path of creating community and sending love your way. All my heart, xoa

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