Nine days ago was my sobriety anniversary and I forgot about it. This was a first for me as this has historically been a celebratory day in my life and the fact that I forgot felt incredibly significant. For the last week I have been reflecting on why this feels so important and how much my sober life has changed over the last several years.
On March 4, of 2001 I checked into a psych ward with the help of my parents and the following day voluntarily admitted myself into rehab for alcohol and drug addiction. At the time it was the most radical self care choice I had ever made. For years up until that point my life was all about how I could get out and stay out of my body as often as possible, preferably all of the time. I existed to hide in the shame of who I had become, the terrifying situations I found myself in, and the-obvious-to-everyone desire I had to disappear every day. Admitting that I wanted to live and needed help was such an honest action because the truth was, deep down I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t want to keep living in the spiral of darkness and destruction that encompassed my entire life. To this day, I am forever grateful that when presented with the opportunity to choose to try and live in this world I took it with out hesitation and never looked back.
Many of you know the bits and pieces of my recovery journey that I have shared on the journal. It has been very healing for me to be out regarding my experiences with addiction, choosing to have abortions, sexual assault, and what it means to live without any substances clouding my judgement, perceptions, and emotions. Gratitude doesn’t even begin to express the depth of how I feel knowing there is a safe place for me to share parts of my past with the single intention of letting you know that you are not alone. That has been and will continue to be the driving force behind my writing, teaching, and life.
So many things have changed around my recovery in the last handful of years and I have felt a little hesitant to share them here. A good indicator that I am onto something important with my writing is that I have some feelings around sharing it. The biggest changes that I have been sitting with as of late are my decision to stop calling myself an alcoholic/addict and saying that I am in recovery. After spending thirteen solid years in 12 step programs and spending the last 3 carving out a new path for myself, this too feels like a radical self care choice and one that I am ready to start embracing a little more publicly.
I teach my clients that the words we use and the things that we repeat to ourselves matter. There is nothing more powerful than the sound current of our own voice, it trumps what our parents, lovers, friends, and bosses say to us. It’s our own voice that calls the loudest to our spirit. Several years ago I recognized that I was no longer comfortable sitting in meetings saying the words, I’m Ashley and I’m an Alcoholic. While those same words were the medicine I needed years ago to heal through the process of naming, recognizing, admitting my struggles in public, and taking responsibility for many of my past choices, they no longer resonated with me. In fact, every time I said I’m Ashley and I’m an Alcoholic, I felt my body contract. It was in the moments of feeling into my body’s response to me saying those potent words, I realized it was time to let them go.
Often times my body knows what is best and it takes my head and blessed little ego a bit longer to onboard. While it might not seem like a big deal to stop labeling yourself as an alcoholic and addict to me it has been revolutionary. I stopped drinking a long time ago, I was young, desperate, on the verge of death, and needing a container to hold space for my healing. A.A. provided me with that and then some. It was amazing to be part of a secret society where I always had people to connect with and folks I could relate to all around the globe. I am in no way saying anything disparaging about A.A. or 12 step recovery groups, in fact I still pop into Al-anon from time to time because I’ve always needed more help navigating intimate relationships with people than with substances.
The thing is, I am not broken anymore. I am not crazy. I am not suffering and I have zero interest in connecting with people from that place. This has been a long time coming and far from an easy transition. I’ve had to release friendships I’ve had for ages as I’ve let parts of myself go that just aren’t who I am anymore. I’ve had to turn down the loudspeaker on the tapes that want to broadcast that I am still a fuck up. Because the truth is I never was a fuck up. I was in a tremendous amount of pain and doing everything I knew how to try and make it stop. In my first year of not drinking a man said to me that A.A. isn’t a bridge back to A.A., it’s a bridge back to life. I have never forgotten those words and know today exactly why he shared them with me.
Making the decision to claim my health, sanity, and joy has been the exact medicine I have needed these last few years. Relating to people from a place of strength, passion, creativity, and openness is far more powerful than relating from a place of pain, stagnancy, suffering, and unresolved trauma. This is something I have been meditating on a great deal, especially this past year. For a long time I thought that it was most healing to relate through the deep wells of our wounds and that relating through love and joy just wasn’t as profound. This is what I learned in A.A. and in the many other spiritual communities I have been a part of since. Our culture is so obsessed with trauma and being wounded. While I am 100% in support of doing our work to transform our traumas with whatever assistance we need, there is something to be said for up leveling the way we relate to people. This upgrade has never been more apparent than in my personal relationships and with my clients.
Sharing our stories from a place of strength is an art. Relating to people with vulnerability and courage takes practice. Naming our struggles, wounds, and traumas without dumping our stuff onto people takes us being resourced enough to be able to feel through the subtle differences between connection and off loading. Brené Brown talks about the power of waiting to tell parts of our stories until they are more resolved and I completely agree with her. Deciding to no longer call myself an alcoholic/addict has been one way that I move towards relating to people from a place of wholeness and it’s exactly this wholeness that has shifted the way I share about my life and on a larger scale.
There is something to be said for stepping into the light of no longer being broken. Making the choice to update my story and recognize that my alcoholism and addictions were deeply rooted in not loving myself which stemmed from a life of relational and some physical trauma. Working to heal the trauma through the somatic breath and energy work I practice and take my clients through has opened up my life to so many more possibilities than the limited framework of saying that I’m in recovery and needing to identify in that way. During my birthday soul reading in January with my dear psychic friend we had some good long, deep belly laughs (and I shed some big tears) about the fact that I am healed. I am whole. I am restored. I am joyful. And that it was time to invite even more of that energy into my life.
Will I still say that I am sober? Yes, I don’t have any aversion to that and now that being sober is trending like crazy it’s fun to say I’ve been doing this for a long time. Saying that I am sober doesn’t carry the same vibration as labeling myself an alcoholic or addict because the truth is I am not an alcoholic or addict anymore. I am healed. I choose to not drink or use drugs because I want to be embodied. I live for being present and I have no desire to check out in those ways. Getting to the actual root of why I didn’t feel safe in my body was the piece that ultimately healed my addictions. Not feeling safe in my body and growing up with intense relational trauma is what caused my addiction. I needed a way to cope and alcohol and drugs were the remedy. I recognize this might seem like a radical statement but it’s really inline with what learned in A.A. about how alcoholism is a spiritual disease. Honestly I feel like ‘spiritual sickness’ is just another way of talking about trauma which is why we isolate and cut ourselves off. This feeling of being alone and like nobody understands you eventually leads to needing to self medicate if you don’t have any other tools or support.
My journey with choosing to not drink or use drugs has been one of incredible healing, profound learning, and it has taken me to places I never imagined I would actually get to. I am excited about what the future holds and am grateful that my parents showing up and offered me an opportunity to have a second chance at life. I know the decision to be sober is why I am who I am today, why I teach what I teach, and why I am so passionate about holding space for people to tell their truths. There are no mistakes. There are no accidents. We are constantly evolving, learning to love harder, and getting even more real with ourselves. No matter where you are on your path my prayer for all of us is this:
May we shine light on our darkness to illuminate the way for others.
May we radically accept our faults, limitations, and judgments with ease, grace and openness.
May we stay curious about each moment and willing to investigate the parts of ourselves that scare us the most.
May we be generous space holders for ourselves and our communities.
May we laugh loudly, shine brightly, speak with intention, and sing off key.
And may do our best to lead with love everyday.
Photo x Anaïs + Dax