The Recovery of Self

A Commitment to Spiritual Evolution

I am journeying on a forever road of commitment to the recovery of self, a chosen path of spiritual consciousness. Through the painful lessons of my prior life, I have come to realize that pain is the price of admission to a new life. I have no regrets; only gratitude that I was given my life back and that I make a  conscious choice to live it to its fullest. I deserve, as all of us do, to be happy and to enjoy my precious time here on earth. Today, I am grateful, comfortable, happy, and still excited at the endless possibilities and wonderful gifts my life has to offer. But it wasn’t always that way.  

As experienced by many children and adolescents, my road to adult happiness was filled with unexpected twists and turns of fate. As a child in the Midwest, surrounded by all the trappings of “normalcy,” I never dreamed my life would go the direction that it has. My story is no better or worse than anyone else’s. But it is mine. I have learned that we all travel our own path, filled with valuable lessons. Our individual experience of heaven and hell on earth is a unique experience for each and every one of us. It cannot be judged or compared.  Additionally, our individual experiences are all relative and sometimes all too very real. It is in all of our  ‘’stories’’ that we have the opportunity to learn. This is, in part, my story. A story that begins long after it began, and long before it has ended.  

I was a high school dropout. My girlfriend had left me. I had no job. The band I managed had broken up. I had no car. I had no money. I had no connection with family. I lived in a run-down apartment with little heat in a  bad neighborhood. Hookers, pimps, and drug dealers were my outdoor neighbors. I was the epitome of desolation, alone, desperate, and scared. I was on the brink of self-initiated extinction.  

One morning after awaking in another drug-induced haze, I found myself alone. I crawled out of bed, grappling for a cigarette. I could not find one amidst the mess of empty beer bottles, dirty clothes and fast-food wrappers.  

I attempted to roll some semblance of a cigarette out of the many butts laying around. No luck. Having plenty of marijuana on hand, I rolled a joint and smoked it. I got up from the floor and stumbled through the cold apartment and made my way to the bathroom. I banged my head on its dangling light bulb. It swung eerily back and forth as it’s dim cast illuminated the stained and peeling wallpaper. I gazed at myself in the smoky mirror,  dulled by many years of dirt and grime.  

I ran the faucet, and nothing but frigid water poured from its rusted pipes. As I stared into my eyes, I struggled but I could not see myself. I saw nothing but darkness and deep black hollow eyes. It was not me. 

I was at the pinnacle of my life, nineteen years old and all I could think of was death. I had nothing. I felt nothing, except deep menacing pain. I wanted it to stop and dying seemed my only viable option.  

Unbeknownst to me at that moment, I stood on the threshold of a new life. A life filled with uncertainty and promise. The truth was, I was an unemployed liar, cheat, thief, drug dealer, addict, and alcoholic, and, sooner than I perhaps realized, potentially a convict or corpse. I was a self-described atheist and didn’t believe in God.  Why should I? My life was lifeless and desolate and perhaps wasn’t worth living.  

Then in a flash of surprising sobriety, I remembered the simple yet life-saving words of Marsha, my best  friend’s mother offering, “If you ever need to talk, I am here for you, no matter what.” I clung to those words in that frozen moment of darkness. I hesitantly called her. She kindly yet directly stated that there was one condition to our meeting, that I could not be using drugs.  

I thought, “What does that have to do with my problems?” So of course, I lied. We met once a week at a church library. I finally had someone to talk to. Someone who would listen and accepted me.  

One day, weeks after we started our talks, my friend’s mom asked if I had been getting high and without missing a beat, I answered yes! I don’t really know at that time why I didn’t lie.  

But, I am now so grateful that I chose not to and I am so honored by Marsha’s selfless grace and the friendship she offered me. Literally, 15 minutes later, I was whisked away by her to a drug treatment facility and I was told that I was an alcoholic and drug addict and I belonged in a four-week, inpatient treatment program. I was actually relieved.  

I admitted myself into Parkview Treatment Center. Undaunted by the unknown I forged blindly ahead. Perhaps it was just my way of surrendering to my reality. I had been brought to my knees. I had lost myself in the process of searching for happiness. This was, I thought, my last chance. I was cavalier and irreverent at times throughout the process. I thought I could coast through treatment and when out, be able to occasionally drink beer and sip wine. Uh-huh, right. I was defiant and ego-centered as my defenses flew up in direct response to my fear of really meeting myself for the first time. I was more interested in learning how to play backgammon and help others with their issues than do all the deep work I needed to do.  

The clock was ticking. The last day of an intense four weeks was upon me. I had gone into the first group of the day and took on a verbal barrage of honesty and love from my best friend’s mother who, because of no representation from my real family, stepped into family week with me. 

It felt like I was pelted with bricks, hurled in such a manner as to do great harm. In truth, they were shared in an attempt to crack the protective facade that I presented. I took everything like a boxer, on the ropes being beaten,  but I wouldn’t go down.  

After the group, I overheard several women crying about me. They feared I would not make it and were very concerned for my welfare. In fact, one counselor, Harriet, who shared her hopelessness offered the words,  “Good luck and go to AA.” I was angry. Why weren’t they fixing me? I skipped lunch and went off by myself to the pond in the back of the facility. I sat with the swans, tossing rocks into the water.  

As I watched the ripples, I wondered what would become of me? I was left alone for a couple of hours and was eventually called into the last group of the day.  

This was also the last group of the four weeks. It was the last chance I had. I was asked to create a ‘’family sculpture,’’ an exercise that offers the opportunity to create one’s family, visually sculpting in a sense of what my family looked like, acted like, etc. The catch: no words.  

Because I had no family members present, I grabbed other patients and their family members to help flesh out my masterpiece. I had a virtual three-ring circus unfolding. P.T. Barnum would have been proud. I had my mom represented as a puppeteer, upon a table controlling all of us, my sisters running around, friends and family coming and going, people displaying anger, and a multitude of other emotions as I, seemingly immune, walked through the frenzied production. I then chose Sukoshi, a chemical dependency counselor in training, to step in as my dad. I had him follow me around as a ghost, representing my deceased father. As I moved through my creation, John, my counselor, noticing the flurry of madness, asked everyone to sit down, except me and  Sukoshi. We were asked to sit down across from each other and I was invited to have a conversation with my dead father, a man I never knew. Here I sat in a circle of 30- plus people watching me dialoguing with figurative father. As I got into it I began to weep. I felt so much sadness. I was then asked to get on the floor. I  kneeled down and proceeded to go through the ceremony of burying my father.  

Then as I struggled to do this, a flash of pulsating energy coursed through my body. I went blind; I could not see anything. I went deaf; I could not hear a word. I was then awash with a soft, yet brilliant white light softly enveloping me. As I surrendered, I felt connected, alive, and loved.  

I soon regained my senses and found myself lying on the floor being rocked gently by a couple of people in the group. Through my flood of tears, I saw all the people in the room crying at the power of the moment. A private moment shared in full view. 

It is hard to put into simple words the magnificence of what I experienced in my spiritual awakening.  

But from that point on as I humbled myself and looked my addictions squarely in the eye, I understood my spiritual connection.  

With my re-commitment to God, I no longer embraced the callused opinion that I was alone, forgotten, and in world that was void of a greater collective force. I know that a loving energy was able to literally and figuratively show me the light and guide me back to myself, offering me an opportunity reclaim my life and make it uniquely mine.  

I was thunderstruck at the power and magnitude of this one-on-one encounter with God. This was truly the  “end” to the “beginning.” It changed my life forever.  

I did not then or since, turn to religion. But, I do embrace my spirituality, a personal relationship with God, as I  understand God. In return, I have a clearer understanding of my place in the world and the choices I have. I am now 21 years sober. AA meetings, therapy sessions, spiritual revelations, friends, and personal growth have all contributed to helping me discover the essence of who I am. To truly accomplish this, I had to say goodbye to my so-called best friends and start a new life. A spiritual life, drug, and alcohol-free. These decisions were the best I have ever made.  

As I stated at the beginning, my story is no better and no worse than anyone else’s. But it is mine. Own yours with all its glories and blemishes. Perhaps in my story, you will see a reflection of yourself. Maybe memories will be shaken of experiences that challenged your being, events that caused you not to love yourself, to abuse yourself, to settle for less than you deserve. The truth is, none of us have to settle. We do have choices, but it is our responsibility to this wonderful gift of life that we have been blessed with to do something about it. No one else will or can. We must face our darkest fears and embrace ourselves with loving respect.  

Recovery is much more than not using drugs or alcohol or abusing food, or spending too much money.  Recovery is more than avoidance. It is a state of awareness that connects us to our true selves. The good, the bad, and the ugly. We are all frail, all-powerful, all scared, all confident, all dark, and all light. We must endeavor to love all these aspects of ourselves and of others.  

We must also love the humanness in all of us to fully live in a place of recovery of self. A place that forever ebbs and flows with shifts and changes. Blessing us with a deeper understanding of our purpose in life and the endless possibilities to living that purpose to its fullest capacity. This sacred gift deserves to be enjoyed addiction-free, one day at a time. 

Three Steps to The Recovery of Self  

1) Live.  

Live life to the fullest in all its glory and magnificent wonder. Challenge yourself, express yourself, and leap into the true essence of your being. If we are not living our life on purpose, we are dying. We deserve to be excited about our being alive. Do what makes your heart sing. Only you have the power to make it happen. No one can or will do it for you. Live!  

2) Learn.  

Learn all you can about yourself, others, and the world around you. Learning is a commitment to personal growth, an understanding of our own existence. In doing so we are able to fully enjoy our time here with passion and enjoy a never-ending spiritual evolution.  

3) Love.  

Love yourself. All aspects without judgment and self-loathing. Simply put, to give love is to receive love.  Embracing this concept will help you in turn be able to love others. Love is the feeling of acceptance,  compassion, and connection. The heart must be open in order to receive the blessings of life. Without love, we will be lost to ourselves and disconnected from our spirituality.  

Acceptance of where we come from, and an openness to our future, allows us to revel in the possibilities of our lives. We are all spiritual creatures, blessed with a life that we are responsible for. Honor the gift and in turn honor yourself. Addictions and challenges to our happiness are not insurmountable.  

We do not have to be victimized by our past choices. But, we must make a commitment to work through the pain and trust that God has not brought us this far to be dropped off and left alone.  

We must remember that we are never given more than we can handle, and sometimes, faith in the face of darkness can be our best friend. I have survived my earlier life and walked through the fire, as many of us thankfully have. And though fraught with challenges, I for one am supremely grateful to be alive. And by its very nature, I am fulfilled. Whether I feel like it or not I endeavor to work on the quality of my life on a daily basis. I follow the guidance of these steps, open my heart to the world and dedicate myself to the daily commitment of the recovery of self. I hope you will too.  

© Anthony J.W. Benson All Rights Reserved  • Originally published in The EDGE Newspaper and an edited  version appears in the best-selling book Hot Chocolate for the Mystical Teenage Soul (Plume)

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