I’ve just reached a significant personal milestone, a Next Chapter for me, and I feel elated and very, very grateful. I’m celebrating 10 continuous years of sobriety and involvement in the recovery movement. Right now, regardless of the surface level challenges in my life, fundamentally, at my core, I feel content and fulfilled. I like myself today!
But ten years ago my life looked very different.
I was deeply entrenched in a level of self-loathing that might be almost impossible for you to imagine. I believed, at the core of me, that I was worthless.
I believed that my family was better off without me and that there was simply no way out of the hole I had dug for myself.
This wasn’t a sudden realisation. It was a slow, fungal growth on my soul that began in my teens and culminated in full-blown, but secret addiction in my thirties, the result of trying to numb the pain that I felt deep inside .
You see, I’m an alcoholic. To me, alcohol was the magic potion that turned down the volume on a harsh and relentless Inner Critic. It was the elixir that gave me the confidence to let go of my fear of what you thought of me and to instead, dance as though no one was watching. It formed a liquid protective armour that soothed the hurts, pushed away the fear and allowed me to show up in the world.
And it worked for a long time.
But with the benefit of kindsight, I now appreciate that when you numb the bad feelings, you numb the good feelings as well. I gradually disconnected from life. I lost touch with my true emotions and my world became very small.
I was what’s described as a “high-functioning alcoholic”. This rather dubious definition means I still worked, I was married, I had lovely kids, a beautiful home. Because I did not fit the stereotypical caricature of an alcoholic, the (mainly) older, male in an overcoat and with a brown paper bag, I had no self-knowledge of what I was, of what my problem was.
It simply manifested in an ever-increasing sense of bewilderment, frustration, sadness, isolation and shame.
But I am one of the lucky ones. As the result of an intervention by my family, who were just as bewildered as I was by what was happening to me, I found myself in a Sydney Rehab in late 2006. And that’s where my journey began.
Recovery from any addiction is hard. You have to completely surrender to what is. You have to stop fighting reality and spinning stories to yourself that “it’s not so bad”. You have to make massive changes in your life and in your head and heart. You have to learn to let go of many of your old ideas completely. Change beliefs that have held you in quicksand for years and embrace a new way of life that feels pretty damn terrifying without your armour.
So yes, it’s hard.
But on the other side of all of this struggle and growth is a whole new world and I am amazed to be a part of it now.
The beauty of being in a fellowship of other people who also deeply committed to change is immense. The wisdom, experience, strength and hope I am exposed to every week from people who have stepped back from the abyss and are living “life on life’s’ terms” is powerful, inspiring and intensely life-affirming.
I’ve been privileged to hear a thousand stories of recovery and at their heart, they all have one key thing in common.
Fear of not being enough.
Fear of not being liked.
Fear of being rejected.
Fear of being different.
Fear of not living up to expectations.
Fear of being seen.
Fear of being invisible.
Fear of failure
Fear of intimacy
Fear of abandonment.
Fear of change.
So many fears that in my experience, lead to the sense of low self-worth, hopelessness, and powerlessness that motivates the Inner Critic to lash out.
And fuels the quest for perfectionism.
Which plunges you into the comparison trap.
That reinforces the fear and self-loathing.
And feeds the addiction.
It’s a vicious circle.
I’ve also been gifted with the insight of what it is that helps us break free. Yes, I’m totally committed to my 12-step program and it’s simply miraculous. But alongside that, I can see that it is empathy that frees us from isolation and shame. When we share our stories, our fears, and doubts and are met with quiet acceptance and love, something magical happens.
We can breathe again.
Slowly, slowly we begin to realise that we are not alone. We’re not so unusual after all, and are certainly not broken or "bad". We’re just human, and we’re doing our best. And when we let go, hand over, and open to a new possibility, we get to do oh, so much better.
At first my focus was all and simply about recovery. My life, my family, and my sanity were at stake. But over the years, I began to see that this gift I was being given was about more than being free from addiction. It was actually about being free to live, to really LIVE wholeheartedly.
It was and is about faith and trust and purpose and love and possibilities. It was and is about contribution and peace and adventure and hope and vulnerability and courage and joy, such joy!
And it’s still about fear. Because that never leaves us. We’re hard-wired for self-preservation both physically and emotionally
But it's now about no longer being the victim of fear.
It’s about no longer allowing fear to take the steering wheel and dictate the path. It's about no longer holding myself back because of fear of what you think of me, about not measuring up to someone else’s ideas of who and what I should be. It’s about no longer not doing something because of that fear.
Instead, it’s about looking inwards for guidance, rather than outwards. It’s about connecting to a Higher Power, knowing you’re a piece of a huge, beautiful, complicated and messy puzzle that’s perfect. And that you are a perfectly shaped and sized piece of that puzzle.
It’s as one of my gorgeously wise friends says “I now realise that there's a Susan shaped hole in the Universe and it’s simply my job to fill that space”.
And so I celebrate my freedom today, with deep humility and gratitude, because it’s come from the grace, love, and support of many people. In recovery, I’ve had the opportunity build a business and life that is far more aligned with the person I want to be rather than the person I think I should be.
That’s the wisdom and freedom I’m talking about.
And it forms the core of my purpose. I don’t want another person to feel the way I used to feel, whatever the reason and, given the opportunity, I’ll do all I can to help them to move through the quicksand.
Whenever and wherever I can be a catalyst for another woman to recognise her worthiness, to let go of the old story of not being enough and to change her beliefs about what’s possible for her so she can find and fill her own “Susan shaped hole in the world” then my delight and joy and sense of meaning and fulfilment deepens and widens.
These days, there are three key situations in which I feel I am most aligned with this commitment.
Firstly, when I am sharing my story with honesty and openness at a Recovery Meeting, on a webinar, during a speaking gig, in a post or simply in a private, wholehearted conversation with another person who reaches out.
Secondly, when I am working with a woman to help her reconnect to her self-worth and self-belief so she can fully participate in her own life, actively creating her own Next Chapter.
Thirdly, when I am helping someone to recognise the value of their experience so they can create and grow a Next Chapter Business, channeling that experience and wisdom into contribution and fulfilment.
I’ve learned a lot in the past 10 years. I'm still on the journey and will be forever more. I'm learning to live in the space between action and allowing. I'm learning to listen to, and follow, my intuition. I'm learning to respond, rather than react. I'm learning to accept myself completely as I am right now, and yet still be committed to growth. I'm learning that every feeling, good or bad, passes and can be handled. And I've learned how important it is to ask for help when I need it and to ensure I am a part of a community where I feel I belong and can contribute. That’s the most exciting part!
And how about you?
Are there changes you know you need to make in your own life?
Are your outsides and insides aligned?
Do you have a new desire, something that's calling you to grow, move, expand?
I know what it's like to feel so stuck, to feel despair and crippling fear and self-doubt. That it's too hard to change. But I also know anything, absolutely anything is possible for you. You just need to take the first step and let go. That I know for sure.
And if you feel you might be facing a similar situation to what I was, I urge you to reach out and ask for help. A whole new world awaits you.
Alcoholics Anonymous: 1300 222 222
Smart Recovery: (02) 9373 5100