Last week I started writing my annual thoughts about this year’s soberversary. The theme, “Something Happened” remains a great blog subject, which I may expand upon at some point. My thoughts, which started as an attempt at inspiration, morphed into another woeful rendition about the demise of my drinking days.
I’m over it.
Frankly, I am tired of regurgitating that pitiful, yet crucial shift in my life; the final weeks, days, and hours leading to that fateful day I hit bottom. I just don’t feel like going there this year.
I am not, by any means, discrediting those moments of desperation, as they led me to monumental transition. The necessary circumstances that would initiate my ongoing spiritual evolution.
The past few weeks have been that of exceeding emotion. Not sadness, or anger, or remorse. I am authentically grateful.
Since 2016, I have made it a personal endeavor to take fewer selfies, capturing instead photos of bona fide life experiences. At some point, I observed that my Facebook memories were only those of my face. Seriously, enough already. 365 days and the best I had to show for my growth was a clearer face, whiter eyes, and a genuine smile? Good hair? A cute hat? All worthy of a considerable photo, yet not at all indicative of my life in sobriety.
Recently, I had the opportunity to climb a big rock. Like 75 feet of earth, which has stood for millions, if not billions of years. I had taken a six-week class on the theory and technique of how to navigate this feat safely and in a somewhat educated manner. I am also fortunate to have a man in my life who can expand upon these lessons. I found myself stunned by my perception of the similarities in climbing and recovery.
Follow me, if you will...
Day One: I attempted one route, of the “beginner” variety. I didn’t get to the top. I was more than halfway up and decided I couldn’t continue. Even with the gentle coaching words from below, “Are you sure you want to quit, you are more than halfway there?” I let my fears and physical abilities get the best of me, and was lowered down. I wasn’t digging deep enough to trust my competence and move forward.
This same day, I was taught how to lead belay. The fear of this procedure was excessive, as I found myself and my rope responsible for the life of this person I care deeply about, as he made his own ascent up a route. His confidence in me was impressive, or at the very least, he stoically hid any apprehension. We both survived, yet my anxiety level as he started to climb was off the charts. By following his suggestions as he made his way up, I was able to thrive during our cohesive maneuvers. I had to listen, set my fears aside, and find faith in the process.
Day Two: I basically did nothing related to progress. My toe hurt, I was intimidated by more accomplished climbers. I did gear up to attempt one route, making it less than halfway. I gave in, judging myself, based on the ability of others.
Day Three: We hiked up a rather steep trail, with a pack of gear on my back. What was this shit? This physical challenge, so far out of my comfort zone. How the hell was I going to have the energy to climb after these draining switchbacks? A patient and skilled crew offered suggestions to help me get to the top. Honestly, it wasn’t that bad. I had let trepidation get the best of me early in the trek, not knowing what was around the next corner or how much longer we would clamor to the top. I was offered the sage advice to push through the rough spots, and steady myself as the ground leveled out, to not “stop” as I tried to steady my breathing - as it would be harder to find my pace after such moments of rest.
At the top, my route was waiting. I handed my phone to our friend, so he could capture those “not-so-selfie” images as I tried to break through the deluge of self-imposed barriers.
I started. That is key. Just start.
There were moments during my ascent when I couldn’t find an adequate hold and struggled with my center of gravity. From below, I heard the words, “Place your feet and your hands will follow.” To me, this was a new concept, yet precise, nonetheless.
I paused. A lot.
At some point more than halfway up, I felt I could not advance. My forearms were howling at me, my toe felt as if it was outgrowing my shoe with each new placement, and yes...doubt had started to set in. Avoiding the old standby words, “I can’t” I creatively came up with new phrases to let my friends know I wasn’t going to reach the top; “I’m not strong enough”, “There aren’t good holds”, “Blah, fucking, blah”
What-EVER. It was all bullshit. Negative self-talk, a fear-based pity party; the situational life rendition I was more accustomed to.
Motivation was offered from the trail below with thought-provoking queries like, “Do you really want to stop when you are so close to the top?” Do you feel like starting over on this route?” It is 100% feasible that the only real incentive was the back massage promised to me later that evening. I pushed through and upon looking at what was right in front of me, appeared the top rope anchors.
I made it. To the top.
As I started my descent, I felt an adrenaline rush I haven’t felt in years, if ever. This sense of accomplishment and pride in myself were worthy results of my completed challenge. Bruised knees and a couple of bleeding knuckles accompanied my triumph.
I am worthy.
As my friends started their own routes, I had a moment of earnest humility and clarity. Up on the edge of a hill, below a colossal rock face, I was grateful. This experience, the allure of Tensleep, Wyoming, these sensational people in my life; sobriety. The depth of my feelings at that juncture simply cannot be captured in a few paragraphs. I had come full circle, in those hours. Appreciative of the similarities in what I had just accomplished and my four years of recovery. I was feeling all of it, how apropos that the route I climbed was named, “Sensory Stream”.
This is gratitude:
Honest, spiritually generous relationships
These concepts and words once foreign or simply obsolete in my life a few short years ago. All the result of living my life on life’s terms. Every ounce of pain, all of the happiness, the struggle...the lessons are plenty.
Feeling is believing. Noodle on that for a minute.
I guess you could say, my sensory stream has been awakened in sobriety.