A beautiful and loving ode to healing after the trauma of alcoholism
Consider that every person has a unique capacity to endure emotional trauma, and degrees of spiritual pain. I have observed this in recovering alcoholics; some have a greater capacity, while others have a lesser one. For example, my suffering appears trivial compared to the dramatic and torturous years of drinking endured by some of my fellow alcoholics in the program of AA. Within the rooms there are those who drank for decades, or to the brink of death. I drank until I was 25. There are some who lost spouses and families to their drinking. I did lose a boyfriend. I never lost a house. I never lost a career. But was I defeated? Utterly. I can confirm that, for myself, alcoholism progressed with such destructive force that I never had the chance to create those things, and therefore, perhaps luckily, was not in a position to lose them. True, my life may not appear as broken as the lives of others in the rooms— but perhaps the emotional pain I suffered, by 25 and drinking alcoholically, was all I could bear; I had reached my personal pain capacity. Ultimately, on September 21st, 2013, I woke up and I could no longer make sense of my life. In desperation, I realized that I had not the strength to survive another day in the alcoholic misery that living had become. I surrendered.
Our collective experiences reveal that no matter how much or how little material loss we suffer in our drinking careers, most of us are left with the same feelings: guilt, shame, remorse, disgust, self-contempt and desperation, to name but a few. For many of alcoholics like myself, the pain that breeds our essential transformation does not correlate with our material losses per se. Rather, it is the emotional turmoil resulting from failing oneself, over and over and over again, that delivers our defeat. It is the disassociation from life that ensues as one succumbs to the muted and numbed reality that is addiction. It is the loss of self-belief that occurs as one watches one’s life transform into something one willed it not to be. It is the shattering of the spirit that we barely survive. These were certainly the experiences and sentiments that brought me to surrender.
In addiction, I lost what I thought was my identity. Myself and other alcoholics like me have to begin life again, on new terms, and fittingly we are provided a step to live by as we begin this new journey, and that step is appropriately called Step One. We accept that to drink is to die. Inspired by the freedom that comes with this admittance, we want to re-position ourselves in life immediately. At first, I certainly wanted all my old things back, all my old relationships, to chase those “glorified” moments of my past. But this is not an option, because already we feel detached from that old self. It isn’t unusual for alcoholics to still have all of our old memories. Our old thought patterns and ways linger somewhere within us, ghost-like, making sporadic appearances and causing us to feel shame and self-hatred again. But mostly, we feel reborn, and consequentially raw, tender, exposed and vulnerable. We struggle to love this new awkward self, and our quest to find serenity in both the past and present is fraught with persistent difficulty. But this is only the beginning. As we continue on the progressive journey of recovery, and Step One bleeds into Step Two, which then carries us into Step Three, and so on, we are healed, one step at a time.
There is a beautiful Japanese art of ceramics called Kintsukuroi. It is the art of repairing broken ceramics and pottery with precious metals. Practitioners reform shattered vessels that appear damaged beyond repair by using inlaid gold and silver strands to meld the broken pieces together. The general understanding is that the piece is inevitably more beautiful for having been broken. The gold and silver strands effectively highlight the object’s imperfections; it is a literal recording of a troubled past and an imperfect form. Kinsukuroi practitioners are not interested in mending a piece in order to conceal its breaks. They are not interested in restoring it to its original state. Instead, they treat the breaks as valuable markings of uniqueness, beauty and history. A broken piece is truly one-of-a-kind, as no two ceramic works break exactly in the same way – and its imperfections are celebrated as the very features that bring it new life, purpose, and design. Metaphorically speaking, the practice and philosophy of Kinsukuroi can be likened to an alcoholic’s journey through recovery, and the reformation of ourselves through the Twelve Steps.
When I first got sober, all I could see was the ugliness in my drinking, and the imperfections of my character. The beginning is very difficult; it was hard for me to accept the painful reality of our drinking, and the destructive force my addiction assumed. But recovery embellishes our souls and embeds our wounds with symbolic strands of gold and silver. Our imperfections are remodeled as unique and beautiful markings. We learn in recovery that each of our stories is distinct, and each of us has darkness in our past that can be paradoxically used to light the way towards sobriety for others who are lost in their addiction. Ultimately, we find that all of our most traumatic memories, especially those that have caused us tremendous shame and remorse, have taught us something valuable that we can bring to our new way of living.
Recovery fills us where we have been broken, opens our wounds so that they may be implanted with wisdom, love, compassion, empathy, faith and gratitude. Akin to Kinsukuroi ceramics, our new form appears very differently from the original, but our injuries are transformed into our most beautiful and valuable features, and our true design, for which we were always intended, is revealed to us.