It would be great if every transformational path—embracing sobriety included—was all forward motion. Floating on a pink cloud of giddy relief and wonder at this whole new world, energy surging, creative and sexual juices flowing, newly found pleasures, new rewarding habits taking hold, relationships not only healing but soaring to new heights of intimacy.
But that's not what today's mantra and story are all about. I love the way Marianne Williamson describes finding A Course in Miracles, inviting God into her life, and expecting things to improve. In her book Return to Love, she says: "It's as though my life was a house, and I thought God would give it a wonderful paint job—new shutters perhaps, a new roof. Instead, it felt as though as soon as I gave the house to God, He hit it with a wrecking ball.
Sorry honey, He seemed to say, 'there were cracks in the foundation, not to mention all the rats in the bedroom.'"
It doesn't matter whether we are religious or spiritual or agnostic or atheistic, embarking on any transformational journey is inviting what might be gale-wind forces of change. And we might just end up with new granite countertops and upgraded carpet and all-new Pottery Barn decor. But it's also likely that we will be dealing with issues we have denied or medicated, ancient wounds buried in the cellar, ungrieved sorrows stuck away in the attic, or just some heavy bags leftover from childhood yet to unpack. Possibly one or two few bats in our belfry. Sometimes getting sober just turns the key and opens the door to the real work of transforming our lives. Hallelujah's all around.
Holly's message today was a vivid, wrenching description of how it felt to find herself sober and living her passion but suddenly drowning in unbearable pain. She threw the book at this unwelcome Darkness but nothing was working, nothing was moving. The thing that finally broke through and let the Light come streaming back in was giving in to that ancient message about "allow and accept."
Two weeks after the whole thing started, and just a day after relenting to the damn thing, sitting in a bath and listening to the saddest music you have ever heard, I felt it move. By the time I was walking to work that day, I realized there was a new freshness, lightness, and optimism.
I could write a ton of personal narrative around this topic. I would bet big money that we call can—unless we're very young or very fortunate or both. Sometimes we know exactly what we're dealing with, like the loss of a pet or the death of a loved one or some devastating diagnosis or a betrayal or any number of extremely painful very huge life events.
At other times, the shroud of darkness is just a mystery. We don't know why our world has gone 40 Shades of Black or why we are in so much emotional pain that we can hardly breathe. Whatever is trying to be acknowledged or make it's way out is just too deep, too unknowable. And it's a great idea to do exactly what Holly did: Throw the book at it—explore every behavioral and dietary change that makes sense, every bit of trusted wisdom and guidance, whatever we know or are guided to do. Shifts and breakthroughs can happen and light can start shining through the cracks.
But at other times, we just have to sit with it—or take a deep dive into the very darkest middle of it and then sit. God! That feels so terrible. Just sitting there drowning in pain, listening to our monkey brain chattering things like "If you give into this, you'll be stuck here forever." But the truth is we won't be stuck there forever. In fact the opposite is true: "Being with" is the fastest, easiest way through. Healers and therapists and therapeutic modalities are just midwives. We are always the ones giving birth to the Siamese twins of Pleasure and Pain, Joy and Sorrow. One may be ever so much more welcome than the other, but in this world, they can't be separated. The same nerve endings carry every possible sensation, and the heart has only one door.
Mark Manson is a philosopher for our times who always makes me laugh out loud. Some days, his comedic, edgy, extremely F-bomb laden "counterintuitive approach to living a good life" speaks to me in a way that nothing else does:
The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience. Pain is an inextricable thread in the fabric of life, and to tear it out is not only impossible, but destructive: Attempting to tear it out unravels everything else with it. To try to avoid pain is to give too many fucks about pain. In contrast, if you’re able to not give a fuck about the pain, you become unstoppable.