When I envision my recovery, when I close my eyes and allow its evolution to surface, I envision a simple graph, disclosing a well recognizable angle. Starting from a central axis and continuing steadily at 45-degrees. Always rising.
The graph reveals a series of attempts to overcome obstacles. Documents a series of hard-won solutions. Some working for a while then weakening. Others providing an enduring insight, a wellbeing that would come to define my life. Whichever category they fell into, seen as a sequence, these trials have guided me on a purposeful path. A formation of steps I can count on.
Trauma and loneliness wove throughout my childhood, creating knots of confusion and distress. I was so young, I didn’t have the tools to communicate, to confront the fears and stress defining those years. The compulsive behaviors that followed were in reality an attempt to make things manageable, to survive an unbearable situation. They flourished in an atmosphere of isolation, thriving in obscure places as a misinterpreted source of light.
As a young child, I developed an overwhelming fear of the dark, spending many nights awake beside my unaware sibling. I surrounded myself with stuffed animals, creating a sheltering comradery.
I rotated my companions each night, guaranteeing each had their turn by my side. No one was left out. No one privileged. No one left wanting.
With time, I felt suffocated by their increasing number. My bed had become overcrowded. There was no room left for me. Their presence no longer provided solace but added to my discomfort. My solution worked until it no longer worked.
Another solution then surfaced. I started playing music at a very young age. Was recognized for my ability. Music has always been my most comfortable form of self-expression. Nonetheless, it could not replace my overwhelming need to develop an articulate voice. I craved unambiguous words capable of expressing my complex reality, my tangle of thoughts. Words that could voice adversity and my mission to overcome it.
As I progressed in my musical studies, it also became apparent that the prevailing criterion was perfection, triggering a compulsive approach regarding my practicing. No matter how much I rehearsed, it never seemed enough. It stopped working as a solution, no longer provided consolation.
In early adolescence, my compulsive behaviors found an alternative focus. I found myself increasingly apprehensive, fearful about the future, about becoming an adult. I felt I had no guide, no positive influence to shine a light on my path. I found myself preferring the world as I knew it, rather than venture into uncharted territory without a map. I developed an eating disorder in an attempt to arrest my physical development, to escape what appeared to be inevitable.
At that time, my particular eating disorder was not commonly discussed. I thought it was my personal solution to my specific predicament. A way to live outside the rules. Claiming some control, albeit fabricated, over what had continued to be unmanageable.
It took me more than ten years to recognize my disease as a problem. To realize that others had found the same distorted solution.
By a series of chance encounters, I discovered a fellowship for eating disorders. I found a community that shared my concerns. In the smallest of ways, I felt transformed, my path lightened. I began to shed the responsibility to take everything into my own hands, realizing that not everything was mine to fix. By sharing at the meetings, I initiated my journey to recover my voice.
I came to recognize a higher power, my first in an evolution of higher powers. Recognizing that unconditional acceptance from my higher power is a birthright not a privilege.
I chronicled my transformation, envisioning myself on a heroic journey. Traveling through travails in the hope of a brighter future. A protagonist within an epic tradition. My recovery was reflected in my writing of that time, writing that took the form of allegory. One story in particular portrayed my quest, The Forgetful Man.
There once was a man with a very bad memory.
One day, he went to the doctor and said, “Doctor, by now I’ve lived for many years yet never seem to learn from my mistakes. I run into the same problem without remembering past remedies.”
The doctor told him to buy a simple notebook and return the next week.
The next week, the forgetful man returned with his new notebook. The doctor suggested he write in detail his everyday experiences and return the next week. The forgetful man agreed and the session ended. What he didn’t tell the doctor was that he didn’t know how to write or, to be truthful, had forgotten.
It all started in late spring when the forgetful man found himself in the midst of a strangely beautiful moment. Flowers were blooming and donkeys were grazing in the tall swaying grass. The air filled him through and through. He couldn’t tell where his fingers ended and the afternoon began.
Fearing the loss of his newly gained lightness to his deeper darker dreads, he desperately took out his notebook. He ripped out a blank page, held it high above his head in the sky overlooking the valley, then quickly folded it until small enough to fit in his pocket. When he returned home, he placed the folded sheet in a shoe box beneath his bed. That night, he felt safer as he slept.
A few days later, his mother telephoned him. He had forgotten his grandmother’s birthday and was the only one absent from the party. The forgetful man immediately sent his grandmother eighty-five yellow roses. “How many times have these flowers been sent and I continue to forget!” he cried, covering his face with his hands.
Without thinking, he ripped out another page from his notebook and carefully exposed it to the dark closed air of his small room, folded it, first in halves, then quarters, then eighths, placed it in the shoe box, and fell asleep. In the morning, his head ached slightly yet he had forgotten the box beneath the bed.
The forgetful man continued to gather both joyful and disheartened events of his life, storing them all beneath his bed without noticing that he had become a collector of sorts. Finally, one day when he needed it most, he realized.
It was a short day in mid-February. The sun had already begun to set when the forgetful man found himself in a part of the city before then unknown to him. He tried to follow the street signs, but they appeared written in a foreign tongue with indecipherable letters, leading him in circles, deeper and deeper into confusion. The streets slithered like snakes under the light rain. He had forgotten his umbrella.
Hours later, after seemingly endless trials and tribulations, he arrived home. As he opened the door to his one room apartment, everything whirled in newness. He saw things as if never before seen: the delicate flower print of his faded curtain, the golden design of the picture frame, the curve of the faucet as it held the last drop of water in breathless suspension, and the grey cardboard box beneath his small unmade bed.
Pulling out the dusty box, he found it filled with folded sheets of paper. And then, he remembered.
He unfolded the yellowed pages and hung each one on the clothesline crossing his room. Slowly, surely, images began to appear: a donkey braying in the wind, eighty-five yellow roses, a plaid umbrella, yet as slowly as each memory revealed itself, it slowly fled, running down the paper and dripping, in vivid colors, onto the floor.
Once again, the pages hung blankly, but a shimmering lake remained, beautiful and blue, in the middle of his room. Every morning, the man took pleasure in wading through its waters, and often stood calmly at its center.
Eventually, after many meetings and outreach calls, after much meditation and reflection, I found abstinence. Or it found me. When I least expected it, still deep within my struggles, my compulsion was lifted.
I learned that my eating disorder was not a personal solution to my specific predicament, but a life-threatening addiction. While my awareness was expanded, I never attempted to methodically work the steps. I continued to work outside the box. Afraid of set rules or procedures. As a result, certain key elements that triggered my addiction were left unaddressed.
Soon after I found abstinence, beautiful things began to fill my life. I met my present partner, and we began a family. We moved to another country, to a remote village with no twelve-step programs, or at least, none I felt sufficiently anonymous. I focused on my Qigong and sitting meditation practice, both motionless and moving exercises. Read twelve step literature but also focused on literature suggested by my meditation teacher, finding many connections between my meditation practice and my evolving recovery.
Among the Qigong exercises I practiced, what surfaced as invaluable were the walking and standing meditations.
The walking meditations incorporate walking backwards and forwards with varied arm movements and conscious breathing patterns. The intention is to witness the stillness amidst movement.
The standing meditations assume specific stances, also with conscious breathing patterns. The intention is to observe the movement in stillness.
In my sitting meditation practice, what has been most revealing is a sense of becoming friends with myself. Observing the movement of my thoughts, initiating a familiar awareness of my inner narratives, I began to develop a more steadfast and tolerant self-appreciation when experiencing the assorted struggles of my life, amidst unpredictable, ordinary experience.
This awareness eventually lessened my inner chatter, created more space. I was able to incorporate meditation techniques throughout my day. Weaving through encounters and misencounters. Finding stillness within the activities which defined my life. Gradually recognizing habitual patterns of reaction and action.
Meditation proved to be a transformative process, sowing the seeds of a deep sense of self-loyalty and trust. I was able to begin to deconstruct my destructive narratives and observe what earlier blinded me. To begin to let go of the underlying fear.
My growing family further dispersed my compulsive behavior, rooted me in the present by the undeniable necessities of the moment.
I taught my children from elementary through high school. It was an exercise in perseverance. In patience. An exercise in recognizing what works, until it stops working. Is no longer productive. When one solution is relevant for one child yet falls short when addressing the needs of another.
Once again, this process was aided by the tools I had collected in recovery. Layers of lessons. An ability to slow down and listen to a guiding voice beyond my own. A process facilitated by a deep sense of appreciation and mutual trust.
The internet entered my life when I was nearly forty years old. It was a blessing as it released me from a growing estrangement from friends and family. From my city, my country.
Initially my use was limited by poor service and expensive hourly plans. It was defined primarily by emails to my ailing parents as my mother had fallen ill and the prognosis was not favorable. It allowed me to amend my absence. Making my presence felt, no matter the physical distance.
As time went on, my usage continued to be limited. It wasn’t until my eldest was applying for college that I witnessed my tech use escalate. The application and financial aid forms were endless. My mission to find the “perfect fit” occupied my day.
I would however not consider my tech use compulsive until my children left for school, to another country, to unforeseen circumstances.
I began to check my messages day and night in case they needed me. To make sure they were safe. I spent my days reading and listening to the news. This was for two main reasons, to connect me to a wider vision of the world, a world where my children had settled, and to fill the unfamiliar silence of my home. To keep me company.
After reading the daily news from various sources, I listened while I worked. I listened while I cooked. I listened while I cleaned. I listened while I slept. Until there was no room for me.
In recent years as the news evolved precariously, conflicts overwhelming the headlines, basic tenets of my life threatened, I searched for the truth online as if an oracle, as if it could provide me with that missing link where everything would be alright. Decoding the news as if a personal message. As if a long-awaited way out. As if a concrete solution for an existential and undefined mystery.
It simply proved to be a distraction. There was no simple resolution to my quest. What I searched for eluded me.
I reached my bottom when the news became increasingly intense. Reached its own undeniable climax. I felt glued to those sources and vocabulary, newscasters that I had grown to know, and I imagined, knew me. I was constantly searching the internet for a possible answer, a solution for the confusion of the state of things until I lost my eyesight.
I began to see double, vertically. I could not walk. Had trouble eating unless I closed my eyes. I panicked, thinking I had an incurable genetic condition, a condition that runs in my family.
Finally, I was given good advice from a traditional healer. Alternative treatments. Eye exercises. In doing the exercises, I realized how limited my range of movement had become. My eyes were limited to short distances, limited to frontal vision rather than peripheral.
It was incongruous that I was constantly focused on world events to the exclusion of those around me or my present reality, yet my vision was limited to the most immediate of ranges, a self-imposed confinement, a constraint imposed by my tech addiction.
While I didn’t suffer the genetic disease I feared, I did have a disease that needed attending to. I recognized that I was experiencing, after unnecessary and compulsive use of technology, the same slight nausea I had experienced with my earlier addiction. It was signaling a need. Forcing me to remember. To regather time-honored tools.
I knew my life was unmanageable. I knew what I had to do but it required some research. Some initial missteps before I found the ITAA rooms.
There are two major differences in my recovery this time around.
- I work the steps daily.
- I learned to pray.
Initially, I kept it simple. Attending 90 meetings in 90 days. Listening and sharing.
After the initial 90 days, I attended a step workshop and, soon after, attended another. Step work was extremely difficult for me. Less about abstinence, more about deep recovery. Tracing what led me to my addictions and seeing its repercussions in my everyday actions or lack of action.
I revisited the notion of amends. Addressing it with creativity and compassion. Creating safe spaces to stage reunions. When an encounter was not safely conceivable, I envisioned similar situations, future situations, and how I could choose to play them out in a benevolent manner. Searching a fertile ground where I could start anew without risking further harm to others or to myself. I also began working with ways to make amends to those no longer with us.
After a short time in the program, my compulsion to use my bottom line: listening, reading or watching the news was lifted.
My perception of my higher power also evolved. I now envision a team of higher powers much like the diverse members in the ITAA rooms. Each with a remarkable ability, a dedicated and unique gift. If I only remember. If I only find the humility to ask for help.
While my meditation practice had matured, I realized I had never actually gained confidence in prayer. I needed to focus on prayer with an approach that reflected my evolving spirituality. Addressing a kinder, more empathetic source of wisdom.
I wrote my own simple prayers, for those days where spontaneous words eluded me. The following prayer is one that I often turn to:
May I walk a peaceful path.
May compulsive thoughts lift from my mind
Like mist from still water.
May I connect to my surroundings
With those surrounding me.
May our family experience wellbeing
Whatever we choose to do
Wherever we choose to be
Whoever we choose to be with.
May our love endure distance. Misunderstanding.
May our gardens continue to prosper.
Our bodies continue to thrive.
May our suffering
Be transparent in its teaching
Recognizing your wisdom
With courage and serenity.
Sometimes I still need reminding.
I create altars in strategic locations, altars with no religious affiliation. Simply symbolic objects intended to keep me present. Keep me grounded.
I have an altar where I meditate. On my desk, accompanying my computer, where I write. On my kitchen table. In my music studio. In my garden. By my bed.
They are arranged with tokens of my children’s travels. A vase. A flower from my partner. Selected photographs. Candles and incense. A hot cup of tea.
They remind me what is important. What is not.
They remind me to settle into wisdom
wade deeper into acceptance
recognize what is needed
conjure humility to ask for help
from friends, family, the fellowship
my higher powers.
They remind me I am not alone
though I may still be afraid of the dark.
I am part of something immeasurable
what hinders me.
Page last updated on ספטמבר 3, 2023