“I’ve learned that in order to heal, I have to fearlessly and intimately sift through the wreckage of my past.”
By Chris Grosso
I’m not a yogi from the Himalayas, a preacher in a pulpit or a “spiritual teacher” with dollar signs in my eyes. The truth is, early in life my curiosity got the better of me and led me down some roads that resulted in years of heavy drug and alcohol addiction. These dark places ultimately brought me to a very real life-or-death search for something more.
For me, the first step toward contemplative development was recovery. Let’s face it, waking up in a jail cell with little to no recollection of how you got there really isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time—okay, at least it’s not most people’s idea of a good time. However, thanks to living in active addiction for many years, I’ve managed to accomplish this feat on more than a few occasions. I’ve knocked on death’s door numerous times because of my addiction and have spent more time in detoxes, rehabs, psychiatric hospitals and jails than I care to (or can) remember.
After using from the age of 15 until I was 33, I’m grateful to be sober today. This isn’t my first time in recovery, but it’s definitely the longest and most heart-centered attempt I’ve ever made. I attribute the better part of these years of recovery to something I’m grateful to have finally learned, something I’d let slip through my ears at 12-step meetings or while listening to various dharma talks for far too long. So I ask you to please hear me when I say that the healing process—which goes for both addicts and non-addicts alike—is always, always, an inside job. How I wish I’d let that sink in sooner.
I would actually believe whenever I’d made it to around six months clean, and begun getting material things back in my life like a job, car and apartment, that I was fine, I was cured. I had the warped idea that I was “recovering” because I was abstaining from drugs and alcohol. If I had money coming in through steady work, was somewhat accountable to people, had a girlfriend and was on good terms with my family, then in my mind I was recovering . . . except the thing was, I wasn’t, not even a little.
Sure, I was going to some 12-step meetings while also frequenting various meditation groups. I certainly talked the talk, but by keeping my “recovery” material-based and never cultivating the courage to look at and work with the real problem—the residual mental, emotional and spiritual mess left inside of me—I was only prolonging the inevitable, which was picking up and using again.
Today, while recognizing that recovery is only a day-at-a-time reprieve, I’ve finally come to know better. Through the 12-step fellowships as well as various spiritual teachings and practices like meditation, mantra and self-inquiry, I’ve learned that in order to heal, I have to fearlessly and intimately sift through the wreckage of my past—something that can be terribly scary, difficult, and entirely unpleasant. In order to have a fighting chance at saving my life, this is a decision that I have to make on a daily basis; and today, I choose life. I choose to be fearless in the face of adversity. (Please note: The 12-step fellowship and various spiritual practices and teachings mentioned throughout are simply what work for me. I encourage you to find whatever model works for you, whether it’s yoga, refuge recovery, integral recovery or whatever other means resonate for you and allow the healing to begin.)
I feel blessed to be a part of the miracle of recovery, a miracle that continues to unfold not only in my life but also in countless other lives everywhere. At the same time, the nightmare of addiction is still very much alive for many suffering addicts—and not only the addicts themselves, but their loved ones too, who can do little more than watch helplessly as the life
of the person they love deteriorates.
You may not be able to relate to any of this, but I would guess that, even if my specific experiences aren’t yours, you still have your own emotional scars, your own painful memories. If so, I want you to know that you’re not alone. There are many of us here with you, right now and in this very moment. We may not be physically present, but at the level of the heart, and in the place of Everything Mind—the place where we feel both the most excruciating pain and the most overwhelming love—we’re right here, side by side.
There are times when I still feel guilty for having survived when so many others didn’t. It’s at those times, though, that I have to give myself a reality check and recognize that while yes, I’ve done some terribly shitty things in my life when under the influence, I’ve also been blessed with the opportunity to help others in their own process of recovery (and not just from addiction). For me, there’s no greater gift than that—the chance to be of service and help others help themselves.
I hope anyone who’s struggling with addiction, depression, self-loathing or feelings of hopelessness finds some semblance of hope in my words, some way to engage their “contemplative development” or, at the very least, learns from my past mistakes and saves some time and pain in their own healing process . . . because we’re all human, we’re all recovering from something and we’ve all hurt enough already, haven’t we?
Adapted from Everything Mind: What I’ve Learned About Hard Knocks, Spiritual Awakening, and the Mind-Blowing Truth of It All by Chris Grosso. Copyright © 2015 by Chris Grosso. To be published by Sounds True in October 2015.
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