I have come to realize why solitary confinement is one of the worst punishments that the criminal justice system can inflict on its prisoners.
It’s because I had lived it firsthand.
Embracing the truth of who we are is not for the meek. Oftentimes, it takes a personal crisis for us to do so. But can we really know what we want in life if we don’t know who we are? Can we really know what is meaningful to us when we are living in self-delusion? Can we ever feel the power of connection with others when we are disconnected from ourselves?
Eleven years ago, I lived in the dark and lonely abyss of my alcoholism. During those days, I suffered in my own self-imposed solitary confinement when I had decided to isolate myself. I existed in the hell of my own making, disconnected from myself, from others, and from life.
The truth is that I lived my 20s, 30s, and part of my 40s sleepwalking through life. I lived in a dream state. Because I blamed other people for all my problems, I never looked within myself for the source of my problems. I lived as a fugitive from myself by always running away from myself. Alcohol was my way of hiding.
As a stranger to myself, I had no idea who I was. I lived my life in disguise. And though I was a master at dressing myself up in my successes and accomplishments, I was just an actor playing my own part.
Things changed when the pain of my alcoholism became greater than the fear I had of looking within myself. I crawled through the doors of AA. There I found a sponsor, and I began working the steps.
It was the 4th Step that finally forced me to see who I was for the first time. It was the power of that searching and fearless inventory that allowed me to see the scared and frightened child under all the rumble of my life.
Since then, I have devoted my life to studying the masters of recovery, psychology, and spirituality. And that led me to undergo a rigorous certification program to become a spiritual life coach. Now, in my practice, I enjoy the camaraderie of working with addicts who I believe are the poets and sages of this world.
A few years ago, I read Be Here Now by spiritual author Ram Dass. He saw in his own life how he had been living life in disguise. And as a challenge to himself and others, he posed these two questions, “Are we always going to meet on this stage? Don’t we ever take off these costumes?”
When asked why he cherished working with people who were on their deathbeds, Ram Dass said that the power of death forced people to finally shed their costumes and to step off the stage into their true selves. That experience of being present to another’s truth and authenticity was what brought him back to the bedside of the dying time and again.
Today, I am so grateful that I didn’t die like so many have to my disease. I am so grateful to have stepped out of my costume and into myself. By the grace of my Higher Power, I woke up from my sleepwalking, from the self-delusion, from my own unconsciousness, from my own unawareness.
I must remain vigilant, though, about maintaining the rich connections I so often feel with friends, family, and life or otherwise I can easily slip back into my old patterns of isolation.
To those who have never suffered the devastation of addiction, it may seem ridiculous that we, who have found new life, would be grateful to our addiction for waking us up to the splendor of life—to the splendor of our true self.
Yet many of us don’t want to remove the costume because we have invested a lifetime in creating it. Others may believe that living the illusion is more exciting than living the reality of who we are.
These to me are the “still suffering” that the Big Book talks about. These are the people who are addicted to their roles and to their stories. These are the people addicted to the dream state.
It would also have seemed ridiculous in my early recovery to say these words: That as a recovering alcoholic, I have tremendous power to help others find their way out of the dream and off the stage. We all have this power. We have the power to save lives.
And it’s by sharing our experience, strength, and hope with others.
If you’d like to be free of your addiction, please contact me at ValuesBasedRecovery@gmail.com. I work with people who suffer from alcohol and drug addiction as well as behavioral addictions such as food, porn, and gambling. I work with clients in person or on the Zoom live video platform,
RJ Handley, Addiction Recovery Coach