In the recovery world, progress is often compared to peeling away the layers of an onion. If I stay sober and keep doing the work, I continually discover deeper and more profound truth about myself. I want to keep upgrading, constantly moving in the direction of becoming a different and better version of myself. The underlying principle is that change is perpetual, and that the onion will always have more layers.
So, I achieved the life and recovery of my dreams. Recovery will always have challenges, but the physical sobriety so many struggle with is effortless for me. I literally became a different person. While that should be tremendously liberating, it comes with a completely different set of problems. It’s impossible to escape the realization that we’re all in this together, connected at the most fundamental level. It’s pointless to be all set when so many are not; the itch in the middle of my brain persists. Why then, if the means to succeed are available, do people fail in recovery?
Perhaps it’s because we have perception that there will always be another layer of the onion, and with it, a certain security in remaining as that old version of ourselves. After all, in any support community we can find acceptance and validation. That includes a supportive acceptance of my failures, mistakes and setbacks along the way. And since that kind of validation feels good, there can be a certain comfort in perpetually peeling an onion that goes on forever. If the people, places and things in my reality no longer send a message that the old version of me doesn’t work, and on the contrary, give me a signal that I’m doing okay, where’s the incentive to keep crossing the river of change? Can I just float in the middle?
Many in recovery float along, staying a meeting or two, a sponsor conversation, or a few prayers and meditations ahead of an addictive illness they have failed to deal with definitively. They swapped out old bad habits for better new habits—going to meetings and not picking up no matter what—but they’re the same people they were previously. Their thoughts, their feelings, and who they are at depth have not changed.
What are we afraid of? The middle of the onion is the sweetest, most delicious part, so it can’t be that. The realizations of goals and dreams along with the peace, serenity and freedom that come with that aren’t the problem. The problem is that everybody at the meetings told us that we’re okay the way we are so many times that we’re terrified of letting go of that old version of ourselves. At some level, we realize that our old thoughts, feelings and behaviors won’t work with the new version of ourselves. We can’t take our old self into a new life. In fact, we can't even create a new life as the old self.
It always comes back to fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of change and fear of hard work always trump fear of repeating the past. The work of recovery is as much about the releasing of the old self as changing into a new self. It dredges up all the bad endings, burned bridges, regret of bad decisions made and roads not taken. There is no energy to build a future when it’s all being sucked away by the past, that old version of reality.
The solution is to just let go. Release the ball and chain of who, what and how you were. In the middle of that onion is something more amazing than most of us could ever dream. We’re perfectly capable of realizing this, but only after becoming completely willing to break with the past, the old version of ourselves, can we step into our greatness, the true potential of what we can be in recovery.