Recovery requires growing pains

When folks in recovery and their allies speak of honoring all pathways to recovery, what does that actually look like? Today’s guest blogger is Jayna Otto. She has poignantly integrated weight lifting into her recovery and has found the benefit of growing pains:

Out of pain we are born. A woman’s experience of childbirth is a necessary step in bringing new life. Our bones stretch through growing pains and wisdom teeth come in tenderly. We endure vaccinations to strengthen our immune system. Ailments come and go. Through the natural aging process we experience all manner of physical pain that progresses us into maturity and ultimately into our final form. Why then do we in recovery sometimes expect our process of growth and healing to be void of pain?

I try to think of my recovery as I do weightlifting. For a muscle to grow, it must be broken down. With every rep of a dumbbell, your muscle sustains tiny tears and you feel soreness later. Your body is a marvelous machine; it understands that to not be reinjured the same way again it must repair itself stronger than it had been previously. There in lies the growth process: break down to build up stronger.

Some in recovery experience a “pink cloud” of clarity and good fortune early on in their process. I, and many like me, have not. My newly found sobriety is agonizing. What are these feelings and where are they coming from: what are they, why are they? Why is it so difficult to sit with myself for 10 minutes at a time without wanting to claw away at my own skin and destroy everything around me?

I can only assume at this point, that it’s because I’m not dumping alcohol and cocaine over the feelings. It’s because I’m relying on my brain to regulate my mood. I’m developing healthy coping skills. I’m also letting myself recognize and not run away from traumatic events in my past, which is unfamiliar and scary territory.

That shit is hard. It hurts. Yet, like a growing muscle, it’s transformative. As Choi Hong Hi, Founder of Taekwon-Do, said: “Pain is the best instructor, but no one wants to go to his class.”

Sometimes I sit alone, weeping, miserable, convinced the journey is too painful because the ever-present voice of self-doubt is gnawing at me. It tells me I’m just a scared little girl who was hurt, is hurt, and the world is going to eat me up. I immediately consider going out and buying a fifth.

I revel in what it used to be like to have a warm wave wash away those wretched feelings. But I ask myself, is this pain I’m experiencing not worth the transformation that awaits me? Is this pain not worth growing into a stronger version of myself? It has to be; it’s nature’s way. So if I can sit through painful moments, sit with wounding memories and insecurities, without relapsing, I’ll slowly start to gain comfortability with those moments and be better prepared each time they arise. Taking a step further from there, I could channel the pain into something productive or creative, giving it new meaning: anger is a long run, sadness is a drawing.

Everything I’ve just stated is still a work in progress for me. I know it all to be true but putting it into practice is another feat. I suspect it will always be a “process” to attain a true comfortability with myself, and why wouldn’t I want it to be?

A muscle can always grow stronger, goals can always be written and rewritten, and we can always strive to build a stronger version of ourselves. To be satisfied is to accept that we have reached our end point. I myself am lucky enough to be in recovery. If I hadn’t “been through some shit”, I’m not sure I would’ve had the opportunity or reason, to hold the mirror up to myself.

It’s a daily struggle. I do the best I can to not focus on the remnants of a charred past, but the beautiful Phoenix that will arise from its ashes. That’s what keeps me going, along with a good support network of people who have been right in the same seat I am now. They are the ones who’ve past on this perspective of perseverance to me and I’m truly grateful.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.