I attended a women’s recovery workshop this past weekend that focused on self-acceptance and self-esteem. I wanted to share something I experienced there, because it had such lasting impact on me that I am still thinking about it days later.
After one of the speakers (an incredible woman with over 30 years of recovery) finished sharing her story, she asked us to pair up with another woman and participate in a short exercise.
I immediately searched for one of my friends, a woman I knew amongst a sea of unfamiliar faces, but for reasons I can’t quite I explain, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and pair up with a woman I had never met before. I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but I could tell by the smile on her face that we were in this thing together.
We were asked to face each other and make eye-contact. We were told not to break eye-contact until the speaker was finished reading from the piece of paper she held in her hands. She had told us it may take up to 2 minutes. The exercise was called eye-gazing.
YIKES! 2 minutes??? I don’t know about you, but it took me a long time to muster the courage to make eye contact with anyone after getting sober, let alone a complete stranger. It was probably close to a year into my recovery journey before I could even meet my own gaze in the bathroom mirror, for goodness sakes! Now I was being asked to make eye-contact with a woman I had never even met before and hold her gaze for 2 minutes? That’s 120 seconds!!! 😰😰😰
My anxiety was through the roof, and the addict in my brain started getting louder.
Before the speaker even began the exercise, I was already feeling inadequate. I immediately started to fear that the woman looking at me would notice that I hadn’t had my eyebrows waxed recently, or how deep the wrinkles in my forehead sank. I wondered if I had any blemishes I had forgotten to cover, if I had bags under my eyes, or if my mascara was running? Is she thinking I am ugly? Fat? Old? Too much makeup? Do I need to moisturize? Do I have something in my teeth?!? What is she thinking??? 🤯
I honestly didn’t even think about judging the woman in front of me, because I was too busy judging myself.
The instant I heard the speaker begin reading, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be, and that I needed this woman to be here with me in this moment too.
The woman at the front of the room began to speaking slowly, and calmly, and as my partner and I held each other’s gaze, she said things like, “The woman you see in front of you is strong. She is courageous. She has fought battles you may know nothing about. This woman has experienced heartbreak and tragedy, loss and despair. She has known great sadness, and felt unimaginable loneliness. She has made mistakes…”
As I watched my partner, I thought about what a brilliant blue her eyes were – how they made me feel calm and safe. I began to notice the emotion behind them change with each word that was spoken – from pain, to sadness, to loss, to fear, to regret. I watched as her eyes began to fill with tears, but she continued to hold my gaze as I silently begged her to blink.
When her eyes finally closed for that split second, I watched as a lone tear came spilling over the edge and slowly made its way down the side of her cheek, and I swore I could feel the warmth of it on my own skin. She laughed uncomfortably, and I noticed the wrinkles in the corners of her eyes, and thought, “This woman has also known great happiness – laughter and joy. She’s perfect!”
The speaker continued, “She is worthy of happiness, success and recovery.”
And, while giving my hand a quick squeeze, she mouthed the words, “You are worthy!”
Look, I know this all may seem a little mushy, and if you struggle with self-esteem and self-acceptance, you might find that it makes you uncomfortable to read it too, let alone imagine yourself doing it! But, there was something so powerful – so profound – about such a simple task – and the willingness that is required to honor that request.
When I was sick, I was so ashamed of who I had become as a person that I built a brick wall around myself to keep me safe – to keep my addiction safe. I spent 10 years of my life fearful that this was all there would ever be for me in life – that there was no coming back from this. I was afraid to die, but also afraid to live…so I hid myself away as I slowly deteriorated.
I had zero expectations of myself. I held myself to the lowest of standards, and eventually I stopped even trying to present myself as a person who cared about anything.
I was lost. I felt alone. I hated myself…
The women I met in recovery changed my life forever, which is why I choose to write about them so often. They taught me that I am worthy of a better life, but that I would have to make the effort to get it. I would have to learn to take responsibility for my actions, and become willing to change my behaviors. I would need to grow up.
They taught me how to respect myself again – to hold myself in high regard. They taught me how to be honest, trustworthy and dependable. They told me when I did or said something that was unacceptable, they hugged me while I struggled to hang on and they celebrated my each one of my successes. They not only taught me how to love and how to accept love.
They showed me, through their own actions, what life could be like if I stayed the course – it was that simple. I just needed to stay… 💜
Women in recovery are my heroes. I have met some incredible men too, who I’ve had the privilege of walking this journey with as they guide other men into a life of recovery.
All I can tell you is that recovery is a beautiful transformation, unlike anything I have ever seen. It’s miraculous, really, to watch a human being find themselves after a lifetime of despair.
I am so grateful I stayed. I am so grateful I was blessed with a recovery family who believes in me and wants to help me in my recovery. I am so grateful that my life continues to change, and I continue to grow in my journey
If you have found yourself in a place of sorrow, and you feel like things will never get better, please know that they can and will get better. Please don’t give up on yourself.
Please stay. ♥️