Yesterday in my SAL 12-Step meeting we studied Step 1.
We discussed the pain and fear that we had each experienced as we reached the point of unmanageability in our lives. We talked about the loss we felt when we seemed to lose everything we had built our lives on. This discussion felt particularly poignant with the backdrop of Maple Mountain, on fire with orange and red trees, in the windows behind us.
Trees have always been my favorite of all God’s creations. I grew up in the midwest, and the thick deciduous forests seemed to create a protective blanket around the comings and goings of my everyday life. When I moved to Utah, I appreciated the majesty of the mountains towering around me, but I felt exposed and vulnerable without my familiar security blanket of trees.
I don’t think it’s coincidence that my deepest rock bottom took place in the fall, eighteen months after we had started working SAL recovery. This was Full Disclosure, a full two and a half years after the initial disclosure of an online affair that had shattered my world and sent me frantically searching for help anywhere I could find it. Even after years of recovery work, Full Disclosure felt like we were starting over again at Square One. Only this time, it felt even more hopeless. We had thought we had fixed this problem so many times. Was there any hope for real, long-term recovery? Would I ever feel happy again?
As I was left reeling for the next 3 months, I felt my body and soul in a tug of war inside of me. Fear was wrenching my insides out. I knew enough about recovery to know that my husband, though sober, was not really in recovery. I knew enough about the Circles Models to know that even though I had diligently been working my steps with a sponsor and attending meetings, I was still unconsciously putting him at my center. We had been, once again, building our lives on an ivory tower.
This was such a painful time in my life. I felt like I had lost everything I had worked for. I felt that my life was a failure. I felt naked and exposed. It was like all the recovery work I had done until that point had stripped me of all my defenses, my naivetes, and my fantasies, and I could see every inch of my character defects in blaring reality. I felt paralyzed to do anything, because I felt I had made so many wrong decisions and handled so many things the wrong way, that I did not trust myself at all. More than at any other time in our life together, I really had no idea what my future would hold. I felt like I had been broken in two. I knew nothing. I felt completely powerless.
This period of time, though excruciatingly painful, was one of the most sacred gifts I have ever received in my life. It was a time where everything else in my life seemed to pause. Nothing mattered but finding God. This was a different kind of crisis. There wasn’t the mad rush of flying dishes, desperate sex, and panic attacks. In this rock bottom, there was a deep calm, a stillness. This was the rock bottom that led me to the letting go, the surrender, that really transformed my life.
I remember walking down the street at this time and noticing the trees on the sidewalk. Every so often, a leaf would just let go, drift off, and flutter to the ground. No breeze, no fanfare, no desperate clinging or crying. No fuss at all. Just a very calm and peaceful release.
It seemed to me that there was a deep humility in such a gesture. Such a deep and abiding trust, that this tree could let go and lose its beautiful dressing. That it could abide the time that no one would admire it or think it was impressive or beautiful. That it would allow itself to be naked and ugly for all the world to see. Every time a leaf fell, I felt more love for that tree. That tree had more courage than I. That tree had more trust than I.
What would my life look like, if I could, with so much dignity and grace, just choose to let go, one leaf at a time, and allow myself to go through this stage of dormancy and rest and reflection and inner growth, so that I might bloom again? What would my spring look like if I could allow such a winter to occur? Without worrying what others would think? Without kicking and screaming? But with trust, and faith, and serenity?
This morning, three years later, I sat with my four year old and we counted the leaves that floated down from the tree in our backyard. That same peace settled over me. That same surrender.
Some trees seem to lose their leaves all at one time, in a big gust of wind or a hailstorm. They go almost overnight from being fully clothed and protected to naked overnight. Other trees seem to patiently drop their leaves, one here, one there, seemingly for almost no reason at all, another leaf will drop. It might take all season long for the process to take place, slow and steady. Some trees seem to stubbornly hang on until the dead of winter, with brown brittle leaves iced over in the wind and snow. Just couldn’t quite let go. Yet.
And yet, come spring, each and every one of those trees becomes new. Is covered with a fresh layer of beautiful leaves that not only provide beauty and shade to the world around them, but also produce the very air we breathe. They provide life itself.
No matter what kind of tree we are, there is a spring ahead of us. No matter where we are at in our journey toward surrender, there is time for us. No matter how dead and ugly and naked we may feel as we stand exposed to the world, and exposed to ourselves, there is hope for us. If we allow it, this very surrender can become the expression of Life itself.
Keep Working It. It Hurts. But It Works.
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