I was terrible with early recovery.
Had my sponsor, my support people, or God, been rigid or judgmental they would have given up on me within my the first few weeks.
I can’t tell you that I tried out meditation, that I intently wrote in my journal regularly, or that I sat quietly for periods of time trying to seek a power greater than myself.
I did try to challenge my thinking one inconsistent loop at a time, I jotted down my erratic feelings and emotions when paper was within my reach, and I spent a lot of time making deals with God.
Still drowning in self-righteous pity, what I actually spent the better part of my first year sober doing was a lot of crying. A lot of snotty, sobby, mourning ensued as I tried to ride the influx of mood swings that came in waves more erratic than my urges to pick up a drink or a bag or bottle of something.
I worried, sometimes even more than I let the tears fall. A lot of time was spent talking myself back from the ledge of my own doubt and fear several times on a given day.
In between I worked the steps, I did my homework, I read a lot of non-fiction true crime (every single one at our small local library), and chain-smoked cigarettes.
My early days were messy.
Really, really, messy.
I can remember being in the thick of the muck and the mess and not being able to see clearly enough. I didn’t know which way I was going, and sometimes, I didn’t even know if I was making any real progress despite doing the ‘next right thing’ over and over and over and over again.
I often felt sad and alone, frustrated and defeated. I would second-guess whether or not I could keep going. Or if I should, especially if I was working so tirelessly, even if that only meant breathing some days, yet I felt like I wasn’t moving forward.
I wanted to see and to feel and to taste results.
I wanted to feel proud.
But most of all, I wanted it faster.
I wanted it now.
Maybe I was seeking incremental happiness.
It is the soft and cuddly to the touch and it’s the fleeting kind that you can’t quite get your hands or heart around. The second you touch it, it evaporates.
It is the kind I was most acquainted with.
Maybe I hadn’t realized exactly what was coming my way.
Unbeknownst to me, I was actually working toward being a person who pursued growth intentionally. I was trading brief bouts of this incremental happiness for something more rich, strong, and long-lasting. I was trading shaky, weak, and frail for something heavy, solid, and tenacious.
This morning my oldest boy and I did a micro-Bible conversation, sort of on-the-fly. (I really like to call them conversations, not studies).
As we got settled at the kitchen table the rain started pouring down and we could hear thunder in the distance. The room was darker than usual and still smelled like syrup from the healthy-no-organic, non-made from scratch box waffles I fed my kids earlier that morning.
We just sat and casually read through a few parables in the Gospel of Matthew. (One of my favorite parts of conversing with my teenager is hearing his voice. I always want to know how he is feeling, what parallels he is making, what does he take away form what we are reading, this, does he understand who Matthew was talking to, and did what Jesus was trying to get across resonate with him in any way personally).
Anyway, as we sat and talked, highlighters in-hand. He listened to me, I listened to him, and we took turns reading. We compared, contrasted, and discussed two passages of scripture.
Even though Jesus was speaking specifically on false teachers and how to recognize them, we discussed how Matthew 7:20 and Galatians 5:22 could be connected and plugged into our lives.
And I was reminded of my early recovery.
Impatient is an understatement if I were thinking of ways to describe my personality back then. Not only did I loathe having to feel things, I hated having to wait to feel good. It was painful. I had to wait as what I once knew my life to be, to fade away and become something unknown. I had no idea what was coming next and it felt like unbearable.
But behind the scenes, and amidst my restlessness, He was working.
His Grace bridged the gaps and filled the holes between my fear and my hope for some kind of future. Despite my hesitation to make baby steps in the right direction, He was still there.
Job 14:7-9 tells us this: Even a tree has more hope! If it is cut down, it will sprout again and grow new branches. Though its roots have grown old in the earth and its stump decays at the scent of water it will bud and sprout again like a new seedling.
I began this recovery journey as a rotted-out stump. Not the kind that you could trip over and scream an obscenity. More like the kind that you can accidentally run over with your lawn-mower and not really worry about your blades, because old, dead, rotted wood crumbles between your fingers.
I was a rotted stump who was also in a hurry, stalking my own mind, and pestering my creator as He began His work in me. As we worked I pressed on, annoyed and admittedly, skeptical.
Even still, behind the scenes my roots were taking hold deep within the ground.
Although I couldn’t see the process taking place, my life was beginning again.
I couldn’t see them yet, but I was being prepared to sprout new life.
I was in deeply lost in the process of learning to trade my demanding world-view, the right-now off-brand of happiness that never satisfied, not just for delayed gratification, but for a life-changing lesson on the importance of humbling of myself and not taking short-cuts.
Matthew 7:20 tells us: By their fruit, you will recognize them. Galatians 5:22 goes on to tell us that The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Jesus gave us an amazing picture to work with and to refer to. I know that even now I tend to rush things. I want to learn faster and to know more. I appreciate gaining wisdom and understanding and how I can be better.
These verses remind me that growth is a process.
If, like me, you started your journey as an old dead stump, it is going to take what can feel like an eternity to see the fruit of your labor. I expected to get sober and look out to see vast amounts of citrus waiting for my enjoyment.
But that isn’t how it all works.
It’s a long, winding, learning experience that is ours.
My roots took hold and are strong and solid.
My stump took its sweet time but has sprouted one branch at a time.
My tree is still a toddler, and is still learning and growing.
Occasionally an ice-storm will come along and put too much weight on my branches breaking a few here and there, but I know that God’s word says that is okay. I’ll be okay.
Sometimes my fruit is consistently forthcoming and other times it is bruised and hardly recognizable, but that doesn’t mean that I cut the tree down.
There’s always hope, always room for new things, and as long as we’re breathing and living here on this planet, there is always time and opportunity for regrowth.
So don’t give up, friends.