August 19th,1987. Day one of a seven-day voluntary (well, kind of voluntary) stay at Chit Chat Rehab in Reading, Pa. I wasn’t there, mind you, because I was addicted to anything: I was there at my sister’s persuasion, whose monetary generosity made it possible. The program was geared to those affected by a relative’s or loved one’s addiction. That included spouses, significant others, children, parents, and everyone ese in between.
I qualified on at least two levels. My oldest son had graduated three months before my arrival at Chit Chat from their thirty-day drug and alcohol program. And, I had been attending, reluctantly, at my sister’s insistence again, support meetings for adult children of alcoholics. Oh, and did I mention the fact that she herself had attended the thirty-day drug and alcohol program in 1984?
I was feeling akin to the three river tributaries in Pittsburgh, all emptying into the same ocean of addiction and dysfunction.
The newbies were arranged in groups of ten and herded into a classroom. We were seated facing a large chalkboard. I didn’t know about the others, but I was edgy as hell. I could feel the corners of my mouth turn down succumbing to the familiar nervous twitch beyond my control. A photographer was sandwiched in between two female counselors, serving as bookends. The counselors flashed us a conciliatory smile and proceeded to introduce themselves. We later learned that the function of the photographer was to capture and compare our morale before and after our shared experience at Chit Chat.
After the photo shoot, our attention was directed to a large white banner draped over the chalkboard. Beneath the heading Alcoholic vs Co-dependent were two columns with words in bold black letters that literally mirrored each other. The counselor who introduced herself as the Flying Nun, used a long pointer for emphasis. “These are losses attributed to both the addicted, and the co-dependents in their lives.”
She paused, allowing enough time for what she had just said to sink in. I scanned the expressions on the faces of those around me, unable to read what was going through their minds. So, I focused on my own response to the list.
Loss of Trust. ‘Hm, trust in what or who?’
Loss of honesty. ‘I wasn’t dishonest, never stole anything. My lies were just little white ones.’
Loss of faith. ‘Not sure about that since I had so little to begin with.’
Loss of integrity. ‘Don’t think so.’
Loss of self- respect. ‘Maybe.’
Loss of hope. ‘Not sure.’
And so, it went. Until the flying nun, targeted her pointer on the final most egregious
deprivation, I wasn’t convinced that any of them applied to me. Then thud.
Loss of Spirt
The impact was like a flashing neon sign, surging before it shortens out. Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. The anxiety that so often drove me to drink gripped me. I felt like someone had just plunged a serrated knife into my ribcage and was slowly twisting it, gutting my insides.
The lens through which I viewed the following seven days was drastically altered by a lingering ache produced by that revelation. Had I lost my spirit to some kind of dysfunction I wasn’t even aware of? Or did I ever possess one to begin with? Did alcohol, manifesting a strong presence in our family dynamics, play a part? I had a million questions. The curtain had been parted and I needed to see what lurked behind it.
The program was intense. And by the time I left, I was willing to take a look at my own drinking patterns and incorporate AA meetings into my A.C.O.A schedule. But As I progressed in recovery, I was continually haunted by that nagging need to quantify loss of spirit.
The longer I grappled with the dilemma the more confused I became. What I didn’t realize was that while I was busy spinning my wheels, my Higher Power was reconstructing what alcohol had impelled me to misplace. He sent me a sponsor who stoked the dying embers of self-love, self- respect, and trust. AA gave me a design for living. Through working the twelve steps with that sponsor I was able to shed the cloak of shame that blocked the sunshine and fed the storms that defined me. I began taking responsibility and accrued smatterings of hope. I made amends to people I had harmed and developed faith in the process of recovery. In tiny increments I began to relax and become comfortable in my own skin.
By the time I celebrated three years sober, I realized that my spirit had been reconstructed. It had developed from a tiny seed that was fed by the love, acceptance, and disciplines of the AA program. And, like a giant sunflower, my spirit towered high above the many imperfections in the fabric of my alcoholic past. Loss of spirit, though it no longer applied, was the impetus that began this phenomenal journey called recovery.