Are you ready to fly?
Updated: Nov 30, 2019
My initiation into the Recovered Life was driven by two addictions that were equally tenacious and equally toxic: cocaine and a relationship.
Within a month or two of deciding to address my drug problem I was in treatment and on my way to living life without drugs. That was 30 years ago and I’ve never looked back.
The relationship was an entirely different matter. I couldn’t let it go. I clung to it, defended it, lied about it, agonized over it.
My friends and loved ones recognized the threat this relationship posed to my nascent recovery and did everything in their power to pull me out of it, without success.
I, too, understood the inherent danger in this relationship but my rational mind was no match for the highly irrational and overpowering narrative my emotions had constructed.
I wasn’t happy in the relationship. I didn’t love the man. I knew being with him was incongruous to the life I was trying to build for myself. But I was absolutely convinced I would die without him. For real. Whenever I imagined what it would be like to disconnect from him I’d end up on the floor in the fetal position, wracked with emotional pain.
And then one day I showed up for my regular therapy session and was told my regular therapist was sick and I’d be meeting with a replacement therapist instead. I was greeted by a benevolent-looking older man with a full head of crazy white hair and a bushy white beard. He wore a tattered V-neck cardigan and threadbare chinos and smelled faintly of mothballs and peppermint. He seemed harmless enough and I settled in for a predictable session of “tell me about yourself”.
To my surprise, however, he’d done his homework, read my file, and kicked things off with a pointed inquiry about my relationship. He asked me what I wanted to do about it. I told him I wanted to end it.
Why don’t you do just that? He asked.
Because I can’t, I replied.
Why not? He asked.
If I end it I’ll be overwhelmed by the loss and I’ll never recover.
He then asked me to imagine a trapeze artist sweeping through the air, suspended from a bar, gaining momentum and height with every pass.
What happens next? The therapist asked.
She grabs onto the other bar, I reply.
But what happens between letting go of the bar she’s hanging onto and grabbing the other bar?
He leans in and says, I’ll tell you. She lets go – and for a split second, before she can make contact with the new bar, she just hangs there. In midair. Suspended by absolutely nothing. She can’t grab the new bar until she lets go of the old bar. That’s the deal. If you want to reach the new bar, you need to let go of the old bar. You need to be willing to hang in midair.
That’s the deal.
His words galvanize me. The image terrifies me. And then it thrills me.
I picture myself letting go of this broken, dysfunctional, toxic thing and reaching through space and time toward a totally different kind of life. A life full of frightening unknowns and endless possibility.
I picture myself suspended in midair as I release and reach.
I picture myself flying.
This was the turning point for me. In that very moment I knew exactly what I would do. I knew it would be hard and I knew I would do it anyway. And I did.
The lesson of the trapeze artist has stayed with me, inspiring, motivating, and energizing me whenever I’ve struggled to let go of something familiar but obsolete in exchange for something new and life-giving.
This image captures the split-second transaction between the old and new, past and future, hopeless and hope-filled, and I love it.
The Recovered Life requires us to be willing to take risks. Some will be epic. Most will be something less than epic. All will present us with opportunities to soar and all will be unnerving until we discover that letting go sets us free.
In fact, all of the practices that form the basis of the Recovered Life present a risk:
Seeing my life through the lens of clarifying honesty? Risky. What will I learn about my unfiltered self?
Exercising radical acceptance? Risky. What happens if I give up the fight?
Taking ownership of my stuff? Risky. Then I have to do something about it.
Letting go of control over other people’s stuff? Risky. What if they make a mess?
Engaging in authentic connections? Sounds exhausting. And risky.
Change demands risk. It doesn’t matter if the change is moving around the world for a new job or thinking differently about an old problem, change brings disruption.
And when we take the risk and do the thing, that’s when we start to question the wisdom of our choice. We question our ability to follow through. We question our motives and qualifications and sanity.
Change rocks the boat of our life. It destabilizes us. Makes our world a less safe, comfortable, and familiar place. It forces us to let go of something we understand very well, even if that thing is destroying us, and risk everything on something that may or may not bear the weight of our hopes and desires and expectations.
And knowing all that, let me ask you –
Are you ready to fly?