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  • Writer's pictureLianne MacGregor

The gifts of recovery: Curiosity

One of the many things that contributed to my substance abuse was my need for certainty.

I was obsessed with establishing and maintaining certainty. Which led to me being very closed-minded. Once I reached a decision about something that was it - I pulled up the drawbridge and protected my ideas and ignored whatever else might need to be considered.

It wasn’t even about being right. It was about being certain.

Certainty propped me up. It gave me something to lean on and believe in. Even if that thing was false, it felt solid. And I craved solid.

A lot of factors contributed to this way of being, not the least of which was a lifetime of feeling uncertain and insecure and adrift. My need for solid ground was such that I [unconsciously] decided to create a counterfeit form of certainty by holding strong opinions and standing firm on my beliefs (which weren’t mine at all, but that’s a conversation for another day).

The irony is, even though this played a part in creating my substance abuse problem, addiction blew the whole thing up.

All that faux certainty, all that fake clarity - gone.

And I saw the whole thing for the farce it was. Because in truth I knew very little in general and next to nothing about things I ought to have known. Like who I was, for starters. Who I understood God to be. What I valued. What I expected from work and marriage. What I needed from the people in my life and what I was and wasn’t willing to give.

But in recovery I began to experiment with the very scary idea of not knowing. Supported by therapy and my sponsor and support group I tested my ability to compromise and merge ideas and make peace with empty spaces. I dipped my toes into the pool of myriad choices without feeling the need to settle on any particular one. I joined a Buddhist meditation group. I spent a weekend at a Hindu retreat. I tried Catholicism on for size. I made friends and practiced giving them room to breathe. I dated without expecting a marriage proposal by the end of dinner. I tried on different ways of being without feeling fraudulent or crazy.

In short, I became curious. And curiosity set me free.

Which isn’t to say I’m not certain about anything. But over the years I’ve edited my list of “what I know for sure” down to a handful of things, most of which have to do with my faith. And in this respect my certainty has more to do with the beliefs I’ve let go of than the ones I’ve kept.

And, not surprisingly, over the past year my relaxed relationship with certainty and comfort with curiosity have come in handy. Uncertainty, even about things I’d never had reason to question, became my steady-state. Yours too, I’m thinking. On days, and there were many, when I couldn’t even decide if it was safe to go to the grocery store, rather than waste time in the spin-cycle of anxious indecision I got curious. About what was being recommended and who was making the recommendations. About the options at my disposal to ensure I was as safe as possible. About whether or not I even needed to go to the grocery store, or if I just needed to get out of the house. In which case, a walk was the better option. And that’s just one example of many.

Curiosity buffered me from the idea that things simply had to resolve in a particular way by a particular date. Or that there was only one right choice for every question Covid posed. It helped me to slow down. Get creative with my problem-solving. Sit with the possibilities. Pray.

All of which resulted in a lot of learning. About the passing of time and the indifference of nature and the surprising ways human respond to the same set of circumstances.

And about myself. That I’m surprisingly steady in a prolonged storm. I’m resourceful. And resilient. And that entertaining five options, none of which has to be perfect, is better than agonizing over two when only one can be right.

Right now I’m very curious about where we’re at in April 2021. The vaccines are rolling out – with greater speed and efficiency in some places than others. But they’re rolling nonetheless. Meanwhile, lockdowns are still a fact of life in some places and restrictions are being lifted in other places. And still lots of uncertainty, more than a year into the pandemic.

And I’m also curious about what the future looks like and how the lessons and experiences of the past year will carry over into the post-pandemic world. What do I want to bring along? What do I want to leave behind?

If you ask me, it’s a great time to be curious.

Which is why I’m putting together a brief course called The Pandemic Edit: Applying curiosity to where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’re headed. If this interests you, please keep an eye on my website and Facebook page .

And if getting curious is something you’re curious about, but don’t know how to get started, I’d love to get curious with you. Reach out to schedule a free discovery call.

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