This morning, I read a story about a man who set about to clean his fish tank. He filled the bathtub with water, transferred the fish, and went to work on the green slime that had grown on the glass walls of the tank. When the job was done and he returned to the tub to fetch the fish, he found them huddled in one corner of the tub in an area roughly the size of their tank. An eerie thought came to him. Had these fish grown so accustomed to life in the tank that the freedom of a larger space was no longer of any interest to them? Then another thought: in what ways was he living his life like this? In what tank was he living?
I began recovery from codependence and addiction over a year ago now. In-patient treatment, 12-step programs, and therapy combined helped me to build a tank of my own where I, like a struggling swimmer rescued from the open ocean, could be removed from the busy blue waters of the sea. There, in the translucence of my glass walls, I found my own reflection and, over time, have developed a relationship with that person where previously I had none. One key tenant of 12-step is that, for one to enjoy the freedom and serenity which one finds in working the program, one must continue to work it every day from then on out, one must stay in the tank. Imagine the confusion and hesitancy I felt when, as 2014 drew to a close, I began to grow more and more aware of the confines of the tank I’d called home.
If I had been writing this a year ago, there would be no talk of god. I had faith in little outside my own willfulness, to say nothing of god, and the idea itself was heavy with anger and fear. From a very young age ‘He’ (as was the article employed by the Christian church of which my family was a part) was one thing, detailed in the Good Book, and seemingly without room for interpretation. I did not have the experience of coming to a personal understanding of the divine, that is, until this year. I won’t wax poetic in describing my own beliefs. This is, after all, about the questions of Life; this one in particular need not be answered here. Suffice it to say that, having entered into a personal conversation with the numinous and eternal energy that I began to perceive, I was surprised when I felt compelled to move away from the tank of 12-step and group therapy.
Many suggested that I was finally feeling the benefits of working the program and that this was no time to stop, for the feelings would surly atrophy. Others questioned whether fear was leading me away from the group and I heard their own fears shaping their words. As an INFP, I have a particularly deep sense of self-awareness and recovery has opened me to the practice of fierce self-honesty. I could sense neither fear nor temporary bliss drawing me on; I could tell that, with each passing day, the walls of the tank grew more present around me. Eventually, I did something I hadn’t done in a very long time; I followed my heart. Even though no one understood, even though I could offer them no logical explanation as to why, I have followed the small, still voice within that said, “Go and be with yourself.”
There is a poem by Derek Wolcott, which holds particular significance to me now, called “Love After Love”. It follows.
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.