In January 2013, I had the experience of traveling to India with almost around 90 women. We were there to share the message of Recovery from alcoholism and addiction. The following essay was written in the middle of the night on a train trip from Chennai to Bangalore.
Throughout those quiet hours, as we sped along the rattling tracks in the middle of that vast and magical country, I had the opportunity to reflect upon my own Recovery journey and most profoundly the people who contributed to it, in particular these 90 women.
In the years before and since India, my own recovery story saw me go from the ever-present feeling like I didn’t ‘fit in’ to a soul-deep understanding of what it means to be an empowered woman. And importantly, what it means to be a woman in Recovery.
The women who journeyed there with me lifted my Recovery to a level I never knew existed. This is my dedication to them.
This is also unedited (so forgiveness of grammar and spelling is imperative).
To the women…
One of the things I’m learning whilst travelling with so many of you is that it’s impossible, if not entirely misguided, to think that I’m different. And it’s in those times that I do, that I quickly realise that I am suffering from some form of misunderstanding about how truly unique I am, or more simply, that I have lost perspective for a time.
It’s in those times when I am most uncomfortable that I know that the seeds of change are being nourished by my own ignorance.
It’s that ignorance or my refusal to be a ‘part of’ that causes my discomfort. But it is in the times of coming toward you (the women) with a curiosity about you, and when I move in the direction of my fears by reaching out to you, that I learn to be me and remarkably that’s often based loosely on you.
It’s a curious truth that these times of change bring about a sort of questioning surrender whereby I let go, and all the while I’m questioning if all this is necessary. And remarkably, I seem to know (at the same time) that it in order to grow and to change that I must yield or relinquish my control or resistance.
The lessons learned here come at the price of the bondage of me that can keep me rooted in the problem. As I let go and connect and become one with you, I start to see and to live as if for the first time.
The noise of a group of women is constant with no lull; it goes on seamlessly without pause as your voices are busy with stories. Women like to talk there’s no doubt about that, but what separates us from the men is how we talk.
There’s an energy of conviction and an empathy with women whereby they can implore each other to come along, come for a magic carpet ride to a place where lives are lived, new people are made, and connection is paramount. I see and feel that here in this place we were once strangers who came together at the start with a sort of anticipation of the adventure that lay ahead.
This trip into the unknown was initially about stepping outside my comfort zone; now I see it as a time of giving, giving of myself to people unknown for the simple reason that I can.
Kahlil Gibran says “there are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward”.
It seems to me the joy I experience and witness daily here is in the giving of myself with no thought or mind of return. It is joy — ever joy.
As I sit here and write this on the train there are women sleeping beside and in front of me. I can gaze at them freely and notice that they have very different faces; I can see the fines lines of age creep across their face which increases at the junctures where their skin changes and moves toward their eyes and lips.
The lines tell the story of their lives where the highs and lows have left trails of the movements of their faces. They’re so very different women and yet they’re remarkably the same.
I love that we’re that way; that time leaves traces so we don’t forget.
Without the stories and without the lines that are the hallmarks of time itself, we are blank and without colour and weight and depth to bear witness to a life lived.
When you gaze at very old people you can see so much of that life right there on the surface: the rich patina and colour of time. I see the beginnings of that here, the richness that starts with one day at a time.
Here in this place it doesn’t seem to matter that we’re marked by the ravages of tragedy and addiction; all that matters is that it’s able to be carried with ease, or so it would seem.
Perhaps we all hide our troubles well and perhaps we have no troubles, the fact is that we still come; we still maintain our commitment to Recovery and each other.
If you asked for an example of what a recovered woman looks like, it’s this. It’s this train ride into the unknown in a foreign country. It’s the peaceful slumber of a woman. It’s the willingness to listen to others and know that you’re the same. It’s the capacity to hug and be hugged. It’s the look of joy of all who cheer the woman 1 day or 1 month sober. But perhaps, most of all, it’s the sharing of an understanding so deep that surpasses the spoken word.
From the one who didn’t quite fit I have discovered the truth; it is you who carry me and you who take me to places unknown through your words and your caring and your propensity to be big-hearted.
I hope I can do you all justice as I go about my days to tell the story of this very India – a place where I discovered ‘the women’.