Success in Recovery: The First Dance

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Success in Recovery: 
The First Dance

 By Patrick Pinson

Do you remember your first dance after you got clean and sober?  Do you remember what your feelings were? I do. After I had surrendered to my addictions, and could no longer rely on the "social lubricants" that made me such a "smooth dancer" in my mind, all my fears surfaced. Everyone was looking at me. I didn’t know how to dance without drugs or alcohol. I was taking myself very seriously, and wasn’t about to risk rejection by asking a lady to dance. My self worth was on the line. "I’ll look like a fool/klutz," "I won’t be good enough," "I didn’t wear the ‘right’ clothes," "How close do I dance?" My mind was racing and my fears were controlling any attempt at spontaneity. At my first dance, the only dance I had was when a lady asked me to dance. I think she recognized the terror I felt, and I think I held my breath throughout our entire dance. I felt like I had two left feet.

I, like many other alcoholics, couldn’t imagine a life free from drugs and alcohol. A dance brought up all of those fears. Alcohol was my courage, and without it I didn’t know how to allow my spontaneity. My fears led to body and breath control and I became rigid, my palms were sweaty, and my breathing was very shallow. I was scared to death of rejection and of looking bad. I could hide those feeling pretty well in meetings, but a dance?

I thank God for the fellowship of AA and for the courage of those who saw my fears and made contact with me. The Fellowship made it okay for me to express my fears and sometimes terror and they didn’t laugh at me when I thought I looked like a fool. This total acceptance and giving attention was my healing force in recovery. The twelve steps have allowed me to gradually let go of paralyzing fear and pride, and to allow the promise, "we will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us."

I have discovered in my journey of recovery that the problems manifest in all areas of my life. My particular interest is play and recovery. As I began to practice these "principles in all of my affairs," I found a lot of areas where I needed healing. Don’t we always?  I discovered another addiction that was debilitating.  I was addicted to competition.  Naturally I didn’t see it as an addiction at the time.

Early in my recovery, I found that I needed to build a program that worked on all levels—spiritual, emotional/mental, and physical.  I wish to focus on the physical and the metaphors that I discovered (with a lot of help from teachers).  Metaphor means to transfer. I can transfer what I experience in play or competition to other areas of my life.  When I was six months sober, I joined the Y.M.C.A. and began to "get into shape."  Because of my obsessive/compulsive nature, I naturally became compulsive about this also.  Seven days a week I would life weights, run 3-7 miles per day, and play competitive racquetball.  My motives for lifting weights were fear based.  I had always felt inadequate and remembered the Charles Atlas "Do people kick sand in your face?" ads.  I felt weak and wanted to be strong and able to defend myself.  I worked diligently to bring this about, and was successful. I became very powerful and strong.  This helped me in many ways, and I indeed had found another recovery tool.  When nothing else worked, a run or workout would change my attitude.  I learned self-discipline.  I learned how to get though my resistances and to begin a run with "one step at a time."  If I just started, the run would unfold itself.  When I became attached to the result of having to run seven miles, I would feel overwhelmed.  As I worked through these resistances, I felt inspired.

Where I remained blocked was in the area of contact with others. I truly had forgotten how to play for the joy of it.  On the racquetball court, I noticed that when I was warming up for a competitive game, I made great contact with the ball.  Yet when the real game began, my quality of contact would change, and I would end up sabotaging myself. I would become obsessed with winning. Bill Wilson wrote on this obsession:

But these child miseries, all of them generated by fear, became so unbearable that I turned highly aggressive.  Thinking I never could belong, and vowing I’d never settle for any second-rate status, I felt I simply had to dominate in everything I chose to do, work or play.  As this attractive formula for the good life began to succeed, according to my then specifications of success, I became deliriously happy.  But when an undertaking occasionally did fail, I was filled with a resentment and depression that could be cured only by the next triumph.   Very early, therefore, I came to value everything in terms of victory or defeat—all or nothing.  The only satisfaction I knew was to win.

I personally had to drink until I had lost everything. I was very slow to make the surrender necessary to Step One to open me for healing.  I tried to hold on to my old ideas, until I was faced with the choice of living or dying.  Part of my letting go of those old ideas was in the area of competition. the win/lose, right/wrong, good/bad splits were hard to let go of.  I wanted to put everything in a category, to "fix" everything.  What I realized was that this judging was playing God.

In order to heal my inner child I had to learn how to be fully in the present.  My teachers in this area were children.  In my early recovery I used to go for walks in a local park where children were always playing.  I would sit and watch the pre-school age children play.  They were wholehearted players.  They became absorbed in whatever activity or object that was in front of them, and the universe was their playground.  They didn’t have rules, and would create play out of what was in front of them.  I remembered when I used to be like that.

When I ran, I would have to get my five or seven miles in, and try to beat my best time.  My compulsions were running my running.  The children were running and playing—they would skip, run backwards, fall down, and generally enjoy their spontaneity.

One day, when I was ready to learn, a teacher appeared in my life.  It was a man who loved to play for the joy of it.  He spent hours on the tennis and racquetball courts with me, showing me how to become fully present and not judge myself. He taught me the art of ball watching as meditation, and put the game in very simple terms… to see or not to see.  He would point out that every time I chose not to see, I would be "fixed" on a thought; my breath would be fixed, my body would stop flowing, and my eyes would be fixed on the spot on the wall where I was going to hit the ball, rather than the ball itself.  At first I didn’t want to admit that I was "choosing" not to see the ball. I also wanted to attach judgment to not seeing, and be self-critical.

All of my blocks came out on the court—my perfectionism, pride, blame, anger, criticism and sloth.  It occurred to me that this was a pretty effective way to do a Fourth and Fifth Step.  My teacher taught me every time I chose not to see,  I was "trying to beat the house, and the house always wins."  He also suggested that I use my weak side (left hand), and that really brought up all of my issues of control.  He challenged my only playing with "good" players of my level, and asked if I could play wholeheartedly with whoever was in front of me.  For the next two years of my life, I played.  I dropped all of the rules I had learned, and just attempted to be wholehearted with anyone who would play tennis or racquetball with me.

I would go to a treatment center for late stage alcoholics, and ask if anyone wanted to go hit some balls.  At first they were reluctant, but eventually I got a few to the tennis court.  I always carried extra tennis racquets in my car, and when we arrived on the court, I would do two things.  I would play wholeheartedly—no matter where they hit the ball, I would go for the ball like it was the last ball I would ever see.  The second thing was I would make it my "game" to hit every shot right in front of them.  To give them a gift—nourish them with the ball.  In order to be "fully present," I had to resist "trying" to teach them how to play, and just be with the ball and open my heart.  When I would do this, I noticed a transformation would take place in them.  As they continued to play, they would relax and start to allow the spirit of play to come out more.  They would start to have fun, and ask me when we could play again  I was creating players. As their spirit of play started to recover, they would start to seek information on playing the game, and I found that I could actually "play" the Steps on a tennis or racquetball court.

Today, I am still recovering from competition one day at a time.  Sometimes I fall into self-centered fear, and have to feed my false pride with winning.  And I am recovering.  Every part of my spiritual being knows that the greatest joy I can have is freely giving to another being of light, child of God, no matter who that person is and regardless of where they are on the road to recovery.  When I can let go of all "teaching" and just be wholehearted and giving, a healing takes place, a trust develops and my soul sings.

As a transformer, channel, I not only am able to show what commitment is, I am opening myself to an unlimited source of power.  The power is only available to the extent that I surrender to past and future, and trust the moment.  Grace is felt experience in movement, and comes to be in direct proportion to the extent I am willing to let go.  My quality of contact, i.e., touching the earth, balls, another person, is never the same, as my trust level ebbs and flows.  AA taught me that when the hand reaches out, I am responsible.  I am able to respond.  The process I call "Contact Recovery" offers a clear path to understanding this concept and to experiencing it.  The simple act of watching a tennis ball—all the way to the strings of your racquet, and all the way to your partner’s strings, trusting your eyes and making a decision to see the ball to the moment of truth, i.e., contact can lead to natural high states that I used to think came in drugs and alcohol.

Today when I sponsor a newcomer, part of what I give them is how to play.  I have played with several people for years, and I don’t think they know the "rules." We use ball watching as meditation, and create games that give us a wonderful aerobic workout (playout). Today when I go to a dance, I allow the music to become a part of my spirit, I move spontaneously without fear controlling me. I know the meaning of "we are sure God wants us to be happy, joyous and free."

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