Last month I returned to a city across the country. While listening to the overture backstage, I waited for the symphony to begin. I watched the fluid movements of my colleagues perform the delicate and different movements onstage. Their lifetime of attention, discipline and service was enabling sublime music-making that lifted my soul. I exhaled with relief.
I recalled being in that same spot just six months earlier. Hot shame rose off me and I sweated with regret. I was back in the playing circuit after a long break and my confidence was at an all time low after a failed audition. The sequinned orchestral outfit in my suitcase was hopelessly too small. With an extra 20kg and facing diabetes, I could not squeeze myself into the dress and I loathed myself. An hour before the show a kindly colleague responded to my panic, loaning me a plain black t-shirt. I wore it over faded black gym leggings but self-loathing drowned out the music I’d come to perform. I felt frumpy, ugly and stupid. I yearned to down my sorrows, resenting my newfound abstinence.
I had also only just returned to OA after a break of 20 years, and fortunately found a sponsor. She urged me to turn to my Higher Power in two-way prayer so between a tuba case and the extra music stands, I wrote the following question:
I’m struggling for words, dear God. It was so hard to make the right choice today and I wish I could’ve properly indulged instead of staying abstinent. Am I actually *sad* that I didn’t console myself in food and wine? Wow, this is complicated. Today marks just twelve days of abstinence, but honestly, God, what’s this all about?
My Higher Power wrote back to me:
Hey Girl, I’m telling you this in the gentlest way possible: Sitting with a sense of failure is painful. Picking up your instrument again, as you are picking up recovery again is simply difficult. Your recovery is truly hard won.
Please stay abstinent despite the feelings. Ice cream and alcohol offer only temporary consolation. Now it’s time to return to the bigger healing I’ve planned for you, to recover the lost dreams and forgotten vision. You will not drown in this sorrow.
Twelve days of sobriety is a fine beginning which gives me great joy. I see your struggle, beloved, and remember there’s no spiritual bypass for grief. Your abstinence is the best gift you have given me. You’re on a new path, so stay with the feelings in kindness to yourself. I love you. You are not alone.
Working the programme and playing in an orchestra require conscientious devotion to a programme and daily practice. Whether I pick up my instrument or pick up the phone to a friend in OA, I am surrendering to a bigger plan for my life. Attending a rehearsal or attending a meeting, I have to show up. I cannot choose the overture, the concerto or the symphony. I cannot choose the date of the performance. Likewise, the twelve steps aren’t optional. The possibility of bliss in recovery compares to the euphoria of playing well in a performance. It’s never assumed but always a possibility. It grows more secure as we practice.
When we align ourselves with others surrendering to the Divine Conductor and attune ourselves to that still small voice that guides us, we get better together. I’ve released 8kg since that date and my health is gradually returning. My gratitude is immense and it’s hard to describe the disbelief that clothes get looser and my rings fit back on my fingers.
Thank you to each fellow in recovery who shows up with trust in the process to recover alongside me. I can’t play a symphony alone.
Liesl – South Africa