I went to the second night of a ten-week workshop, called Writers for Recovery. It had been put together by Bess O’Brien, who produced Journey Into Courage, and grew out of the documentary on addiction, The Hungry Heart, that she was working on at the time. She was helped by a writer, Gary Miller, and they have offered it at Recovery Centers around Vermont. I went because I have taught writing workshops and thought I might be able to do this one, once I saw what exercises they used. I was very moved by what the participants wrote. I’m always heartened when people tell the truth about their lives.
Since I am not in recovery from addiction, but I can say that I’m in recovery from PTSD, I changed the assignments a little. The topic of the first writing was “Waking up in the middle of my addiction.” I wrote what it felt like waking up that very day, because my life right now is totally disabled by PTSD.
Waking up in the morning, I feel so heavy, I feel totally bereft, I have no reason to get up. I recite to myself “Blessed Lord Jesus, have mercy on me,” even though I don’t believe in Jesus, and the words don’t mean anything to me. I figure they have been spoken by so many people down through the centuries, and they are positive and keep my mind from going anywhere else. It’s quiet here. Green trees outside my window. Sun isn’t up yet. My dog’s on the bed next to me, I can feel her warmth. I tell myself “You’ll feel better when you’ve had a cup of tea.” I sit up and hug my dog. I feel very wobbly as I get up on my feet. I go into the kitchen and start the kettle. Then I collapse on the couch that faces the glass patio doors. Outside I see the trees, many colors of green. It’s too much for me right now. I listen for the kettle, finally go pour hot water in the mug with the tea bag. I set the timer for 2m30sec and go back to the couch. I take my journal and write the date. Then I write: “hard to get up as usual. I haven’t got any reason to get up but it’s too uncomfortable to stay in bed.” The timer rings and I get my tea and pour soy milk into it. Kukicha tea and soy milk have represented safety to me since I was diagnosed with systemic yeast in 1984 and told to stop drinking coffee, black tea, or herbal teas, and to avoid dairy. I go back to the couch and start writing about yesterday. There is no one else in the house except the dog.
For the assignment to write about “getting up in the morning now that you’re clean and sober” I write what I imagine it would be like to be healed of PTSD. I had this experience at a 5-day event at Rowe Camp and Conference Center. It was called “Kindred Spirits,” and had started as “Recovery Camp” 30 years ago, for people recovering from addiction. More recently they opened it up to anyone who wanted to be authentic, to tell the truth, to grow spiritually and psychologically from sharing with others.
Waking up at Kindred Spirits Camp. I’m in the lower bunk. Two other women share the room, and they are still asleep. I take my supplements out of the box and put them in a small container. I take my bag with my journal and tea bags to the dining room where there’s hot water and soy milk in the fridge. I make my first cup of tea and sit down to write in my journal. People occasionally walk through. Breakfast will be served in the big building up the hill. There’s a young woman doing yoga in the middle of the floor. Michael, who’s in my family group, comes in and sorts out his supplements. We smile at each other.
Then it’s time to go up the hill to the Rec Hall. A lot of steps to climb, colorful graffiti on the walls of the staircase. I hear people calling “Circle up! Circle up!” I walk through the dining room with its tables and go out on the deck where all the Kindred Spirits are gathering in a big circle. Someone starts us singing “It’s in every one of us to be wise…” I used to hate that song, a therapist used to make us sing it in her group and I thought it was sickening and sentimental. I like the way they’re singing it here.
For the first time that I can remember, I feel safe. I feel like I’m OK just as I am. I don’t have to entertain or take care of anyone. I don’t have to prove that I deserve to live.