Originally published in AA Agnostica on 7/19/2020: https://aaagnostica.org/2020/07/19/the-labyrinth-facilitator
It is July 2020 and I’m celebrating an anniversary – 13 years of sobriety. I’m so fulfilled today and so proud of this achievement that I often have to ask how this perfectionistic Atheist managed such a transformation? How did I go from feeling so angry, afraid and hopeless to being filled with such purpose?
When I agreed to enter treatment as the result of my husband’s relentless insistence, I felt a brief moment of true relief and peace because I knew I had become an alcoholic and was begrudgingly making the decision to get help. This moment was immediately followed by a tremendous amount of fear and shame. Fear of having to admit to being less than perfect, shamed by the fact that everyone would know that I had failed in every possible way and, of course, fear of the unknown. To make it easier, I told myself that I was just doing this to get my husband off my back and that I’d have a 28-day break from him – which I really needed. I had no intention of admitting to my alcoholism or to staying sober for the rest of my life.
However, when I was confronted with an assignment that asked me to consider the concept of a Higher Power, all I could say was, “Oh, God!” I was contemptuous about all things spiritual and religious, but I was also still quite the perfectionist and doing my homework assignments well and submitting them on time was my MO. An interesting thing happened while I was working on the assignment. I was outside and found a bird’s nest on the ground. Then I found several hazelnuts in the area, which became the eggs and then I started thinking about how I could clearly see a Higher Power at work in nature but that I was excluding myself from this realm. WHY? And why was I thinking about this instead of slamming the door shut on this concept? I was allowing myself to stray from my rigid thinking because, for the first time that I could remember, I felt safe and understood. I felt that I could explore this and, without realizing it, discovered the first inklings of spirituality. Did I have a have a Higher Power just waiting around for me to wake up and say “Grace?”
Eventually, I realized that I was equating religion with spirituality and that, in fact, they are very different. I was also beginning to realize that the comfort I was feeling was an awakening of my true spiritual nature – a spirituality that naturally exists within all of us, only needing connection to be ignited.
At that moment, I understood how I could believe in something greater than myself – through connection with others, my small spiritual flame could grow, and I would be able to be part of something much bigger and better – I would be part of the interdependent web of all existence. I no longer had to fake the assignment – I had actually completed steps 2 and 3 with honesty and integrity. I did not have to believe in someone else’s God or make one up for myself. The recognition of my spiritual nature was enough.
The realization that my life was not wasted occurred during my second month in treatment while on a Labyrinth walk. We attended a workshop titled, The History and Meaning of the Labyrinth. I assumed, as many people do, that labyrinths and mazes are synonymous and before the workshop began, I was engaging in morbid reflection, equating my entire life to the metaphor of being stuck and lost in a maze. The Workshop Facilitator began by explaining the difference between a labyrinth and a maze. She said that mazes have many entrances, exits, paths and dead ends. Labyrinths, although resembling mazes upon cursory observation, have only one path. In spite of the winding nature of the labyrinth, you cannot get lost if you follow the path. When I heard this my interest was piqued.
When our lecture was finished, we were invited to walk a large labyrinth painted on canvas in an adjacent room. I cleared my mind and set an intention of just being open-minded. As I began my walk, I found myself, reflecting on my life and letting go. Each turn in the labyrinth seemed to represent different times in my life. When I reached the center, I was calm and able to receive an intuitive message that my life had not been wasted and that I was not at a dead end. The paths I had taken were the ones I needed to travel in order to be at the center of that very labyrinth, right then and there. I felt the freedom of a release of psychic burdens that I had been carrying for a very long time. I meditated, mindfully, in the center of the labyrinth and when I felt ready to leave, I experienced a mounting sense of energy, forgiveness and joy. In the space of three hours, my whole perspective had changed from one of despair to hope. I had experienced something transformative.
Buoyed with my newly discovered spirituality and filled with hope, I was able to admit to my alcoholism and to leave the safety of the treatment center willing to do the hard work that I knew would come. I wanted to strive for the ultimate goal – emotional sobriety. That meant taking a look back and identifying the changes I would need to make. I needed to accept responsibility for my behavior and quit blaming others. I needed to be humble and teachable. I needed to change my thinking, work with others and learn to love myself.
With these goals in mind, I began to tackle huge issues with chronic and clinical depression, shame and codependency as well as developing a supportive community that would allow me to be an Atheist and not try to force anything upon me. It wasn’t long before I realized just how consumed I was by the “would’ves, should’ves and could’ves.” They were like a very large dysfunctional family taking up space in my head and each of them had “or elses” attached. I know now how they found what they thought would be a permanent home in my head but I’m happy to say that they received eviction notices a while ago and when they try to convince me to let them move back in, I’m strong enough to respect myself and my boundaries and say “no.”
During these last thirteen years, I’ve moved through many highs and lows and have experienced the beautiful process of deep change. I now find myself in a loving and supportive relationship, I earned an MA in Psychology as well as certification as a Labyrinth Facilitator and as a Life Coach. All of these profound transitions have not only given me much joy but have also provided me with a purposeful life allowing me to work with others in deep and meaningful ways as well as knowing that physical and emotional sobriety are possible when in spiritual connection.