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[ Personal Narratives ]

The 4 M’s that keep me sober

“Slow down,” the voice inside my head instructed.

I ignored it.

And I tripped.

I was running to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and a little over an hour into it, about a mile from the bottom, I tripped over my own feet. I got up, looking to see if there were any witnesses and assessed the damage. My thumb was chewed up and the back of my right knee hurt and felt unstable, but I took a long sip from my camelback and decided I could shake it off if I kept moving. I couldn’t run anymore because my right knee didn’t feel right, but I was able to walk.

There were more than 10 miles ahead of me, mostly uphill, if I was to continue on with the route I had planned. Turning around and going back up the trail I had come down felt like defeat, so I let go of the day I had expected to have, the one where I felt stronger and faster than previous years, and changed my perspective to a day of digging deep into my mental strength to finish the loop I had set out to do. Putting one painful step down at a time, I got myself out of the Grand Canyon.

I have done this route several times before, and I usually run to the bottom and end up hiking out because I’m too worn out to do more than shuffle along slightly faster than walking for the first few miles out of the canyon. This time there was no shuffling. Every time I stepped on my right foot, I got a shot of pain in my calf and into the back of my knee. I couldn’t think about how many miles I had to go to get out because then I would start to panic and feel like I would be in the canyon all day. I had enough food and water to spend all day in the canyon, so I worked to keep my focus on each step and maintain forward momentum. What is normally a very grueling physical experience became a mind exercise where I had to dig deep to not panic about how far I had to go while in pain.

The following week, my body was in a lot of pain as it recovered physically. I watched as this exhausting state of physical recovery knocked down several pillars of my recovery from alcoholism. In the first year of recovery, I realized that I needed to consistently do several things to feel good. I didn’t have to do each thing every day, but the more consistently I did each thing, the better I felt. They became my four M’s: Meditation, Meetings, Meals, Movement. Combining all of these as part of my recovery program has helped me to stay emotionally grounded.

For the previous several months, I had habitually done each M. I was Meditating every day for at least 5-10 minutes. I was going to at least 3 Meetings a week. I was eating healthy Meals and avoiding processed sugar. I was Moving my body six mornings a week. Combining all of these kept me in a good head space and improved my emotional sobriety.

This all fell apart after I was in physical pain after running/falling/walking out of the Grand Canyon. I started with drowning my discomfort in sugar, so my meals were no longer part of my arsenal. My body was so sore and exhausted that I took a week off of exercising, missing out on the mental and emotional benefits. I let life get too busy to get to meetings in the week before the Grand Canyon and I felt too worn out in the week after, so I went a week and a half without a meeting. The only thing I was still doing was meditating every morning for a few minutes, but this alone was not keeping my emotional ship upright. I was able to watch myself descend into an unhealthy mental space in less than a week, sinking deeper into self-pity, fear and depression. I felt like I had whiplash from how quickly I had snapped from a positive, healthy place to a low and emotionally painful realm. I forgot how important the daily and weekly tools I use in my life are and how quickly I can decline when taken out of my life.

For me, meditating for 5-10 minutes every morning is more accessible than trying to find 20 minutes. I’ve gone on retreats where I’ve been in silence for several days, and I’m meditating hours every day. These experiences have been wonderful, but I don’t live a monk’s life. After reading Ellen Hartsfield’s Frequency Meditation: An Alchemy of Mind, I realized that doing small, daily doses of meditation made me able to fit it in every day.

Going to meetings at least 3 times a week keeps me connected with my tribe of fellow alcoholics and makes me feel less alone. Whether I am struggling or not, going to a meeting always helps because I realize that I’m not the only one that has crazy thoughts rattling around in my head. Being consistent with attending meetings helps me keep a connection with others that can be there for me when I’m struggling, and I can do the same for them.

And then there’s sugar, which I have to treat like I do my alcoholism. I can’t take the first bite of dessert the same way I must not take the first drink. When I start eating sugar, I want it all the time, and I can’t eat just one bite. When it is not part of my life and I avoid it completely, I don’t feel deprived and I don’t crave it. It took me over two years in recovery to really kick the sugar habit, and I now see it as another addiction.

Movement is a big part of my life, and I’m a fairly active person. The main reason I do this, even more than how my clothes fit, is because of the way I feel emotionally after exercising. I get in about 45-60 minutes of moderate exercise every morning before getting ready for work, and it gets all of the grumpy and negative emotions out of me. When I am exercising daily, there is a noticeable difference in how grumpy and short tempered I am than on a day when I don’t exercise in the morning.

I need to add another “M” to my toolkit and that would be Moderation. It was a beautiful day in the Grand Canyon, but I went too far physically and spun the rest of my life out of balance by knocking out the other M’s that are part of my recovery. I’m going to go back to Moderate Movement to keep the rest of me in balance. If I apply moderation to all of the M’s that help my recovery, I have the time and space to do all of them. I now realize that these M’s are my emotional life supports, and they keep me happy and healthy.