Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Clearing the Garden

WFS Statement 8: The fundamental object of life is emotional and spiritual growth

It's been an unusually warm fall so far here in Florida.  So much so that the idea of clearing the garden has been far from my thoughts.  Today, however, I was in the back yard and I took in the dead, brown stalks that were my herbs and tomatoes earlier in the year, and it occurred to me that I really needed to clean things up and get ready for winter.  As I was pulling the tomato cages and taking down the hanging pots, I realized how similar the process is to what we must do when we get sober.

While we are drinking, our mental garden may remain full, lush and green.  We tend to the thoughts that grow with alcohol, using chemicals to maintain a thriving, seemingly healthy patch of ground.  What we fail to see is that we are growing weeds, thoughts that may comfort and sustain us but are, in fact, unhealthy and noxious.  We enjoy spending time in our garden and convince ourselves that ours is simply a different patch of ground, that what we so lovingly tend is worth the effort we are putting into it.

The time comes, eventually, when alcohol overwhelms us.  Our garden is overgrown, the vines and tendrils of the beliefs and thoughts we have cared for running amok.  We realize that we have been growing things which are harmful to us, that our plants have become sentient, hungry creatures not unlike the beast from Little Shop of Horrors, crying "feed me" ever more loudly.  And so we put down the bottle, stop tending the garden, and turn our attention to sobriety.  It may take a while, but eventually, the garden withers and dies, and all that remains are the bent, brown stalks of false beliefs.

In the early days of sobriety, we are so focused on not drinking that we can't imagine going out to clear the garden.  We let it sit, perhaps hoping the detritus will simply disintegrate, not wanting to face the things we held so dear in a time that we want to desperately to forget.  And so, the garden sits neglected while we plant pretty pots of Statements and positive thoughts to surround us in our new lives.

Then one day we look out the window and see that patch of ground and realize that it can, and must, be reclaimed.  So much of our souls lies in that soil, so much effort and time that we cannot truly move forward while it sits abandoned.  Perhaps we see a tiny spike of green, an old thought that is growing back despite our not tending it.  At the same time, we are afraid of the past, of what we might turn up should we venture into the garden of our old beliefs.

In order to move past sobriety and into recovery, we must take back the garden.  Keeping the Statements carefully tended in pots may be comforting, but they will grow so much more beautifully if we give them space, and space is what we find in that neglected patch of ground that represents our thoughts.  Our garden can be even more lush and vibrant than it ever was, but we must find new ways of tending it.

First, we must remove the dead growth.  It can be a painful process, for the weeds we were growing often had sharp thorns, but it is something that must be done.  Our spade must dig deep to ensure that the deepest roots are removed; this may require that we spend time in earnest contemplation of why we planted a particular thought, why we felt it needed to be so nurtured.  At times, we may find roots wrapped around things we didn't realize were entangled, and we must decided whether to carefully remove them or whether it is best to cut more deeply.  This may happen with relationships we didn't understand to be so toxic, or with beliefs that seemed innocent by themselves, but which fed darker thoughts.  Clearing our garden will not be fun.  Even so, looking at the bright flowers of our New Lives we can imagine how much more vivid they will be growing in great mounds of color once our garden has been reclaimed.

It can take years to completely clear the old debris from our minds.  We don't have to wait for a fully bare patch of ground before we start to plant, however, provided we enrich the soil with the Statements and our hard work. When we plant something new, we must be vigilant for old weeds that might sprout nearby; sometimes old seeds have lain dormant and are awakened by new thoughts and we must be careful that old habits don't return.  We should be on the lookout, too, for seedlings of good things that were before choked out by all the negatives.  These precious thoughts should be carefully nurtured so that they can once again flourish as they may have done before alcohol poisoned the soil.

In the end, with effort and determination, our mental garden can become a thriving, healthy, glorious place where our dreams and wishes can flourish.  The fundamental object of life is emotional and spiritual growth; let us reclaim that most special of inner places to allow that growth to fill us with its rewards.

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