The Caterpillar and Me

The disease of Alcoholism is insidious. It cannot be cured, but it can be arrested. You can’t ever stop moving forward with recovery from it, because you won’t be standing still; you’ll be moving backward. Those of us affected by it, in a relative or friend, are in a similar situation – we must always strive for that daily reprieve from our character defects and “stinking thinking” – or the feelings, the defects, and the self-loathing return, most of the time worse than they were before.

I’ve been struggling the past couple of years with program. Since I’ve moved to Altadena, I don’t attend the same meetings I used to, and I miss being part of and having people around who know my whole story. And, while there are some good meetings in my area, they are not just the same. So I judge the meeting and the recovery that is there. I don’t give of myself to offer my perspective on my 16 years in program. I look at it as a burden, not a gift, to be sitting in the rooms.

So, this weekend, at the Women’s Retreat I go to every year in Santa Barbara, I was hoping for some answers. Hoping for a Louisville Slugger upside the head (because sometimes that’s the only way I can hear) about what to do with my program.

The drive up was busy, as usual, and I honestly don’t know how people commute long distances/time each day. I have such a defect of “right and wrong” that when someone acts like a jerk while driving it sends me over the edge. “Why would someone DO that? He just screwed over EVERYONE!” That type of deal.

When I pulled in to the lush, peaceful grounds two hours and forty minutes later, I just needed to decompress. Those who had been up there for hours before already were peaceful and in great moods. When one of them went to hug me, I balked. Because of the drive and I was uptight, but also because I’m not great with hugs. If I’m situated in a place and have my bearings and feel safe, I’m more likely to hug and be hugged. But mostly I’m like a caged cat, scratching and hissing and just trying to get to a dark corner so I can acclimate and let the knot in my stomach unclench.

I thought it best not to subject anyone else to my attitude, so I grabbed my camera and started walking the expansive grounds. The light was so amazing right then, I knew it would be beautiful with all the trees and flora and fauna about.

I started to calm down just seeing how the light was playing with the trees, and the statuary, and the tiny breeze making everything change every few seconds. I could feel myself relaxing with each click of the shutter.

I headed toward the labyrinth, a type of meditational maze laid out on the grounds, that I have walked several times and always felt better after doing so. I met a black, fuzzy caterpillar on the stones at the entrance, and stopped to watch him motor along, doing his own thing. The pamphlet at the wooden box refreshed my memory about how to use the labyrinth to most effectiveness.

Quieting my mind, and opening my heart, I entered. I followed along the rock-edged layout, aware of where my thoughts were going and how I felt. I began to notice that even though I switchbacked through the labyrinth, I kept moving forward. Sometimes, it felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere, that I was moving backwards, but I always kept moving. I started to understand: this was my journey. I make the choices about which way I go. I don’t have to do it the way everyone else is doing it – that’s THEIR journey, not mine! I am lucky that I have a sponsor who, if I came up to her and said, “I think I need to stand on my head at meetings, so the blood rushing there can help me think,” would say to me, “Sounds good, honey, just don’t wear a skirt!” Because she, too, understands that it’s my journey, and no one else’s. What works for someone else might not work for me, and vice versa. And that’s why we share so openly and honestly about what is really going on for us. It’s the only way to help ourselves, and to help others on their journey make choices about what works and doesn’t, for themselves.

Exiting the labyrinth, I felt lighter, present, and more centered than I have in ages. I headed back to the main meeting room, seeing my fuzzy black caterpillar friend again, this time in the middle of the road. I worried that he might get run over, or not be able to get back to his food source again. I stood there and thought about “helping” him for a long time. A couple walking a dog gave me some very strange looks as I stood there, but whatever. I decided to try and pick up the caterpillar and move him to the grass. I tried to pick him up, but he tensed up, and the spiky bristles on his back made it difficult to get him. So I let him be and continued on back where the rest of the women were.

I realized that the road may not have been optimal, but in the end, the caterpillar had his own journey too.