It started on a bitter cold winter day at the end of a long back country road in rural eastern Washington. The hills were hard and the grass was brown and bare. Here and there you could see tufts of snow on the ground. The air hung in the sky as you exhaled. I was freezing. And I was miserable. I was also on the verge of killing myself. That’s why I was in this rehabilitation program in this god forsaken place. This wasn’t my first rehab program, and it wouldn’t be my last it turns out. But, there I was trying to claw my way out from the depths of a deep dark well and join the light of day. If you have ever suffered from any kind of addiction or been caught in a vicious cycle of self-sabotaging behaviors, you might know what’s it like to feel hopeless. You might feel you can never change your life for the better. You may feel you can never change your habits from unhealthy and harmful ones, to positive and good ones. You may think you don’t have the resources, the roadmap, or the inner resources to make it happen. You also might be wrong.
The thing I learned that bitter cold winter day was how to say goodbye. That day’s group assignment was to write a letter to your addiction and say goodbye. While I was deep in an addiction to drink, I also had a compounding destructive relationship with cigarettes – I would drink a six pack of beer and chain smoke a pack of cigarettes. All within an hour. And, I was just getting started. My goodbye (or “Dear John”) letter to cigarettes went something like this:
I am saying goodbye to you today because you are a horrible friend and lover. You say you love me, but then you treat me terribly. You are not good for me. I am ashamed of you and cannot take you into public. You abuse me physically and mentally and emotionally. You lie to me by saying nice things – that being with you will make all my problems go away and that you will always be there for me. But, you don’t make my problems go away. You make them worse. Now I cough all the time when I’m with you. I find it hard to breath. It hurts my lungs to gulp for air. My hair is falling out. You are a terrible lover. You spend all our time together making me puff on your stick and then I get nothing in return. Yes, I may feel good for a moment. But, then I feel dirty. When I take you out in public, people stare at us with frowns on their faces. You leave a pale of dirty smoke all over my body. And I smell. I feel like I am walking in a cloud of negativity whenever I am with you. Your presence keeps my mood foul. I don’t know what I ever saw in you. I guess I thought it was fun to be with you in college, as a stupid way to occupy my time when hanging out with friends. I guess I thought you could make my problems go away. Maybe I thought you were cool. What I didn’t realize was how attractive you are – you are like a spinning black hole luring me into your gravitational pull. You had a sly smile and a nonchalant debonair air about you. I was fatally attracted. I didn’t know other people in my family had once succumbed to your charms. And died. Died horrible, long and painful deaths. All the while you sat perched on their shoulders grinning, while they gasped for air. I once met a woman with a hole in her throat and a machine for talking because she loved you too much. She said if she could, she’d still be with you. I was appalled. I don’t want to be that woman with a hole in my throat, her hair all gone, a machine to speak for her. You are bad for me. I don’t want to be with you anymore because I have decided to care enough about myself to not want to stay in an abusive relationship anymore. I want a friend and lover who respects me, who is kind to me, who does nice things for me. I deserve to have a good friend and lover. I am a kind and generous person. You are mean and small. I am leaving you. Now. Forever. Goodbye.
You might know what it’s like to feel lost in trying to figure out a way to break free of chains that bind you and create a new life for yourself. You might be trying to quit something in your life that you know is bad for you. It could be a pattern of staying in abusive relationships. It could be an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. It could be an addiction to prescription pills. Whatever it is, you never intended to be there. But somehow you got lost along the way. Somehow life got bad.
I know my life was bad. I was lost. But that winter day, writing this letter, was one of the first steps in reclaiming my life. But what happened after that is more the point. I managed to not smoke for the whole 21 days I was in that treatment program. As soon as I got out, I picked up a cigarette and went right back to it. Why was this? What was fundamentally missing that I could not sustain once I was outside that bubble? It was this question that nagged at me. I also went right back to drinking. So, there I was after two treatment programs, still drinking and still smoking. And still killing myself.
But, there were things in that goodbye letter that germinated a spark. It was claiming my power and standing up for myself. It was digging down and finding some self-love to demand something better. It was realizing that I had used smoking as a way to fill a void in my life. It was realizing I was fatally wired from a biological standpoint to be predisposed to addiction to certain substances. It was admitting I had a problem. It was being open to letting go of the old to seek something new. It was desiring to want something that fed me – spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. It was a desire to be healthy, whole, and happy. It was realizing all these things and more that propelled me to seek a way to get there. That way is described through the lessons, techniques, tools, and strategies provided for you in my life transformation toolkits.
What I found was that the treatment programs I had been in focused largely on the substance itself. It was always about quitting the drink, the heroin, the crystal meth, or whatever it was. The substance loomed large and foreboding over all our heads. We were fighting demons. And we were fighting them head on. We never stopped to ask, where are those demons coming from? Why are they here and what do they want? Could we trace the demons back to their lair and kill them at the source, versus waiting for them to attack us in our beds? We were always fighting the thing and not the cause itself. We never went to the root of the problem. That is how is was for me. Until I went into my third and final treatment program. This program was an alternative program. Here we learned that any form of addiction was actually a misguided attempt at self-care. Here we learned that our own childhood traumas and unresolved emotional or mental issues had their contributions. We learned we needed to heal our wounded selves, give ourselves some self compassion. We learned how our abuse of substances was a way to avoid, suppress, and deny our inner emotional landscape. We learned how to give those emotions expression. We learned how to come out from under our self-imposed prisons and reclaim our lives.
We learned that all of it starts with you – digging down deep and truly understanding where you came from, how it has shaped you, how you interact with the world, and what’s healthy thinking and behaving versus what is not. We learned how to do the inner work required to change our outer world. All these things we learned and more. I started to compile all these learnings in a large binder. I sat through weeks, and weeks, and months of intensive group therapy, and I read hundreds of self-help books. And, I took many notes, made observations, tried things that worked, scuttled things that didn’t, created some of my own tools and strategies, and kept a journal documenting of all these things. I basically took a year off from my life and did nothing but commit myself to climbing out of that deep dark well. One slippery foot at a time up that wall. And sometimes, I’d miss my footing and slide back. But, I kept going anyway. Because, if I didn’t find a way to pull myself out, I would leave my children without a mother. My life was bad. And because of this I thought I was bad. But, my life could be good. I was good. I deserved good. I just needed to know this, to believe this, and create a life of positive change that reflected this. I needed to break bad. I needed to embrace good for good.
The well-being principles and toolkits provided for you here are the tools and resources I didn’t have when I started this journey. It covers twelve fundamental principles I came to learn and live in my life that completely changed it around. These principles are about the inner work that needs to be done to change your outer reality. Each toolkit goes over a specific principle – what it is, why it’s important to building a life centered on emotional and mental well-being, and it covers some exercises and steps for you to take to make it a core part of how you live your life. I don’t drink or smoke anymore. I practice and live these principles on a daily basis. It’s been years since I lived at the bottom of that deep dark well. Life is good.
Consider what it is you’re trying to change in your life. What are your struggles, your challenges that you are trying to overcome? What bad habits or ways of living are you trying to leave behind you? What does a life well-lived look like to you? How could you go about building a life that is consciously focused on your well-being and keeps you positively moving forward? Regardless of what you do that is harmful to your life, no matter where you came from or how you got there, no matter if you just want to learn new skills to improve your life or if you have a serious addiction you’re trying to overcome, these life transformation toolkits offer profound lessons and guidance for a way to live your life that focuses on being well in head, heart, and soul. I wish you well on your journey, Kerry