Elements of Recovery: Earth

I’ve been struggling with some of my recovery work this week. There are many ways to work the twelve steps of this type of program, and the way I am involved in takes a lot of writing. Sometimes the step writing flows, and I come away chewing on another little morsel of truth about myself. But right now, the writing feels forced and repetitive. It feels like a chore. It feels as if I’m stuck in the mud. Well, maybe I am, but I need to remember that what I really feel stuck in is Earth.

Earth is the element I most often resist in recovery, and it’s the one I often need the most. Earth in this context is discipline; routine, chores. It’s going to the meetings even when I don’t feel like it and it’s doing that bloody writing even when it feels stupid. It’s taking my vitamins and going to the doctor and brushing my teeth and all the crap that I’ve never been good at doing consistently. When I was in rehab, my Earth was the institution’s schedule and all of the rules I chose to obey even though some seemed foolish or arbitrary.

Earth is also mindfulness. There’s a reason certain calming techniques are referred to as “grounding.” I honor Earth when I make a point of getting some physical activity or doing something with my hands; when I get anchored in my body and stay there for more than a minute at a time. I bring Earth in when I give thought to what and how I eat, or when I take time to eat slowly and without distractions. When I seek tactile sensation to help with an anxiety attack, I am seeking Earth.

As a dually diagnosed person, it’s even more important that Earth become a regular part of my program. I need the grounding to balance out the extra variations that my mental health issues create, and I need the discipline to manage my mental health responsibly.

It’s not surprising that as an addict I resist Earth-related changes, nor is it surprising that so many of the suggestions given to us in early recovery are related to this. We’ve been used to living like pinballs, ricocheting wildly from mood to changing mood, craving to withdrawal, crisis to crisis. Being in Earth feels alien, uncomfortable, and eventually boring. “Is this all there is?” we say, tired or overwhelmed by daily responsibilities that we see others apparently taking in stride.

Many of us also haven’t had the chance to experience the parts of Earth that are meant to feel good. We don’t know what it is to feel secure, to till a garden all season and enjoy the harvest. We only remember feeling trapped or confined. We’re like a cleanliness-obsessed person in a mud bath, squirming around and thinking we just have to get out and wash all of this clinging stuff away. We’re desperate to feel free and unencumbered.

So what do we do? What do I do when I feel this way? There’s no easy way to explain the process of yielding to Earth. I use prayer, I use the principles of the steps, I use a little tough compassion and I dig into my discomfort until I feel something inside me relax. Until I stop thinking up excuses or dwelling on issues of fairness. It can take minutes, or days, or weeks, depending on what is making me feel smothered.

Then, and only then–when I am capable of looking at it honestly–do I look at the other side of the issue and ask the question: am I too much in Earth at the moment? Do I have a genuine need for something to balance it? Maybe it’s time to pay attention to a different element that may be lacking. Recovery’s all about balance, and recovery’s not meant to be a life sentence of drudgery and deprivation.

2 responses to “Elements of Recovery: Earth

  1. Very, very insightful, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this!

  2. This makes me think of how I felt a bit bothered with how the women in the program I interned in were pretty much forced into routine. I kept wondering to myself: how is this in any way empowering them to heal? Your thoughts though, while acknowledging the difficulty some have with routine, made me see routine as in some ways grounding and therefore making room for empowerment when used on balance.

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