Elements of Recovery: Air

My love of this element has led me astray many times. Ever since I was a child, Air was where I always wanted to be: floating, drifting, disconnected from whatever might try to drag me down. Spinning happy daydreams and fantasies. Living safe and free in my castle in the clouds. Using the wings of my mind to soar from one plan to the next, creating new paths and trails to a way of living that would surely work this time–and if it didn’t, well, I’d just take off again.

As a child in situations I did not choose, this was an adaptive response at times. As an adult, this extreme need for Air almost caused my death, because I needed to do more and more drastic things to get Airborne. In recovery, I need to learn wholesome ways to experience Air. I need to learn to balance it with the other elements.

We all need Air in recovery: without it, the heaviness of our responsibilities and our emotions would surely pull us down. We need fun. We need spontaneity. We need happy thoughts and whimsical dreams of things that we may be able to achieve in the future, and we need to have times of feeling light and free. Many people who started addictive behavior at a young age never really had the chance to learn how to have fun without it, so we have to open our minds to doing things that may make us feel silly or awkward.

People in twelve-step recovery sometimes talk about the “pink cloud.” It’s an expression for when a person in early recovery has a happy or even euphoric period. They’re in love with recovery, things in their life seem to be falling into place, they feel better physically than they have in ages and the future looks really bright. For many, this early stage gives way to a stage of deeper and more difficult emotional processing as recovery continues.

Not everyone has a “pink cloud,” nor do I think that if you have one you must dread a correspondingly worse time to come. Maybe a stage like this is just a massive influx of Air, coming at a time when the person may have been Air-deprived for some time. I never had a stage like this, perhaps because my addictive behavior involved so much of it.

So how do I get the right amount of Air, and the right kind? The truth is, I’ll never stop missing the complete, “all is well” floaty euphoria that my addictive mind tries to associate with using drugs. If I allow myself to remember only that, I’m at risk for relapse. I must remind myself that there’s no way to capture that again; that using anything would only lead to an endless chase down into the dark. (Make no mistake. It would. If you’re like me, if you just had a romantic thought about your substance of choice, take a moment right now and play that little tape to the end. I’ll join you. There, that’s better.)

The kinds of Air that will help me grow in my recovery and my humanity are harder to get. I can’t just float away at will, needing nothing but my (augmented) brain. Scary as it is, I have to learn how to have fun with other people more. I have to develop my creativity and try new activities. Daydreams need to be enjoyed in moderation, or harnessed into action that will incorporate a mix of elements. Even healthful Air has to be watched closely for imbalance, especially when my bipolar issues are at play.

The little girl in me will always long to fly. The more I can learn to love and care for her, the more I can grant her wishes in ways that won’t harm her or sabotage the adult I am becoming.

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