Reduce, Reuse, Reborn

Who says bears can’t turn into butterflies?  Nature is endlessly fascinating.

I happened upon a tiny little Aesop fable not too long ago. It regards a tiny ant who stumbles upon a chrysalis in the final stages of change.  It cries out, disdainfully, to the chrysalis “What a sad fate is yours! While I can run hither and thither, at my pleasure, and, if I wish, ascend the tallest tree, you lie imprisoned here in your shell, with power only to move a joint or two of your scaly tail.” A few days later the ant returns and finds only pieces of shell.  The new butterfly stands behind the ant and bellows “Boast now of your powers to run and climbs as long as you can get me to listen,” and then flies off never to see the ant again.

This fable, while short, really struck me as profound in some ways.  It really had me thinking about cycles, and changes and how we move about our life in different stages.  Stages, cycles, transformations – the stuff of nature shows (Survivor doesn’t count), and of course, of nature Herself.  There is a life cycle laid out for all that is living and breathing, from the tiniest virus to the Earth itself to the galaxies swirling about.  There’s an inherent blueprint embedded in the plasma and consciousness of our beings, and of the systems that contain us.  Gnats in a cosmic soup, all leaning towards our next phase and transition. one mentioned zombies in biology class.  Especially zany, dancing zombies.
Interesting…no one mentioned zombies in biology class. Especially zany, dancing zombies.

As humans, we are naturally taken to the cycles in our own lives, in our own time line.  We already know about life and death.  We know about returning to the sacred loam of our existence, of the possibility of rebirth or reincarnation.  We sense that within this realm, we are at one stage or another within ourselves, whether it be physiologically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.  We are on a course that is plotted, navigated and propelled.  We rise and fall and plateau and we do it all again.  Some cycles are life long, others are in short, staccato bursts that we barely notice.  But there is an inner urging that usually compels us in one way or another to move towards the next stage.

There are countless examples of this sort of thing occurring in nature – stages of growth, dormancy, energy, rejuvenation, breakdown, death, birth. Pregnancy has it’s trimesters, with a final nesting instinct (I have never seen my wife clean the house with such vigour and purpose since). Water evaporates, forms clouds, precipitates, pools and then returns back to the sky. The moon goes through the familiar phases that has inspired poetry and furthered science.  One of the most startling and poetic of these natural phases belongs to that of the butterfly.  We all know that the caterpillar eats like mad, sheds its skin to expose the chrysalis and then emerges two weeks later as a butterfly. The way it works is very much like taking a plastic bottle, melting it down and then creating a new bottle from it. Reduce, reuse, reborn.  Just like that.  Ta Da!  It’s like like Jenga – tear down and rebuild – but with a touch more hep cat grooviness to it.

Does this sewer make me look fat?
Does this sewer make me look fat?

Now all of this got me thinking about my own journey through recovery and the spiritual realm. I feel that we go through phases in our all our journeys. A few months ago I posted a wonderful video of Don Coyhis discussing seasons of recovery.  His outline comes from the Native Elders, who based it on the cycle of on oak tree, with the familiar spring, summer, autumn and winter seasons.  (Interestingly, Chinese Thought has an additional season – late summer).  He talks about the spirit entering us in spring, buds forming and blooming in summer, leaves falling in autumn and the period of dormancy in the winter.  We can appreciate and understand how that goes with our recovery lives.

My take on this is that while we have these larger, in-the-grand-scheme type cycles, there are loads of smaller, but just as important, cycles and transformations that occur under the radar, nestled within the soul, played out in the act of just being and doing what we need to do to get through our days and lives.  It’s like having a life cycle within a life cycle.  They say God is in the details, and I am convinced that He expresses Himself in the minute as he does in the majestic.  The same stunning fractal features found in craters and coastlines are also found in snowflakes and soil pores.

Winter unexpected #1
Winter – unexpected #1

I know that I went through countless small transformations in my early recovery.  The amount of subtle and not-so-subtle shifts in my mind, body, emotions and spirit were staggering.  Anyone in recovery can vouch for that – all the tangible and intangible things that blossom, or lie dormant, or fade, are a parade of tiny discoveries and births and re-births.  From the way we learn to accept our alcoholism to how we see the good in others (including ourselves) to how we walk past the liquor aisle without any pangs…all of these things don’t happen overnight.  They are a process.  There is a hard energy that infiltrates, followed by the tiny germinations of new thought and behaviour, followed by the full on flowering of consciousness and action, flanked by a time of shedding of old ideas and then the time to reach within and recharge.

These processes can take place in moments, or hours or days…and then can branch out into months and years as well.  The ongoing and ever growing tiny transformations start to build into a new headwind that takes our sails and direct us into uncharted waters. We experience growth on a larger scale and we start to reap the benefits of the work and small graces.  Like the fable, we start to become that butterfly and we move past our old self, our old energy – the ant.  And these small, yet vital, experiences continue on a regular basis.  They are moving within us , without us even being aware of being in the chrysalis.  We just find ourselves spreading glorious wings without even knowing it.

You want serenity?!! I've got lots of it!!!  Take it! Take it! Take it!!
You want serenity?!! I’ve got lots of it!!! Take it! Take it! Take it!!

I can relate to the autumn / winter phases right now in my life.  The last month or so has been a quiet time for me.  A time of additional introspection and just being.  It’s neither “good” nor “bad”.  It just is.  Lately, I haven’t been to very many meetings.  In fact, my record is spotty at best.  I go weeks between meetings.  I had a mutual split with my last active sponsee, which means that I am not mentoring or working with another alcoholic, one-on-one.  That is the first time in over a year and a half that it’s been like that. I am not talking to my own sponsor very much either and have not been in contact with a lot of my fellow alcoholics (outside of the online stuff here).

And in the past, I would have been frightened, or at least a bit disturbed, by this sense of inactivity.  I would have been doubling up my efforts on everything, making sure that I was doing what I need to do to stay connected to everything and everyone.  I would have questioned my commitment, my integrity, my spiritual consent, my entire willingness to the act of sobriety.  I would have rubbed raw the comparison ball and given myself calluses from the hang wringing over it.  I would have reached out in panic, not in sincerity.  But I have a certain contentment in where I am right now.  A level of serenity that only comes from being here before and expanding my idea of recovery and where I fit in the matrix of it all.

Winter - unexpected #2
Winter – unexpected #2

The autumn of my recovery cycle looks a little like this: I have come to see that some of the things I clutched onto when I first got sober, and helped me enormously, are now things that no longer serve me at this moment.  These are the leaves that are falling from my limbs, the veils crumbling off of my visage.  I see that my recovery is no longer contingent on collecting sponsees like I would Pokemon cards. I know that the sense of panic I would get from not being immersed in recovery things is just a simple fear of the unknown and the fear of success and failure.  I see that the transition from recovery as the way of life to a way of life is not as frightening as imagined.  I know deep down that as long as I am working along spiritual principles and realizing that my life is not in my control…then I am okay.

As these and many more truer and deeper old ways of thinking fall, I find myself in a position where I just am.  And again, that is fine with me.  The more I resist that what is put before me, the more disturbed I find myself.  Trying to conform my recovery around something that isn’t meant to be is futile.  The cycles move through the stages they need to go through to get back to the start of the new cycle.  Denying that movement keeps me stuck.  And stuck isn’t a good place for an alcoholic like me.

Not sure what phase this is, but regardless, this kicks Movember ass.
Not sure what phase this is, but regardless, this kicks Movember ass.

So I sit back and just let these things unfold.  The spirit moved me to stay still.  Fear had some say in this, I know, but there was still a calmness within.  I didn’t feel the pressure I usually would put on myself to battle ram through these quiet winter times.  I didn’t feel the need to use a hammer when a feather duster was needed.  And so like that oak tree in late autumn and winter, I allowed the things to fall where they may and to lay dormant.  I am still dormant.  The next spring is coming soon.  Not sure when, but I do feel it on the rise.  There is subtle shift in the internal landscape which nudges me to open up more now.  I feel like a bear coming out of hibernation now and starting to feel the earth underfoot thawing a bit.

And I feel this thawing and shift through the fact that now I am very much moved to hit meetings more regularly again.  (As an aside – the one thing my spotty record has given me is that when I see newcomers like I saw this afternoon – ashen drawn faces, sobbing, broken,  I found myself with a renewed empathy and determination to reach out.  So for that, I am grateful).  I am now praying for men who need help to cross my path again.  I am delving back into recovery literature.  I am finding myself running with new vigour and feeling a little more connected to the Creator’s children.  I am not cursing as much (I found myself with guttermouth lately – another sign to move on!)

I’ve seen this movie played out plenty of times.

I do admit though that there was sense of guilt…for not feeling guilty about this!  Crazy, I know, but I felt like I should have been more concerned about this all, but that shows me that perhaps there has been a change – a hidden metamorphosis that hasn’t shown itself until now.  A new, mature underbrush cultivated from within, unseen until the new seasons blossoms.  So where does that leave me?  This doesn’t make me all-wise or anything like that.  In fact, the more time I have and the more I think I know, the less I actually know.  It’s addition by subtraction.  I probably knew, or felt I knew, more early on in my recovery as I do now.  It’s just different, is all.  Like a teen, I thought I had all the answers, when in fact I have very few and a hell of a lot more questions.

We all have our times in the seasons, in the cycles.  The fallowness of the winter fields only give way to the plush, plowed soils of spring. The crops emerge and then willow away.  And again we go.  The true way of being in touch with this part of our lives is when we bend to the will of the Creator to lie dormant while others are bearing fruit.  I have to put away my jealousy and pride and envy and allow those other people to bear riches while I sit in my spiritual tide of waiting and silence. There is a purpose to all this, one that I am not in control of, but can only ride like the wings of an eagle riding the undercurrents of the wind.

Bask in the glow of your season.  It’s your and yours alone.  A new season will come, a new cycle will unwittingly wrap itself around you and through you, a new phase of the spirit will illuminate or dim, but in the end, we are where we need to be.  Enjoy it.


19 Comments Add yours

  1. jrj1701 says:

    After seeing the pic with the dancing zombies, I had an instant flashback to this: (hopefully this won’t get sent to your spam)

    1. I was thinking the same thing when I wrote that…almost mentioned it…ha ha. Thanks for the trip down memory lane 🙂


  2. While I enjoyed the whole post, the part I dig the best is when you talk about this new feeling of thinking maybe you should feel guilt for not feeling any. This is fantastic on so many levels. One that gives me hope is that on day 11, I am the person you describe with each sober moment a chance to revel, appreciate, and accept. But the best part is that in your experienced wisdom, all of your sober days, months and years, and the countless meetings, phone calls, emails in which you were helped and provided help, you STILL get to learn. I picture you recognizing and affirming the realization that you have broached an entirely new set of uncharted feelings. Not new necessarily in the grand sense but in their application. Sometimes, when I read the blogs of the experienced, I feel a pang of envy. Like why in the heck didn’t I start this process sooner? I would have more “days” under my belt. But, I reel myself back in and say, “Dang, girl. It is what it is.” And I move on.
    But back to you. The notion that you are gracefully tapping into a new path which provides comfort, calm, reassurance, and most notably, motivation is stinking inspiring.
    So, thanks for waking my brain up this early Sunday morning. I pity the people next to me in church this morning. I may start singing…

    1. Awwww…what wonderful comments. You have a lot of insight there, regardless of your time sober. That’s the thing – I get to learn (not have to, but *get* to) from anyone and everyone. From the old timer with 30+ years to the person who is new and still shaking from withdrawal. The moment I think I have it all solved is the day that I start to shrivel and ego is winning.

      I too sometimes wished I had started this journey earlier, but I have come to the conclusion that we start when we were meant to start. I wouldn’t have been able to hear the message in the state I was in until I was at the breaking point of being open to it. What I have also learned is that it’s not how long one has been away from the drink, but the growth and effort and open-mindedness that the person has had and continues to have since having that last drink. And that’s where I realize that I truly am on my own path, as I can’t compare myself to anyone else (as tempted as I am to do it). It is what it is, as you said. 🙂

      I find my inspiration from watching others, from seeing how they walk their own paths, from reading and talking to others and connecting with that which has helped me all along. And your words have inspired me as well. Thank you for this 🙂


      P.S Belt it out, sistah 🙂

  3. Lisa Neumann says:

    This is great for me today because I have been on the ‘law of rhythm’ cycle lately. (Some one pointed out that I used this theme twice in a row on the motivationals.) Anyhow, I so appreciate that you’re basking in the season, whatever one it is. I just had this thought last week that if I love the things I have to do, I will be in a state of love whilst I live life. So foreign a concept for my little brain. Yet not totally illusive or out of real reach in possibility, even in probability for that matter.

    You always make me laugh, smile, and think—deeply.
    with love, Lisa

    1. I wonder if perhaps I was subconsciously triggered by your law of rhythms there. I seem to pick up what others are writing about and digest a while before sharing something. I am a bit slow to come to things, but I get there. I love what you say about being in a state of love whilst living life…what a concept! That’s certainly a goal to move towards. I just need the rest of my brain to follow suit. Ego need not come on the journey, thank you very much.

      Thank you for the wonderful comments – you always have me on the move 🙂


  4. Paul, this is such a beautiful post, eloquent and dazzling in its imagery. I feel blessed to be able to share in your wisdom!

    I have never thought of my recovery in terms of seasons (I have however, explored the possibility of freshman, sophomore, junior and senior levels of sobriety, but I abandoned it because it implied a graduation, your analogy is much, much better!) As I close up the computer and head on to some annoying cleaning (I am not in the third trimester of a pregnancy and will have none of the vigor you describe) I will ponder what season in which I reside.

    Your acknowledgement that your recovery is morphing and that you are at peace with it is truly an inspiration to me. I will soon be turning the page on a chapter of my life that has dominated the past 14 months, and I often worry how that will impact my recovery. So this post is like a balm for my anxieties: See? Paul is doing it, you can too. It will all be okay!

    Again, I am blessed that you are a part of my recovery. You help in ways you can’t imagine!


    1. Oh Josie…you are much too kind and generous with your spirit…but that’s just who you are, isn’t it? And I am a better person for it, let me tell you. Your graciousness is something that I really try to have rub off on me. I will let you know one day if it succeeds.

      I really how that this new chapter does end and brings you to a new place. I am coming to that place next month (as you are painfully aware of), so I can relate on that. I am sure the circumstances are quite different, but that feeling of ..moving along, shall we say, are probably similar. I will pray for you. But I imagine there isn’t anything that can come between you and your HP. You have a wonderfully strong program, Josie…so I wouldn’t worry too much about that 🙂

      You help me as well, Josie…that’s what we do – lean on one another and learn from one another. Thank you for everything you do for me…and for others.


  5. I love this…it feels very reassuring. Thanks for a nice message to end my day. 🙂

    1. I am glad that you found something in that gob of words that helped, Jeni. I too need assurances…that’s why I love the sobersphere 🙂

      Love and light,

  6. byebyebeer says:

    Very interested in and comforted by the idea that life is a natural series of seasons or cycles. It’s hard to feel pulled backwards, but comforting to know I can at least learn something during the hard times. And that it’s not possible to always be moving forward. I want to look more into the late-summer season because that one kills me every year, this year the hardest. As Jen commented above, your words are very reassuring.

    1. Thanks K…this is new territory for me too, and I think this is the first real look I have had at it. I think I needed a bit of time between me and the last drink to see this. I wouldn’t have been able to see this a year ago. I was probably still in my spring, or first true shifting. The runner’s high, if you will. I think I have already gone through some winter months already, but didn’t know it. Probably thought I was going through a down period or wasn’t “working my program properly” or getting a bit distressed, etc. Hopefully I am able to roll with the punches a bit more now and just take it for what it is. doesn’t mean I get complacent (that’s my big fear), but just realize I can’t go full throttle all the time and have any scope or balance.

      Let’s hope we get past that late-summer season!

      Thank you for being here 🙂


  7. furtheron says:

    There are some very disturbing photos there… probably more disturbing is the fact that you can get hold of photos like that to put on your blog…

    Anyway, having (just) got past the photos, the whole cycle thing is so correct. I go with the flow now, it just is, it will happen, it is happening, I am part of it not outside nor fighting it

    1. Ha ha…yeah, the photos. I sometimes spend as much time dawdling on Google Images as I do writing the posts. Probably have to spend my time better…lol. And as much as I sometimes want to forego the pics…there are some that are screaming to be published. Oh well.

      And yes, I was just mentioning that rolling with the punches is now part of my recovery, and great to see that you’re on that same page and philosophy…so that’s reassuring!

      Thanks Graham for the wonderful comments.



  8. Al K Hall says:

    Hey brother! i loved this post! Autumn is my favorite season for so many reasons, jean jacket weather, early evenings, beautiful colors in the leaves, a philosophical calm falls on me and i feel a letting go… What a great reminder to live with the present and not against it!

    1. Thanks Al! I am an autumn guy too – for the reasons you gave. I wonder if it’s that whole September / going back to school / clean slate thing that happens sometimes. A sense of renewal…kind of.

      Thanks for the comments – always a pleasure with you here, kind sir 🙂


  9. primrosep says:

    Thank you for these thoughts on rhythms and cycles. I will try to envisage myself in a cycle and watch how I am changing myself. Greatly preferable to being the ball in the pinball machine, being batted about by random emotions. Oh. And that Captain Kirk caption? EXACTLY what I needed today!

    1. I was laughing at the pinball metaphor there…I can certainly identify with that one! I spent way too much time in there…TILT.

      Glad that the good Captain had something of use for you today 🙂


  10. I love your interpretation of cycles and seasons and how you are finally finding refuge in understanding what they mean to your recovery. I also admire you for being able to let go of doing things simply out of guilt or because you think it’s the right thing to do. I almost feel like we are more wide awake since we are no longer subjected to the numbness and false freedoms which come along with alcoholism. We recognize our cycles, huge or small, and use the contentment which travels along with them. Contentment meaning we are better suitable for our periods of budding, blossoming, standing beautifully alone, and then back to a dormant state of consciousness and subconscious.
    Although Old Man Winter has found me to be more inclined to curl up to a good book or spend endless mornings tapping away at my keyboard for more self-reflection, I have found it to be a bit more active than usual since my days of submerging myself in vino. I have my children’s work which is published under a pen name so I find my winter cycle to be quite curious, busy and blessed as I meet hundreds of incredible students and teachers. I find myself continuously growing and learning as I love my work and passion more and more every single day. And all this would have never been achieved if I had stayed on my previous path of destruction.
    Again, your writing is so therapeutic, Paul. It’s always such a pleasure to read about your experiences and understanding about what your recovery has meant to you. I don’t know you too well, but I think I know you enough to say that I am very proud of you.

    Your friend,

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