Riding Life's Storms in a Big Enough Boat

The importance of a support network

The phrase, "living life on life's terms," is a common one in Twelve Step rooms. It comes from "Acceptance is the Answer," a story in Alcoholics Anonymous. This phrase encapsulates what we learn to do in recovery: accept whatever life offers without picking up alcohol or other drugs to cope. That's good advice for people who have spent a lifetime trying to avoid feeling the effects of life—sadness, depression, anger, resentment, even awkwardness or joy—and smoothed those difficulties with a drink or drug.

For me, the only way to weather the storms of life clean and sober is to not do it alone. If we're in a Twelve Step program, we have a sponsor, a fellowship, and a Higher Power to call on for help.

Here's a picture that helps me understand why it's so crucial to rely on others and a Higher Power in recovery: Imagine life as an ocean with waves. Sometimes the waves are modest and sometimes they are huge. What addicts and alcoholics do to avoid the waves is build a wall of numbness or distraction. In essence we try to control the ocean in order to feel better, so when the waves get bigger, we build a bigger wall. In active addiction, this meant we needed yet another level of alcohol or other drugs to not experience the difficulty, so we upped the frequency, quality, or kind of drug ingested in order to not feel the consequences of such a rough sea. We simply didn't know how to access the boat of others and a higher power to ride the storm.

In recovery, we don't face the waves alone any longer; we have a life raft of community, Step work, and connection to a Higher Power. When the waves get bigger, because tragedies happen, we get a bigger boat—attend more meetings, make more calls to our sponsor, pray and meditate more. There is no wave so big that we ever have to drink or use again, provided we're in a big enough boat of support and connection.

Today when I'm overwhelmed, I know it's time to increase my spiritual program of action and connection. When life is hard, I now have a choice whether to avoid the difficulty through old habits or step into a boat big enough to ride the waves.

Today I can ask, does this action build a wall or increase the size of my boat?

JoAnn Campbell-Rice, inspirational speaker, writer and a teacher

JoAnn Campbell-Rice is manager of Renewal Programs and Spiritual Care at the Dan Anderson Renewal Center. A former professor of writing, she has a private practice of spiritual direction in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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