Shoshin: The Beginner's Mind and Other Sad Tales

I'm still counting days.

Every evening as my relatively clear-thinking sober head lays down to rest, I check off one more day, as though I'm collecting gold stars for good behaviour. My sleep is still broken. Every night I'm up 3, 4 or more times – a combination of habit, anxiety, weird-ass dreams and having to deal with an already broke-down prostate and bladder, now in full revolt of all the juice and tea I had in lieu of wine the night before.

That's okay. It's a transition.

It'll get easier.

Waking up each morning feels like Day 1 all over again – every morning, I'm back at the beginning, armed with good intentions and backed by a terrifying track record I hope to never repeat. I wake up into the same funnel I woke every drunken day before, with the simple but overwhelming desire to not drink today.

Today marks 22 days sober.

I feel stronger, but still unprepared. 16 or more sober hours stretch out before me, undoubtedly littered with triggers and hurdles to avoid and to jump.

Every day feels like Orientation Day, like it's Day 1 all over again.

And I'm grateful for that.

The moment we begin to believe that we know what we're doing is the very moment we get ourselves in trouble.

Now, 22 days sober is just a drop in the ocean compared to the 7300 days I consecutively spent drunk (yes, I just did the quick, very disgusting math) – but it doesn't stop me from patting myself on the back a little. The trick is in being able to quietly celebrate each success, tuck it in my pocket, and keep building on my strength each day as though it's my first day walking without crutches.

Each day my confidence becomes a little bigger, a little stronger. I wobble a little less on my new legs. My mind becomes a little wiser and the hurdles become a little easier. But in the deep, honest bellows of my gut I know that I will never really, "get there".

Because there is no destination. Being present in every moment on this journey of recovery is the destination, if there has to be one.

I wonder if it's true, that we will forever be recovering alcoholics. No matter how far we've come, there will always be that scar inside where we remain a little broken, that swells up in times of trouble, and reminds us of where we came from despite how much we've grown.

We are born into every new day as a Beginner.

Shoshin is a word from Zen Buddhism meaning "beginner's mind." It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.

In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few. – Shunryu Suzuki

It was late May of last year – I don't know the exact date, but it was close to what should have been my 100 Days Sober celebration. I had been diligent, dry, worked hard, and didn't slip once on my cunning, clumsy escape from the bottom of the Pitcher Plant. (If you haven't read Andrew Carr's Pitcher Plant analogy for alcoholism yet, I recommend reading this post here).

I was cocky and confident, and Hubs and I agreed that a bottle of wine couldn't do much harm.


I'd "obviously proven" that I could take it or leave it. 100 days (almost) was nothing to balk at, so off I went to collect my prize winnings at the liquor store.

Because I deserved it, of course.

I stood gazing at the endless shelves of wine as though I had finally made my once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca. The bottles sparkled and their sexy labels began to speak to me. I was so close to bowing down before the shrine of what used to be my god, after nearly 100 days without a sip or a sermon.

I searched the store and sought out the most expensive, deliciously poisonous reward I could find.

And we drank it, underwhelmed by how not awesome I felt.

There weren't any fireworks going off at my first sip. The choir of angels I was hoping for were apparently out for lunch. My stomach flared up with the familiar burn of acid hitting my insides, and I refused to admit it wasn't actually doing anything for me.

In fact, I just got tired – so of course, I just kept drinking.

And drinking, and drinking, and drinking.

So much more drinking, that the one "innocent" bottle I tried to moderate with turned into 4, 5 or 6 bottles a day.

For 8 more months.

I had lost my Beginner's Mind.

I had outgrown (in my mind) the humility that comes with beginning. I'm not sure if "outgrown" is the right word. Maybe "abandoned" is more fitting.

I had abandoned my delicate Beginner's Mind in trade for the delusion that I was in control.

In hindsight, that was a pretty shitty trade.

It's human nature to want to move forward, to grow, to learn and explore. But it's also important – critically important – to stay rooted in what originally helped us to grow. If you uproot a tree it's roots become exposed, weak, and endangered. Uproot our progress and the same happens to us.

What's important here is that we keep our roots reaching deep, where it all started.

To stay where the seed was planted and where the sprout began to grow.

It's the roots that help a tree stay strong and stable, not the branches. And – the strongest trees grow in the strongest winds.

I think we all know that person who knows everything. You know, that guy who is an expert on every topic, has been there, and is certain to make sure you're well aware that he does, in fact, know everything.

He's pretty unlikable, and in all honestly and likelihood, pretty insecure, too.

That's essentially who we turn into when we lose our Beginner's Mind. It's in that moment of unconsciously, and/or insecurely, believing we have it all figured out that we start undoing anything we actually have figured out.

We unknowingly become that unlikeable, obnoxious know-it-all, who ends up making himself look like an idiot.

Olympic athletes don't stop training every day just because they've won a gold medal.

It's with a Beginner's Mind that they know there is always more to learn. They know there is always more room to grow, and always someone to learn from. They keep training and never forget the first day they laced up their skates.

It may be Day 22 for me today, but it's also Day 1 again.

I'm approaching each morning with the openness and eagerness of simply learning new ways - and reasons - to not drink today. 

And in doing so, I'm watering my roots, because it's entirely up to me how strong this tree is going to grow.

Sober, alcohol free recovery blogger.

Photographer. Writer. Ex-Blackout Artist.

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