“Free is terrifying after confinement” – Julia Cameron, Walking in this World
Freedom – what a frightening prospect. As one who religiously writes lists and timetables her life, freedom does not sound blissful. In our Western society, many of us believe we are free – we are not shackled or imprisoned so aren’t we free? I would argue that we are all trapped in invisible cages, unaware of the bounds that confine us and keep us held.
I have been imprisoned my whole life. As a child, I was confined by my parents’ views of the world. Their fears and anxieties trickled into my consciousness and kept me fearful of those around me. In my teen years I became imprisoned by fears of judgement – I must act in such a way to avoid sticking out. And so the boundaries of my cage tightened. I started writing rules for myself and how I could present myself to the world. Later, during my teens, when following those rules failed to yield the desired connections, isolation became my prison. And so the bounds tightened further.
Drinking provided the illusion of freedom. I was no longer shy, I was able to speak to others and interact with boys. I could finally bond and connect. Surprisingly, I was able to uphold this fantasy for quite a while. But whilst drinking allowed me to break free of the shackles of loneliness, I found new ways to entrap myself – the men, the relationships. Soon enough I found a man who would physically trap me himself. Fantastic! I could hand over the role of gatekeeper to him and focus on simply being the inmate.
Looking back, it’s no surprise that I leaned more heavily on the alcohol. It had been the only source of freedom I had experienced. Whilst being trapped was the norm, that small part of my mind, the dove within wanted to fly free and alcohol appeared to be the key.
Freedom – what a funny illusion. Now in recovery, I can feel quite free most days. I am better able to meet the world as I am and I have connections where I am able to share freely without fear of judgement. I am also no longer tied down by dependency on alcohol or any other mind altering substances. I am in a relationship with a supportive partner who couldn’t even pretend to control me if he tried.
But am I truly free? On Thursday I achieved 3 years of sobriety and yesterday I met with some other sober friends and celebrated the occasion. It’s easy to get cocky around anniversaries. “Well of course you’re free” my mind will firmly announce. “You are sober and in a loving relationship – we know what trapped is and this isn’t it”.
But how often do I choose not to attend an event for fear that I won’t fit in? How often do I spend 10 minutes staring at myself in the mirror, trying to sort out those stray hairs so others will think I look appropriate and presentable? How often do I stare at my stomach in the shower wishing I could wash it away with the warm, soapy water? Am I truly free? Is that dove within really floating as far as it possibly can or is there an invisible string still tethering it, albeit a much longer string these days.
Is freedom even the goal? It’s often asked in 12-step meetings – “how free do you want to be?” But would freedom bring true happiness? Maybe the end-game isn’t freedom per say but being comfortable with freedom. That seems to be where the seat of success truly lies. If I can be comfortable with being truly free, if I can be comfortable without my lists and timetables, therein lies true serenity and is the ultimate act of resilience.
For today I am content with that dove being able to fly that bit further than she ever has.
Hopefully one day she’ll realise the string wasn’t even tied to anything and she’ll fly free. One day.