|Stages of Recovery Quilt by Miriam J.|
When I celebrated my fifth year of recovery my friend Miriam made a quilted wall hanging for me to mark that significant anniversary. Miriam was ahead of me in recovery and she had then celebrated her 10th anniversary. Quilting was one of the passions that she’d reclaimed thanks to recovery and she was –much to her own surprise—very good.
The quilt panel that she made for me she called “Stages of Recovery.” It is a vertical panel that links four quilted squares on a deep burgundy background. The panels represent four stages of recovery and they begin at the top with a distinct checkerboard of black and white panels. This top square, Miriam told me, represents the very start of recovery and the black and white necessity of not using your addictive substance. The stark contrast is about following the rules and doing what you are told. The black and white color scheme is clearly, “On/Off” and “Good/Bad”.
The panel just below that is another square with a strong black base with side columns of pure white but with a deep pink band across the top that dips down to touch the back squares. “This is your pink cloud phase,” Miriam said. “This is where you are so happy to be in recovery; things are starting to get better; you see the gifts of the program and you just want more.”
I do remember that time of my recovery well. I talked about recovery to everyone. I carried recovery books and Alanon pamphlets home to Pittsburgh with me for the holidays. Yeah, now I know this is not a table topic for Thanksgiving. But then... This is the time when some of us begin to proselytize. We are so proud of ourselves and we can’t understand why everyone isn’t following our lead and joining a Twelve-Step program. Life is going to be great from now on, right? Alas.
The next square down on my “stages” quilt is a square that includes neat rectangles made of black and white and pink prints. It’s pretty but not regimented like the stark black and white square at the top. This third square has something new: Now there are also deep gray squares scattered among the printed ones and a solid charcoal gray square at the very center.
Yes, this represents the gray of recovery and how the gray of life arrives.
But the bottom –and last quilt square-- is the shocker. The bottom piece is made up of many small squares seemingly tossed at random. Some are the now familiar black and white and pink ones and there’s even some gray, but mixed in are more squares of candy red, bright blue, acid green, deep purple, tangerine orange and a dull mustard yellow. There is no order in this “stage”. This square is totally messy but it is deeply and happily colorful.
For years I disliked that last square. The other sections with their deliberate and limited palates were graphic and sharp—and orderly-- but this last square with its messy mix of too many colors always bothered me. But that bottom square—the “messy but colorful” part of recovery --is what “Out of the Woods” is all about. Messy progress. Happiness. No perfection.
What we know now is that as women in recovery we need each of these stages and we need them in that order. When we are new we need to submit to and embrace strict rule following. “Don’t use-no matter what.” “If your ass falls off pick it up and take it to a meeting.”
Then, as recovery starts to “take” we are embraced in and humored through our “pink clouds” but they too run their course. The gray enters our recovery and we find that it’s a time when the right sponsor and good recovery friends matter a lot. Discernment is a skill we have to develop in these gray years. Our recovery becomes our own; we make choices based on recovery principles but our choices may not look like someone else’s.
Then, if we keep coming and we keep growing, our lives become more colorful and yes, even messy. This is when we have to figure out what our recovery will be like for the long haul. This may also be the time when newcomers or people in the “black and white” stages will question or challenge our commitment. They might say things like, “If you don’t go to three meetings a week you are going to slip.”
Those in their own “pink cloud” stage will wonder at our suffering or our struggles. “She must not be working a good program if she is sad.” Or, “She just needs to practice the Third Step and everything will turn out fine.” They will want to believe that if they get their recovery “just right”—kind of like Goldilocks—then they will be spared the realities of human life that everyone experiences as we age.
Finally, in that colorful and messy stage, we will have fewer “shoulds.” We might have a sponsor or just a couple of great recovering women friends. We might leave the marriage that in early recovery we worked so hard to save. Or we might have a baby --with or without a partner. We might leave our law practice to be an artist while our best friend gives up her successful pottery business to go to nursing school. There are no right answers, plenty of confusion and lots of new problems for sure but all of that is built on a strong base of deep recovery.