The Tao of Sobriety

By Shauna Lane 03/29/17

Like my pocket copy of The Tao Te Ching, I'm all worn out and missing that old energy. How can I get my power and confidence back?

The Tao of Sobriety
Empty, yet infinitely capable.

I have been seeking for as long as I can remember. I have been reading and studying a pocket version of the Tao Te Ching for 18 years. I bought it when I first moved to New York City 18 years ago, at the Rockefeller Barnes & Noble right near the first comedy club I worked at. Read it before I bottomed out, while I bottomed out, and after. Now I read out of it every morning as part of my prayer and meditation practice. My pocket Tao has almost completely fallen apart and it’s a mess. It has coffee spills, doodles from my niece, the cover has fallen off and the first four passages are missing. I love this little book. What I love the most is the simplicity of the passages. They calm and center me, yet I also find them thought-provoking and profound. I learned early on in my study of Taoism that Tao means “Way.” I just looked on Wikipedia right now and the Tao Te Ching translates to “The Book of the Way of Virtue.” What is my point already?? For years I have been reading these passages and trying to get to the “way” or “flow” of life. Recently I have lost my way and my confidence as an artist is suffering.

The self-confidence my drinking gave me sometimes was amazing. I had an idea and went for it. I had a character I worked on for years named Frenchie, an angry French barista who hated people, wore flip-flops and drank soy milk. I wrote a piece where Frenchie explained the need to change her name to not be so “ironically obvious.” She got a Chihuahua and named it Frenchie so she “would never forget who she was before she wasn’t who she is now—Isabelle.” Then I went out and adopted a miniature Italian Greyhound/Chihuahua mix named Tinkerbell and renamed her Frenchie. I had that dog for nine years and she lit up my life. It was an idea—an impulse—and I did it. Of course it would be great! What could make a piece and a character more authentic? The more TRUTH the better! Good Lord. I did this messy blending of life/art and impulses for years while still drinking, and many of these things seemed (at the time) to work. I got married to a man after six weeks of “dating” because I wanted to grow up and be in a band (lofty goals!). That one was a disaster, but man did I believe in it! I really thought it was going to work and I was SO confident. Right now I completely lack that confidence. Sometimes I can’t even work in my acting class—a supportive and loving atmosphere—because I am so in my head. Comedy can be tortuous because of the negative self-talk and stage fright. The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction and now I am bankrupt as far as confidence goes. All my credit in self-esteem has been used up. Where is the middle ground?

I need to get my power back! My inner strength and confidence have been shot. Once, in late 2004, I had a "frenemy" tell me, “Ugh you need to get your power back,” side-eyeing me while drinking water with lemon in it. I was haunted by that image for years! Her glass of water looked like it had more power than I did! She wasn’t telling me to get my power back so much as to get away from her. At the time I was still drinking and doing drugs, but had a brief stint the month before of trying to get sober and going to meetings. On this particular night, I confessed (whiningly) that I hadn’t been going to my meetings. She did not want to hear it. Listen, as active addicts we can’t have healthy relationships, but an active addict in a relationship with a frenemy? That’s too much! But I wasn’t a victim of this woman and that took me years to realize. It also took me years to realize that this woman didn’t magically make my personal power disappear by saying that to me. My power was already GONE—from the years of alcoholism, drug addiction and lack of self-care. I was already plummeting to the bottom when I met her. 

How can I get my power and confidence back?

I see symbols. When I got sober it was forks. I saw forks everywhere—the path kind, not the eating kind. I saw them in the sidewalks, trees, shadows and windows. I just kept seeing forks until I realized I was truly at a fork in the road. I chose the path of sobriety. Now I am seeing circles. They pop out at me. The first time I saw one was driving down the highway a few months ago—there was a space in the trees that looked like a big circle. It looked like the lens of a camera had opened right there in the trees. Now I see these circles, portals, eyes—I don’t know what it is exactly—all over the place. This symbol, in some bizarre way I think, has to do with getting my power back. Or I’m crazy. Maybe that tab of acid I took in 1997 finally kicked in and it’s just taking a really long time to work itself out of my system. This symbol doesn’t seem like a choice though, so much as a destination. I looked up the symbolic meaning of circles and got to Dr. Carl Jung’s perspective on circles. He viewed the circle as a geometric archetype of the psyche. Cut to, after much reading—man, did that guy like to talk—he suggests circles represent the “move towards the self. The self is our life’s goal; for it is the completest expression of that fateful combination we call individuality.” 

I just finished reading a book called the Untethered Soul and my mind has been blown. He says the Tao is not just simply a flow, but a balance. The practice of Taosim is to get to the center—the center of the path. The idea is to avoid extremes and stay balanced. Is that what the circle is? I took ballet for 25 years and the only way to stay balanced on the ball of your foot with the other leg somewhere in the air, is to move—slightly. That’s the secret to balance in ballet. So is the secret to emotional balance moving only slightly, in the center of that circle? This is the passage my beat-up version of the Tao Te Ching starts with now:

The Tao doesn’t take sides; it gives birth to both good and evil. The Master doesn’t take sides; she welcomes both saints and sinners. The Tao is like a bellows: it is empty yet infinitely capable. The more you use it, the more it produces; the more you talk of it, the less you understand. Hold on to the center.

So have I gotten my power back? I’m in a place where I am realizing it has to grow and it’s going to take time. I am going to practice loving where I am and being grateful. I’m so lucky to be sober—my self-confidence will grow back and the pendulum will rest in the middle of the circle. My power will be in the practice. I think.

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