When we’re in recovery, we don’t often think much about taking deep breaths, do we? We might, of course, if we’re doing preparations for meditation or an exercise class or even conditioning for a recreational pursuit. But taking in life with deep breaths, what does that mean? Furthermore, how can it benefit us in recovery?
There is a lot of wisdom hidden in the quote from Elizabeth Barrett Browning, much more, in fact, that we might first believe. Let’s look at it a bit further and see where it takes us.
What we know for a fact is that we’ve felt constricted and found it hard to breathe at times, right? Whether this was due to shame or guilt or a welling up of emotions or letting out the pain, the end result wasn’t all that pleasant. It hurt and we wanted that pain to go away. Over time, while we may have learned effective coping mechanisms to deal with particular issues or problems, we still may not have gotten past that shallow breathing we’d become used to.
Life is more than just merely existing. We know that, but we still don’t fully appreciate the precious gift we have been given. Now that we are clean and sober, we have incredible and unlimited opportunities to avail ourselves of, to literally turn our lives around and create for ourselves the future we truly want.
First, we have to learn how to breathe in life deeply. That’s right. We need to train ourselves to take in deep and slow breaths that fill us with more than just oxygen. These deep breaths fill us with hope and optimism and jumpstart our creativity, inspire us to do more, to persevere and share our thoughts and dreams with those we love and care about.
What is it that we dream about when we sit in silence and allow our thoughts to roam? What image do we conjure up when someone asks us what it is that we want out of life now that we’re sober? If we cannot come up with anything, it’s time to start deep breathing. With each intake of oxygen, visualize being in a beautiful, quiet and peaceful place. Think of ourselves as receptacles of precious jewels, glittering and glowing for all to see, radiating a brilliance and warmness that makes us feel loved and appreciated.
Sound far-fetched? This is just an exercise to get us thinking about the goodness and riches in life – and not the material kind. What we have before us is uncharted territory. None of us knows precisely the path we’re going to take in the long-term. But we can make plans and begin to implement them, based on what we believe is important to us today and our desires for what we want for ourselves tomorrow.
In practical terms, how do we take in life with deep breaths? Starting with waking up, breathe in and out deeply for a few minutes. Do a few stretching exercises. Take our time with our morning coffee and linger over breakfast. Make the time to share a warm caress and expression of love to our spouse or partner. Be kind in our words and envision the day ahead with positive thoughts.
On the road to work or school or elsewhere, breathe in the vibrancy of life around us: the other living beings occupying the planet, the exquisiteness of nature, the sweet laughter of children on the playground as we pass by, the nostalgia of our favorite songs playing on the radio, the refreshing feel of the breeze blowing through the open window.
At work or at school or elsewhere, take a breath before speaking, giving ourselves time to think about what we are going to say. This will help us construct a more positive and thoughtful comment rather than blurting out whatever comes to mind. Listen to others, giving ourselves time to breathe while we absorb what they are saying. This helps us be kind to others in word and in deed and also helps us to appreciate the moment.
At the 12-step meetings we attend on a regular basis, go out of our way to extend a welcome to newcomers just entering the rooms of recovery. We recognize their hesitancy and fear, for we once felt the same way. As we approach to offer a kind word, breathe in this opportunity to give back to others, to share the goodness that we have been given, and to possibly be a good example to someone who needs it most.
Taking in life with deep breaths doesn’t mean going to extremes in anything. But it does mean keeping all our options open, including having an open mind and being willing to see all sides without prejudgment or criticism. There is so much that life has to offer us that we need to be clear-headed and open to the possibilities that we may encounter. What may not at first look like an opportunity could very well turn out to be a magnificent and fortuitous one that we might otherwise not give a second thought.
Dream big, make plans, and take the time to implement them. Revise goals as necessary, always keeping in mind that as we learn new things, we grow. Our goals will change over time as we accumulate knowledge and experience, as we make new friends and involve ourselves in different activities.
There is nothing that is stipulated or cast in stone. What we want for our life in sobriety is going to be up to us to determine. Why limit ourselves when the world is so vast and offers so much choice? The deep breaths we take can help us savor the richness of life, its preciousness, its variety and scope. The more we learn, the more we’re equipped to appreciate the infinite possibilities that life has to offer.
All we need to do is give ourselves permission to take in those deep breaths, to allow the goodness and serenity and feelings of self-confidence and hope to come flooding in. That’s really the start of it, how we begin to live well in recovery.