Find your Wild in Sobriety
I’ve been on a personal quest to explore, explain, cultivate and court my own inner wild since the concept came to me last September. Backpacking a solo section of the Appalachian trail for a week, I had plenty of time to wonder WHY I was out there, particularly on hard climbs and slippery rock, days upon days of cloud cover and low hanging branches. “What the fuck am I doing out here?” I wondered more than once on those particularly hard moments.
I started asking this question to other hikers,” what’s your why?” Why are we, as humans, so drawn to climb mountains, to slog for days upon days carrying everything we need on our backs when we have a perfectly comfortable established society of soft beds and indoor plumbing?
This trip stoked the flames of my understanding my own inner wild, the part of me that has always been wild and fierce, unpredictable and free. The part of me that has held onto a loin cloth I made when I was twenty, and has a deep desire to don it and run barefoot through a forest. This part of myself wasn’t new to me, but the exploration of it from a place of being grounded, secure, and present in my body WAS new.
I spent many years as a heavy drinker, a problem drinker, trying to self-medicate for anxiety and general self-preservation. When I was drinking, my inner wild had an ungrounded mind of its own. Unpredictable at best, dangerous at worst. I told myself that living on the edge was how to cultivate and nurture this part of me. But I had no real connection to my wild, or to myself. My soul was untethered and lost under layers of anxiety, alcoholism, and deep sadness at my place in humanity.
My inner wild was an arrogant teenager, an angsty and dangerous brat that led me down dark alleys and almost off the precipice more than once.
Now happily sober for over three and a half years, I spent the better part of that three years becoming certified as a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner*. This three year course of study has taught me how to heal trauma and chronic stress through working with the autonomic nervous system and the wisdom of my own body’s physiology.
It has led me to understand my inner wild in a way I otherwise could not have., through the lens of the nervous system.
When we look at animals in the wild, and see a lioness defending her territory, protecting her cubs and her pride, we don’t think “oh, what a bitch. How dare that lioness be so self-assertive!” No, we see her for what she is: a bad ass creature of nature living her life in exactly the way she was designed.
We humans also have these animal instincts, but they become buried beneath our highly intelligent neo-cortexes and cognitive thinking brains. Add on multiple layers of societal conditioning and out inner wild lies shut down, dormant, felt in whispers or blatant rages, but not cultivated or heard. Examples of societal conditioning messages: assertive women are bitches, be a good girl, take care of everyone else first and then you will be happy, productivity is king, rise and grind, self-sacrifice is the ultimate sign of love…. and so on, and so forth.
What happened for me, and for many of us, is that drinking and disconnection allowed my inner wild to come forth, kind of. She was screaming and dying inside, and there appeared to be no path towards reconciliation between the good girl of my perception and the fierce beast who raged inside of me. There was no school that taught me how to marry these two parts of myself, no language for bringing my wild into the forefront with grace and acceptance. So, instead, I drank, I let her rage blindly and without connection. This was not, is not, a healthy representation of the inner wild.
Drinking and Running
I used to belong to a running and drinking club, it’s an international organization called Hashing. It was a lot of fun, and combined some of my favorite things: exercise and socially acceptable boozing in excess. Many of the members identified themselves with a laugh and a beer as “high functioning alcoholics”.
On one occasion after a particularly “fun” night, I stood emblazoned by alcohol, enraged by the world and had a huge screaming fight in the middle of the DC streets with a close friend. I felt justified in my anger, I was tired of not being heard. My inner wild howled from the inside but I was nowhere to be seen. This kind of behavior, rinse and repeat. An untethered wild is not ours at all. It can become a demon, a shadow self that mocks us in the harsh reality of daylight.
When we come into our true power and relationship with our wild, we have a grounded sense of her. We do not abandon ourselves to find her. She is us, we are she. We are able to come into the full stature of our being.
I saw a patient a few years ago, when I was actively treating in the home health care setting. She was angry and she wasn’t afraid to let me know it. Walking into someone’s home with the intent to help them and being greeted with harsh words, a raised voice, and unstoppable unpleasantness got my hackles up.
Prior to having a sense of wholeness within myself and my inner wild, I would have responded to this one of two ways. I would have gotten the hell out of there immediately and tried to wait until I was back in the car to cry (the nervous system response here is fleeing. Coupled with some amount of shut down). Or, I would have yelled at her (fight) and stormed out feeling falsely empowered.
Luckily this event happened when I was well on my path of sobriety and merging my inner wild with my professional and human self. I looked her in the eye and asked her not to speak to me that way. I repeated and validated her concerns. I told her, point blank, “I’m a person, too, and I have feelings. I am here to help you and listen to your concerns, but I need for you to acknowledge that I am a fellow human being and speak to me in that way.”
It was hard, saying that. My face was probably beet red. I felt hot inside. But I also felt grounded and IN my body. Solid. Calm. Able to stay in the discomfort, assert myself without blind rage, and stay. The patient apologized and calmed down. She saw me and we were able to move forward in our communication.
It wasn’t the same representation of my inner wild I felt when spending days in the forest, but I tell this story because it is important to remember that our wild is with us ALL the time. She shows up as healthy assertion in situations like these. She shows up in our ability to say, “yes, I want this (relationship, job, desert, other item….) and “no, I don’t want that”. She shows up in our ability to make clear choices from the same place that lioness chooses to let out a mighty roar when another lioness encroaches on her territory.
Sober and Wild: Cultivate your Inner Wild
If you are on your own journey of exploration with your inner wild in sobriety, read on! I am designing an ebook with practical strategies to court and embrace your inner wild. If you’d like to be notified when that book is available, send me a note via the contact form and I will make sure you get it!