By Aimee Altman
Most people in Recovery will tell you they’re not doing it alone. It’s common practice to have a sponsor. A sponsor is a person in recovery who guides the addict on their path, similar to a mentor.
It’s a sacred relationship, because generally ones sponsor learns the dark and dirty secrets of the addict, as they’re someone the addict confides in to release their past and move forward.
My first sponsor in recovery was Blaze Bell. I sat down with her recently and asked her to share her thoughts on recovery; what it means to her, what she does to cultivate her own, and how she shares what she has with those still suffering.
Blaze: “As far as 12-step meetings, I think they’re a great place to go to get a ton of support, and working the 12 steps was a big part of my first year. It helped me get down beneath the surface layers of things that were bothering me, so I was able to let go of that. At a certain point though, it felt like the healing was really limited for me there, and there was so much more to heal. The more work you do on that, whether it’s work books, or online therapy, or working with a life coach, we’re all surrounded by support and people who are just dying to help us heal. Some people act like no one is here for them, but I’m right here, and if someone sent me a message on Facebook saying “I need help,” I would immediately help them. So that’s a frustrating excuse people make. They tell themselves, ‘There’s nobody out there for me,’ or ‘I’m different.’ People look at me and say, ‘You’re lucky Blaze; it’s easy for you,” ‘ but that’s insane, and it’s insulting, actually, because I worked super-hard and I continue to do things to keep me in a good spot. Everything I’m doing, none of it was magic. None of it was fairy dust, it’s stuff anybody can choose to do.”
Aimee: What are the top few things you do to honor or nurture your recovery? You’re spot on. It’s easier to be a victim and name off all the reasons we’re not going to be successful than to own up and do the work.
Blaze: That’s always my first thought when people tell me I’m lucky; I just think, ‘oh, they’re really holding onto an excuse and just aren’t ready to get better.’ Their chance of success and their options, they’re the same ones I have.
As far as things I do, at this point so many of my practices are second nature. Some people say alcohol addiction isn’t an alcohol problem, it’s a brain problem, and that’s true for me. So I really take great care of my brain. I feel like it’s fragile; I’ve been through a lot of trauma in my life and I’m no longer willing to mess around with my mental health. So I practice self care, and just really nurturing my mental health. So there are some just general things. I very rarely seek out the news. I’m really hardcore about not putting in information that is violent, or something I can’t do anything about that’ll stress me out. I don’t watch violent TV shows, I’m all about comedies. I survived a real life horror movie. I have no desire to watch one for entertainment. So that’s just one thing I do. I also eat lots of healthy fats for my brain. I’m always thinking about my brain. I feel like I’m always going to be on a journey of rewiring it. We can absolutely rewire our brains and reprogram our genetics, and again, this is something that the information is all out there, people can show you how to do it. They’re out there waiting to show you, waiting for you to care. So that’s where I’m at right now; I think a lot about my brain and I try to be really gentle with myself.
There have been different mentors over the years, and people who’ve really helped. Gabrielle Bernstein was a huge one for me. For people that are newer in recovery I recommend her books, ‘Spirit Junky’ and ‘Add More Ing To Your Life’. Really, all of her work has been helpful.
I think the big thing now, as a human, is that there are going to be challenges. New shit comes up, frequently. Thankfully now I’m in a place where I have a huge tool box, and the difference between now and 10 years ago is I have those tools, and I’ve practiced them enough that even if I haven’t used a particular one in six months, I know where to go, I know what to do. Tapping (EFT), that is something I do a lot, any time some discomfort comes up and I’m trying to move through the situation, I will tap around it.
I’ve also learned that sometimes I have to let go of people that I’m not in alignment with. It’s not because they’re bad, or not good, it’s just because the situation is not working for me.
At night, frequently I do hypnosis meditations, or listen to them. Transform Destiny is an NLP hypnosis thing. It’s one of my favorite ones. It’s basically like next level meditation, with more of a specific goal. Those are a big part of my life.
And then, I think just helping other people keeps me on track. Sharing my story, so it’s always on the forefront of my mind, that is my journey I’m on. It’s so important to me to share the things I’ve healed, because I know so many people are just like me 10 years ago, wishing someone was sharing so I didn’t feel so alone and confused. I thought for sure I was the only person who couldn’t handle doing drugs. I was all by myself at the end, wondering why can’t I just stop. It was such a scary place to be in.
Aimee: There’s a lot of shame around it, too.
Blaze: So much shame! I couldn’t do this back then, but now somebody can get on social media or facebook and they can see me going, “I was YOU! And I feel so much better now!” Even if they just want to talk, I’ll listen. I’m not going to shame you or judge you. I’ve been there, and that’s so huge.
I work a lot with nonprofits in town, like Victims for Justice, and that helps me stay connected in the ways I want to be.
I lead a support group at STAR once a month, and I’ve done quite a bit of survivor speaking with them. This has helped me have really clear boundaries, because I want to teach, and I want to lead, but I have to be mindful of the day in, day out triggers because I won’t be able to serve the world if I’m freaking out. I learned that the hard way. I wanted to do all the things, and then I just ended up a mess.
Victims for Justice and STAR are both organizations that helped me when I went through my crisis, so to be able to help them and come back and be healed enough to be able to serve them is a huge deal to me. Anytime I’m feeling sorry for myself, or wanting to give up, I do think about the full circle, and how things are good, and I’m going to be OK.
Aimee: I think it’s really brave to put yourself out there like that and be willing to have that level of connection and accountability.
Blaze: Recently I had as old friend reach out out to me on Facebook and tell me I was an inspiration to her. It’s encouraging for me to keep doing it, and to keep showing up, even when I don’t feel like doing it. Sometimes I have my own pity parties, but that’s just life; being a human is just really challenging.
Me: When you first got lean, did you go to any kind of formal recovery program, or was it just 12 step programs?
Blaze: I did a 28-day outpatient program. I did not stay clean. I showed up saying, “I have a problem with this one drug and I only want to get clean off of that.” At that point in time, I barely even drank, and they told me, “You’re an alcoholic, you’re an addict, and you have an eating disorder.” I was so resistant, I was just like, No, I don’t. So, of course, it didn’t stick, but it planted a lot of seeds. That was my introduction to 12-step meetings, and I still have friends from that experience. That was a long time ago. So then when I was finally hanging my head in shame and about to lose everything I had, which I had good things at this point, that’s when I went to an NA meeting. At that point, I didn’t pretend to be happy like I had in the past, I didn’t hug anyone, I barely talked. I was in a hoodie, arms crossed, but I just committed. I told myself I was going to do everything the people there suggested. I decided I’d try it for one year, and if at the end of the year I was still miserable, like I was drinking and using, then I’d let myself go back to it. Thankfully, things got better. It was putting the work in. Once I realized that I couldn’t just show up, the more work I put in, the faster I healed.
Me: How long do you think it took before you started feeling better?
Blaze: I would say about six months. It’s hard to remember, but I do remember the first year was really up and down. There’s just so much to heal. I was trying really hard to avoid something inside of me and I would numb out as hard as I could with whatever I could. It spanned from drugs and alcohol to food to sex, using anything that can distract us and numb us. So it took a little while. Outwardly, things got better really fast. Inwardly, new things would pop up and when we take away the big coping skill we’ve been using forever and then it gets really scary. 12-step meetings are not for everyone, and I don’t think you have to do that. That’s another excuse I hear though, people say, ‘Well, I’m not religious, there’s no way I’m going to an AA meeting.’ And I say, ‘Cool! Well, lucky for you, there’s lots of other things.’ And people don’t like to hear that, because that’s their excuse to not get well.
It’s finding support, find a mentor! I can help people find someone that doesn’t attend 12-step meetings but that’s a thriving, clean, sober, awesome human that will be a mentor to them. Those people are out there. Getting support from somebody is huge. I’ve called you before! Finding support is huge.
Aimee: I know you do a lot of social media inspiration. What’s your plan with that?
Blaze: My dream is to be traveling the world, sharing my story as a motivational speaker, because I think we’re all lacking hope so often. We’re so bombarded in the media with everything that can go wrong. 1% of what we’re hearing are hopeful stories. I’ve spent my whole life on stage, singing and acting, and I feel like that was just preparing me for sharing my story. I want to write a book, and have an album. I have an online course about self love and I’d like to create more of those that are related to recovery. That’s the work I want to do in the world.
I’ve been doing keynote speaking, teaching mindfulness and breathing techniques; healing work. I’d love to have my own nonprofit at some point.
Aimee: That would be great! I’ll be on your board.
Blaze: Great! One thing I’ve really committed to throughout my recovery is being willing to invest as much money in my healing as I invested in my addiction. Any time I see something I want to do and I’m like, ‘Oh man, it’s a hundred dollars,’ I think about how quickly I could come up with a hundred dollars to buy drugs. So I’m so into that. I’m happy to pay others and invest in hearing how they healed themselves, that’s a big thing for me. I’m willing to buy the book, or take the course, or sign up with a life coach. So anytime I’m like, ‘Ehh...I don’t have that $50 bucks,’ I’m like, ‘wait, how much did I spend in a day or a week on drugs or alcohol when I was changing my life for the worst?’ Let’s flip it.
Next weekend, Blaze is heading down to Juneau to accept an award she won; The Governors First Lady Volunteer of Alaska award. She was nominated by several people for the work she does with STAR, Victims For Justice, and recovery. For Blaze, this is a full circle honor, because those are all the places that helped her heal.
For more information on tools Blaze uses for Recovery, look into “Tapping with Gala Darling,” Hypnosis Meditations with Grace Smith or Michael Stevenson, “Waiting,” by Marya Hornbacher, and all things Gabrielle Bernstein.
You can also follow her at blazebell.com.