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How I Used ‘the Force’ to Get Sober


Editor's Note

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction, the following post could be triggering. You can contact SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

I’ve never met Carrie Fisher, but we have a connection. Because of her, and the Princess Leia character she played, I received the first theology that made sense to me — the myth of Star Wars, and my understanding of a Force greater than myself.

And I got practical things too. At age 6, Carrie taught me I could grow up to run as fast as and fight as hard as any boy, even when in a dress. Yes, it’s true she was an actress playing a role. And it was a movie. But as I aged, my connection to the woman behind the character grew, first as I battled addiction, and then fought the stigma attached to having a diagnosis (or as I like to call it, occasional strong fluctuations in my Force).

Even though we have never met, Carrie and I will always be connected through both a powerful myth and her powerful life. And while many people may not consider the story of Star Wars to be on par with those of the Buddha or Jesus, or myriad other spiritual all-stars, I ask people to dig a little deeper. The value of a myth is not in how true it is, but in how deeply one connects with it and how it affects our lives.

Because it helped me get sober.

My story of addiction was a tale of helplessness. Born with the genetics for alcoholism, struggling with questions about my sexuality and raised in a college town, it’s no surprise I ended up “losing my religion” on the way to the nearest kegger. I became a religion-phobic Gen-Xer detached from my faith in favor of 40-ounce bottles of cheap beer, cartons of Camel cigarettes, long nights full of punk rock and random awkward hookups in the backseat of my tiny Ford Fiesta.

Graduating into adulting, for two decades I managed life by relying on wine as a miraculous elixir. And it worked… or so I thought. Until it didn’t.

Raw and lonely, I felt separated from others, drowning in grief. Even functioning felt impossible. It’s hard to keep everything together when you are hollow inside. Soon, Lyme disease reared its ugly head — a curse that began to ravage my body — as addiction continued its work on my mind.

Eventually, I decided life had become unmanageable. At the end of my rope, I sought help. Doctors, massage therapists and a kick-ass acupuncturist helped reduce my pain level as well as increase my stamina. With the help of strangers “in recovery,” I started down the path to wellness and a belief in something greater than myself.

And so, the story of my recovery is an epic of hopefulness.

But it wasn’t easy because the word “God” kept coming up, and I felt about God a bit like I did about Darth Vader. So, to sort it out, I headed to my favorite religious institution: the library. After months of pouring over books about the world’s great spiritual traditions, I got myself all twisted up. Eventually, my friend Dianne asked me directly, “Hey, Sarah, can you make trees?”

I looked at her as if she was speaking Wookiee and replied, “Of course not.” Her answer — “Well, someone or something can…” — gave me the foundation for a workable spirituality. I realized that nailing down precisely what I believed wasn’t the point. I just needed to understand there was a Force working in the world and it wasn’t me alone. The seeker’s path started to unfold in front of me, step by small step. The Force showed up everywhere. Of course, it had other names: Tao, Prana, Qi, Spirit, or simply Energy. Diving into the narratives of the world’s spiritual traditions, I saw the origins of my favorite movie’s mythology, uncovering insights that would help me start kicking my addiction.

Insight 1: “You must unlearn what you have learned.” — Yoda.

Each time I heard religious or spiritual words on my journey that still had charge for me, I simply inserted “The Force.” (I cheekily called it “Replacing the G-word with the F-word.”) Further, I quickly learned many of the ideas I had about different religions were simply untrue. I was still looking through a kid’s brain that hadn’t grasped complex ideas. I had to set aside what I thought I knew, embracing a “beginner’s mind” toward each concept.

Insight 2: “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere!” — Yoda.

Those of us who have experienced addiction can carry tremendous amounts of guilt and shame. Often, our numinous beauty is hidden under layers of “algae” (anger, lust, greed, attachment, and ego). Waking up to the idea that we are luminous beings, capable of⎯and worthy of⎯love and compassion can be difficult. The key to shifting our perspective lies not in stating beliefs, but in acknowledging our experiences. We must feel our connection to the divine force, by whatever name we call it.

Insight 3: “It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” — Obi-wan Kenobi.

Once we can connect to something beyond our precious egos, we can tap into the interconnectedness that lies at the heart of all the world’s spiritual traditions. From the Lakota’s worldview of interconnectedness (Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ), to science’s initial singularity, to the natural harmony of Tao, to the allness of the Vedic Aham Brahmasmi and the oneness of Buddhist nonseparation, we find words trying to explain a worldwide concept: Everything is connected. Connection to others may be the most crucial facet of both wellness and spirituality.

For me, seeking connection meant these three insights would lead me to take 12 steps in a recovery community. For you, it might mean something else. As Yoda said, “In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way.” If your drinking, smoking, eating, gambling, shopping, or sexing is bringing you more trouble than joy, seeking knowledge in ancient wisdom or pop culture inspiration is a worthy adventure.

May the Force be with you!