Afraid of wings, but I long to fly
I’m standing at the edge of the room. Fifty strangers stare at me, lounging on as many mattresses packed side-by-side into the hall. The dim light casts shadows and some sort of otherworldly sacredness across the faces of everyone present, including the ancestors carved into the wood around me. I start to shake, first my my hands, then my voice as it climbs up my throat in apprehension. All the faces are barely visible, but I can feel the way they see me. They look with more than their eyes, and they see deeply, into the parts of me that I fear.
Not the bad parts, not the flawed parts, not the parts of me that made mistakes I hope beyond hope I’ll never make again. I mean the oldest, deepest pieces that came together to form me. They say you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you came from. I’ve been denying where I came from because I came from a house and family and childhood full of pain fear, pain, and disconnection.
But when you deny one piece, you deny all the pieces. I learned that from addiction. Addiction has been one of my greatest teachers. It teaches us that you can’t choose the feelings you numb. When you numb one, you numb them all.
No one has ever taught me how to look beyond my family to see where I came from. Last month found me standing in a wharenui—pronounced “far-ray-new-ee,” a traditional Māori meeting house—in the middle of New Zealand trying to answer the question, “where do you come from?” Normally I might say the United States and be done with it. But the Māori guided us further.
What is your river? What is your mountain? What is your land?
I wait for my turn and consider their questions. The answers came immediately, as if they’d be waiting patiently and eagerly for me to invite them to join me. My river is the Columbia, in Washington, which nourished me as I grew from from infant to child. My mountains are the Rockies, who taught me to stand with quiet strength as I shed adolescence and became an adult. My islands—Whidby, Lamu, and Vancouver—each birthed and rebirthed me.
Who are your ancestors, and what is their land? My father comes from the prairies in Idaho. My mother comes from the cornfields of Indiana. I’ve never said these words before but they flow out with ease, comforting and familiar. Familial. They aren’t just a part of me, they are me.
And yet my voice is shaking more than I’ve ever heard before. It’s weird and scary to think about the parts of me that are good and beautiful. Good and beautiful like my river, my mountains, my islands, I have felt such immense love for them and now as I feel them click into their rightful place inside of me, I feel that love for myself. And that’s unfamiliar, and uncomfortable.
Addicts become so accustomed to bad, dark and painful it’s hard to reprogram how we feel about ourselves, even as we see our lives transform around us in recovery. But we also tend to be dreamers. We have big ideas and even bigger passion. We want the very best from life, because we have seen the very worst. We long to fly, but we are afraid we can’t. We don’t know if our new wings will hold.
I’ve fought for these wings. I’ve gone to hell and back for the chance to have them but I shy when I see their beauty, when I sense their power, when I feel them anxiously stretching as if to say, “are you ready yet?”
That night in the wharenui shifted something in me. My time with people so grounded in where they come from connects me to my own roots, which makes me feel whole, and infinite, and free. My whole self includes my addiction and my recovery. It holds my roots and my wings. It’s ready to fly.
Regan Spencer is a writer, filmmaker, recovery advocate, and person in long term recovery. She currently resides a town called Hope (and yes, she loves the metaphor) in Idaho, USA, where she is preparing to take her life and her recovery on the road in a converted van. Obsessed with wildflowers, roads that curve, and smiling at strangers, she is always looking for the next adventure and another good story. Regan would love to share her journey with everyone who’s interested at ReganSpencer.com or @ReganSpencerWriter on Instagram, and she welcomes anyone with a desire to reach out to continue the conversation with an email to ReganSpencerWriter@gmail.com. The primary purpose of her work is to help engage and connect people because, despite her stubbornness, life has convinced her we can’t recover alone.