When I was in 7th grade the basketball team I played on was upset by our crosstown rival Central. They obliterated us on the court. We were favored but beaten badly. I went home and took the loss really hard. I always took losses hard. During my funk of shame, disappointment, and anger, my Grandma Wells, who was living with us at the time, came to me with a steaming cup of hot sassafras tea with the root in it. She said, drink this, it will help calm you down and bring you peace.
At the time I did not want peace, I only wanted to have won that game. However, I did drink the sassafras tea and it did help me settle down a bit. Today I remember the smell and the taste of the tea. Yet, I also remember the bitter disappointment suffered in the loss.
Through the years I have learned the value of utilizing the concept of velvet steel when faced with difficult defeat, loss, and disappointment. It often requires steel to be velvet with yourself when you emotionally struggle with hurt feelings. Strong feelings like shame and resentment require the capacity to be gentle with yourself while initiating emotional steel to refuse to beat yourself up or wallow in self-pity. A velvet steel mentality is necessary to sort and sift meaningfulness in the hard places of life.
There are many insights to finding meaningfulness in life that depend upon a velvet steel mentality.
- When facing the difficulty of hard times, don’t let yourself be defined by the struggle you experience. When you are down and depressed it is easy to conclude this is happening because you believe that is what you are—down and depressed. It is so human to be dominated and defined by the feelings that move through you. Addicts struggle with this concept. They go to a meeting and admit to everyone that they are an addict. They say “my name is… and I’m an alcoholic” or other addiction. They are encouraged to do this because they have lived life in denial to a point that it is costing them dearly. So they need to admit their addiction. However, they are not an addict. Addiction defines their behavior, not their sense of self. So an addict must apply velvet steel to face their addictive behavior (i.e. “I am an addict”). They must also apply velvet steel which fosters an embrace of their sense of self as being “an unrepeatable miracle of the universe”. In the midst of struggling to survive and be sober, this skillset is challenging to incorporate. It requires slowing down your brain and applying velvet steel to the mix of thoughts.
- Plunge into the present moment of experience and focus on being present in the moment. Addicts talk about having a “monkey brain”. Their mind races to every thought possible and they can’t stop ruminating about what used to be, ought to be, and the unknown future. This is a very hard place for addicts to be. Some addicts live on edge during waking moments. It becomes exhausting. Velvet steel requires one to be gentle and not demanding in an attempt to slow ruminations. It requires steel to bring one’s mind back to center and be present in the here and now. Addicts connect this skillset inwardly through practice, not perfection.
- Like Michelangelo, who carves away the excess to reveal a beautiful sculpture, recovery is about carving away the excess in order to free the inner beauty that has been waiting to be released. Most addicts enter recovery rugged and raw. Creating a calm inner spirit requires fires of refinement through trials and tribulations. An addict doesn’t sign up for this course. It is just what must be embraced. Velvet steel is necessary for addicts to patiently persevere in the midst of the ups and downs in recovery living. The development of recovery skillsets requires a commitment to daily conditioning and training. Sometimes you take 2 steps forward and 5 steps backwards. It seems that you are digging yourself into a hole. Trusting the process in applying the 12-Steps demands the embrace of velvet steel. Be gentle with yourself when going backward while embracing a steel mentality to persevere and move forward. Velvet steel helps to remain determined to carve away the excess in order to free the inner beauty of recovery.
- Refresh your life with what is sacred. No matter the pain, life is where you are. Addicts are forever wishing they could be anywhere but facing what is in front of them. The intensity of discomfort and pain triggers addicts to fantasize. The steel side of recovery helps an addict hold h/her feet to the fire of the here and now. As muscle to this skillset develops, the sacredness of the here and now is refreshed. The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. The velvet side of recovery cultivates beauty no matter where you are, regardless of the pain.
- Recognize that the dearest things in life cannot be owned, they can only be shared. Addicts frenetically grasp and clutch for what they can call their own. When you take away an addict’s drug of choice, they feel panic and think that all hell has broken loose. They hold on with a death grip to their drug of choice that has become their identity. During moments of craving, sharing is an anathema. Grasping and clasping, they squeeze what they mistake as life, taking the life they know and making it far less. Materialism can be this way. Once we commit to making things “mine,” we unleash a career of gathering and storing. Life can become about my possessions, my money, my power and position. We can gather and store so much that we become constipated in sharing the dearest things in life—love, compassion, and community. I know a community that has stored millions of dollars but cannot share their fortune with meals for the homeless, citing that the storage must be saved for a rainy day. Velvet steel is required to gently and forcefully take away the mental locks of what is yours to open your heart to what cannot be owned but only shared.
In exchange for the promise of security, many addicts put a barrier between themselves and the adventures of future personal growth that could put a whole new light on their personal lives. The late Scott Peck describes in his book The Road Less Traveled how life can be like a journey through the desert. Upon reaching the first oasis, many settle in and refuse to go farther. They hunker down around the amenities of shade and water and live out the rest of their lives never venturing to complete the journey through the desert. Addicts can find that oasis in recovery.
Becoming sober and ending the craziness in behavior is enough. They often settle around the oasis in the recovery they have discovered. Yet, there is no settling in personal growth. It requires that we embrace the adventure of individual growth and expand our awareness well beyond stopping destructive behavior. To do so an addict must initiate courage to leave the oasis and journey forward into the desert. Most addicts do not make this choice. It relates to the fear of free falling. Who enjoys this experience? Yet, detaching from the predictable and embracing the unknown in order to expand growth and understanding in life requires a commitment to walk through the entire desert of life experience. This authentic trek requires the velvet steel of personal courage. Those who decide to make the trek discover freedom and serenity in recovery living.