Addiction is like war. It is, by definition, pure destruction. Self destruction. With its fair share of collateral damage. A daily battle between life and death, with the addict fighting for both sides at once. For the lucky ones—for whom life is the victor—there is the relief, the dressing of wounds, and the celebration and satisfaction that follows a victory in any battle. To put it in terms of addiction and recovery, the mind clears, the heart heals, and there is life to be lived, finally.

But what of the scorched earth left behind? The battleground. Where the war was won but smoke still drifts from dwindling fires. Dirt with the life burnt out of it. No bright colours or soft sounds of nature. More remnants of carnage than signs of life. Drained. Parched. Barren. For an addict, what is our charred battleground? It’s the body. It’s where the war is waged. And it’s where regrowth takes place, and we must have regrowth, or we will have nothing to support, shelter, and feed our new lives.

Regrowth needs time. More time than we’d like sometimes. It’s common for people to get into recovery and find themselves filled with a desire to make up for lost time, or as quickly as possible fix all the collateral damage we caused. Some of us are still running on the adrenaline that sustained us through the war and don’t know how to slow down. We move on and get to building our new lives. Often we don’t want to look behind.

But what of our aching bodies leftover from years of fighting? Our very own battlegrounds.

Scarred inside and out.
Exhausted.
Thirsty.
Worn the fuck out.

They yearn for simple comforts and natural pleasures. They simultaneously beg for deep sleep and wild adventure. They have been denied their own lives they long to live. We tend to think we possess our bodies, that they are ours to use, that it’s ok to push them too far. And the war we wage in and against them during our addictions? It is one of the many, great tragedies of this disease.

What we ask of bodies is astounding sometimes, but that is partly because they are inherently astounding. They are resilient beyond belief. They carry us up literal and metaphorical mountains. This is common knowledge. But I’ve been learning something else about my body since getting clean and sober. Taking away the drugs, the alcohol, and treating my eating disorder was simply the ceasefire. The bullets and bombs stopped blasting my body. But there’s so much more to it than that.

Though I was a drug addict and an alcoholic, my main struggle was anorexia. I couldn’t see it then, but when I look at pictures now, I see a body absolutely withering away. It looked empty and brittle. I was obsessed with my looks yet I did nothing to nourish and cultivate my body. I starved out my femininity—my feelings, my gentle sensitivity, and all the spiritual strengths of female energy. As happens all too often in our patriarchal world, I chose outer strength over inner. I chose harshness over kindness.

The women in my family taught me that bitchiness is a virtue, and fat on our bodies is a sin.

The men were afraid of the depths and heights my emotions could reach.

None of those things are uncommon, but for addicts, we take them to the extreme. We take them to the battleground.

At about three and a half years clean and sober, and almost six years along a bumpy road to eating disorder recovery, I had gathered around me women who lived their lives by one purpose, to nurture themselves and others, and these women were changing me on deep levels. One of them is an artist and photographer who loves celebrating women’s bodies. I gave myself the gift of hiring her for a boudoir photoshoot, an afternoon of downright worshiping the beauty and divinity of my body. My curves, delicate and soft. My sensuality, sexy and honourable. My joy, stretching from my big fat smile all the way to my fingertips and toes.

When I saw the photos, I saw a body several times the width of what it used to be. I don’t know how many pounds heavier because I don’t bother with numbers anymore, but it’s quite a few! My bones were actually inside and unseen, where they are meant to be. I saw a body full of life, a body that has been actively and thoroughly nourished. Literally regrown. When my friend sent me the photos, I saw what she had named the collection: holy ground.

My body in recovery has gone from the place I waged war to the land where I cultivate life, peace, and spirit. It is my direct link to my higher power, and it is a heavenly garden that is really starting to grow. I feel like we’ve just begun, my body and me. I dream of dense woods and thick vines and herds of deer and fields upon fields of wildflowers. For now, the soil is tilled and rich again, and things are sprouting everywhere. There are still scars, a few smoking coals, some areas that are still too raw to be touched.

But I know those spots well now, and I know what they need: time, space, acceptance, soft words of encouragement, protection from people, places, and things that do not serve. These things, especially the last one, are still new to me, and I still struggle and suffer. But they are duties, and I am learning more every day, learning how to expertly care for all the life growing on my land, to take responsibility as guardian and keeper. To choose peace over war every day. The chance to put down your weapons is the gift of recovery; the opportunity to cultivate a life of peace, love, and divinity is the higher purpose.

To turn a battleground into holy ground. That is recovery.

I hear you, I see you. You are sacred. – Regan

Photo credit : Regan Spencer in ‘Holy Ground’ by Janette Casolary

Regan is a writer, filmmaker, and person in long-term recovery who believes wholeheartedly in the healing powers of storytelling. She is dedicated to fostering connection and community, holding space for people to be exactly who they are, and teaching healthy ways to nourish oneself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Making life sacred, satisfying, and soulful is Regan’s mission, and some of her favourite ways to go about that are music, yoga, Tarot, hugs, and salt water (ocean and tears can help anything!) Read more about Regan at reganspencer.com