It is often said within the recovery community that a person stops maturing and growing the moment they started using. A person uses substances or engages in addictive behaviors to produce euphoria (pleasure), to numb the feelings of pain, or both. In the beginning the addictive behavior is a solution, and an effective one at that. People do not like the way they feel, and to avoid that feeling, they turn to self-medicating. Feelings can produce such overwhelming physical, mental and emotional discomfort that individuals desperately attempt to mask those feelings. In the process of numbing the feelings you stunt the

potential growth that comes from walking through painful experiences. Pain is sometimes a necessary precursor to growth. Pain can be likened to fire. We tend to avoid pain and stay in our comfort zone outside of the flames. It makes sense….to a certain extent.

A fire can rip through a forest incinerating everything in its’ path. Historically, to preserve Yosemite National Park, we made the mistake of putting out all fires resulting in a tremendous buildup of deadwood and under-growth which fueled catastrophic infernos. Another consequence of attempting to avoid fires within Yosemite was that the Giant Sequoias stop reproducing. Eventually, we discovered that the Giant Sequoias need fire to open the cones which contains the seedlings. The Giant Sequoias have the thickest bark of any tree and can withstand the heat of the flames without igniting. The heat rises, warming the cones which open and drop the seedlings onto the ground. The flames of the fire remove the deadwood underneath allowing for the seedlings to reach bare, mineral enriched soil. The fire punches a whole in the forest allowing for more light and water to flow through. Without fire, the Giant Sequoias would not be capable of reproducing and flourishing. Without fire we would see the Giant Sequoias extinct. We would not see the beautiful magnificent groves of Giant Sequoias that live for up to 3,000 years. You are the Giant Sequoia.

In a Isaiah 43:2 it reads: When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. It does not say it will not get extremely hot or uncomfortable. It is implying that through the spiritual principles and relationship with God that you will not be set ablaze. You are equipped with the capacity to not only avoid being consumed in flames, but to grow through it. Whether you choose to heed the message from a religious standpoint, or from mother nature, the message remains the same.

“What Matters the Most is How Well You Walk Through the Fire”  – Charles Bukowski

Recovery, mental health and self-care allow us to walk through the fire and not get set ablaze. We don’t just go through it, we grow through it. The feelings that arise produce discomfort, which in turn pushes us to find healthy coping mechanisms to manage our emotions without the use of addictive behaviors. The tools of recovery, AND addictive behaviors, can BOTH alleviate feelings of pain. However, only the tools of recovery will allow us to grow through the experiences and continue maturing. The pain will open us, allowing for seedlings to be planted that grow into extensions of ourselves that were not previously there. When we approach our feelings and emotions with this perspective we can almost embrace even the most uncomfortable fires within. We accept the feelings for we learn that they are a part of the natural process needed to reach our potential.

   Robert Freitas, MSW is the founder & CEO of Tailored Transitions and a therapist registered with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. He is graduate from the University of Southern California (USC) and holds a Master’s in Social Work with a concentration in mental health. Robert is a passionate member of the recovery community who is dedicated to supporting those struggling with addiction and co-occurring disorders through an integrated approach. He is leading the paradigm shift in treatment through his clinical coaching model which combines recovery coaching with therapeutic modalities.