Whales and Recovery
I love whales. Love. My bucket list includes riding a humpback whale in the waters of Maui someday. I’ll be the crazy 90 year-old woman you watch in the viral YouTube video who jumps off a tourist boat in the middle of the ocean.
Before I had a million kids, I spent a month every spring in Maui during the humpback whale breeding and birthing season. As often as I could, I’d sit and watch huge baby whales in view above the water’s surface.
The mothers took the posture of nurturer and instructor, feeding their babies 400 liters of milk per day, and teaching the calves to do whatever it is that whales do.
The mother would jump up, and then her baby would try and jump. The mother would lift her right fin, and the calf would make her best attempt. Each move the mother performed was imitated in the calf’s attempt to figure out how to live and thrive.
These 1.5 ton babies are born measuring an average of 15 feet long. There’s no doubt that even at birth, they already meet the physiological qualifications for being a whale. But the magic happens as the calf figures out from the experienced mother what it means to be the whale that he already is.
Recovery often challenges our previously held views of what it is to live and interact with others. Our program also requires us to shift our view of what it means to be in connection with a Higher Power and specifically, what it means to trust this Higher Power’s guidance and willingness to take care of us. In this relationship with God, we often find that we have to hand over our old ways of thinking in order to receive truth:
I am valuable. I can practice acceptance. I am loved. My past does not define me. I don’t have to be in control. I can be free.
If our past experience involved earning love or approval, we have to practice a new way of thinking in sobriety in which the Divine love does not hinge on our past mistakes or our ability to perform. As we turn our lives and our will over to the care of God as we understand God, we are met with peace—a peace that extends beyond what we do and instead cuts to the heart of who we are. We are all born 100% worthy of love and belonging. We did not come into the world performing in order to be taken care of or valued.
But early on, we all learned a similar message: we must act a certain way in order to gain approval. We must coerce or manipulate others if we want to be loved. When we make efforts to earn acceptance and love, we take a step away from our true selves. Recovery offers us the chance to reconnect with who we are as those who belong to God. This requires a significant change in perspective. As we connect with and are taught by our Higher Power, we can practice acceptance and self-care, and we can let go of self-reliance, dishonesty, fear and resentments.
The baby whales did not become whales when they learned how to breach. The calves didn’t become whales the longer they swam. These smaller whales have a set identity as those created to swim and jump and tail slap—but as they are guided and as they practice, they learn how to be the whales they already are.
Connection with God brings about a newness of life, contentment and grace that is ours for the taking. But it’s up to us to let ourselves be guided. We can choose to make the effort to learn to listen and rest instead of attempting to take care of ourselves. Recovery is not about our length of sobriety—it’s about our willingness to be taught and to practice openness and honesty. We become who we already are as we create space through prayer, meditation and willingness to hear from the Divine Love. And this is our path to joy, peace and freedom.
-Chris Gibson, MDiv