So. Today’s recovery group mantra has me repeating over and over that “my beauty is made in the fire.”

And this mantra, while it feels truthful to me… well… meh… that truthfulness has the bitter taste of an ironic sort of slap-in-the-face thing to me. Which kinda sucks, on an emotional level.

But it is still probably, overall, one of the cooler and more thought-provoking mantras we’ve covered so far, at least to me — primarily because it’s about FIRE. (I’m just not a super-fan of mantras in general, FYI.)

So yeah. Fire.

FIRST of all… don’t get me wrong, I’m the polar opposite of a pyromaniac.

I mean… I’ll be honest, y’all, I’m actually terrified of fire almost to the point of rabid, drooling paranoia at times… like, well… I’m not really sure what I believe about past lives, but if you look at things from the science-y side where energy is neither created nor destroyed, it only changes forms… I’ve actually wondered a few times if maybe I was burned at the stake in another life or something, because that’s quite literally how terrified I feel of fire and its many, many, manyyyyyy oh-so-numerous potential dangers.

I mean, terrified, like… going to a camping outing and spending all night worrying that a stray spark from the fire your friends built (and that is currently located THREE TENTS AWAY) is going to catch your tent on fire, that sort of thing. Yeah. That’s me. And I mean, terrified, like… living in an RV and NEVER, EVER using the stove YOU PAID FOR because it requires you to light a match and stick it in a stream of propane gas. Yep. Me again. I kinda think maybe you’re starting to get the idea?

Anyway, many people (me included, oftentimes) seem to think firstly of fire as a destructive force.

The thing we don’t seem to often think about is that it is also a force necessary to sustain, regenerate and renew life.

Sustain — in that it gives us the ability to stay warm and cook our food, etc. Regenerate and renew — in the context of basic fire ecology: fires are essential to the sustained health of a forest by clearing overgrowth, returning nutrients to the soil, and providing new habitats to wildlife in the form of burned trees. In fact, I’ve been told that some vegetation actually requires the heat of fire in order for its seeds to propagate (and I think that’s SUPER cool).

So fire can be really f*cking scary, but it can also bring REALLY good things in its aftermath.

Beautiful things. Renewal. New life.

And I really like that whole analogy as it applies to the recovery/sobriety journey.

So anyway. Here’s a story for you, and a true one.

One day a few years back, I was taking a brisk walk through an urban park I’d trekked through many times before, and I made my normal loop and then turned back on the route returning toward my car, and while retracing my steps… I came across a tree with its base, quite literally, on fire, y’all.

And I was confused and scratching my head (as I placed my first-ever-in-life personal call to the fire department), because I’d just walked past this same tree, like, less than 10 minutes before, and it had appeared fiiiiiine, or at least, not noteworthy to me at the time.

And it was one of those trees planted in those little ovals of grass next to a walkway, surrounded by concrete and sidewalk on both sides, you know, so it seemed so completely random and without any discernible cause.

And the only thing I could think of at the time was that maybe someone had walked by and thrown a cigarette butt on the dry grass at the base of the tree.

And I actually never found out exactly what caused that tree to burn, but wow, it went up fast. The fire department was already on its way from another bystander’s call, or so they told me just before I pulled my car out of one of the park’s many parking lots, and I assume they took care of it, because it wasn’t a big story on the news that night.

But I did start Googling a lot of things about random fire events after that, because I was curious (you know, my fire paranoia in action and all) about what it could have been.

And OMG, y’all… I found out, in the course of this research, that — lo and behold — fire can actually travel through the root systems of trees and bushes and other vegetation, and in fact, it can smolder beneath the ground for DAYS even after a fire seems to be out (and if you’ve seen the movie Backdraft or read about the Combustion Triangle, this isn’t nearly as far-fetched as it seems… and this is exactly the kind of nerdy stuff that toooootally fascinates me… and of course, feeds my terrors at the same time).

Anyway, there was a big open field on the other side of the sidewalk, across from this tree, that had burned the previous week, so there was a lot of black scorched vegetation not too far away, but in between these two areas was nothing but concrete. But if the root systems of those two areas had any sort of connection, it was possible for that fire to jump… from that blackened, burned field… to that single, solitary tree. I mean… wow. Just wow. Isn’t that wild? (Ahem, insert “wildfire” pun here. **cough, cough** Totally ironic coughing too, FYI.)

Anyway, the point is, I feel like my journey so far has had quite a few of those smoldering-roots-erupting-into-new-flames moments — necessary moments, I suppose, but moments that still blindsided me like sudden, scorching flames flaring up in front of my unsuspecting face (usually coming RIGHT when I felt like, yeah… I’ve got this! oh shiiiiit, no I don’t!) and I definitely felt the heat, the burn. The pain of it.

So many moments of renewal… and relearning.

And I can’t help but wonder if this is what Pema Chodron means when she talks about the difference between the burn of “hot loneliness” and how the experience of cool loneliness is so profoundly different — like in the moments during the fire, and then after.


Anyway, these are just a bunch of wandering thoughts that I wanted to put down on paper to sort them out a bit from where they were floating around in the back of my head. I’m kind of an analogy lover, in case you didn’t already guess. I think that’s how my mind tends to try to sort through what it deems “mostly unsortable” data.

Because nothing is unsortable, damn it.

And thanks for listening. 🙂

For context on this post, and links to related journal entries from this particular piece of my life's journey, see My Sobriety Journey, Journaled.