Deep Breaths in The Hallway of Change

The following is an excerpt from Alison Smela’s forthcoming book Slow Deep Breaths: How to Navigate Overcoming Alcoholism and an Eating Disorder in Midlife.


Most of us know that change is constant because our lives are ever evolving. Some people thirst for change and there are those, like me, who dig their heels in deeper believing that what’s comfortable is just fine. Why switch from the well-hummed rhythm of daily life to learn something new?

Needed change rarely happens without some level doubt and resistance and silent stories that loop in our head about why change isn’t necessary.

I wrote and rewrote those everything-is-fine stories with hope the end would turn out better than what others predicted.

Sure, I drank too much, ate too little, controlled more than necessary, and stayed purposely silent in shame when I could have spoken my truth. That way of life didn’t make sense for others but sure made sense for me.

I knew what would happen when I engaged in unhealthy behaviors and perhaps even more important, how to circumvent consequences when I did. That well-choreographed dance of quick fixes when life felt emotionally uncomfortable went on for years until the curtain went down and no one clapped. Self-destruction doesn’t have an encore.

For reasons I can only speculate yet am now grateful for, I grabbed that handle on the door marked change rather than the one that indicated life as usual. Back then, I had no idea the latter could have only led to my final resting place.

In truth, I lingered at the door that promised change and thought a spec of courage would be enough. I fiddled with the doorknob and dropped my hand a few times before I coupled courage with willingness and turned the handle until I heard a click. I’d be a liar if I didn’t share that part of me hoped a lock would keep me from the change I feared. However, once change caught my attention and I couldn’t deny the need for that kind of transformation, no lock would keep me stuck in the hallway.

What I didn’t know then, but I certainly do know is, change isn’t immediately found on the other side of that door. I presumed that a step through was the only requirement for the complete change I presumed awaited me. 

What I found was there were other doors. I saw one in the distance, yet I couldn’t understand what the attached sign read. I considered a turn back or even investigation of the side door I thought led to an escape. Yet, what echoed in my ear was that if I chose either of those two quick fixes, all the misery, shame, loneliness, and fear I once felt would return in an instant.

I didn’t know what to do so I stood still. I closed my eyes, took a few slow deep breaths, and waited. From that place of inner silence came whispers of hope and suggestions sprinkled like raindrops from kind and patient people who only then did I notice had surrounded me. 

Gently and with intention, I moved forward. There were times when I shut my eyes tight, crossed every finger, and prayed that one of those wise and time-generous people would take those hallway steps for me. I soon learned that’s not how the process works.

Personal change is an inside job, not an outside fix.

I breathed in the support of others and embraced required work for desired change. Eventually, I did reach that once distant door only to find even more hallways and further doors.

As a matter of fact, I’m in one of those hallways right now. Even with years of practical experience that proved perseverance, willingness, and asked for help are the means to get from one end to the other, I still do not like being in the hallway of change. Not at all.

I feel like a newcomer in recovery, in search of that easier, softer, way toward a hoped-for sense of comfort in new surroundings. Even though I learned long ago that what I want isn’t always what I need, I still find myself inspecting the crevices of the hallway with hope of a quick solution for my unease.  

So, I pause. I find a welcoming spot in that hallway. I breathe. I look around. I listen. I wait. I listen a little harder. Then, when I feel a bit more confident about my next right step, I’ll make my way closer to that distant door.

I may not get there right away and that’s okay. What’s important is that I pay close attention to what I learn along the way. Those nuggets of wisdom will influence my approach when life presents me with the unexpected and I find myself in another hallway of change.


Take A Moment to Breathe

Are you standing at a door toward change? Is there a hesitation? Maybe you turned the handle, passed through, and now stand between the just closed door and the one that offers something new. Pause before you do anything else. Breathe. Slow your thoughts. Breathe again. Remember, whatever you face, wherever you are, this is not what you’ll face or where you’ll be forever. Put your focus on that next right indicated step and head down that hall. Breathe again. You’re on your way. 


Alison Smela is a writer, speaker, and an addiction recovery and health advocate. Through her blog Alison’s Insights, Alison shares her experience overcoming alcoholism and life-threatening eating disorder in midlife and how she now faces everyday challenges using recovery-based solutions. Feel free to connect with her via Facebook, Twitter, (@alisonsmela), or Instagram (alison.smela).

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