Is Your Side of the Street Clean?
How recovery has taught me what that really means.
One of my closest friends gave me the gift of a profound saying. It’s a recognizable saying in the AA world, so maybe you’ve heard it.
“All you can do is keep your side of the street clean.”
But what does that mean, really? I’m certain that if I’d heard that saying a few years ago, before my recovery work, I wouldn’t have understood it. I think there’s a fair amount of internal work that has to be done before someone can get to the point where this saying truly makes sense but I believe once someone does get there, it changes everything.
In short, my understanding is that once you are able to accept the hurt and pain you’ve suffered and the pain and hurt you may have been a part of in others’ suffering — you can change your perspective and your actions.
FROM THERE TO HERE
I think it’s important to understand that most of us don’t just wake up “changed.” It often takes a very long time and a lot of effort. It also requires a desire to change.
Most importantly, it requires owning up to your own shit while remembering to give yourself love and compassion.
Up until my education in Trauma Recovery, I believed that using my “voice” and telling my “story” meant doing it in any way I wanted to. Which led me to have my fair share of situations and events that I’m not proud of. Things I’ve said to people out of hurt and anger. And while I can’t say that I regret saying or doing them (they were necessary for my healing), I do acknowledge the hurt and pain I caused because of it. I own that.
But I also own that I was a victim of someone else’s decisions. That my words, voice and story matter. And that they can also be powerful. Used for good and bad.
Before my recovery, I wouldn’t hesitate to wield my power in retaliation or defense or anger. But as I grew stronger in my recovery, so did the understanding that just because we may have the power to hurt others, doesn’t mean we should.
What my personal recovery work taught me is to consciously think about the way I interact with those who have caused me pain and hurt. I no longer (mostly) react out of those emotional wounds. I think about things like:
Will doing X or saying Y dirty up my side of the street? Will it hurt someone or add to their suffering just to make me feel better?
Will doing X or saying Y actually change anything or encourage compassion and healing?
Will doing X or saying Y be something I have to make amends for later?
Usually, the answer is pretty clear and looking at it from that perspective keeps me very much in line with the changes I have and want to make to be a better person. That doesn’t mean that whatever situation I’m in isn’t painful or heart-wrenching because, most often, it is. What it means is that I’m learning to take those emotions and work with them in a healthier way. A way that empowers me to say that I’m proud of the respect I’ve given to myself and to others, no matter how much they may have hurt me.
Let me tell you though, it’s something I’ll struggle with for the rest of my life. But I see myself getting better and better at it every time I think of my side of the street.
THE OTHER PART OF THE EQUATION
The beautiful thing about recovery is that if you put in the work, you will see results. And sometimes, that little glimmer of hope is all someone needs to change their life.
But for me, there was more to the equation than my own recovery. It was the education and knowledge I gained from becoming a trauma recovery coach. The neuroscience and psychoeducation and psychology allowed me to tap into more than just my raw emotions and feelings. It allowed me to see things from different perspectives.
And what I saw (and what I still see) is so much suffering. Hurt people, hurt people, right? Sadly, it’s a universal statement that rings true. And when you understand that at a basic human level, you understand actions so much more. You learn to see their actions and words through the lens of someone who is suffering and taking their suffering out on the world because that’s all we’ve ever been taught to do in society.
So when that person trolls Facebook or Twitter and makes a nasty comment about something — I’m able to step back and see that they are most likely hurting. That their comment is more about them then it is about me or the actual situation. And I remember what that was like… to feel as if I had no other options available to me except to retaliate with my anger and hurt dictating the way.
The thing is though — I don’t feel the need to respond or retaliate or dirty up my street because at the end of the day, I know my truths. I know my wounds. And I know a better way to handle them. I can wake up proud that I kept my side of the street clean and I have nothing to be sorry for because I’ve done nothing to be sorry about. And guys, that’s such a peaceful feeling.
TURNING PAIN INTO POWER
While I’m grateful that I’ve arrived at this recovery destination, I know there’s so much more room to grow and evolve. I promised myself that I wouldn’t stop with my own recovery. That this ability to let go of so much resentment and pain and suffering is possible for others, too.
But more specifically, I realized that I wanted the underserved to know that they can and deserve to get to this point as well.
I was asked recently, “why do you specialize in working with the family members of offenders on their recovery?”
Because I couldn’t save my family. I may never get the chance to help them heal the way they deserve to be.
But I can help other families. I can help them stitch back the broken pieces of their lives if they’re willing to do the work and turn their pain away from external factors and into empowering themselves and their recovery.
I try to keep my side of the street clean because I respect myself and my recovery enough not to slide into the angry, hurt, and depressed person I was before.
I try to keep my side of the street clean because the world already has enough suffering and if I can do one tiny thing to ease that suffering, it’s something I want to do.
I try to keep my side of the street clean because I can only control myself, my actions and how I respond to the things around me and though that feels insanely out-of-control, it actually puts the control in MY hands. I get to decide when, why and how I say or do the things I do. That’s true power.
This world and life and people are all so complicated and there’s never going to be an answer for our suffering or our systemic problems. But outside of keeping our own side of our streets clean, there’s really only one universal truth I’ve come to know:
When you have compassion for yourself and others, the weight of life becomes much easier to carry around.