We Heal In Community | By Ashley Neese

A | All of my years going to A.A. meetings taught me one of the most valuable lessons of my life: we heal in community. There is a special magic that reveals itself when we allow ourselves to let it all hang out in front of each other. Sharing honestly in a group of people with similar intentions sets our spirit free. It wasn’t until I started teaching and leading groups on my own that I recognized how much my A.A. experiences shaped the kind of leader I want to be today.

In my early years of getting sober it was critical for me to be part of a group of people that were not getting wasted. I needed a place to go, to listen, to share, to connect and to relate. I needed to hear every story of darkness, despair, tragedy, sorrow, pain and fear. I also need to hear that there was hope for someone who hated themselves as much as I did at the time. That it was possible to learn how to take care of myself and experience the laughter and joy that was dying to get out of my depleted, lifeless shell.

The day I raised my hand in an A.A. meeting and said “My name is Ashley and I’m an alcoholic,” was a defining moment, a radical step towards the light I had been running from since I could remember. It’s hard to pinpoint when it all happened, when the overwhelming bouts of anxiety and depression made themselves regular experiences in my life. For years therapists told me I took a turn towards the darkness when my parents split up. Or maybe it was the moment my mother left me crying on that soft beige couch at my psychologist’s office and told me that she never wanted to see me again. Or it was the night I got on the tour bus of an L.A. based rap group after their show, high as a kite, fifteen years old, wanting to lose my virginity as fast as possible because I didn’t believe it was sacred, that anything in life mattered.

The moment I uttered the words, “I’m Ashley and I’m an alcoholic”, a weight the size of Georgia lifted from my center, and I felt a flash of what I would later name relief come over my body. It took me years to begin to understand just what a big threshold I crossed that day. It was the first time I admitted, to a group of strangers, that I was like them and that I couldn’t do my life alone anymore.

Fast forward over fourteen years later and I am still showing up and sharing my soul in community. I have experienced time and time again that when I share the truth with others in a safe space, it takes the power out of the pain, fear or frustration and allows me to live a little lighter.  A little more free. There is a saying in the rooms that we are only as sick as our secrets. These days I make it a point to share honestly with friends and in groups on a regular basis to let the energy that is weighing me down start to evaporate. I want to travel light, and the way that happens is with you.

I’ve had times in my life where I have stayed away from opening up in front of groups; and while nothing terrible happened, I didn’t feel as seen. Even after writing and blogging for years, there is a very different energy when you are sharing your truth in front of live humans. You really have no place to hide! And that is what I love about it. I am done hiding. Period.

There are loads of studies out there that prove what we have known intuitively for ages - that we heal the best in community with others. A.A. worked for me because it was a group of people moving towards a common goal, a sober life. As I grew in my recovery and stopped defining my life by my past behaviors, I sought out communities where people were living in a way that resonated with my spirit on a deeper level. While the groups that I participate in have shifted over the years, the need to let myself be witnessed in front of others remains. In our ever advancing fast paced culture, coming together to share, heal and grow alongside each other is more important that it has ever been. We need this real deal type of connection for ourselves, each other, and the planet.

Today I have the honor and joy of teaching and leading groups of women in slowing down, celebrating each other, listening deeply, and tapping into our inner wisdom on levels that blow me away every time I show up to hold this sacred space. Since declaring my New Moon intention "to create a container for more women to heal and shine" (last year), I am in awe of how the groups have been growing and presenting themselves to me. Each time a woman comes to a circle with a new friend, I see the chain grow longer and the ripple effect reaching beyond what I ever imagined possible.

It’s been said in many traditions that the greatest spiritual teachers are the ones who have lived in darkness. While I don’t believe it’s an either/or scenario, I feel in my heart of hearts that even in the throes of my addiction I was created in this lifetime to help other women tap into themselves and change our world.

All my heart,

Ashley

images by Marielle Chua & Asami Zenri


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