One Stitch At a Time – How Knitting Beat Addiction

Submitted by Lise Solvang

“Patterns”…what an appropriate place for me to start on this part of my own healing journey. It’s the name of the recovery home for women who struggle with the addiction to alcohol and drugs where I am arriving to lead a knitting circle.

Still very new to recovery myself, I am anxious, yet hopeful and proud, to be amongst these women who suffer from the same disease that I do. To any outsider, we would seem very different, at least in appearance, attitude and speech, but the reality is that we are not. We are each trying to live with the same patterns of substance abuse. It is only the physical places this disease has taken us that might be poles apart.

After years of wanting to be done with the knitting part of my life…the part that drinking put to ruins…my familiar needles are in my hands again. These same needles that brought up the painful feelings of shame and guilt I lived with in secrecy and isolation for so long, were now going to become a significant part of my own healing.

Knitting through addiciton

I hand them out in pairs to each woman all circular knitting needles, to Bella, who is excited and curious and can’t wait to have something to “busy” her so she can stop smoking…Laurie because she had to be there, Stephanie who knew a little, and then to Susan, who wouldn’t accept them that first day, saying, “Don’t put any needles in my hands, I’m afraid of what I could with them.” I’ve never thought of knitting needles as a potential weapon before, but this is a new place for me to teach and I am here to learn too. I bring my chair down to join them in a circle, a significant step towards being ONE and the same.knitting 1

Knitting happens to be one of very few things that is best learned one-on-one in person. I interweave my hands with Bella’s, to guide her into a timeless motion that is to be repeated hundreds, thousands, hopefully millions of times into the future. I literally hold her hand through the struggle and fight of “getting it right” as we so repeatedly do in life.

I find that a “No Rules “ approach to knitting has a welcoming and sometimes humorous effect. No stigma is attached, no fear of failure, conquering something new becomes easier, a sense of empowerment replaces.

As in life, there are a few basics that need to be followed, other than that, leave it open to interpret and apply in your own way. There are no mistakes in knitting, only “design elements.” Dropped a stitch?…drop another one…that just means you’ve created your own unique pattern.

We’re starting simple, knitting hats and purses in the round. It astounds us all that one simple knit stitch can create such a vast variety of designs and beauty. Bella starts out well, then drops some stitches, adds some stitches, perfect again, then continues with a different yarn. She’s knitting her life, she says, going through some tough times, experiencing joy, a door opening towards something brand new. Not wanting to change or “correct” a single stitch, she comes to love her purse and love her life exactly the way it is enfolding.

Laura finds herself unraveling her hat every Tuesday at five o’clock before I get there at six, to start anew. This is where knitting differs from life, you can go back and “correct mistakes.” Over the weeks though she is able to recognize that progress, not perfection is the key, and can finally see the beauty in all the design elements, not mistakes, made.

During these months of sitting together knitting, a deep sense of belonging arises. A close-knit community is formed from the heartfelt conversation. Stories bring laughter and joy one day, tears and shared frustrations another. And sometimes the stillness and peace that follows comes to replace the rush and push of our everyday routines. Focused on the craft at hand, we open up in our own way, raw and honest, yet somehow safe…together.

The holiness of handwork aids in the opening of the heart chakra. So used to priding ourselves on our self-sufficiency, we normally cut ourselves off from this shared source of abundant wisdom and help that others are willing to give us. Here, the communal circle allows us to do our own heart work, the work of healing our selves and each other. This state of openness transcends our own ego boundaries as it allows us to stay out of our judging minds, even for a little while as we create something that is our own.

Weeks and weeks go by before Susan finally trusts herself enough to pick up knitting needles. With the support and faith of every woman around her she knits a hat for her husband, even weaving in a strand of her own hair, an old Norwegian tradition to ensure everlasting love. I don’t think I have ever seen a happier and more proud woman, skipping her way towards the rest of her life. Then their mandatory session is over and I have to let it go, trusting that I have played some small part in a bigger pattern of creation.

Knitting is like recovery from addiction

Stephanie contacts me months later to let express her gratitude for the way knitting continues to open up new possibilities for her, “Knitting to me is a way of experiencing my own life. Early in my recovery process, when I first started back knitting, I would unravel and start all over if I didn’t get a stitch correct or if it didn’t “look right.” Eventually I saw that this was the way I approached my life.

I was always reaching for perfection and if it didn’t come, I ended up going back and starting over (with the starting over looking like relapse and going back into rehab). It wasn’t until I saw this in my knitting and decided, actually decided, to make whatever came and appreciate the beauty of it, “mistakes” and all that I was able to move forward in my own recovery…in my own life. Knitting helped me to see that whatever I make is beautiful as long as I make it with joy and abandon with the gift that was given to me by the Creator’s hand.”

Stephanie is tapping into the recipe for human contentment and happiness. I’ve begun to research in an attempt to understand the inexplicable, and discover that there are three connected elements that make for happiness:

  • A creative endeavour that you find exhilarating and you absorb yourself in.
  • This endeavor produces something
  • The end product of creative endeavour provides a service for someone else.

All I know is that, today, when I’m knitting there is nowhere else I’d rather be and nothing else I’d rather be doing. Today I get to be a proud, happy and sober woman. I find the peace of mind necessary to see clearly the miracle of my own existence in this moment, and the preciousness of those I love. I see the goodness found in daily life and the many, many ways my life is graced.

I knit to meditate, to quiet myself, to reach transcendence, to create art, to play, to touch, to heal.

Stitch by stitch and moment by moment, we create the fabric of our lives and the pattern that is to become us.

SoberThank you to Lise for sharing your thoughts about addiction and recovery with us!

If you’d like to share you story please do, it will help others who are living with alcoholism or addiction. 

Sober doesn’t Suck!is a safe place for people to share their stories of drinking, addiction and recovery openly and honestly. There is no requirement of sobriety for posting, if you’re concerned about your using I want to hear from you too.

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3 Responses

  1. Thank you, Julie, for sharing this! I too took up knitting, of late. Several years ago now, as with my photography, I find knitting to be wonderfully creative. It satisfies a spiritual part of me as nothing else can! Blessings and gratitude! Joyce

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