An overpowering need to be right is born of perfectionism, pride and fear. Some people would risk a relationship, rather than admitting they were wrong, or that someone else’s point of view might be valid – at least for that person. Those of us who carry around that character defect – and the writer is most assuredly in recovery from know-it-all-ism – are often (or often have been) so unable to admit that there are two sides to most things that we have been willing even to alienate loved ones: We’d rather be right than loved.
Without getting into the pathology of overbearing parents who expected too much and all the other developmental nightmares, let’s just say that always having to impress our opinions and facts on others is pathological. It is self-righteousness in disguise, and stems from a deep-seated feeling of inadequacy that causes us to want to prove to ourselves that we’re one up on everyone else. (No one else cares!) “Standing up for our principles” is, in reality, simple mental and emotional inflexibility. There are always two points of view to any discussion, and I suspect that people who are unwilling to listen to others’ positions really don’t understand the issue well enough to have strong opinions about the accuracy of their beliefs. Because this shortcoming bears so directly on our low self-esteem, it’s hard to admit and harder to let go.
And that’s a shame, because it’s such a relief to let go…to learn where others are coming from and why, and to appreciate the ideas that we share, rather than emphasizing the differences. Keeping an open mind, hearing the “other side’s” rationale, accepting their right to hold opinions and the fact – OMG! – that whether we like it or not, there’s a good chance that many if not all of them are valid, to not insist on being right, brings us closer to others and expands the human spirits that we are reclaiming in our recovery.
When we first came to recovery we already had a Higher Power. We worshiped it, followed its every command, and spent many hours a day in its service. It was the first thing we thought of in the morning, and the last at night. We were faithful to a fault — and usually beyond a fault. We obsessed on our Higher Power to the exclusion of family, faith, common sense and self-preservation. Finally, after it failed us one time too many, we ended up at the end of the line: treatment, the rooms of the recovery fellowships or whatever refuge we were able to find from our devotion to our addiction.
So why do so many of us have this problem with “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity” and the other references to a higher power “as we understood” it in our twelve step fellowships?
The principle behind the Second Step is hope, not religion. It says “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” [Emphasis mine] If I believe that the only power greater than me is God, then I’m really a sick puppy. If we wish, the “God” in the program can be considered metaphor for the people in the rooms, our support system, and the program itself — surely all higher powers than we, for purposes of recovery and learning a new way to live (and how other people choose to think of it is none of our business).
Our business is recovering from a chronic, deadly disease, and we’d better use all the tools available! Our best efforts got us where we are today. No one is saying that we have to believe in a God or gods, but we’d darned well better be able to admit that we aren’t him, we can’t recover from our addictions alone, and that we need the guidance of a “higher power” that knows more about recovery than we do.
There’s a word for addicts who try to recover on their own — who use the word “God” as an excuse to avoid the work needed to change our lives and stay sober.
“…If we focus on the outcome we miss the process, and that’s where the good stuff actually happens. Doing the work and absorbing it is where the benefits lie: in the subtle improvements in the way we think, the mended relationships, the ability to better deal with stressors and much more. These are the result of experiencing and understanding the meaning of the steps, rather than just ticking them off a list….”
My friend Rodney died a couple of weeks ago. I have wanted to write something about him, and just couldn’t; it wouldn’t happen. But after his memorial service last night, I made a journal entry that I’ll share with you instead. It says about all that needs to be shared. [Minor edits for readability]
7/2/14 — God has a well-honed sense of irony, if not humor. After one of the most heart-wrenching — and uplifting — grief experiences of my life last night, today’s little [meditation] homily is about acceptance of the fact of death.
Rodney’s memorial service was the most wonderful thing! The theme was the ocean, which he loved. They had a beautiful little ceremony where you could go up and dip your hands in some ocean water, with the central of three bowls surrounded by seashells. (I brought a tiny one home to remember him by — not that it’s ever likely to prove difficult.)
But the most amazing part was the things people had to say about him! It wasn’t the usual platitudes, but things like, “Rodney saved my live!”; “I wouldn’t be sober if it wasn’t for him!”; and “My family loves him because they got their son back.” For me, who knew him mostly as a seeker, these revelations of his beloved place in the recovery community and his church were [eye-openers].
How much we have to learn about others, even those we think we’ve come to know pretty well! Maybe, as the minister at the Metropolitan Community Church said last night, God needed his help “up there.”
Rest well, dear friend.
The Second Step reads “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” It gets a lot of attention because of that “power greater than ourselves” part, but not so much about the “believe” part.
A Very Large Flower
Just what does it mean to believe? We throw the term around a lot, and it means different things at different times. Take “I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows,” for example. Hundreds of billions of raindrops fall from one big thunderstorm. If the statement were true we’d be inundated with flowers, even if they were tiny ones, and no one who’s given the idea much thought really believes that. (Nice poetry, though.)
Then there’s the fact that I believe that the Earth is a globe, similar in shape to the one in my office. I don’t know that, but I’ve seen enough information leading to that conclusion that I believe it anyway. Many others do, as well. They, and I, have faith in all that information. We believe the people who tell us that the Earth is not flat.
Now, let’s say that I show you my fist and tell you there’s a jewel in my hand.
Addiction is all about secrets. By the same token, recovery is about letting sunshine and fresh air into the hidden corners of our souls. In addiction we build ourselves a little fantasy world, a totally imaginary place where we go to hide when we act out.
It doesn’t matter if we are alcoholics who seek solace and solitude in a bottle, food addicts who attempt to control our little world by controlling our bodies, shopping addicts who imagine that if we only have that one special thing we’ll be happy, or sex addicts who search for love and solace in porn, online chat rooms or massage parlors. However we set up these magical places in our lives, we do so in secrecy. Even if we brag about how much we can (insert behavior here), we don’t want others to know how important acting out is to us, or exactly what we do. We don’t want to admit that we are trapped.
The topic at last night’s meeting was “dealing with feelings in recovery.” Several folks mentioned how being happy is often just as big a trigger as being depressed or upset.
Early in my recovery from chemical addictions I knew a guy who used to say, “I drank when the dog ran away; then I drank because the dog came home.” At the time I didn’t get it, but it rang a bell in some back room of my head. I’ve since come to find out that it’s so, so true – but now I know why!
When we use outside things to make us feel good – whether alcohol, some other drug or behavior – their initial effect is to distract us from the real world and make us feel better by altering the chemical balance in our brains. As we continue to use, their ability to make us feel better wanes. Eventually we reach the point where we have to use in order to keep from feeling bad. We’re addicted.
We fall into a pattern of using not to feel good, but simply to numb reality. Continue reading
Many, if not most, addicts have fallen prey to various superstitions. By that, I mean that we have adopted ideas about our relationships with the world that have only a passing acquaintance with reality.
For example, we may imagine that if we keep on doing the same things, fate will eventually provide us with different results — in the face of massive evidence to the contrary (a lottery win at 14 million to one odds is not a retirement plan). Continuing to seek out partners that are our “soul mates” will rarely yield anything new if our previous soul mates have turned out to be abusive, and changing from whiskey to beer isn’t going to cure our tendency to over-indulge (we’ll just pee more).
These are all instances of denial, and we can find them discussed in just about any 12-step meeting of the appropriate variety. But there’s another superstition that is less obvious and seldom discussed: the conviction that the world is against us, and that nothing (or very little) in life goes in our favor. We interpret the world as hostile, and convince ourselves that we are victims of some lesser god whose job it is to make us miserable.
While it’s perfectly understandable that some folks’ backgrounds predispose them to conclude otherwise, it isn’t true. The universe doesn’t play favorites, and generally speaking we make our own “luck.”
It’s easier to blame fate for our problems than to confront our basic lack of confidence in ourselves. Developing self-confidence isn’t the subject of this little essay, but realizing that our addict’s notion of self is usually inflated with hot air is a step in the right direction. What will help our superstition regarding an unfriendly world is for us simply to make an effort to notice — for a change — the things that are going right in our lives.
It’s amazing how easy it is to change these perceptions. All that’s necessary is to keep a list. Not a gratitude list — we may not be grateful at all — but just things that fall on the “plus” side of the equation. If we’re honest, we’ll likely discover that life is treating us pretty okay, and that the areas where it doesn’t seem to be doing so just could be due to other issues — like maybe our failure to step up to the plate and take a swing at the pitch. That’s something else that we can change.
A craving is a feeling that we want to get high — to forget who we are, what’s happening, what happened in the past, things that worry us, family problems and so forth. There are times when we’re unable to think about anything else, and others when the cravings are fleeting and easy to ignore…. Handling Cravings
A Doctor’s Most Dreaded Patient: The AddictIt is an unfortunate reality that most doctors don’t like treating addiction, and they don’t like addicts. They’ll treat the consequences of the disease but they won’t always confront the underlying issues, discuss treatment options or provide referrals to an addiction specialist or even a self-help support group like AA. What’s behind this institutional bias against addicts?