Most of us want to believe that we are the masters of our own fate, the “captains of our souls” — unique — and that no one could understand our complex problems but us. Others may have said things that threatened our various addictions, or we may have had overbearing caregivers. The natural rebelliousness of adolescence may have carried over into our adulthood. Whatever the reason(s), few people like to be given advice, addicts least of all. Unfortunately for those of us whose addictions have brought us to recovery, “our best thinking got us here.” That would seem to indicate that a bit of judicious information from others who have been successful at sobriety might be useful.
It’s true that we know our own pain, and that no one else can. However, in most cases we are too close to the issues and can’t find adequate solutions on our own. Rather than approaching our problems logically, analyzing them and applying carefully thought out solutions, we find our minds racing around in circles. We are often unable to separate out our fears from our possible courses of action, and usually unaware of the feelings that drive them.
One of our main problems is our idea of self and what we must do to safeguard that delusion. We have put together a shaky framework of who we are, shoring it up by telling ourselves all sorts of things that may or may not be true. We fear that if we let go of the unhealthy parts, the whole structure will collapse and we’ll lose our identity and what little power we believe we’ve achieved over our world.
So, when someone at a meeting looks across the room at us (perhaps after the first time we’ve gotten up the nerve to share something about ourselves) and tells us “YOU need to, (insert wise advice here); YOU have to (ditto), or even WE should (whatever), it’s natural for us to resist. Who the hell are these people, and why do they think they know what’s best for me? That instinctive reluctance to listen to others can click in instantly, and anything the other person may say for the remainder of their share is likely to be buried under a resentment.
That’s why we say that ours is a program of suggestions. That’s why we share our experience, strength and hope. It is much easier to listen to the solutions someone applied to themselves and draw our own conclusions, than to have the solutions laid out as orders. There’s a big difference between “I did” and “you should.” The rooms are a fellowship, not parenthood.
We have to be sure that we don’t shake our fingers at people instead of offering a hand. The way we share has become customary for good reason. We speak in the “I”. We share what worked for us in the form of “I had ____ happen, and I did ____, and it helped me. This is not only easier for another person to swallow, it is more likely to be of help. Keeping it in the “I” also helps curb our grandiosity and avoids our seeming like a know-it-all (or sharing advice that we have not taken ourselves).
It might even help our humility a bit, and keep things a little more real. Humility and reality are good; they’re what allow us to talk about our own problems.
And we might well be next.