One of the biggest problems I’ve had in recovery is my habit of overthinking things. I grew up around people with an insatiable desire to name, classify, quantify, and then sign, seal and deliver all manner of information, from the Latin names of plants to the works of great artists. The emphasis was on knowing stuff, not understanding it — superficial was good enough, as long as you could sound like you knew what was happening. In a way it was similar to the belief, common in many primitive societies, that if you know something’s name, you have power over it.
I see this sort of thing in the rooms of recovery, as well, and I was one of the worst afflicted: gathering knowledge for its own sake, not to facilitate understanding. I devoured self-help books, learned the jargon of recovery and pop psychology, and then sallied forth to save poor addicts everywhere. I learned a lot, but really didn’t have a clue about what it would take for me to recover. I didn’t learn to feel, to relate to others honestly and openly, nor discover the self-knowledge and understanding that it takes to get true sobriety. I was a know-it-all who knew very little. That’s changed a lot in the last couple of years, but I managed to waste nearly a quarter of a century living a half-life, compared to what I have today.
It’s easy to let bullshit that doesn’t matter at all get in the way of our recovery, especially when doing the real work is so scary to begin with. We’ll deflect by arguing about whether addiction is really a disease, or make up bogus excuses that the program isn’t for us because of all the God talk, when in fact what others think is none of our business. We’re here to change ourselves, and Joe Blow or Nancy Schmo’s opinions about neurochemistry or salvation are none. of. our. business. We choose to let those things bother us. We don’t have to buy what they’re selling, but we do need to learn tolerance. That, indeed, is about us.
We don’t have to understand. We don’t have to “get” the details; what we have to do is find the humility to listen, and start working and taking suggestions. Sometimes I’m reminded of the guy who was drowning, but demanded to see the guard’s lifesaving certificate before he’d get into the boat. What’s important is getting pulled out of the water and then signing up for swimming lessons. That teacher may not know anything about hydrodynamics, but you’ll learn to swim anyway — as soon as you stop making excuses for staying out of the pool.
When I was real early in recovery I heard a guy named Robby say, “My best thinking got me here.” Since then, I’ve probably heard it a hundred times. It’s one of the more common sayings around the rooms, but I only began listening recently. I sure wish I’d paid attention back in 1989, when Robby said it!