I hope I’ll win the lottery, but I don’t expect to.
A lot of us addicts get our hopes and expectations amazingly tangled. Most of us need to take a close look at the difference during our early recovery (and often afterward) because they can cause huge complications in our lives.
Hope has a realistic perspective. It leads to pleasure or disappointment, and often a combination of the two. I may have broken my leg and hope I recover completely. Realistically, I understand that there are myriad factors that could complicate my recovery. If I end up with a limp I’ll be disappointed, but hey — it’s a bunch better than a broken leg! If I go along with my physician’s post-op recommendations and get some physical or occupational therapy, the results may be improved. If not, well, it’s still a bunch better than a broken leg.
The same thing applies to relationships. I can hope that my significant other gets into recovery, but a realistic look at addiction, in general, will indicate that the chances aren’t all that good, and that my best course of action is to work on and take care of myself, keep my mouth shut, and be a good example. The result is out of my hands. I hope for the best and prepare for whatever comes along the best way I can.
Expectations, on the other hand, are UNrealistic. I had only minimal control over my recovery from my broken leg, and I have no control over my S/O’s actions. If I have expectations of complete recovery, in either case, they will lead to resentment, anger and the questionable pleasure of feeling sorry for myself while blaming someone or something else for my unhappiness. How many times have we heard people blaming doctors for failure to properly treat diseases or trauma, without realistically considering the likelihood that the doc did the best she could, and that — simply put — shit happens.
How many of us expect to move ahead in health, personal relationships, business, or life in general, and when we don’t, immediately start looking for answers outside ourselves first? We blame backstabbing co-workers, prejudiced bosses, inept physicians, thoughtless spouses, God, our parents, bad luck, or whatever when the real questions are “How could I have prevented this?” “How could I have protected myself from this situation?” What could I have done better?” “Did my husband turn into an asshole after we got married, or was it there beforehand but I was blinded by dreams and expectations?”
Resentment is the nearly inevitable outcome of expectations, because we all live in our own little worlds, with our own ideas of how our lives “should” go. When things don’t work out, it’s much easier to blame, resent, and live in anger, because then we don’t need to look at our side of the street. We don’t need to question our own decisions.
Cultivating hope and realistic plans for the future, based on our own realistic efforts to achieve them, will usually lead to a life that is happy, joyous and free — at least most of the time. But if we have expectations of The Way Things Ought To Be, we will experience dissatisfaction, resentment, anger and end up blaming ourselves and others for our misery.
If we go back to the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales version, Cinderella was not a helpless little twit who let life simply carry her along but ended up living happily ever after. She was a skilled witch who dealt with the problems in her life pretty unpleasantly at times. Shit does happen, and Ms. Aschenputtel (Grimm’s name) shoveled it when she needed to.
We can improve our lives, but first, we need to stop whining, get off our sad butts, and take a long, hard look at expectation versus hope. We need to evaluate our attitudes toward both, and figure where they came from (4th Steps and therapists can help us). We need to learn to see our situation and what we can do about it realistically.
That’s how we get on with our lives when difficulties show up. That’s the key to having hopes become reality. Expecting other folks to take responsibility for the mess our expectations have caused virtually guarantees that we’ll end up living in it, blaming others, and complaining the whole time just like those other people that we know.
As Pogo the Possum* famously said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”