Alcoholics and addicts are not a happy lot. Perhaps while they were using they had the appearance of happiness. Beneath the smiles and frivolity many of them were using to escape their dissatisfaction with their portion. As their disease progressed there were fewer and fewer instances of merriment. At some point, they used just to fill up that empty hole which had been gnawing away at their insides for the longest time.
They also complained that their unhappiness was circumstantial. If they had a different boss they would have felt more relaxed at work. If they lived in a different apartment or home they would have been more comfortable. If their spouses and children had acted more nicely towards them they would finally have felt some joy in their life. And on and on it went.
In sobriety we learned that our happiness was not dependent on people, places or things. It truly was an inside job. All of the speed bumps life had thrown us in the past continued to be on our daily path; and usually were unavoidable. How we chose to respond to them was very much in our power. We learned about “pausing” when agitated so we would not have a knee jerk reaction to challenges. As we strengthened our connection to a Higher Power we began to accept life from a deeper state of equanimity
Personal Reflection: Do I feel happy, joyous and free today?
Each of us could probably create a list of people that for some reason or other presses our buttons. Some people on our list would be obvious choices like our spouses, parents or our siblings. Then of course there are co-workers and acquaintances that also rub us the wrong way. All of these people do have one thing in common. They seem to say or take actions that get us involved in resentments, drama, and behaviors which are inappropriate. For many of us these transactions have been taking place for years and sometimes decades. We often angrily blamed these people for “what they did to us”.
Many of these same people took up ample space in our fourth step. As part of that process we have come to realize that we are not victims in this life. When a person makes an inflammatory statement or does something which is inappropriate, in that moment we have the power to make a choice. How we respond will determine how the rest of the transaction will go. If we don’t go after the bait, they may still escalate depending on how heavy a player they are. However at some point, if we continue to not buy in, they will change their behavior or go and look for someone else to “play” with. When that happens we have tasted emotional sobriety.
Personal Reflection: Do I still go after the bait?
Sometimes people will complain during their share that people were not friendly to them at a particular meeting. Now, there are many meetings where there are greeters at the door to make you feel welcome. At other places, people new to the meeting or just visiting are given an opportunity to introduce themselves. This breaks the ice so to speak and can be a platform for conversation after the meeting. These are wonderful examples of efforts made to make us feel welcome and wanted.
The reality is however, that for many of us, part of our disease includes feelings of isolation and being a victim. We can take those feelings and have a field day with them at a meeting where people in our opinion are not friendly. We could immediately go to our default victim position and hop on top of that pity pot.
In program we learn that we are not victims. If we are isolators, we need to admit to that fact. Once we do so, the next step is to to take an action. This could be as simple as positioning ourselves by the coffee pot where people tend to congregate before and after the meeting. Just introducing ourselves as we’re sipping our coffee can open up conversations and lead to friendships. At our home group we can also reach out to someone new or visiting as well. This helps to break through our isolation on our home turf.
Personal Reflection: How do I make myself and others feel connected?
We are going to have our toes stepped on in life. It is totally unavoidable. While we were active, this seemed to happen a lot to us. Very rarely would we immediately forgive someone for a perceived personal affront. Part of the reason this was the case is because we saw intent behind most actions. “You did it to me”‘ we exclaimed. We assumed that whatever had taken place was done on purpose. At a minimum, we gave people the silent treatment. We also often seethed in resentment. If we really felt the victim, we spent time planning our revenge for what you had done to us.
In sobriety these scenarios have largely changed. When things happen to us, we no longer immediately assume they were done on purpose. We accept that sometimes accidents occur. As a result we are quick to forgive others. Even when it appears that someone has truly treated us unfairly, and we find ourselves in resentment, we have tools that help us relieve those feelings. Sharing with our sponsor or at a meeting is especially helpful. We are also able to step back and examine what our role was in creating the issue. We certainly no longer waste time thinking about revenge. We have better things to do with our day.
Personal Reflection: Do thoughts of revenge eat up my day?
Cell phones have seeped into almost every aspect of our lives. As such, it’s almost impossible not to overhear conversations taking place wherever you go. On the bus, in an elevator, at the Laundromat, we are frequently bombarded with phone conversations. Though we might not intend to, we are almost forced to overhear the conversations of others. When we do so, we recognize that many of these conversations concern complaints that one individual has against another. When the conversation starts with, “I can’t believe what he or she did to me”, you have a pretty good idea in what direction the conversation is headed.
Our approach in the program is different. A program conversation usually starts with, “so after thinking about it, I really need to take a look at my part in what happened”. We don’t believe that we are victims in life. If things keep happening to us, on some level we are setting ourselves up. When we change our behavior; people around us change theirs as well. If they don’t, we can always find healthier people. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear someone on the phone taking personal responsibility for their actions?
Personal Reflection: Do I still feel I’m a victim?
If you wanted to, you could probably spend your entire day in a rant about how nothing has gone your way. There is certainly enough material for us to complain about on a daily basis. I mean, has a day passed in the history of mankind where everything went according to plan? Where we didn’t have to suddenly scramble to take care of something. Where we either lost something, missed something or forgot something important. No, every day for everyone has multiple challenges.
The question is, really, the big question is what are you going to do about it. The easy way out is to play the victim and just complain. The problem with that is that it accomplishes nothing. Plus, it’s probably one of the quickest ways to lose friends. Who wants to be around someone who is a negative presence all the time. So there are a number of healthy steps we can take. When something has the potential to negatively affect us, we can make a choice in how to respond. Responding negatively does not have to be our default position. In the program we also recommend self assessment as to how we contributed to, or set ourselves up for the problem in the first place. Were you really surprised that their were no parking spaces when you came a half hour late to the meeting. When we ask that type of question, we discover far fewer things to complain about.
Personal Reflection: Do I complain too much?
One of the hardest lessons we needed to learn in the program was powerlessness. We used to think that we had the power to control other people. If they only did it our way; then everything would be fine. “If only my wife would stop nagging me about my drinking, then our relationship would be so much better”. Or, “if only my boss saw how good a worker I was, then I would finally get that raise”. Or, if only my children took my advice about career choice, then they would be successful”. Usually an old timer brought us back to reality by asking, “so how’s that working out for you”? When asked that question we began to realize that we really were powerless over people, places and things. Our powerlessness extended far beyond controlling our drug of choice. It extended to our spouses, children, employers, parents, friends, and institutions. That realization was indeed humbling.
Along the way, we discovered something else. Yes, we were powerless over others, but they were powerless over us as well. Ultimately, no one could make us do something, or feel something unless we allowed them to do so. For a long time we played the role of victim in life. We came to see that this was also a choice. Others could not exercise power over us unless we granted them the right to do so.
Personal Reflection: Is powerlessness a one or two street for me?