Once a week, I go a meditation meeting, and lately I’ve been the secretary, which means I’m supposed to come up with a topic on recovery to share. Of course, I tell myself I will dig through my books to find a spiritual nugget so profound that people follow me around after the meeting. And of course, what I actually do is Google “daily recovery readings” on the streetcar on the way to the meeting, and then worry that it wasn’t good enough for everyone and they hate me. More on this later.
Here’s what I found, somewhere, last night:
There are days when some of us wallow in self-pity. It’s easy to do. We may have expectations about how our lives should be in recovery, expectations that aren’t always met. Maybe we’ve tried unsuccessfully to control someone, or we think our circumstances should be different. Perhaps we’ve compared ourselves with other recovering addicts and found ourselves lacking. The more we try to make our life conform to our expectations, the more uncomfortable we feel. Self-pity can arise from living in our expectations instead of in the world as it actually is.
When the world doesn’t measure up to our expectations, it’s often our expectations that need adjusting, not the world. We can start by comparing our lives today with the way they used to be, developing gratitude for our recovery. We can extend this exercise in gratitude by counting the good things in our lives, becoming thankful that the world does not conform to our expectations but exceeds them. And if we continue working the Twelve Steps, further cultivating gratitude and acceptance, what we can expect in the future is more growth, more happiness, and more peace of mind.
We’ve been given much in recovery; staying clean has paid off. Acceptance of our lives, just for today, frees us from our self-pity.
This reminded me of a story. A while back, R and I were being sponsored by the same guy, C. C always preferred to meet in person, but R really loved to talk on the phone. C considered the phone a way to arrange in-person meetings, and in fact he confided in me that he hates talking on the phone. Who knows why?
Well, one day R came to me and said, “It just makes me crazy when C won’t call me back or stay on the phone for more than a minute.”
As always, I was able to spot a “character defect” in somebody else oh-so-easily. I said to R, “No, what makes you crazy is your belief that C ought to call you back. He doesn’t call me, either, but it doesn’t bother me a bit, because I don’t have your beliefs and expectations.”
This is one of the great tricks that being in recovery shares with us: find a character defect in somebody else (which we’re going to do, anyway) and then turn around and ask ourselves this simple question: Do I do that? I don’t think I’ve ever come up with a “no” on that one.
So, recently I lost a whole day in peace of mind “because” I didn’t get Timbers season tickets. I have been having anxiety about work and money lately, “because” a high-paying client hasn’t called me for more work, even though they said they would. I’ve been quite stressed lately about the progress of my book projects “because” they aren’t to the point they are “supposed” to be.
Now, I put all of those “becauses” in quotes because the Timbers didn’t “cause” me to go nuts for a day. That client isn’t “making” me worry about money. In both cases, it was my expectation that they would do what I wanted, and even more so, my attachment to that expectation. I set myself up to be disappointed, by investing ego and self-worth into somebody else’s actions. And then, rather than seeing my thoughts as the source of my unhappiness, I tried to blame somebody else and play the victim. “I was going through life just fine, but now I’m unhappy because (fill in the blank) didn’t do what they should.”
The good news here is that I can always change my thoughts to change the way I feel. And that starts with simply noticing what I’m thinking. I was spinning some wild stories about the Timbers ticket office! And the client, in my mind, was either disgusted by the work I gave him or busy working with real people and had no time for chumps like me. Crazy, huh? My time in recovery has given me the skills to recognize these thoughts (steps 4 and 5), evaluate how they’re working for me (step 6) and then be willing to let them go (step 7).
As for the books, let’s just break this down:
- I set the target at perfection.
- I do enough work for (shock) something less than perfection.
- I compare 2 and 1 and declare myself coming up short.
- I label everything I’m doing as “coming up short.”
- I live in anxiety and reject the encouragement and support of others.
See all the “I”s in there? Thought so.
I wonder what would happen if, as the reading suggested, my attitude was more like, “I am grateful that I am sober, I write cool books, I get paid well for interesting contract work, and I’m pretty high on the waitlist for Timbers season tickets.”
What if we really started each day with gratitude and acceptance? What if what we have right now is exactly what we’re “supposed” to have, and it’s enough?