April 28, 2008

"WITHOUT TOLERANCE FOR ANOTHER, IT'S HARD TO HAVE EMPATHY FOR MYSELF."

Tolerant was one of the last words you would have used to describe me before I entered the program. Instead, I was quick to judge you and could always find fault with what you said, or how you dressed, or what you did. My opinion of myself was so low that I constantly had to rip you down to build myself up. Living this way made me bitter, isolated and resentful.

As I listed my resentments in my fourth step, and more importantly my part, I began to see how much my fear and low self-esteem drove my decisions and actions, hurting both myself and others. But as I listened to others sharing honestly and openly about their struggles and fears, I began to feel a connection, and for the first time an empathy for others.

I once read a description of empathy as being an emotional echo that is sent out to the inner center of another person and that returns with pieces of yourself. And once I began finding pieces of myself in other people's stories, I began to look for the shared humanity in our experiences. And that's when I began to develop tolerance and compassion for others as well as for myself.

Today I understand that without tolerance for another, it's hard to have empathy for myself.

April 21, 2008

"KEEP THE LESSON, BUT THROW AWAY THE EXPERIENCE."

Boy this quote gave me a jolt when I first heard it. For years I'd been so wrapped up in the drama of my life, I never stopped to look at what I could have learned from it. Events seemed to descend on me, each like the one before it, but because I wasn't learning the lessons, I didn't know I was destined to keep repeating the experiences.

When I was new in recovery, I used to complain to my sponsor all the time. "And then this happened to me, and she didn't do this, and they told me this..." and on and on. He would listen very patiently then ask, "And what is your part again?" After I'd figure out where I was at fault, I'd find the solution - and that always led to the lesson.

Today I don't have to keep reliving experiences, and I don't have to drag the past into the future either. Because of the 10th Step, each night I can review the experiences of the day, look at my part, and discover and grow from the lesson. It's always there if I'm willing to be honest.

Today, I've learned to keep the lesson but throw away the experience.

April 14, 2008

"THE BOTTOM STARTED FALLING OUT FASTER THAN I COULD LOWER MY STANDARDS."

The last few years of my drinking and using sure were ugly. It had stopped working long before I got sober, but I had failed to realize it. Instead, I obsessively pursued oblivion, and all those things I said I would never do passed by as quickly as do the stories of a building to a man who has just jumped off. Hurtling toward real oblivion, I had lost all self respect, self control, and was about to lose my life.

As I sat in meeting during early recovery, I used to hear people talk about hanging out with their "lower companions." This brought to mind all the 'nowhere' people I had taken to hanging around with, too, and I was disgusted that I had stooped so low. I'll never forget the shock I felt when my sponsor pointed out that I had been their lower companion as well. Boy did that put me in my place.

When I look back on my past, a wave of deep gratitude washes over me. I don't know why I get to be one of the lucky ones, but I do. As I look at my life today, I smile because most people think I'm a pretty OK kind of a guy. And today, not only do I have standards again, but they keep getting higher.

How's that for a true gift of recovery?

April 7, 2008

"TRYING TO UNDERSTAND GOD JUST MAKES HIS JOB HARDER."

I can't tell you how much time I've spent trying to figure out who or what God is. I've spent years trying to understand the Catholic God I was raised with, and more years trying to define God from a philosophical perspective, then years denying the whole idea of God by becoming an agnostic and even a part time atheist. It seemed the more I tried to understand God, the further away from Him I got.

Even in early recovery I tried to figure God out - this time through the 'open assignment' of defining a God of my own understanding. You can imagine how that went. I thought about, analyzed and tried once again to understand who or what God was. After a while I grew just as despondent and felt just as far away as before. And that's when I finally surrendered.

Once I gave up trying to understand God and instead looked at the evidence of God's presence in my life, I began to develop a knowing that went beyond understanding. Suddenly I just knew that a force was working miracles in my life, that it was always available to me, and that it would never let me down.

This knowing is what I now call faith, and now I understand why trying to figure God out just makes His job harder...