“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us”. E.M. Forster
Addiction hurts but it is a familiar pain! It wraps around the life of an addict like a warm blanket. Peeling away the layers of destructive behavior is a painful process and can be messy. Stopping any form of destructive behavior requires transformation. It is a painstaking action that must be addressed every day.
When you ask people why they do destructive behaviors, which they know don’t work, they become stubborn and strong-willed in their explanations. By the time they finish telling you why, you can see they have a vice grip on behaviors that sabotage sobriety and give them what they really don’t want. They gaslight themselves that what hurts isn’t all that bad!
Recovery is about giving up what doesn’t work. Once you let go and surrender to a program of recovery, the attitude of resistance disappears like a helium balloon released into the atmosphere. Surrender dissolves resistance. To overcome resistance you must surrender your ego to a better plan, and the thought that you can have your cake and eat it too, and that those who have surrendered are not the enemy but your friends. As long as your ego remains in charge you have not surrendered and your destructive behaviors will be operative. Resistance to suggestions made by sponsors is commonplace. What are you resistant to do in your recovery life? There is a Zen proverb that says “Only when you can be extremely pliable and soft can you be extremely hard and strong”. Surrender is seldom one-and-done but is a daily transaction.
Defensiveness is a decision. It grows like mold on every addict. It blocks recovery insight because it is preoccupied by what others do to hurt you. You can become defensive about how others treat you and things that go wrong in your life. It becomes a vortex that blinds all other alternative actions. Defensiveness is an outside focus that blocks your inward view of your own behavior. Defensiveness accelerates with momentum as you attempt to blame others for your hurt and shortcomings. Lao Tzu once wrote, “Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner”. As long as others are responsible, you don’t change. You give away your energy trying to convince someone else they are responsible for your dissatisfaction. Your growing frustration only increases your defensive attitude and keeps you stuck in destructive behavior. Recovery requires that you give up your defensive storyline and embrace responsibility for your actions regardless of others’ thoughts, opinions, and behaviors. If you are stuck in defensiveness, you will need help to see it but you will need to take action to surrender and accept responsibility for your own well-being.
Valerie Cox wrote a poem, The Cookie Thief, about a guy who in an airport she thought was stealing from her bag of cookies. She never said anything but gathered feelings of despise and resentment toward him. However, in the end, she realized she had packed away her cookies in her own bag and was eating from a bag she mistakenly thought was hers but was his bag. It turned out she was the ingrate, the cookie thief. This poem reflects on experiences of recovery from addiction. Addicts easily become ensued with judgment toward others around them.
Judgmentalism serves as a way of giving yourself a pass. People say they don’t go to church, to a 12-step group, nor engage in other community groups because of the hypocrites. Yet, we are all hypocrites. Hypocrisy is a part of being human. This reality doesn’t make it ok. It calls for accountability and a commitment to live in consultation. Jesus said before you comment on the splinter in another person’s eye take the plank out of your own. The problem in recovery involves the challenge to surrender our judgments about others and ourselves. The Dalai Lama wrote, “Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace”. Forgiveness is a process of letting go of the hurts that others have committed toward us by embracing, in principle, the same behaviors we have done toward others. It means that we let go of our judgment and walk in the opposite direction of the hurtful behavior we have done as well as that which has been done to us. We do this with love and compassion extended toward self and others. Again the Dalai Lama wrote, “From my own limited experience I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion”. Take inventory of your own judgmental spirit toward others. In what ways have you been cynical and judgmental toward others? These judgmental behaviors must be surrendered in order for recovery to flourish.
There is a well-known Sufi story about a man who was walking through the forest and saw a fox that had lost its legs, and he wondered how it lived. Then he saw a tiger come up with game in its mouth. The tiger ate its fill and left the rest of the meat for the fox.
The next day God fed the fox by means of the same tiger. The man began to wonder at God’s greatness and said to himself, I too shall just rest in a corner with full trust in the Lord and he will provide me with all that I need.
He did this for many days but nothing happened, and he was almost at death’s door when he heard a voice say, “O you who are in the path of error, open your eyes to the truth! Stop imitating the disabled fox and follow the example of the tiger”.
Recovery requires that we let go of imitating the disabled fox with defensiveness and judgmentalism of ourselves and others. It insists that every day we let go of our resistance toward giving up what does not work and follow the empowered way of the tiger. This tool requires that you take time to assess whether you have been imitating the disabled fox or are you willing to follow the example of the tiger?