When I came into recovery I was told to keep an open mind. I was told that my best thinking had led me to the meeting rooms so maybe my thinking wasn’t the best at that moment. Perhaps I had better start listening instead of thinking.
At first I thought, I’m educated. Twelve steps? I can whip through those in a few weeks and be on my way. Higher Power? I’ll choose universal energy, it’s much better than the traditional ideas I grew up with. Make amends? No problem. I just won’t include a few people on the list. I wasn’t living in my car. I didn’t drink Listerine. I wasn’t pushing a shopping cart through town. I wasn’t like ‘you people’ who really needed the program. I just needed a bit of help to get me stopped then I would be fine.
I had the idea that I was somehow ‘better’ than the other people around me. I had so many reasons why I was different from the others in the room. My situation was ‘special’. I had a set of challenges that no one else had. I heard my sponsor tell me that I was suffering from something very common in the rooms: Terminal Uniqueness. I was so special, living in conditions so different and in a world so ‘unique’ that it was slowly killing me, just like any other ‘terminal’ illness does. But I didn’t get it right away.
Slowly I learned to identify with everyone in the room and stop comparing myself to them. I learned that I had plenty in common with the woman who had lost custody of her children and the guy living at the mission. I began to see that their struggles were my struggles, and their triumphs were my triumphs. Once I pulled my head out of my, um, the sand, and I let go of the idea that I was different, things began to change. I started to feel I was a ‘part of’ and not ‘separate from’.
Throughout our literature I’ve read about how my Ego is at the root of my problem. My ego tells me I’m different, unique, separate and alone. Ego says I am far above or far below anyone else. It Ego that tells me that I ‘deserve’ this and that if you have something, I should have it too. What I didn’t realize when I arrived was that Ego was robbing me of the most important thing in life: connection.
Slowly I have reconnected with others in recovery, my family, friends, a Higher Power and myself. I am no longer alone as I walk this path of life. I thought that I was alone, but I never was. I thought I was different but I discovered many more similarities. I thought I wanted your possessions but I found that I already had abundance. Ego needed to be tamed, humbled, brought down to its right size. Slowly my thinking is turning around and it all started because I started to open my mind and listen.
I am grateful.
It’s not easy to live life without regrets. It’s much easier to wonder sometimes about the “what ifs” and “if onlys”. Regret is a sadness or disappointment over what happened or didn’t happen in the past. “What might have been?” I can ask myself. “I could have been a better son, friend, husband, father and coworker. I might have made so much more with my life.” If we don’t stop the internal conversation it can lead to the vicious spiral of depression, more regret and relapse.
“The best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago. The second best time to plant one is today.”
The gift of the Serenity Prayer is acceptance of what we cannot change. One of those things is the past. I know that my life would be very different today had I taken another road in the past. I was in a relationship that wasn’t working and hadn’t been working for a lot of years. I knew it, but I lacked the courage and strength to leave. In the end, I was the one who was left behind. I can’t take back those years. I can’t go back in time and change them. So what do I do so as not to live in regret?
I have to accept what happened. I accept that my Higher Power was looking after me during that time and continues to do so. I accept that I had challenges to overcome and some lessons to learn. It’s not easy to learn to forgive oneself for roads not taken but I must. Steps four through nine help us to work through regret. So yes, things did or didn’t happen in the past and today I don’t have to regret those things. Rather I can use them as teaching tools for the present. I prefer to look at all that happened in the past was needed to bring me to who I am today. And I know that what happens today will lead me on to who I am to be tomorrow. I’m learning to trust the process of the program and my Higher Power. Today can I plant that tree I didn’t in the past without guilt, without remorse and without regret.
It’s important for me to remember that: “We will not regret the past or wish to shut the door on it,” is a Ninth Step promise. I have to work all the steps that come before. There aren’t short cuts. Living the steps isn’t all that difficult but it does take persistence. I don’t get a vacation from being in recovery. I live in recovery 24 hours a day. So today I will plant a tree. It may be a while before it bears fruit, but an unplanted tree never will. Trust the process. It works when you work it!
“I’ve got this!” Famous last words of many folks who had no idea of what or how things could go wrong. Suddenly they will be nominated for a Darwin Award: a prize given to those who contribute to our gene pool by removing themselves from it. It’s a fitting crown to an otherwise obscure tombstone.
So often we think that we’ve ‘got’ it, and we don’t know how close we are to ‘lost’ it. There are so many variables in life that it is impossible to have sufficient contingency plans for everything. A tire will explode; a dog will cross your path; the ladder will break. It’s not a matter of good or bad karma. Things happen. It’s often the timing and the consequences of those things that we judge to be good, bad or indifferent: how do I perceive it?
Take for example the tire exploding. If it happens when the car is parked, just after we got home then, “Well, it’s a miracle that we made it!” If it happens just before we are about to leave then, “What bad luck, now I have to change the damn tire!” If it happens while driving too fast down a gravel road in the mountains, we may not survive to make a comment.
I’m learning that I simply don’t have control. I have plenty of evidence that gives me the illusion that I can control things: it worked today, so it will work tomorrow. However, there is never a guarantee that walking to work today will be as uneventful as it was yesterday or the day before, or the ride I’m about to take on my motorcycle will end with me safe and sound back in my home. The guy who said, “I got this!” might have done the same thing 25 times before without turning himself into a human torch. The unexpected happens. We all know this is true on some level, yet we still venture out into the ‘unknown’.
Why aren’t we paralysed with fear? Why would we ever leave the ‘safety’ of our homes? I think it is because we know on some level that we have to ‘act as if’ things are going to be fine, that they will run like clockwork and we’ll be tucked safely into bed at the end of the day. It’s an agreement with life that we will act and think as though things will happen as we intend them to happen. And for the most part, they do.
When I came into recovery I began to ‘act as if’ I was sober and clean. I ‘acted as if’ I could spend the rest of the day without consuming. I went to meetings, I worked the steps and talked to my sponsor because I was ‘acting like someone in a recovery program’ until I actually began to feel that I was no longer acting. And when I ‘came to believe’ in a power greater than myself, I was opting into the same belief system that I was operating with before: that if I would ‘act as if’ there was a Higher Power in my life until I could really believe and trust. The program has given me a new perspective. Now I don’t have to ‘act as if’. Now I know, “We got this!”