The Three E’s

I have a friend in recovery who, when he talks about the root of his problems and difficulties in life, says he can always trace them back to one of the three E’s: Ego, Envy and Entitlement. Whether it’s a problem with a coworker, or partner, how he’s feeling about a situation, or even how he’s been thinking about himself, he can always find one of the three as a key source to his approach to the situation.

Ego say that this is mine and you can’t have it. Envy says that what you have really should be mine. Entitlement tells me that it’s mine and I deserve it. Of course we can boil all three down to just the one: Ego; it’s all about me. What you have should be mine and you can’t have what I’ve got.

In an of itself Ego isn’t good or bad. It’s a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance. I can have an inflated sense of self, thinking I am better than another or I can have an inferior sense of who I am  When combined with the disease of addiction, or as I often hear it said, the desease of ‘more’, my sense of self is so great that everyone else is beneath me or I think the opposite where I feel I am as worthless as  whale dung on the ocean floor. Like so much else in life, it’s hard to find the balance between the extremes.

I can often find myself with the desire for what others have. I think that’s normal. It can help to motive me to change and move so that I too may share in what another has. But envy has no such desire to change. I want what you have, and I feel I’m entitled to have it. I don’t want to work for it, you should give it to me. Or, I have something and you can’t have it. As with ego, it can be inverted too where I have the feeling that I don’t deserve anything, and am worthy of nothing.

In recovery, like many other things, the trick is to find that elusive balance between the extremes. When it’s in balance, I have a sense of humility; the acceptance of who, where and what I am at this present moment. Balance is difficult to achieve. A mote of envy or a pinch of entitlement on either side can tip that balance one way or the other and start the slide down the scale and away from balance. I used to be blatantly unaware of the three E’s in my life.

Today I usually recognize when I am envious, arrogant or ego driven while I am in it, or shortly after the fact, and I can do something about it. Keeping the balance between need and desire is not easy because the river of life is full of turns and current and rapids that constantly test my sense of balance and threaten to tip me into the water. Staying in the moment helps me to deal with that which is at hand and keep myself afloat. With practice, finding the balance does get easier.

I am grateful.

Paying Attention

When I was looking for my first house I ‘knew’ which house it was from the time I saw it. It was a small cottage looking over the lake and it was ‘perfect’. I was in the village to look at a house with an agent. He mentioned another place that wasn’t listed on the market but whose owner was looking to sell ‘if the price was right’. I ‘knew’ that this was the house when he drove into the driveway. There’s a spot just below the sternum where I ‘felt’ it, and I ‘knew’. Two months later I was sitting on the deck of that house looking out over Lake Erie, a view that I would relish for the next nine years.

I got the same feeling one morning about seven years ago when I woke up one morning and I ‘knew’ that something had to give. My world was crumbling before me. I was losing the battle. I could feel it in that same place, just below the sternum. My guts were telling me that the show was over. I needed to make changes or I would be heading down a path I ‘knew’ I did not wish to tread.

I have no idea if everyone has that place in their body where they ‘know’.  It’s hard to describe. It’s almost as if knowledge becomes a physical sensation in the body. I’ve had this sensation various times in my life and I know now that it is one of the ways my Higher Power speaks to me. I suppose it had to be this way for me to pay attention. I wasn’t the most intuitive and sensing person.

Learning to listen, to follow one’s intuition is not easy, especially at first. When I began my journey in recovery, my thinking wasn’t my greatest asset: a good reason for me to work with my sponsor, go to meetings and listen. Going through the process of the steps I began to fathom the depths of what it really meant to ‘turn my will and my life over to the care of my Higher Power, a ‘God of my understanding’. And, if I’ve really done this, it only makes sense that he would communicate with me, right? How else will I know what my next step is to be? Slowly my trust of those feelings began to grow. I’ve learned that the more connected I am with myself and my Higher Power, the more aware I am of my intuition. I’m learning to pay attention to what’s happening around me.

It’s not always that physical sensation; it doesn’t have to be now. Most days I start off with a prayer. Most days I write. Most days I go to a meeting. These are the things that maintain my spiritual condition that keeps me in recovery. I’m able to see the patterns in my life and the mosaic of this world and I marvel. My life continues to evolve and morph into new experiences because I am open to them, I take the time to listen. I truly am grateful for my life today.

Free of Regret

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!