Terminally Unique

I, like many others who arrive at the doors of recovery rooms, was suffering from a belief that went far beyond my addiction and was at the root of what was killing me. It was a belief that went deep and in many ways was the source of all of the problems that I was encountering in life. I arrived with the disease of ‘Terminal Uniqueness’.

I thought that I was unique. I believed that I was different. I knew that no one else had the challenges that I faced. I was convinced that if anyone else had been bombarded by the set of circumstances that I found myself in, they too would have found a way to escape this prison by over indulging in some sort of ‘medication’ to treat this disease.

Of course I ended up in recovery. I was sure I was the only white, gay, ex-catholic, male, farm boy from Southern Ontario that had ever been born. I had some lower back pain issues. I had a partner who didn’t understand me. I was depressed. I felt I was powerless over my situation and so, of course, I deserved some compensation for all of these difficulties. Getting loaded was my way of dealing with all of those things. I needed some relief from all of the things that were constantly prodding at my mind.

It took going through the Twelve Steps of recovery to allow me to see that I wasn’t ‘unique’ or ‘different’. I came to see that my ‘terminal uniqueness’ was another deadly form of Ego disease. I realized that I hadn’t accepted the package that made me who I was. Thinking I was different was my ego telling me to run away from all that I was instead of embracing it. My problems weren’t connected to my sexuality, my religion, or my environment. My problem was me and my solution was acceptance.

Recovery has helped me to face myself honestly, without judgement and without expectation. I have a garden variety addiction. My story is very similar to the stories of the other folks around the meeting tables. Some dove deeper into their addiction than I did but the result was the same and here we all sit. I learned to dig below the surface to see my past for what it was.  I learned to accept my story, my past. I learned to embrace the person I was discovering, perhaps for the first time.

Today I focus on gratitude. I am learning to be grateful that I have all of those qualities that I had been running away from. I have come to understand that I can’t change my past or those qualities, nor to I want to. They are part of my make-up and they are something to celebrate rather than escape from. My ego is a bit tamer these days. Oh, I still fall into the trap of thinking that I can’t make it through whatever I am going through. But, I have survived every challenge that has ever come my way. How do I know? I am still here.

I have learned that accepting what happens as ‘life’, makes it neither positive or negative. I live my life on life’s terms, not mine and that allows me to remember that I can and will make it through.

And for that I am eternally grateful.

man sitting on edge facing sunset

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Tough Times; Times of Growth

I brought a friend home from the hospital yesterday. She had the fourth operation on her back to replace a spinal disc with one made of titanium. It’s part of a series of replaced discs that will allow her to continue to live independently and pain free–once it heals. Until then she will have to go through a lot of pain and three months of recuperation. However, had she not had the operation, she would go through many more months of pain and suffering with no guarantee that the spinal column might be completely severed by the shifting vertebrae. Kind of a hard spot to be in, especially having gone through it three times previously.

A few things come to mind. First, sometimes we have to endure a great deal in order to make it through the present challenge. It may be physical, mental or spiritual pain that we are enduring. And like any change, it brings discomfort and few of us relish being uncomfortable. But we must keep our eyes on the end result to help us keep our sanity. If all goes well, in three months, or however long this challenge should last, life will establish a new normal. We’ll find a new comfort zone and hopefully the pain we experienced will be a memory and we can be grateful to have lived through the experience.

Second, I am struck by the difficulty in accepting help when we are so used to being independent. I was thinking this morning that we all know that infants and elderly need our assistance. But I think that we must remember that all of us are dependent on everyone else. I can’t do it all, and I never could. I rely on the ‘kindness of strangers,’ as well as that of my family and friends. I needed people when I was going through difficult times in my life and I need them to share the wonderful times as well. When we share our interdependence, we help to balance out the good times with the challenging ones. I willingly assist you and later you assist me.

Third, no one likes to give up control. Placing ourselves into the power of another is very difficult for many people. I want to control what is happening to me. Yet, there are times, such as going under the scalpel of a surgeon, or getting strapped into the seat of a jet that we do give up complete control of our lives. But we usually don’t do this on a whim. The people upon whom we rely are trained professionals. There still are risks, but they are minimized by their experience.

All of these three: passing through an ordeal, relying on others and giving up control all are part of trust: trusting others, trusting the process and trusting life. And they have to do with taming our egos as well. ‘I can’t do it all and I never could,’ is a good lesson to practice once in a while. It is also a lesson that we survive everything that comes our way. It may not be the manner in the which we had envisioned or in the time frame that we were hoping for, but we get through it. I am reminded of the character in the movie ‘The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel’ in which the young entrepreneur says “It will all work out in the end. If it’s not working out, it’s not the end.” Whatever it is, you will make it through.

group of people holding hands together

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Essentialism

“When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people–our bosses, our colleagues, or clients and even our families–will choose for us and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.” Greg McKeown, Essentialism

My life is sometimes not my own. It’s my own fault. I have several apartments that I look after. There is always something that needs to checked on or repaired. Tenants have reasons why the rent is late. The short term stay apartment has to be ready at a moment’s notice. There’s always the pool to vacuum, plants to water, decks to wash. It’s never ending. I can go from one task to the next and not stop. The big maintenance projects, well, they’ll just have to wait for another day. If I don’t watch it, my whole day is consumed with solving little things and not getting to or being too tired to start the things that I really need to do as well as things I want to do.

Life is like that. We go from one thing to the next and one task to the next without really thinking about it: I have to do it. And gradually the day is done and I haven’t accomplished but half of what I wanted to do.  Greg McKeown in his book Essentialism suggests that if we are going to get to do what we really want then we must begin by deciding what is important to us. What is it that I value? What am I trying to accomplish here? What are my goals and where do I want them to take me?

Few people take the time to sit down and make this evaluation. As it often goes, we spend 80% of our time doing things that are not important to us, not essential,  and 20% of our time, if that, doing what is. Everyone will ask us for our time and our talents. There are always going to be little fires to put out here and there. It would probably be a better solution to discover the source of those little fires in the first place.

Essentialism often means saying, ‘No!’ I can’t be everything to everyone. Yes I want to be the nice guy and help out but if it’s not important to me and if it’s not my responsibility, I have to ask myself, just why I am doing this? If it is taking my focus away from my priorities then I can say no to joining yet another committee, or going organizing another office function. And yes, the first time I give a firm no! I may ruffle a few feathers, especially if I have always been the one to say yes. But sticking to the essentials will allow me to use more of my time to on my priorities.

I would rather do one thing well than divide my attention and try to do several things just okay. Perhaps that’s the reason why I am running around trying to solve a whole lot of little problems. Rather than let work, friends, and even family decide where I want to focus my energy, I purposefully and deliberately choose where I will focus my energy.

Essentialism won’t solve all the challenges in life. There will always be things that broadside us when we least expect them. But if we have the majority of our lives organized then the chances of it knocking us of our balance are much less. In the end it will help me to accomplish much more.

What’s important to you?