There is a Solution

I finished reading a short book last week called: Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality. It’s by a Jesuit priest, Anthony De Mello who died in 1987 at the age of 56. The book, published posthumously, is really a compilation of talks he gave at various retreats throughout North America and his native India. If you get a chance, it is worth a read. The chapters are short and concise, and full of incredible wisdom and insight.

One of the things he discusses is his belief that people are not looking for a cure for their illness or their problems. Rather, they are looking for relief. How often do I look for relief from the pain and discomfort of an illness? If I suffer from knee pain, I would rather take a Tylenol, because the cure, losing the extra 30 plus pounds I’m carrying, would be work in the form of exercise and diet. It’s easier to get relief in pill form than curing the problem. I am unhappy in my relationship, so I seek some sort of an outlet to make it more bearable because to find a solution implies a lot of effort. Relief is faster, easier to attain, and, most notable, does not require me to make the changes that the cure requires.

What if I hate the job I working at? What might the cure be? I could quit, discover my passion and work at it. But that would mean moving out of my comfort zone and living in uncertainty. So, I seek methods of relief. Maybe it’s recreational drugs or booze. Perhaps I go for high risk activities or adrenaline rushes. There are many routes to find relief and avoid the cure.

Finding a cure to my challenges means finding the root cause to my woes. And few people are willing to look that deep. It may mean some self-reflection. It may mean some outside assistance with a psychiatrist or other therapist. It may mean admitting to past mistakes in life choices. And for most of us, our Egos won’t allow us to go that deep. So, we stay stuck, looking for momentary relief rather than trying to cure our ills.

Finding a cure means making changes to our lives. Many people tell me that I live their ideal life. I tell them that they can do the same thing if they want it. But few are willing to make the changes in their lives necessary to live this life. Few are willing to take the risk. Living in Costa Rica does imply an incredibly special lifestyle that I love. But it also means that I live far from my family. It means adapting to a new culture and a new language. It’s not all butterflies and bananas all the time. We are all free to do whatever we want in life if we are willing to accept the consequences. The cost of the cure, of making life changes, is much higher than the cost of relief.

So many of us seek relief from the suffering rather than a cure from whatever ails us. We try to avoid the challenges in life by putting on blinders. It’s easier, often a faster but it offers only momentary relief, and then we must seek that relief once again. Over time, we begin to identify with our pain and make it part of our being. We forget that it there is a cure. And we forget that if we are willing to do what it takes, there is a solution.

The “Care” of My Higher Power

Many folks do very well in recovery until they come to working Step Three. Here we are asked to make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the ‘care of’ a Higher Power, as we understood him. And many balk at this step. Their past experience has not been positive when dealing with things around God and religion. I understand. The God I grew up with wasn’t easily understandable: at one moment, kind and loving and at another throwing my soul to the bowels of hell for all eternity.

As much as I tried to work within the religion I grew up with, I couldn’t. So I left it, took a fork in the road to another idea, that of spirituality. My addiction did a great deal to slow down my progress along this road but with recovery, I found myself moving forward again. I didn’t believe in some old guy with a white beard in some celestial space surrounded by throngs of angels. And while I appreciate Christianity and it was how I was raised, I no longer believed in that either. The truth is, I couldn’t have told you exactly what or how my Higher Power was, but I knew that there was something more than what my five senses could interpret from the world.

And that’s one of the miracles of this program. It doesn’t force me to believe anything. It’s a Higher Power of my understanding. I don’t expect you to understand my relationship to my that Power, and I respect your relationship to yours. As I have grown in recovery I have received greater understanding. I expect that I will continue to grow in that understanding. But what about those who are diligently working the Steps and are finding it difficult?

I’ve learned that you’re making a decision. It need not be all cut and dried and finalized. I know my understand of my H.P. certainly wasn’t then nor is it now defined. In fact, I don’t want to define that power because that will put limitations on it. I use the word ‘god’ in meetings, because it’s convenient, but it certainly isn’t ‘god’ in the traditional sense.

scenic view of night sky

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A regular at my home group who has been in the program for many, many years once shared with me that if a new person in the program is finding that they are living in less fear than they were before, then they have a Higher Power. If they are living a life that is more manageable, then they have a Higher Power. And if they are thinking about what they are doing before they do it rather than following their egos, then they have a Higher Power. They may not ever be able to define it, but they know that there is something that is helping them; something or someone with a greater knowledge that is nudging them along this path. If they want to call it God, or Christ or a G.roup  O.f  D.runks, it doesn’t matter. They’ve figured out that they’re better off with whatever Higher Power is ‘caring for’ them than when they were still out there and the person in their mirror was the one in charge of decisions!

Trust the process of the Twelve Steps: all of them. As you go along you will find that you are ‘cared for’ in so many ways. Open-mindedness and willingness go a long way in recovery to help us all to see that we are connected, which for me, is what spirituality is all about.

Evolving Personality

You and I are shaped by our environment: the family we have, where we grew up, the people we hang around with, the job we chose or fell into. All of these things work, sometimes very subtly, to mold us into the persons we are today. The environment helped to shape our experiences and those experiences our helped to form our personality. And so here we are, very unique personalities. And there’s not much I can do to change that is there?

“If your environment is disorganized, so is your mind. Everything is energy. Your environment is constantly influencing you whether you’re aware of it or not.” Benjamin Hardy

In his book Willpower Doesn’t Work, Benjamin Hardy posits that if we change our environment, we can change our personality. While the current self-help trend focuses on changing our personalities to become more of who we want to be, Hardy tells us to focus on what in our immediate environment is preventing us from changing. If I want to become an organized person then I need organize my environment.  I want to become a student of life, then I have to organize my space so that it is conducive to that study. If I want to be a successful person then I need to hang out with successful people.

I’m don’t know who first said it, but the idea is that if you want to know who you really are, look carefully at the five people you are closest to. Change your friends and change your personality. It’s not a far stretch for me to see the results for this suggestion. When I first came into recovery I had few friends and the ones I did have were those who were as in need of recovery as I was. I had to get new friends. I needed to change my environment to find success in this new way of living.

men having their haircut

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If you don’t want a hair cut, stop hanging around the barbershop. Will power alone will eventually weaken. Strength will fade with time until it seems like a good idea to get into the chair and under the clippers. I had to change my environment: where I was hanging out, who I was hanging out with and what I was doing in order to have any success with sobriety. I am grateful that early on I learned that I didn’t have to be a martyr. I didn’t have to make it more difficult for myself. I didn’t have to test my new found way of life.

“Surround yourself with people who remind you more of your future than your past.” Dan Sullivan

When I first came into recovery I was told five things: Don’t consume. Go to meetings. Get a home group. Get a sponsor. Work the Twelve Steps of Recovery. All of these five things were instrumental in changing my environment. I was hanging around with people who were living what my future could be. The bar stool philosopher had to give way to the meeting room student if I was going to have any chance at this thing called sobriety.

I had some misgivings about leaving friends behind but I soon discovered that those who really were friends were glad that I was making this change. The backroom buddies only missed me when they saw me on the street and they suddenly realized that they hadn’t seen me for a while.

I am still working on changing my environment. For the most part right now it is the mental environment. I am changing how I think by focusing on what I am thinking about. I am reading and studying quality material rather than simply passing time with social media or the endless task of finding the perfect thing to watch on Netflix. With time the changes to the environment and therefore the changes to me are happening. I am a work in progress taking the next right step for the evolving me.