What You Need To Learn For True Freedom

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Jail Cell (Photo credit: Casey Serin)

What You Need To Learn For True Freedom 

We have begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on them as sick people. We have listed the people we have hurt by our conduct, and are willing to straighten out the past if we can.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 70)

This a segment from the part of the Alcoholics Anonymous book that describes the things that should have happened if you did your Fourth Step correctly.  In other words if these things have not happened, you are absolutely not done with your Step Four and should not be trying to move on to Step Five.  The change you were looking for has not happened.  Or, should I say, the change the authors felt you needed t get sober have not happened.

Look at this passage describing one of the focuses of Step Five:

They took inventory all right, but hung on to some of the worst items in stock. They only thought they had lost their egoism and fear; they only thought they had humbled themselves. But they had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they told someone else all their life story.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 73)

The implication of this passage is that one of the reasons that there is a Step Five is to help each person get rid of MORE egoism, get rid of MORE fear, and get more humble.  This means that a big part of Step Four is to get humility, fearlessness and more honesty according to passage.  Step Five merely takes you deeper.

Consider this passage from a page before we start actually reading about doing the Fourth Step:

Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

Selfishness and Self-centeredness!  The archenemy of every alcoholic and addict is self focus.  This is supposed to be addressed in Step Four directly.  If you do not deal with the selfishness and self-centeredness then you stay the same.  If you stay the same then you are the same and can expect the same results at some point.  In other words:  If your recovery does not change you deeply, then you have gone through recovery and come out the same.  If you are the same you can expect to do the same at some point no matter how long you manage to put it off.

Indeed, the attainment of greater humility is the foundation principle of each of A.A.’s Twelve Steps.  For without some degree of humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all.  Nearly all A.A.’s have found too, that unless they develop much more of this precious quality than may be required just for sobriety, they still haven’t much chance of becoming truly happy.  (12 Steps and Twelve Traditions pg. 70)

The focus of Step Four and Step Five (and in reality of all of the Steps) is the attainment of humility.  I know I have crossed this bridge a few times, but because it is such a key focus of all we do this topic has to be more of a bridge we cross over daily in our commute to our one day at a time recovery instead a bridge we pass over and never look back at again. 

The obvious question that comes up when having this humility conversation is:  “What about the people who are not humble who have sobriety time?”  I say to that question:  “Bring three of those people to your mind.”  (I personally know a bunch)  How do you like to be around those people for a long time?  Honestly speaking, those people make me want to gag myself with a jackhammer.

Some are so miserable and angry about everything they encounter that I kinda have to resist the natural urge to avoid conversation with them.  The kind of person who gets up to share and describes how jacked up life is and the world and on and on yet throwing in the but I’ve been sober “X” amount of years (and people clap and cheer etc.).  Not to say that their recovery time is a bad thing.  I’m also not talking about the fact that all of us have those days and periods of time.  I’m describing the person who meeting after meeting, day after day, conversation after conversation and year after year has the same attitude and those same conversations.

I remember thinking to myself, when hearing guys like that over and over again; “If that is all there is to recovery, then I would rather keep using.  If sober is that miserable and being miserable is my motivation for wanting to be sober I’m stuck choosing between sober and miserable and drunk/high and miserable.

This passage says that sober and miserable is not the goal at all and that gaining humility is the answer. 

Another form of this being not “truly happy” because of not getting enough humility is seen in these people who cannot fell comfortable or good unless they are taking control of everything.  They always know more or have to get a word in or have to declare constantly how great they are etc.  Is not all of that truly the diametric opposition to humility.  The most opposite you could possibly get to it. 

If a person were this “truly happy” why would said person be so unhappy (or the disguise they use for this “uncomfortable”) when not in control?  Translation:  What kind of “truly happy” person needs to derive any kind of positive feeling from the manipulation of others.

I spoke on this previously so I will not go over this passage in detail but if you want to truly get a look at this kind of person look at pgs. 60, 61 and 62 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.  The passages that use the example of the actor who wants to run the show and thinks if everyone would just act the way he/she wants them to all would be fine.

This person is not “truly happy.”  This person is sick (still sick) and manipulative.

I am not saying:  “Ooooh, you evil person!”  I’m saying there is a key obstacle that still has not been overcome that desperately needs to be (for your own good and the good of those around you).

Now back to what all of this has to do with the Fourth Step.  What does killing your selfishness, self-centeredness and gaining more humility look like in Step Four?

Referring to our list again. Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

The book asks you (as a resentment list) to write down everyone you have ever been angry at in your life.

In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we were angry. We asked ourselves why we were angry (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 64)

Without going too far down this rabbit trail, you list angers because people generally do not know all of their resentments off of the top of their heads.  Most people have five or so they can think of and that’s it.  But, if you list every time you have been angry (even if the other person never knew) then you are likely to realize that many of those (if not most) are some level of resentment, some of which you try to hide from yourself.

So if done like this, you end up with a massive, itemized list of every person who has ever ticked you off throughout your whole life.  Have you begun to “learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even your enemies” or have you just unearthed a whole lot of uneasy feelings, many of which you had neatly packed away to not think about.  When do you start looking at them as “sick people” you have hurt by your conduct and become willing to straighten out the past?

This was our course: We realized that the people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick.  Though we did not like their symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves, were sick too. We asked God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said to ourselves, “This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 66– 67)

First we look at them as people who are spiritually sick.  Sick in ways that are much deeper than just being the messed up person who chose to tick me off.  Two pages before, the authors use this same “spiritually sick” concept to describe the problem that has made us alcoholic/addicts and that made us hurt other people. 

The question here is, “Could it be that these people are suffering from a similar inner sickness that you suffer from.”   Is it possible that their real problem is that they need help that they may not even know they need like you and the rest of us recovery folks? 

Then you are asking for tolerance, pity, and patience.  The kind you show a sick person who accidently does something that you do not like because it is some symptom of their sickness.  Like a friend who has a week to live who vomits on your clothes.  What kind of person gets mad at that person and beats the terminally ill person up or cusses them out?

Next you are looking to be helpful to that person.  Instead of being a part of the problem, you are looking to be a part of the solution.  In other words; you are a sick person and this is a sick person.  You are trying to get better and have some ideas now about what it takes to get better.  You have encountered a person who is trapped in a similar sickness and you know how to point that person in the direction of getting better.  You can choose to overcome the urge to retaliate and look for ways to truly be helpful (even if it’s just dropping a tidbit of information that person may not even consider for many years) or you can just jump on the crazy train with that person and fan the flames of craziness in that person’s world while restarting whatever fires have been put out in you.

The fire starters and the people who fan the flames of others are continuing down the path of selfishness and self-centeredness and away from the key focus of Twelve Step recovery:  “The attainment of greater humility”.

Key to all of this is to seek freedom from the anger that normally rises.  They did not say resentment, the authors stressed “anger”.   Anger is really the feeling that there is this right to be angry which is really the spiteful desire to punish another person between your own ears in your head.  You may spew some of your own crazy on that person or others (or you may not) but in reality in trying to beat them up inside your head, you are in truth only beating a hole in the rock that is on top of your neck. 

That person did something to you:  “How dare they hurt someone as important as you?”  Forget the “sick” person part and the “how can I be helpful” to this person part.  This person had the nerve to hurt ME!

Another fine definition of “selfishness and self-centeredness” which is the root of our troubles.

After listing every person who has ever angered you in your life, you need to go over this with each and every person on the list.  You need to take this view of every person on the list and find an answer to the question:  “How can I be helpful to him” or her?

Then comes the deep part:  There is a test to see which ones you have been successful at making these changes on and the ones you haven’t so you can go back and work on those ones some more.

Referring to our list again. Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)  

Now, you take this list of every person who has ever ticked you off ever and ignore that very fact completely.  All you have right now is a list of what is wrong with everyone else in the world and you may or may not have included yourself a few times on this list.  What did you do before or during whatever thing is listed to the listed person(s) that was in some way just not right?  If nothing what did you do to this person that was not right after this thing occurred (instead of looking for “How can I be helpful to” this other sick person)?

Is it not true that if you were not helpful to this person you were probably hurtful? 

The situation or the person may have required a calm discussion.  It may have needed a firm but caring confrontation.  It may have required the police be called and an abusive person arrested for their own potential growth and you to leave so that that person has opportunity to see that being abusive is not okay (even though he or she may never see it you focused on trying to be helpful instead of retaliation etc.) .  It may mean telling parents, principles and proper authorities about being abused as a child to get that person proper help and to save other children from such abuse. (An abused child will not have done anything to the person as a child but often as adults abuse themselves with resentments.  Those who were abused as children often also never even begin to think about how to be helpful to that person.  This is a deep part of the resentment and the self-protection manifesting.  That may mean demanding that person get help or you will expose them etc.  An abused child is never to be blamed but as an adult we have to take on responsibility to be free and to be helpful).

This is a deep and often painful look at what is wrong with you and not everyone else.  The “How can I be helpful to him” or her part is not just some cool psychobabble that the Twelve Step people invented.  It is the end zone for this part of Step Four.  It is the “attainment of greater humility” overcoming “Selfishness and self-centeredness” part.  If you don’t get this change, you are the same except now you have an itemized list of everything and everyone that ever worked your nerves. 

Or you might even be worse; you may be one of these people who has like three or four people listed and ramble on and on about not having resentments only to either relapse or to white-knuckle struggle your way through some abstinence while selfishness and self-centeredness keeps you never able to enjoy the world for what it is.

If we have been thorough about our personal inventory, we have written down a lot.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 70)

This is a lot of work and a tremendous amount of stress.  Well one would expect there to be a tremendous amount of work and a tremendous amount of stress in the process of getting a tremendous amount of freedom.

A person chained up in a cage can get free from the chains and become free to roam within the cage and some can even get to roam around the whole prison which are levels of freedom but are not truly free.  We want true freedom and it is possible.

Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action, the first step of which is a personal housecleaning, which many of us had never attempted. Though our decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us. Our liquor was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions.

Therefore, we started upon a personal inventory.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 63– 64)

We went back through our lives. Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty. When we were finished we considered it carefully. The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong was as far as most of us ever got. The usual outcome was that people continued to wrong us and we stayed sore. Sometimes it was remorse and then we were sore at ourselves. But the more we fought and tried to have our own way, the worse matters got.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 65– 66)

Stay sober my friends;

Wade H.

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Tolerance, Patience and Good Will

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Tolerance, Patience and Good Will

We have begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on them as sick people.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 70)

Love and tolerance of others is our code. And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84) 

This change is a huge one for many of us in recovery, but is often overlooked as part of the process.  Tolerance, patience and goodwill towards all especially those we would think of as enemies is a very tall order.  

The ideas of having intolerance, having impatience and not showing good will toward all men all fall back to a concept that I repeatedly go back too:

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

Having intolerance, having impatience and not showing good will toward all men are all hinged on the idea that the world is somehow put here to keep you comfortable.  As if it is somehow the duty of every person on earth and of everything that happens to ensure that I am never made uncomfortable.  If something does make me uncomfortable, I either have to express that discomfort to the world around me or to those involved in some way.  Or there is the other unhealthy extreme:  If something makes me uncomfortable, I will keep it to myself (along with everything else that has ever made me uncomfortable) and let these feelings pile up until I become some uncomfortable with so many things that I can hardly stand to wake up in the morning. 

Both of these extremes are terribly destructive to any hope of recovery and are directly tied to one of the deepest problems all of us who are alcoholics/addicts suffer from:  “Selfishness – self-centeredness”!!!  Here is a rather blunt newsflash:

THE WORLD AND ALL OF THE PEOPLE IN IT WERE NOT PUT HERE TO KEEP YOU COMFORTABLE!!!!

That means that big part of what we have to learn in recovery is that there are things, people and times in life where we are each going to be uncomfortable and it needs to be okay. 

An awesome marriage or dating relationship most often begins with some awkward and uncomfortable conversation when the two meet and a marriage usually starts with a risky proposal and the potential for terrible rejection.

An amazing athlete at some point nervously stepped into the ring, onto the field, into the arena, onto the court, etc. for the first time with great discomfort.

The greatest scholars in the world most often become that way by years of challenging schoolwork and research that monopolizes all of their time and energy. 

Even the process of getting to all of the promises of recovery involves a trip through a great deal of discomfort, not the least of which is learning to be empowered by discomfort instead of avoiding it at all costs.

As a matter of fact, everything that will lead you to greatness is tied to some level of discomfort.  The new mindset has to be to embrace the necessary discomforts and to properly deal with the unnecessary discomforts. 

In the passages quoted above, we are speaking specifically about people who make you uncomfortable and the exact same ideas apply.  Some people who make you uncomfortable are actually providing the good kind of discomfort.  Some are providing kind of discomfort that you need.

A healthy parent, for example, will not keep a child comfortable at all times.  A child who is allowed to do whatever he or she feels no matter what is a child that will not learn what is needed for a successful life.  A child who constantly hits other children needs to be made uncomfortable to understand that hitting is okay.  That may mean just being told not to do what he or she feels comfortable doing or may be as dramatic as spanking, but discomfort is part of the process.

A good or a productive sponsor is not going to let you only do what you are comfortable with.  As a matter of fact, if you are truly and alcoholic/addict the mere idea of being abstinent to work through recovery is terribly uncomfortable and everyone trying to help is directing you to and through this uncomfortable experience.

How much of the discomfort you get from others is actually needed for you to grow or is retaliation for something you have done to them in the first place.   

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

One more has to do with the occasional occurrence where a person makes you uncomfortable, hurts you in some way or outright ticks you off for no apparent reason.  Is it possible that that person is suffering in some way or is somehow emotionally/mentally sick in some way?

Those who are familiar with Steps 8 and 9 will understand that a big part of working those steps is getting people to see that you were sick when you made them uncomfortable or hurt them and you are in the process of getting better.  For some of the people we made uncomfortable or who we hurt that is a lot to ask of them, but by the time you are doing those steps, you should know that this is the truth.  Is it possible that some of the people who make you uncomfortable or who hurt you are sick in the same way you are/were and simply have not gotten better yet.  This is what the first passage we quoted from page 70 was describing:

We have begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on them as sick people.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 70)

Maybe it would be far less selfish and self-centered to try to help such people get better rather than to try to force them to keep you comfortable.  The least you could do (assuming you are trying to not be as selfish and self-centered) is to be tolerant and patient with them knowing that they may be suffering as you have been. 

This is a concept that is deeply involved in working your 4th and 5th Steps.  The quote from page 70 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book is in a passage describing how you know when you are completed with a thorough personal inventory.   In other words you are not completed with your Step 4 (and definitely not completed with your Step 5) if you have not “begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies”.   If you were under the impression that you had done a thorough Step 4 or Ste p 5 and you have not seen or experienced this sort of change in yourself, you have missed something incredibly important to your recovery and to your life.  This is one of the key building blocks of building the new you.

To get different results in your life, you will have to be a different person.  To get new results in your life, you will have to be a new person.

After all a huge part of the whole recovery process is getting this new attitude.  At the end of the information about Step 4 the idea that a new attitude is a key goal of Step 4 is made completely clear:

Having made our personal inventory, what shall we do about it? We have been trying to get a new attitude, a new relationship with our Creator, and to discover the obstacles in our path. We have admitted certain defects; we have ascertained in a rough way what the trouble is; we have put our finger on the weak items in our personal inventory.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 72)

In most cases not having enough tolerance, patience, or not showing enough goodwill toward all men (and women) are key obstacles in our path and list key attitudes that must be changed.

Stay Sober My Friends;

Wade H.

Change The Past In The Present To Change Your Future.

Change The Past In The Present To Change Your Future.

Simply we tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 77)

Dealing with “the past.”  On hearing these words or pondering this concept many people immediately find resistance rise up from deep within themselves.

“Why do we have to talk about things that happened a long time ago?”

“I don’t think about those things, why bring them back up?” 

“The past is not my problem; it’s the stuff going on now?”

..and on and on.

These kinds of thoughts and statements are common for those of us trying to get through recovery, but simply are another part of the problem that must be solved. 

To start simply:  If your “past” affects the way you act, interact with others, think etc. in the present then it is not really your past.  It is your present! 

You do not have to be in constant conscious thought about things from your past for these things to have a profound effect on your present.  Something like an abusive first relationship can change the way you see the opposite sex, dating, relationships, marriage, and yourself even if you refuse to let yourself have any thoughts about that person or that relationship.  Another example could be growing in a terribly abusive home with abusive parents.  A person might refuse to spend any time pondering his or her childhood or parents but is completely misled if he or she thinks those things do not have a major influence on how he or she interacts with others.  Every relationship and interaction this person has will have some influence from this sort of childhood and it is foolish to deal with major problems in this person’s life and not touch on the the root reasons behind the thoughts and behaviors.

On the other hand, camping out in the past is not a solution either.  There is far more to recovery and in fact growth of any kind than just looking at the past, but to not deal with these things is to leave a huge hole in any recovery through which “crazy” can creep into our lives through.

The passage we are talking about here is not only talking about looking at the past, it describes doing everything that is humanly possible to fix these things.  Step 4 is where we look at the more destructive things from our past (particularly those we prefer not to think about or deal with).  Step five is where someone else helps us to take a deeper look at these things and admit the truth behind my problems in these situations.

Steps 8 and 9 are where we not only deal with these things from the standpoint of what is going on inside of each of us, bet we actually go to the people involved and undo our part in all of this.

For some hearing this or reading this the idea is unfathomable.  How are you expected to take the craziness of the people that hurt you the most and turn it into your problem and go try to fix it?  That is a valid concern if we were talking about taking someone else’s crazy and simply converting it into something to blame yourself for and running back to them crying about how sorry you are.  That however, is not what we are talking about here.

Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

I don’t want to travel to far into too many of the Steps as it would take us down way too many “rabbit trails” but, our recovery is about fixing the “us” not the “them.”  Your recovery is about fixing “you” not about fixing everybody else so you can finally stay sober.

In other words, if your idea of a Fourth Step is writing a list of what is wrong with a bunch of other people and your idea of a Fifth Step is to take some time to talk to someone else about what is wrong with a bunch of other people, you are not working “Steps” or working in recovery.  You are simply complaining. 

The way you see these situations is a huge part of the problem and writing that mess down and vomiting it all over some other person is not a “fix” for how you see these things.

Let me slow down and break this down a bit:

Lets see that you have a huge trauma like someone you care about being shot and killed in front of you.  Acting like you can really convince yourself it never happened (“I just don’t think about it”) is an outright lie.  The idea that you can just “suck it up and deal with it” is a Band-Aid placed on a major injury.  (There is a place for this mindset but it is simply a temporary and unsustainable short-term solution to a long-term problem).

The idea that you are not going to think about this event ever again and feel some of the associated negative emotions etc. is foolish.  It will come up again and it will somehow influence your world when it does.  The challenge is not trying to get it not to come up again.  You will never be successful.  Even if you convince yourself it isn’t coming up again, you are probably just disguising it when it does come up as something else.

The truth is you have to somehow change the way you see this even when the memories or related emotions do come up again.  In other words you have to deal with and change the way you see these things so that when they do come up the effect they have on you is different.  Much of the change that has to be done in our lives is the changing of our own perspectives and perceptions.  The other activities such as the amends we make in Steps 8 and 9 are simply a test of how much we really have changed those perspectives and perceptions.  As a matter of fact if a person’s perspectives and perceptions are changed in the way we are describing here then making amends would be a logical next step and wouldn’t even need to be described as a separate step or steps.

The main points here are:

  • If you are a heavy user of drugs or alcohol then no stone of your past may remain unturned.  If you are having major problems of any kind in your life then assume there is no past as everything is potentially affecting you negatively now (in the present).
  • Other people do crazy things that are hurtful to us and that is in fact their problem.  How you see these things and if they negatively influence the way you think and act now is your problem.  As such, they are responsible for dealing with their part and you do not control that. You however, are responsible for dealing with your part (YES THAT MEANS DEALING WITH YOUR PART OF THEIR CRAZY BECAUSE THEIR CRAZY HAS SPREAD INTO YOUR CRAZY AS IF CONTAGIOUS)
  • We look at what other people do or did to us while we are in recovery not to somehow “fix” them or to simply feel better because we talked about this stuff, but to find what we need to “fix” about ourselves.
  • If you are uncomfortable with (or outright afraid of) looking at something “from the past” or resistant to seeing particular situations differently that is often an indicator that this might be one of the more important situations from your past that you need to look at and deal with.
  • Just “sucking it up” and “just dealing with it” may be a part of the process but is triage (stopping the bleeding) so you can deal with these things later.  If you stop there you are just kicking the “craziness” can down the road to come up again later.
  • You have to fix the past in the present as part of changing your future.
  • You are not to camp in the past, but you do need to go to the past and change your view and your part (or secretly you are still camped there). 

Please don’t let discomfort with dealing with your past stop your recovery!!!  I leave you with these words from the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

We went back through our lives. Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty. When we were finished we considered it carefully. The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong was as far as most of us ever got. The usual outcome was that people continued to wrong us and we stayed sore.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 6566)

 

Wade H.