Despite my experience with recovery, when difficulties arise I occasionally catch myself falling into old thought patterns. Fortunately, my experience with the 12 steps helps me find my way through those uncomfortable moments.
While a friend and I discussed her fifteen-year-old daughter’s addiction problem, my immediate temptation was to think that this was unique and different, a special problem that needed to be dealt with in an extraordinary manner.
My husband, Bill, started complaining about a floater in his eye affecting his vision. His balance and driving skills were deteriorating along with his peripheral vision. At the emergency room we discovered a brain tumor and possible lung cancer. He was soon in surgery to remove an egg-sized tumor from his optic nerve. Life was looking rather bleak.
Then, my dear friends lost their beautiful mountain home – one of 27 homes lost – in a sudden and devastating wildfire.
My friends said, “The fear of losing everything is worse than the actuality.” When I asked if we could trade gifts (fire for cancer) they said, “No, we don’t want yours.” Each of us receives the “gifts” we are meant to have –– the experiences our souls crave in this life. So how do we cope?
Recovery tells me that my attitude is the only thing I can change and therefore is the only thing I am responsible for. The 12 Steps give me a way to change my attitude, although seeing what my real habitual attitudes are can be painful. Step Nine is to take responsibility for past actions by admitting that they have harmed and disturbed others in my life – the things I don’t want you to know about me.
I don’t want to tell you that as my friend struggled with her daughter’s addiction, I thought, She at least got to have kids; if that were my daughter, I would have handled it differently.
I don’t want you to know that when Bill was diagnosed with a brain tumor and lung cancer, my first thought was, He’s losing weight and I’m not!
I don’t want to admit that when my friends’ house burned, I thought, They get a new house, what about me?
I share my innermost thoughts and feelings many times in 12 Step fellowship meetings. And while I wouldn’t wish the way I have felt, thought, and behaved in these instances on anyone, it sure is comforting to know that others in the room have at times have felt just like me.
Yes, the old, habitual ways of thinking are still there – the petty focus on myself, the desire for a quick fix. But, I no longer simply have to live with the most unattractive parts of myself.
Like the old Chinese proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” the Steps teach me a way to deal with life’s uncertainties. They teach me how to fish.
Sandy is a writer and artist in Pennsylvania.