Gratitude as an Antidote

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“If a person focuses on the problem itself and continues to give it powerful mental and emotional energy, the person attracts exactly what is not wanted. By focusing on gratitude instead, at the same time that the problem is being confronted, a person connects to Omnipresent, all powerful, all knowing Divine mind….” ~ Anon

When confronted with a problem there is a tendency for me to concentrate/ obsess solely on what is bothering me as a kind of deluded attempt to ‘fix things’. This serves only to magnify my problem, building a “superstructure of interpretation on top of these events, adding considerably to the pain and solidifying the suffering into a permafrost of bitterness”.
(First164.blogspot)

My three main character defects operating here are:

Ingratitude – focusing only on ‘the problem’ and ignoring everything else that is good in my life. A total inability to compartmentalise my thinking, allowing my problem to bleed into everything I do and think. Always distracted, never present. Obsessed.

Cowardice – not trusting my Higher Power will provide the resources for me to cope (via my direct connection and through the people in my life I have sought to help me).

Entitlement – the sense that I am somehow exempt from bad things happening.

My suffering, no matter what the problem is, can therefore be reduced by cultivating gratitude for the beautiful experiences and people in my life, faith that my connection with a Higher Power will provide the resources for me to cope and courage to ask for help, and acceptance that pain is an inevitable part of life.

Daily gratitude lists have been instrumental in my recovery as a means to focus on what is right in my life, how far I’ve come (attributing any personal ‘success’ to AA), and the help I continue to receive.

And to those who pedantically point out that the Big Book doesn’t mention ‘gratitude lists’, it does suggest repeatedly to ‘count your blessings ‘, which if I’m not mistaken is exactly the same thing.

A simple Step 10 review

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“Reflection accelerates learning because it gives us a chance to evaluate how we’re doing and course correct” when we steer off course ~ M.J. Ryan

A simple Step Ten review involves me asking “What worked?” and “How could I do it better next time?”. This leads my mind to reinforce success – see what should be repeated and what could be improved, without slipping into shame and guilt.

Other questions include:

Where has my thought life been today?
This is my weak spot. I am susceptible to entertaining negative false beliefs, predominantly about myself eg. I am not good enough. I can allow fear to dominate me. I can indulge in mental argument and retaliation. Corrective measures: Gratitude list. Reversing my negative beliefs into positive ones. Pray for those I resent.

What am I going to focus my attention on tomorrow?
I have a tendency to wander aimlessly through my days enjoying this so called freedom, but in actual fact I function much better when I have a structured day. Corrective measure: Have some kind of plan/ to-do list. This tends to focus my thoughts productively/ creatively and prevents my overactive self-indulgent often self-destructive thinking.

Is there anything in my relationships with other people today about which I feel guilty?
The two choices I have here to get “undisturbed” are to forgive or to make amends.

Love vs. Fear

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Underneath the rainbow of emotions and feelings a human being can have there are essentially only two core feelings – love and fear. Out of these spring all kinds of seemingly diverse shades and textures of emotion, but dissected these reveal only love and fear.

Emmet Fox uses the analogy of allotropes. Black lead and diamond look different in appearance but are chemically identical; both are allotropic forms of carbon. Similarly, anger, hatred, jealousy and criticism are all allotropic forms of fear.

Conversely, joy, gratitude, serenity, appreciation of art and music, hope, laughter and inspiration are all allotropic forms of love.

Love is always creative, fear is always destructive. Love is light, fear is darkness. Love is freedom, fear is bondage. Love is God, fear is ego. Everything that is not ego is God. Therefore minimise, deflate, strangle the ego and what remains is God.

My ego is frighteningly powerful and despite daily attempts to reduce it I experience its frequent resurgence. It is essential I remain vigilant and continue to pray every morning to be guided by love, to watch for negative emotions, see the fear underneath, and pray for the courage to believe / behave/ embody the opposite.

love vs. fear

 

Sane and Sound Ideals

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If we are to clear away the wreckage of our past and build a new life, we must have a vision – an articulated pathway down which we can navigate.

“Steps Eight and Nine are concerned with personal relations. First, we take a look backward and try to discover where we have been at fault; next we make a vigorous attempt to repair the damage we have done; and third, having thus cleaned away the debris of the past, we consider how, with our new-found knowledge of ourselves, we may develop the best possible relations with every human being we know.” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 8, paragraph 1)

I must therefore ask God for this vision and pathway, for help and guidance in the roles I play, for the sane and sound ideal for my conduct in all areas of my life. These lists are by no means finite and they do overlap. I’ve not done this exercise before but can immediately see how beneficial it will be to consult/ retain in my awareness.

AA member 

  • Be a leader by example only
  • Oppose no one – stand for, not against
  • Share my experience and the result – do not insist on the ‘right’ way
  • Be discreet about what I share with whom
  • Be kind about those not present

Sponsor

  • Be a leader by example – share stories of my experience, don’t tell my sponsees what to do
  • Offer what I have and let it go
  • Humility – remember they are in God’s hands, not mine
  • Create a safe environment for them to go through their processes; avoid criticism and rigidity
  • Talk in terms of what works and what doesn’t, not right and wrong
  • Don’t take anything they do or say personally
  • Always give credit to AA – the glory is not mine
  • Encourage
  • Be available – return calls on the same day, meet up face-to-face
  • Ask for God’s guidance
  • Don’t take their side in arguments or side against them
  • Don’t have a plan for their recovery
  • Patience – remember they are not well, and will get better in God’s time, not mine. Don’t expect or demand a change immediately
  • Don’t ram home suggestions that aren’t welcome
  • Don’t run after them
  • Be honest – don’t withhold useful truth because they may not like it
  • Be kind at all times
  • When they disagree with me, let it go – arguing won’t help
  • Be impartial and detached

Sponsee

  • Be open-minded – allow my thinking to be challenged
  • Be honest – I can’t recover otherwise, and dishonesty obstructs my sponsor’s ability to help me
  • Be willing – be compliant, follow suggestions without delay, regardless of how I feel about them (this is easier when I absolutely trust my sponsor and the process)
  • Don’t procrastinate in doing the work or asking for help
  • Ask questions/ ask for help
  • Don’t argue – accept with grace the wisdom that is being imparted and if I don’t agree, think about it/ allow it to digest/ discuss with another member I trust
  • Be grateful and say thank you

Friend/ Sister

  • Be interested in them – demonstrate this by asking questions, listening
  • Focus on what I can give/ offer… not what I can take
  • Be loyal – avoid gossip and judgement. Watch for jealousy, envy, bitterness
  • Be positive – fun, laughter
  • Appreciate differences and accept disagreements. Don’t focus on their ‘faults’ – we all have them! “Whoever seeks a friend without a fault remains without one.”~ Turkish proverb
  • Do not use past misdeeds to punish or manipulate
  • Be open, honest, real
  • Be kind – don’t criticize
  • Celebrate their joys with them and support them in their losses/ sorrow
  • Support the person even if I disagree with the situation
  • Be reliable – show up!

Daughter

  • Regular contact with thoughtful, kind messages/ send them things/articles they might like
  • Be emotionally open – stop hiding who I am
  • Be helpful – chores and financially, where possible
  • Concentrate on my own affairs – be an example
  • Be grateful and demonstrate this
  • Don’t criticize – be polite and kind
  • Be attentive, non-judgmental, listen
  • See the good they intend – know they want the best for me

Girlfriend/ Partner (currently single, this is for future reference!)

  • Prioritise my relationship with myself and my Higher Power – I cannot be dependent on my partner for my worth and my happiness. I must cultivate an internal experience of love-consciousness and find stability within myself.
  • Watch my behaviour and actions – am I responding out of love or out of fear?
  • “Avoid fault-finding and argument like the plague” – if I am dissatisfied, turn the spotlight on myself
  • Take responsibility for my feelings, experiences and actions. No blaming.
  • Practise integrity at all times – eg. speaking when frightened and don’t want to speak; not speaking when I feel compelled to speak/ lash out
  • Be present when they are speaking – not preparing replies or judging
  • Release attachment to the outcome and trust the universe
  • Enlist the help and guidance of my sponsor and utilise the twelve steps. Romances and finances fall under the category of “practising these principles in all our affairs”.

Letting Go of Old Ideas

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“The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong.” Big book p66
Unfortunately this includes me too! I have to digest the unpalatable truth that often I have been quite wrong – I have clung onto my false beliefs, irrespective of the amount of pain they cause me, because I mistakenly think they define who I am and that they can’t be changed. To avoid stagnation, however, my false beliefs need to be challenged, dismantled and reversed. I need to abandon my “old ideas” /lifelong (mis)conceptions, recognize my software malfunction and express my new beliefs in everything I do. This for me is still very much a work in progress and requires much practice ( prayer, meditation) and guidance (from my sponsor and Higher Power).

Some examples of my false beliefs:

Someone is a bad person based on one wrong doing – they can be condemned / discredited entirely on this basis, myself included. I erroneously assign worth based on external behaviour/ thoughts / actions / defects, and one ‘error’ = worthlessness. What ‘logically’ follows from this is that I am unlovable if I do something wrong, and you are unlovable if you do something wrong. This is a resistance and rejection of the truth that as human beings we are flawed and mistakes are inevitable. Corrective belief: We are all of the same inherent worth and value.

Other people’s opinions define my value. I need people to like me/ love me/ look up to me, otherwise I am worthless. What I need to realise is that pride – the ‘need’ of approval of others – is a vile and worthless drug. Even if I get this approval, what do I do with it? It is effectively useless in itself. It serves only to gratify my ego, a temporary and unstable antidote to the ‘hole’ inside of me.  Corrective belief: What I am and what I am worth are unaffected by good or bad opinion.

My beliefs, thinking and attitudes cannot change. This is a somewhat absurd assertion, considering that I now have concrete evidence of the contrary. I believed with every fibre of my being that alcohol and drugs were the solution to my problems. I believed in the absence of God. I believed self-harming was a valid coping mechanism, a highly effective way to manage my feelings of disappointment, frustration and rage. I believed I was always right and you were always wrong. I believed my problems were of your making. I believed I would always feel empty… Five and a half years on I no longer hold these beliefs. My thinking has been transformed, implying more transformations are possible. Corrective belief: My beliefs, thinking and attitudes CAN be changed.

I am not responsible for my thoughts, feelings, actions and internal life. This has been a big one for me as it has essentially meant I have been slow – or avoidant – in making amends. I have always blamed my harmful behaviour on my depressive episodes, my feelings of rage, that swirling vortex of pain, all of which I claimed were out of my control. The truth I am learning now is that I am in fact responsible for my insides, as well as my behaviour. Corrective belief: I can choose what to think.

If you think differently to me, you are attacking me. Embarrassingly, this is essentially arrogance: insisting that others conform to our wishes, recognize our leadership, accept our own estimate of our worth. Being overbearing, argumentative, opinionated, obstinate (definition from St. Augustine’s Prayer Book). I can’t play God and rely on God at the same time, whereby “playing God” is scripting the universe and monitoring it for compliance. Corrective measure: Humility – recognise my thoughts are essentially worthless and differences in opinion are inevitable.

The darkness and misery are real. This really relates again to believing my thoughts/ allowing my thoughts to have power over me, and being convinced that all intrusive negative thoughts represent reality whilst happiness, joy and love are illusions. The truth is that when I am deeply neurotic and unhappy I am living in fiction. Corrective belief: Love. Life. Truth. Intelligence = Reality. Be an observer, not a participant, in my thoughts.

 

Spiritual ‘do’s’

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List of the ‘do’s’ in Chapters Seven to Nine (Alcoholics Anonymous) – source http://ow.ly/LcojW from http://first164.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Cooperate (89:3)
  • Be helpful (89:3)
  • Be patient (90:1)
  • Put yourself in the other person’s place (90:2)
  • Wait (90:3)
  • Be sane (94:1)
  • Be quiet (94:1)
  • Be full of human understanding (94:1)
  • Offer friendship (95:1)
  • Offer fellowship (95:1)
  • Use discretion (96:3)
  • Concentrate on your own spiritual demonstration (98:3)
  • Be considerate (99:1)
  • Increase the pleasure of others (102:1)
  • Attend to your business enthusiastically (102:1)
  • Be of good temper (111:1)
  • Use your energies to promote a better understanding (115:3)
  • Defuse heated discussion (118:1)
  • Be tolerant (118:2)
  • Be loving (118:2)
  • Live and let live (118:2)
  • Show a willingness to remedy defects (118:2)
  • Count blessings (119:1)
  • Think of what you can put into life (120:0)
  • Cheer others up (120:1)
  • Ask how you can be helpful (120:1)
  • See what you can give (122:2)
  • Face and rectify errors and convert them into assets (124:1)
  • Be thankful (127:0)
  • Praise progress (127:0)
  • Be flexible (‘yield here and there’) (131:2)
  • Thoughtfully consider the needs of others (131:2)
  • Insist on enjoying life (132:1)
  • Cheerfully capitalise trouble (133:0)
  • First things first (135:5)
  • Easy does it (135:5)

Spiritual ‘don’ts’

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List of the ‘don’ts’ in Chapters Seven to Nine (Alcoholics Anonymous) – source http://ow.ly/LcnSH  from http://first164.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Criticising (89:3)
  • Forcing yourself on people (90:4)
  • Pleading hysterically (90:4)
  • Being over-anxious (91:0)
  • Putting pressure on people (91:2)
  • Moralising (91:3)
  • Lecturing (91:3)
  • Nagging (91:1)
  • Taking offence (94:1)
  • Being contradictory (94:2)
  • Wearing out your welcome (95:1)
  • Exhibiting passion for crusade or reform (95:1)
  • Talking down from a spiritual hilltop (95:1)
  • Prodding (95:3)
  • Pushing (95:3)
  • Discouragement (96:1)
  • Avoiding responsibilities (97:1)
  • Depending on people ahead of God (98:1)
  • Arguing (98:3)
  • Fault-finding (98:3)
  • Participating in the quarrels of others (100:2)
  • Thinking of what you can get out of a situation (102:0)
  • Withdrawing (102:1)
  • Intolerance (103:1)
  • Hatred (103:1)
  • Bitterness (103:2)
  • Hostility (103:2)
  • Fighting anything or anyone (103:3)
  • Condemnation (108:1)
  • Anger (111:0)
  • Being a killjoy (111:2)
  • Hurry (113:1)
  • Crowding people (113:2)
  • Taking sides in arguments (115:3)
  • Resentful or critical disagreement (117:3)
  • Expecting too much (118:2)
  • Urging attention for yourself (119:1)
  • Dampening enthusiasm (119:1)
  • Complaining (119:2)
  • Reminding others of spiritual deficiency (120:2)
  • Arranging others’ lives (120:3)
  • Guiding the appointments or affairs of others (120:3)
  • Wrapping others in cotton wool (122:1)
  • Placing others on a pedestal (122:1)
  • Having fixed ideas about others’ attitudes towards you (122:1)
  • Interest in having your wishes respected (122:1)
  • Demanding that others concede (122:1)
  • Playing the lead (122:2)
  • Arranging the show to your liking (122:2)
  • Measuring life against that of other years (123:1)
  • Reproach (123:3)
  • Digging up past misdeeds (124:3)
  • Gossip (125:2)
  • Ridicule (125:2)
  • Making careless or inconsiderate remarks (125:2)
  • Placing money first (127:1)
  • Self-pity (127:3)
  • Self-justification (127:3)
  • Rancour (134:3)
  • Bias (134:3)
  • Standing in judgment (135:2)
  • Pettiness (‘making a burning issue out of …’) (135:2)

What are character ‘defects’? And will they ever truly be removed?

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If I believe – erroneously – that defects are stains, things inside me, hard coded by my DNA, I am unlikely to believe that true change is ever possible.

If I understand that defects are simply BAD HABITS, years and years of rehearsed faulty thinking and behaviour , then I am more inclined to believe that new thinking and behaviours can be learned, as habits can be changed.

Behind all my behavioural defects are flaws in: my thinking, underlying values, beliefs, attitudes, ideas, interpretations & speculations. I identify ‘myself’ with these things therefore I am terrified to allow God to remove them. Who would I be without them?!

But thoughts and actions can be changed, with God’s help, over time, with practice, to make room for something less harmful, more beautiful and true.  New pathways can be created and we can choose these diversions over old, harmful, defective pathways. I can truly learn to respond to ‘disagreeable’ people and situations with love, tolerance and kindness instead of hate, rage and criticism.

Examples of defects of thought:

SELFISHNESS – Putting yourself first, unkind thoughts of others, uncaring

  • Contempt
  • Criticising
  • Hatred
  • Indifference
  • Intolerance
  • Judging
  • Mercilessness

SELF-CENTERED THINKING – What I think about myself

  • Arrogance
  • Beating yourself up
  • Defensiveness
  • Guilt
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Lack of self-evaluation
  • Self-centredness
  • Self-consciousness
  • Self-doubt
  • Self-importance
  • Self-justification
  • Self-obsession
  • self-righteousness
  • Self-satisfaction
  • Shame

SELF-SEEKING – Thinking about what you (1) want to get (2) have lost (3) are afraid of not getting (4) are afraid of losing

  • Expectation,
  • Greed/gluttony
  • Impatience
  • Jealousy
  • Obsessing
  • Over-ambition
  • Over-analysing
  • Perfectionism
  • Blame
  • Self-pity/ bitterness

FEAR – specific fears can manifest as:

  • Anxiety,
  • Indecision
  • Inflexibility
  • Mistrust
  • Pessimism
  • Projection
  • Resistance to change
  • Rigidity
  • Suspicion
  • Worry

DISHONESTY

  • Lying
  • Distorting
  • Withholding the truth
  • Believing feelings
  • Black-and white thinking
  • Denial
  • Despair
  • Embellishment
  • Exaggeration
  • Fantasy
  • Generalisation
  • Gullibility
  • Hypocrisy
  • Irrationality
  • Lack of perspective
  • Lack of proportion
  • Negativity
  • Nostalgia
  • Tunnel-vision

(Source of ‘defects of thought’ -http://ow.ly/KWcut – from http://first164.blogspot.co.uk/ )

Cunning, baffling and powerful

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What happens to me when I take my foot off the gas? As described in the Big Book: remorse, horror and hopelessness… a terrible sense of impending calamity… terror and madness… declining moral and bodily health… loneliness and despair… that bitter morass of self-pity… annihilation of all things worthwhile… misunderstanding, fierce resentment, financial insecurity… a hopeless condition of mind and body… hopelessness and futility of life… pitiful and incomprehensible demoralisation… insanity… unhappiness… selfishness, dishonesty, self-seeking and fear… remorse, depression and inferiority…

Although this describes the still drinking alcoholic, it can similarly characterise the sober alcoholic who fails to practise the principles in all her affairs: ie. me. Of late I have been suffering from all of the above. It’s embarrassing to admit at five and a half years sober but it’s the truth and I need to be honest. I have worked the steps and continued to work the steps to a level sufficient to keep me sober and that’s amazing. There have been phases of my development during which I have been genuinely happy, joyous and free, consumed with gratitude, peaceful, a million miles from the girl I used to be – an embodiment of the promises come true. But the nature of my disease is cunning, baffling, powerful. It creeps back into my life like smoke under a door. I am oblivious to it at first until suddenly I can’t breathe.

Thankfully, there IS a solution. Which I have been taught and I believe lies in the steps. It lies in enlarging my spiritual condition. It lies in a truly honest appraisal of the gaps in my program. It lies in the application of the steps as outlined in the Big Book – with the help of a sponsor, without any wiggle room. It is taking the actions that keep my ego sufficiently at bay for sufficient power to remain in my life to keep me sober. And that is what I am currently attempting to do and have been for the last few weeks. The results in this short time are astounding and I am experiencing once again the POWER of this program. I can be lifted – by a power that is NOT me – from what felt like a deep depression without an antidepressant in sight.

Self-reliance vs. God-reliance

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What is self-reliance? It is my ego-driven attempts to attain happiness through inherently unstable externals: money, sex, property, prestige, appearance etc. Convinced these things will make me happy/ fill that hole I chase them, single-mindedly, only to discover through a lot of pain that they don’t deliver what they promise.

It means I depend on other peoples approval for my self-worth, which in turn can lead to dishonesty and attempts to manipulate what you think about me. It means paralysis into inactivity instead of risking making mistakes. It means staying in toxic relationships because I am afraid to be alone. It means bad decisions and horrible experiences. It means that from an observer’s perspective it looks like an idiot is running my life!!

It is to an alcoholic what kryptonite is to Superman. Yet whilst Superman accepts his powerlessness over kryptonite, the alcoholic will determinedly, persistently, unrelentingly wrestle with self-reliance and often refuse to accept its detrimental impact on his life. Ultimately the result is perpetual and inescapable fear.

The antidote? God-reliance. Which intellectually I am willing to do but emotionally I stumble. I frequently lack the humility to accept I don’t know best, to accept that my perception is distorted. I am frightened to move towards the unfamiliar – even if it’s better – because my ego doesn’t want to be wrong. But if I want to outgrow fear I must learn to move towards guidance – away from ego, towards God.

As someone who’s concept of God is fluid, who’s connection with God oscillates between non-existent and adequate (rarely strong), this is a difficult concept for me to get my head around, let alone apply. But Sandy B’s definition helps: God is a power source that restores me to a different perspective – one that is light instead of dark; kind instead of cruel; loving instead of hateful; hopeful instead of fearful.

This is a daily process for me. Practice. Practice. Practice. My ego is a powerful entity with an extremely loud voice. It creeps into my prayers and (feeble) meditation and can often be confused with the voice of God! For this reason I must repeatedly check in with others of higher spiritual development what I think I know. When I stop or forget to do these things, the delusion of self-sufficiency doesn’t just creep in, it swallows me whole and I am again left drowning in fear.

Kryptonite-thanks

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