I’m confronting new frontiers of things I have to admit I am powerless over, so I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on the spiritual principle of surrender. It’s the principle behind Step 1 of the Twelve Steps.
Step One in AA’s 12×12 suggests we will never recover without an admission of complete defeat.
It sounds clear enough, but I know from my own experience that it’s often not as clear-cut as that.
I don’t know about you, but as much as I know I’m powerless over certain things, my mind still THINKS, still tries to figure things out.
Minds are created to do that, you know.
And that leads me to this question: Where’s the line between true surrender and just acknowledging that my mind still wants to figure things out, you know, just doing what it was designed to do?
Because I know I can get stuck in analysis paralysis, I decided to look back at other places in my life where it was clear that I had surrendered and then take a little inventory of what I did that made it clear I was surrendering.
Here’s what I was able to identify:
1. I was willing to do, and ultimately did, things that made me VERY uncomfortable.
In other words, I stopped doing the same things over and over again expecting a different result.
2. I reached out to people when I was afraid, or stressed, or feeling other deeply uncomfortable feelings.
I was willing to act on the knowledge that our disease, whatever it may be, thrives in isolation. Recovery thrives through connection.
3. I acknowledged it was hard and gave myself credit for the work.
This meant I let go of unrealistic expectations.
You see, often my unrealistic expectations show up in the form of believing something should be easy when it’s really quite difficult. The program principles are simple. But putting them to practice in everyday life can be challenging.
The recovered part of me believes that 12 Step work is PhD-level emotional work. My ego, which wants to keep me small and sick, will keep telling me it should be easy so it can keep me stuck.
4. I was open to seeing, and therefore recognized, the things that I had been doing that were unmanageable and insane.
I was willing to be humbled by the truth. When we first walk in the doors, the truth is not pretty. It certainly wasn’t for me.
5. I was willing to let it take time.
This was the hardest one of all, in my opinion. Because when the denial lifts and I start to see the insanity I’m creating by not surrendering, man do I ever want it fixed NOW.
However, this thinking is still part of my disease.
In one of my programs, people often wish you a slow recovery. As uncomfortable as it makes me to hear it, I understand why. Sitting with any of the program principles is one thing that allows them to truly sink in.
But this is also the point at which I know I’m ready for Step 2, because this is the place where I most need to trust in a power greater than myself.
This is also a place in which I surrender the conditions under which I’m willing to recover. For me, this is one of the conditions that is most difficult to let go.
So, those are my five signs that you’ve truly surrendered.
Now I’d like to hear from you. Do you have any other signs by which you know you’ve truly surrendered? Which one of these is the most difficult for you? Share your experience, strength and hope in the comments. I read every one.
I don’t know about you, but I really struggled with the spiritual basis of the Twelve Step program.
Fortunately for me, and I suspect for many of us, I was desperate.
And I was also hearing people tell my story. And for the first time, I knew I wasn’t alone.
I understand today that that experience right there IS an experience of a Power greater than myself, but I didn’t see it that way at the time.
So I want to talk about one of my blocks, just in case it could be helpful to you.
My biggest block to the spiritual basis for this program was my relationship to power. More specifically, this block was my experience with people in my life who had power over me.
Needless to say, those people did NOT use the power they had over me in loving ways.
Which meant that coming to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity was a huge leap. It was a chasm I struggled for a long time to cross.
If you’re facing this chasm, here are some suggestions for making the leap.
- Pay specific attention to people who do loving things for you.
- Write that shiz down!
- Collect all these notes in a box, or keep them all in a notebook.
Do the same thing for any kind of small blessings, and of course big miracles, that happen in your day-to-day life. Pay attention to them. Write these occurrences down. Collect them all in that same box or notebook.
Then regularly go back to that box and read them aloud.
This practice is what I call a God file. And it does wonders the for the negative subconscious messages that sabotage the spiritual work we’re trying to do in this program.
(In fact, as your coach, it’s important for me to insist on the reading aloud part, especially if you can do it with emotion – that’s what makes it so beautiful for reprogramming the subconscious!)
If you’ve ever heard of a Happiness Jar, this is a similar concept. But it’s important to call it a God File – or Higher Power File if you prefer because we’re using it to learn to trust that Power.
So, now I’d like to hear from you. What actions have you taken to help you better trust in a Higher Power? Share them in the comments below. I read every one.
I was in grad school when I first got into recovery. One of the challenges I had in those early days was reconciling my heady intellectual pursuits with the spiritual process of the Twelve Steps.
I especially struggled with what it meant to decide to turn your will and your life over to the God of your understanding.
But then I read a daily meditation on Step 3 in Al-Anon’s “Courage to Change” daily reader that ended with a quote by Albert Einstein.
That quote really fascinated me and became a bridge between my intellectual pursuits and the spiritual journey of the Twelve Steps. I found it especially relevant since it seemed like so many of my intellectual insights when I was writing my term papers or even my dissertation seemed to come out of nowhere, almost like magic.
So, I became really interested in Einstein. And fortunately, since I was required to take a second foreign language as my degree requirements (I was already studying French,) an advanced German composition class I was taking required us to write a composition on a native German speaker.
I chose Einstein.
Most people are probably familiar with Einstein’s famous formula: E=MC² (Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared.)
What many people may not know, or what I didn’t know, at least, was the incredible thing that Einstein had discovered about the nature of light.
Einstein discovered that light is both a particle and a wave.
According to the classic laws of physics, this is not supposed to be possible.
And yet it’s true. What Einstein discovered about light laid the groundwork for what we now call quantum physics. Because light isn’t the only thing that behaves this way.
So, what does this have to do with Step 3?
Well, when I learned this about Einstein, I started thinking about what was necessary to make this incredible discovery possible. Hint: It wasn’t his incredible intellect. (Not to mention, when he was young, Einstein was failing math.)
In order to follow where his research was leading him, Einstein had to let go of everything he thought he knew about energy and matter. Everything we still think we know about energy and matter.
And that’s what brings me to Step 3.
For me, making a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand God is a decision to let go of everything I think I know.
Because my best thinking is what got me into these rooms.
So here are a few of the greatest hits of what I thought I knew when I walked into the rooms of 12-Step recovery:
- My addicted loved ones had to change/recover in order for me to be okay.
- I have no valuable skills. (That was the nice way to put it. What I was honestly saying to myself was that I was a sorry excuse for a human being.)
- Recovery wouldn’t work for me.
- God is a terrorist.
I rarely can explain how or why, but I do know that the magic that happens when I make a decision to let go of the things I think I know is truly quantum.
So now I’d like to hear from you. What did you think you knew when you walked into the rooms that turned out not to be true? What are the things that you still think you know that maybe you need to let go of?
Share your experience, strength, and hope in the comments. I read every one.
I wanted to title this post “The Surprising Relationship Between Forgiveness and Productivity,” but I thought, if you’ve suffered from procrastination like I have, then pointing out forgiveness’ beneficent effects on procrastination might feel more useful to you.
So let me share a little bit of my experience.
I’ve struggled to consistently pursue my dreams. I’ve done it in fits and starts. One of the reasons for this is the significant amount of often very subtle emotional abuse I experienced growing up.
My family is profoundly affected by addiction and family addiction, and one of the ways these dynamics play out is to undermine, and at times outright emotionally crush, anyone who’s “getting a little too big for their britches.”
I’ve been in family recovery for 16 years now, and I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of healing around this. But one thing that stuck with me for a long time was thinking that achieving a dream or reaching a goal would somehow show up all the people who had tried to keep me down.
Denial is a funny thing because, with all that experience in family recovery, it took me a long time to realize that thinking my achievements were somehow going to “show them” meant that my actions were still revolving around them. In other words, I was keeping the focus on others and not on myself.
I have a dear friend in recovery who does vision cards (like a vision board, but just one idea/image per card.) I was privileged to be able to make vision cards with her for the people on our 4th step lists. These cards were a visual representation of praying that everything I want for myself to be given to these people on my list, just like it suggests in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I’d write their name on one side of the card, and put an image representing what I want for them on the other.
I started meditating on these cards almost every morning, and wouldn’t you know! I have become much more productive and consistent in the process. I am much better at nipping procrastination in the bud.
Not that I should be surprised. I mean, wouldn’t a loving Higher Power want me to use my goals and my dreams to fill my heart up, rather than nurse a resentment?
But this level of resentment for me was a layer deep within the proverbial onion. There were other layers that needed to be released before I could recognize this one. Nevertheless, it’s incredibly freeing to be released from it.
So now I’d like to hear from you. Is there a particular goal you are pursuing from which a resentment is holding you back? If so, how might get support for letting it go so you can be freer to pursue your dreams?
Share your experience, strength, and hope in the comments. I read every one.
Do you feel like you have to fix whatever you think is broken in you or the shiz in your life is really going to fly?
As in, any. minute. now.
Do you feel like all that crap needed to be fixed, like, yesterday?
Yeah, me too.
But let me ask you something: how’s that attitude of crisis and urgency around your shortcomings working for you?
I know for damn sure it hasn’t worked for me.
In fact, it just kept me feeling stuck, small and broken.
Even worse, it seriously challenged my faith in my Higher Power.
And I get it. It can totally feel like that sense of urgency is the only thing that’s keeping those defects of character from getting worse and then REALLY messing up your life.
But let this be an invitation to create a little space around that feeling.
To help you out with that, I’ll let you in on a not so little secret about me. (more…)
People-pleasing has been one of my most pernicious character defects.
I walked into recovery with absolute TERROR of someone being upset with me. Making someone else happy literally felt like a matter of life and death to me. In fact, I would twist myself in knots either trying to please people, or worrying about pleasing people, that I didn’t even like. That’s how crazy that behavior has been for me.
Now, God knows, I came by this honestly.
In the family I grew up in, not pleasing someone could have horrific consequences – physical violence, threats of being thrown out of the house, gossip to every other family member about your most intimate secrets and what a terrible daughter you were, or the silent treatment for days on end.
It’s no wonder that every security instinct in my body felt like I had to make other people happy, no matter what the cost, in order to survive. (more…)