We all have painful emotions and memories to deal with when we get sober. Long-buried feelings surface, and we begin to see how much pain we caused ourselves and the people who cared about us.
Can we live with this pain? I am coming to believe that we can, if we allow pain to flow, neither clinging to it in a “Look-how-I-suffer” attitude, nor pushing it away with positive thinking, nor numbing it with various distractions. This is truly being in the moment, living in today.
In my sobriety, I have used two well-worn ways of dealing with pain–or rather, keeping it at bay. Initially these were effective, but as I grow their effectiveness fades. My first impulse is to push the pain away with activity. I get busy and do for myself and for others. I make impossible lists, I make the mundane urgent, and set myself up for exhaustion on every level. I turn into a human doing and set my being on a shelf above the place where the pain lies. I want to keep these sore spots a secret, even from myself. I bury the pain under a pile of chores, responsibilities, and everyday busyness. I get things done, and do many good things, but the effort comes at a dear price. My serenity is shattered, and the heaviness of an untended heart weighs me down.
My other strategy is at the other extreme: I wallow in the pain. I cling to it, wrapping it around me like a heavy blanket, using it to insulate myself and cut myself off from the rest of the world. “Oh, nobody knows how I suffer” is my refrain. Isolated, I tighten up, get self-righteous, and decide that it is time for me to get what I want. Then I get angry. At this point, I desperately need the AA program.
I turn to another alcoholic and share the pain. And I pick up the most effective tools I know, the Steps. They remind me that an honest self-appraisal is necessary to emotional sobriety. I take the time to still my restless heart and mind and turn to my Higher Power. I look for the lesson or the gift that the pain is presenting to me. I open, as best I can, the painful place that my ego would rather avoid. Usually my mind is flooded with the circumstances that caused the pain, and I do my best to allow the feelings to be. I try to relax and let the light of love shine on those painful places.
Occasionally, the pain is a heartfelt response to another person’s suffering. But more often than not, I feel pain because I am not getting my way in my time. This is when I turn my heart and mind around with the simple prayer, “Thy will, not mine be done.” These six words change everything. I sing them to myself until I am able to let go of my agenda and come back into the moment.
Being in the moment doesn’t change the situation or other people. It allows me to let the feelings flow. It deepens my trust in the process and the places my Higher Power leads me.
We are told that we are never given more than we can handle. Early sobriety forced me to clean house and get my physical health in order. As time has gone by, the challenges have deepened and broadened. This past year has challenged me on every front–repeatedly. I have come face to face with the habits of being, doing, and relating that keep me from recognizing and reaching the dreams my heart holds. My spiritual advisor helped me discover the dreams that come from deep within. Below my addictive thinking, below my ego needs, below my expectations, is God’s will for me. I believe that we come into the Fellowship broken beings and are offered a way of life that can heal us, all of us. I also believe that as our sober days add up, we begin to heal at increasingly deeper levels. Working the Steps lets the program work on us. Our mind and hearts are progressively freed of the habits of being that lead us into the pit of addiction, and we begin to realize the gifts of a sober life.