12 ‘Freedoms’ in Recovery…

Freedom is what recovery is all about.

Freedom from what? From your addiction, of course.
Freedom from compulsive “acting out.”

But is that all there is?

Nope. Not by a long shot.
Freedom from your addiction is only the beginning.

While lost in your addiction, you had no freedom to choose. You could not make good choices. You were powerless to do so.

Why? Because your addiction made all your decisions for you! That’s why your life became unmanageable. All was chaos…

But now you know what freedom from compulsion feels like.

And this new-found freedom is only the beginning. If you stick with the program there’s more freedom just around the corner.

If you have tasted a little freedom (the result of a spiritual awakening) why not build on this foundation? I’m talking about a life of freedom from every sort of compulsion and attachment.

Now… even though recovery is all about freedom, it doesn’t guarantee the end of pain and difficulty. Life’s problems and challenges don’t just disappear.

But you are now developing the ability to face reality in the here and now.
And you don’t need to escape into false solutions anymore.

As you learn to accept what is, you gain a new freedom – a new power – to find real solutions to the challenges that life throws at you.

Here are some new ‘freedoms’ that are available to you if you stick with the program:

  1. Freedom to remain peaceful
  2. Freedom to tell the truth
  3. Freedom to help others
  4. Freedom to take care of yourself
  5. Freedom to be grateful for all good gifts
  6. Freedom to understand your self-worth
  7. Freedom to deal with anger and resentment
  8. Freedom to do the right thing in every circumstance
  9. Freedom to love
  10. Freedom to let go
  11. Freedom to take action
  12. Freedom to accept

Freedom is what recovery is all about…

 

“When the fight begins within himself, a man’s worth something.” Robert Browning

Wrestling with our addiction is an inward fight. Once we’ve gone through withdrawal and overcome our physical dependence, there still remains the emotional struggle. Not giving in to the inward compulsion is an impossible task if we try to face temptation overwhelm on our own.

There’s a saying in AA that goes like this: “You alone must face it; but you must not face it alone.” Seems a little contradictory at first glance, but the paradoxical nature of this statement is so true. It’s the ‘inwardness’ of your addiction that places it in your hands.

You are the one responsible for your own recovery; “you alone must face it.” There are two reasons why the inward struggle is a good thing.

1. It makes you stronger. Just as a caterpillar must struggle to escape the confines of the chrysalis (the cocoon) in order to become a beautiful butterfly, so the addict will be stronger as a result of the inward fight.

2. It will impact your world. What you are without is a result of your inner world of thought and intention. In other words, “We become what we think about.”

No one can free you from your addiction. The beautiful butterfly is the result of the struggle within the chrysalis. As a boy, I tried to help the butterfly escape its cocoon, but in the end discovered that I had ruined the entire process. The ‘butterfly’ eventually died.

The secret life of thought and feeling is the source of all that we do and say. Many choices are made based on our intentions. What you fight for in secret will be revealed to the world; you cannot hide what you are inside for very long.

But you must not face it alone: There is an entire fellowship of recovering addicts that can give you the support you need when you need it. There are other men and women just like you who understand your plight and are more-than-willing to help you along the way.

One of the reasons the program is so successful is because addicts are encouraged to come out of their isolation and join a community of fellow addicts.

You alone must face it; but you must not face it alone.

“There’s plenty of courage among us in the abstract, but not in the concrete.” Helen Keller

Are you familiar with the Serenity Prayer? “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Serenity, courage and wisdom. All three are gifts from God. And all three have been granted to you already. It is up to you to receive these gifts. For it is in receiving these gifts that you are ‘granted’ them.

And learning how to receive these gifts is what the 12 steps are all about.

Left to my own devises, I am unable to find the courage to change what can be changed. And without help from my Higher Power, my fear of change – my resistance to change – takes over and I remain in a state of ever-increasing discouragement.

Courage is not some commodity that you can buy at the corner store. It comes by divine intervention – I’m talking about Higher Power.

Courage isn’t something you feel in the abstract; it’s something you receive when you take the necessary steps to bring about change in your concrete, rubber-meets-the-road world.  I’m talking about accessing your Inner Power.

Courage is the God-given strength that enables you to push past your good intentions and move forward to lasting change and solid recovery.

And it’s there for the asking.

How do we live in the Now?

I’ve got quite a collection of self-help books. Some of them encourage me to “live in the now.” But what does that mean? How are we supposed to live in the now? Here’s my answer…

You’re already familiar with what it feels like when you’re not living in the now. You feel negative, resentful. You feel like acting out!

Here are a few ways we fail to live in the now…

  1. Living with past regrets
  2. Living with past resentments
  3. Putting things off (procrastinating)
  4. Acting out (using)

If your over-all attitude to life is “No!” you’re not living in the now. You can’t – and won’t – accept what is. But when you live in the now, you deliberately say “Yes” to life – to your life.

You can live in the now by…

  1. Letting go of the past
  2. Giving thanks
  3. Expressing gratitude
  4. Accepting what is

In order to live in the now, you must live mindfully. This means you no longer think, say or do things on auto pilot. You do things deliberately… like giving thanks and expressing gratitude. And when you do that, you naturally let go of the past.

As we learn to accept what is, we open ourselves up to an awareness that is holy and peaceful. We simply live one day at a time. Living “mindfully” can be described as “the practice of observing everything that’s going on – as it happens – and letting it be okay.”

Living mindfully is the best way I know to live in the now.

“Fish swim, birds fly… man prays”

It is only natural that fish live in water. They are not meant to live on dry land. It is only natural for birds to fly. They are not meant to live in a cage.

It is only natural that a little acorn grows into a great oak tree. It cannot do otherwise.

In fact, there is a certain order to everything in creation. For all things have a design, and a purpose for their existence. Without this order, creation would break down… and all would be chaos.

Man is a spiritual being. It is only natural that he should pray. For it is his nature to connect with his spiritual source. This need for a connection with God has been described as a “God-shaped hole”… a void put there by God so man would search for his purpose, and his Creator.

Unfortunately, many of us are spiritually bankrupt. We sought after a substitute to fill the God-shaped hole inside us. We became addicts, seeking only what we want – selfishly living our lives for ourselves and by ourselves.

We chose a substitute for God because we really didn’t know there was an alternative. We felt incomplete – like something was missing – and found “the thing” that made us feel better… more complete.

But when the thing we wanted became an obsession, it eventually grew into a full-blown addiction. And we were left feeling incomplete.

And our lives eventually turned into chaos. Completely out of order. That’s when someone told us that we needed to let go of the thing – the substitute – and follow after God. It was scary… like stepping off a cliff into oblivion…

But we took it.

And as we continue to pray, the chaos in our lives subsides. We are restored to sanity.

We’re learning that God is there. Really there. God is giving us what none of the substitutes could ever give…

Yes, we’re learning to connect with God. It’s only natural.

 

Are you aware of your false beliefs?

Carl Jung once said: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

There are reasons why we act out. Addiction is a symptom of a spiritual problem – an illness that goes much deeper. Until we are able to unpack some of this “baggage,” we will continue to carry it where ever we go. But what do we need to unpack?

There are ‘hidden’ beliefs just below the surface, beneath the level of your awareness. But just because you are unaware of them, doesn’t mean they don’t influence how you think and feel. In fact, you have beliefs that have directed your life since you were a small child.

What are some of your hidden beliefs? Here are a few of my own:

· “I am unworthy”
· “I am not good enough”
· “The world is not a friendly place”
· “God is too busy to care about me”

Now, I didn’t walk around thinking to myself, “I am worthless.” It never occurred to me that I wasn’t good enough.  But it was my actions that betrayed my beliefs. I used to imagine what I wanted to do with my life, but I wouldn’t make the effort necessary to get where I wanted to go. It was my actions that betrayed my belief: “I don’t deserve the things I desire.”

When I learned to pay attention to how I felt in my body – emotionally – I gained some insight into why I was acting out. I was learning how to increase my level of self awareness.

This is something anyone can learn.

When we become aware of what is going on below the surface, we gain a better understanding as to why we do the things we do. As we are able to uncover our hidden beliefs, it gets easier to identify the ones that are false… the beliefs that stand in our way.

“Mindfulness” is a way that helps us to improve our self awareness. Recovery is nurtured and greatly improved when we live “mindfully.”

The sooner you can identify the false beliefs that lay hidden below the surface of your awareness, the sooner you will learn how to stop resisting and accept what is. The struggle ends when your resistance ends.

Uncover what is hidden – identify your false beliefs – and begin to move forward.

“Wisdom rises upon the ruins of folly” Thomas Fuller

I make mistakes every day. Bad decisions. Wrong choices.  Even when I know better! My emotions get the better of me, and I end up in a place where I had no intention of going. I am not perfect – far from it – even though I try hard to better myself.

It’s human to err.  And I can accept that. But I will not resign myself to foolish behavior when I know better. I can learn from my mistakes. It’s not a complete disaster if I keep repeating the same errors in judgment. Sometimes I learn quickly, sometimes slowly.

I used to beat myself up when I screwed up. Mistakes were intolerable, and having my shortcomings revealed to others devastating. Shame consumed me, driving me to repeat the same sins over and over – which caused me to further despise myself.

Shame became a cycle where I spiraled down into self loathing, and finally turned to addiction in order to cope with the pain. The pain of self loathing would trigger the tremendous need to act out. But continually engaging in my addiction would spawn more shame and self loathing ending in more acting out… on and on.

In recovery I have learned to gain wisdom from my mistakes. There is always something to gain, even from my shortcomings. There is no need for self loathing; I know that I am worthwhile even when I go astray. I can always come back to the program and begin again.

Over the years my self image has improved, and as a result, my shame has diminished. I feel guilty about some things I’ve done, and rightly so. But I don’t need to beat myself up any more. I can learn and gain wisdom from my foolish mistakes. It is the blunder that causes me the greatest guilt and remorse that I can learn from the most.

We have to live our own lives, profit from our blunders, and learn from our experience. Nobody can do these things for us. The greatest wisdom comes from life’s hardest lessons; therefore, it is by the grace of God that I am able to learn wisdom.

“Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it” (Step 10)

“The price of dishonesty is self-destruction”

I was a two-faced liar. When I entered into recovery, I soon became aware of how often I lied. Dishonesty was almost second nature. In order to keep the addiction alive I had to remain undetected. I had to fly below the radar.

Lying took on many forms. Sometimes it meant racing home at dangerous speeds so I wouldn’t be late. Other times I had to make up a story about why I had to work late. I would stay up half the night and not be able to say why. And, of course, hiding the evidence was almost a daily occurrence. You couldn’t smell my ‘drug’ so it was easier to hide than alcohol.

An older member of our fellowship would often encourage us with these words: “Tell the truth, and tell it quickly.” If we were going to get better, we were going to have to be honest about everything. No holding back, no planning, and no acting out.

I had a tendency to remain isolated; even when I was home I was off doing something on my own. I remember not wanting to be with my family for long periods of time, and I could always find an excuse for wandering off by myself.

The addiction came first, so I did what I had to do to keep it alive. My addiction became a priority because I needed to ‘use’ everyday. The need to “act out” with my drug over shadowed every decision. And my lying was taking its toll…

I found myself lying about all kinds of things. I would tell a lie when I really didn’t need to, even when I had nothing to hide. As my need to ‘use’ increased I became more irritable, growing more and more distant. It was destroying my relationship with my family and affecting my performance at work.

Truth-telling began the day I willingly went to a 12-Step meeting, admitting that I was powerless over my addiction. Each subsequent step required that I look at the truth more closely: the truth about myself, the truth about God, and the truth about my recovery.

Today I can truthfully say that I am powerless, and that my Higher Power is able to give me the strength to remain sober for one more day.

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

“It is easier to protect your feet with shoes than to carpet the whole earth.”

“You know, if it wasn’t for that lousy job of mine, I’d be a lot happier.” I heard myself say that this morning. It wasn’t that I felt resentful or angry… well, okay, maybe just a little bit resentful…

I recognize this thought as one of many past complaints: “I’d be happy if only…” As if my happiness is contingent on other people and my present circumstances. I used to love to put the blame on others for the way I was feeling.

If the boss asked (told) me to do something I felt was beneath me, I’d get upset and question his judgment. I tried to stay in control by protesting, loudly declaring my opposition to his unfair decision. All the while it was I who was controlled by the boss.

But is trying to stay in control going to produce happiness? Well, think about it: Every time someone steps out of line you try to control what they’re saying or doing. That can get exhausting – not to mention frustrating! Controlling yourself is the best you can hope for…

And first thing in the morning is the best time to set the tone for the entire day. I have plenty of thoughts drifting through my head, but I know they’re just thoughts. That’s all. And I am learning to be more aware of them. I have made the happy discovery that my thoughts don’t have to control me if I remain vigilant and aware of my mental activity. And this has made a big impact on my own state of mind – my own happiness.

I have come to realize that I can choose my thoughts if I am aware of them. But as an addict, I seldom want to let go of certain thoughts… especially the ones that are angry and resentful! There’s something addictive about thoughts that stir up negative energy. They seem to feed the story in my head that I can gain control by feeling angry and bitter towards other people.

But the opposite is true… In fact, I can be held captive by my negative thoughts and feelings!

I have decided that today I will accept the world for what it is. There’s no point trying to change other people. And my circumstances are what they are… it’s important that I accept my life as it is. If I want to be happy, I will work on my attitude; this is where happiness begins and ends.

If it is happiness you want, change yourself, not other people.

Are you still digging?

Imagine that you’re behind the wheel of a powerful BMW. You’re trying to drive up a muddy hill in the rain. Unfortunately, the car has rear wheel drive, and you’re having a hard time getting it to move forward.  You’ve been spinning your wheels for over an hour, but to no avail. The more you ‘floor’ it, the more your tires spin in the mud. In fact, you’re beginning to wear deep ruts in the muddy surface. So, you do the only thing you know how to do: You gun it even more!

Eventually, one of the rear tires is completely buried in the mud.  The frame of the car now rests on the wet surface of the hill. You finally realize you can go no further. You’re stuck. And you need help.

Have you bottomed out yet – or are you still digging?

I tried for years to wrestle my addiction to the ground, but I couldn’t do it on my own. The harder I tried, the worse things got. “Bottoming out” is when I stopped digging. I’d lost everything, and my marriage was crumbling. It wasn’t until I’d had enough – digging in that hole – that I finally gave up and asked for help. I wanted out.  But I knew I couldn’t do it on my own.

The first step of our recovery begins when we admit we are powerless over our addiction, that our lives have become chaotic and unmanageable.  At this point – when we admit to our powerlessness – it’s time to get help. And we decide to put our faith in a Higher Power.

God will never take away your ability to choose freely. That is why bottoming out is so important, so pivotal. When you decide to stop trying to get ahead on your own steam, you are then able to look up and begin climbing out of your hole.

Everyone has their own ‘bottom’ – a point at which we decide to stop digging. Free choice means we decide when enough is enough. Some addict’s ‘bottom’ is death, and that is their choice. God is there, waiting for us to ask for help.

Are you ready to stop digging and reach for the rope that is extended to you from up above?  Climbing out of your hole is the wise thing to do. When you combine God’s will with free choice the result is wisdom. There’s only one way we can succeed: Freely choose to let go and let God.

You must choose to stop digging and start living.