Tuesday, August 9, 2016

New Way Of Life

There's too much good going on in my life to dwell on the past. A chapter closed irrevocably yesterday, and I'm not going to rehash any of it. All I can say is that I don't have any cause for regret for any of my conduct or deeds over a long period of time. It would have been nice if there had been a nicer ending to a long saga, but when there is more than one party involved, that can be out of your hands. My final answer is that when the trust is lost, and honesty is discovered to have been lacking for some time, there is really nothing to salvage. I have many thoughts and feelings on the subject, but I'm not going to share them in public, and the bottom line is that, again, I have no reason to feel regrets over anything I said or did, even after we became "friends."
I've spent a lot of time talking in meetings recently about the new way of life that we learn about and try to implement in recovery. One of the new things we try to learn and practice is how to let go. There was a time when I had to have the last word, where every injury suffered needed to be redressed and retaliated for. I was skeptical in early recovery when I was told that it was very freeing to let go of resentments and memories of wrongs done, but it has been my experience that it actually is. I don't know if anyone truly forgets wrongs, but you certainly can move past them, to the point where they do not occupy a lot of space in your head. And that's where I am most of the time. And as a practical matter, a resentment with another person is actually, at least in part, a resentment with yourself for allowing the injury to happen to you. There is no shame in being the better person, and there is no guilt in having been taken advantage of. There is some ambiguity involved in deciding whether or not to extend forgiveness, to give the other person a chance to make amends; there is no black-and-white, right-or-wrong answer as to what is appropriate. But there does come a time when you cross the hope/denial barrier, when you lose hope that something will change and you decide that you've simply been in denial about the exact nature of the situation.
And you move on. It's a lot better than fighting, better than getting even, better than fanning the flames of injury and resentment. It happened; since I have no plan--or desire--to invent a time machine, what has gone down in the past cannot be changed. I've learned to accept it and to move on. And the biggest change over the years has been an increased ability to let my actions and the way I live my life speak louder on my behalf than any words I can speak or write. When all the foam is boiled off, it's a extension of trust--trust in my fellow human beings that they are capable of making up their own minds about me and who I am and what I stand for. I never used to be able to do that; I spent a long time being a defense lawyer for myself trying to convince a jury that consisted of the entire world.
But that's the disease of addiction at its deepest core. Not the use of drugs, not any of the gross character issues associated with getting the next one. The disease of addiction is, at heart, one of control, of trying to manipulate situations and people to do and speak and act as we would like. Are we ever entirely free of this tendency? Probably not; it is natural and characteristic of human beings to do so. It comes with the territory of being social animals. But I can manage it so that it does not become my primary motivation, my reason for existence, my dominant coping strategy.
Or, to simplify, my Higher Power.
And the better I can put this into practice, the better my life is. Not everything that happens in my life is going to be to my liking. But I think back to one of the very first NA meetings I ever attended, when I was at Tully Hill, and when I heard something in the literature that was the topic that night that hit me like a diamond bullet: "We spent all our time trying to change our reality, when what we needed to change was our way of coping with it." That is as true nearly 18 years later as it was the day I first heard it. And my way of coping with it has changed. I don't waste the energy I used to waste beating dead horses. I face and move forward much more than I used to, and while I make my share of mistakes and misjudgments, I do learn from them much more than I used to. And the mistakes have shifted to a different part of the spectrum. If you had told me twenty years ago--hell, if you had told me five years ago--that issues would arise and I would catch feelings because I gave someone more than one chance to wound me, I would have told you that you were out of your flipping mind, because I didn't give second chances. In fact, I often didn't even give first chances.
My good friend and long-time sponsor has talked for years about cutting others breaks, about extending to other people the understanding and compassion we would like to see extended to ourselves. I have taken that message very much to heart, and especially in the last few years. One of the more interesting and telling passages in the gospels is Matthew 18:21-22, when Jesus of Nazareth is talking about forgiving our fellow travelers on this planet. I'm not at the point where I will reflexively turn the other cheek, especially if it keeps getting slapped. I'm pretty sure that I will never be capable of forgiving "seven times seventy" trespasses. But the number used to be zero, and then for a long time after realizing zero was not an answer that led to happiness, the number was one. I'm not sure what it is now, but I know it's higher than one. Yes, I open myself up to possibly getting hurt more when I do that, and there have been many occasions, with too many people, where that injury has been inflicted. But it is with wonder that I realized that even with that being the case, I have not been so injured as to truly be damaged in a way that cannot be repaired or healed.
Partially, that is due to improved judgment skills. I am not about to give the keys to my house to someone I don't know very well, to use a hoary and obvious example. But it is also a reflection that my essence, my core, my soul, is not--is not--dependent on how others treat or perceive me. To a much greater degree than ever before in my life, I am comfortable in my own skin. If my trust and good will is misplaced--well, it's all right, because I have done the right things, and my motives have been right, and I am all right with God and myself for doing so. Other people cannot take my essential spirit and soul away from me without my permission, my consent. No one can take my integrity from me. No one can take my willingness to extend respect and love to others away from me. No one can rob me of my relationship with God. I can allow others to do that, to be sure, but ultimately the decision about whether it happens or not is mine.
And today, the new way of life I have been doggedly pursuing for many years is proof that I have not given that permission and consent. I do not feel "good," necessarily, about what has come to pass with some people recently. I'm sure that I did not behave totally beyond reproach. But I am reasonably sure of two things: 1) I behaved a lot closer to beyond reproach than I ever have at any point in the past, and 2) I know I did my best in trying and difficult circumstances. That I eventually could not turn the cheek again, not without stepping back and moving out of range, does not brand me and the way I have been trying to follow as a failure. It just means that I am a human being, and that I have reached the limits of endurance in a particular situation. I am genuinely sorry that it has come to this, but at the same time, I know that letting go is the only viable option. At least for the time being.
And the freedom of being able to let go without rancor is a gift. The proof is that my life is manageable. I am not looking incarceration in the face; I am not fighting active drug addiction; I am not careening from one unstable situation to another like a pinball. It's a gift because it didn't used to be this way. And sometimes God does for me what I cannot do for myself. In spite of everything with one person in particular, I was not going to be able to completely cut the cord--but that decision was made for me by someone else, and I'm really not sorry, because it just makes it easier to ease on down the road without any backward glances.

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