In 12-step recovery, the addict is encouraged to dig deep into his past, and into himself, and honestly look at all the wrongs he is guilty of - in action and in thought. Not surprisingly, the process is painful, and it is frequently met with a considerable amount of resistance. But it is urgently suggested as a crucial part of any real recovery. To lay claim to the misdeeds of one’s past and the unhealthy thoughts that exist in the present is to begin to build the base from which a healthy future may evolve. By contrast, to ignore one’s indiscretions is to ignore responsibility for one’s life in its entirety, as opposed to just taking credit for the good stuff.
Not that you will find many addicts bragging about - or even mentioning - many of the good things they’ve done or are capable of doing. Go to a 12-step recovery meeting, and you will hear tales of manipulation, crimes committed, and degradation. Honest and open monologues will contain confessions and self-reproval. Once a person gets comfortable in the rooms, he discovers the huge relief that comes with divulging the truth. He finds he can talk about things that he dare not discuss anywhere else, and it is incredibly liberating to get the garbage off his chest. He begins to be free from the suffocating weight of the lies and deceit of which he is guilty.
Unfortunately, the relief found in confession too often leads to pleasure taken from personal derision. What begins as a tool for self-improvement becomes an exercise in self-pity. An addict loves any action that provides immediate pleasure, and the diatribe that derives from internal conflict provides instantaneous and powerful release. It becomes easy to spew the rhetoric of resentment, because there is little work involved. All you need is a person to face while you complain.
Frequently an addict will be stuck for years in this part of his recovery. The spiritual flagellation he subjects himself to becomes as much a bad habit as his drug/behavior of choice. Eventually, he builds himself up to be the martyr who deserves to never be free from the ever-present guilt that he welcomes into his soul. He is grateful for the feelings of self-deprecation and defines himself with them. He may laugh and joke while among his brethren in recovery. He will smile while being quick to volunteer service to other addicts in and out of recovery. But away from the rooms, he is miserable. His truth is that of an irredeemable and undeserving soul.
But what part of the truth remains undisclosed?
What too many addicts fail to concede is their own brilliance. There are astounding qualities that exist amid the sea of crap that they envision as their life. The problem is that digging deep to discover, nurture, and share these qualities takes work. And most addicts in recovery are sick of digging, because digging a hole to hide from life is what they did for so many years.
I challenge you to go to a 12-step recovery meeting and tell 5 of the attendees that they are beautiful souls who deserve peace, love, and happiness in their lives, regardless of what they may have done while in active addiction (or recovery!). At least four will look back at you with doubt in their eyes and say nothing. Or they may deflect the statement with a comment about how they are grateful that their lives are not worse, although past actions could have easily made them so. Or they will flatly deny that they deserve anything but repercussions for their sins and a life sentence of active atonement.
I have found very little encouragement for recovering addicts to celebrate the good aspects of themselves. There is a lot of talk about gratitude, but it is always in reference to things outside of themselves, or the good fortune that their addiction did not create more mayhem than it did. It is extremely rare to hear anyone express joy simply for the fact that they are a powerful, living spirit. Nobody says they are awesome or that they have much to contribute to society. Each and every addict has something inside that the world sorely needs, but this fact is actively ignored. Instead addicts are told to list all of their shortcomings, to share with one another their misdirected thoughts, and to remain alert for unhealthy desires. They were in the throes of addiction, and they are still susceptible to addictive thinking and actions. To combat their dark side, they are told to focus on all the wrongs, the bad, the ugly.
I assert that all this self-disparagement is a waste of time. Yes, you did some crappy things, and, yes, you are a less-than-perfect person with the propensity to make mistakes or even to do unto yourself at the expense of others. Undoubtedly, there is room for improvement. But you’re not going to change anything by sitting around, exclaiming what a waste of human tissue you are. Beating yourself up is non-productive, self-serving, and easy. Nobody can cry a wider river of tears for you than you can. It is very possible that most of those people who you harmed don’t think about you nearly as much, nor with as much intensity, as you think of them. You probably are just not that important to them.
On the other hand, when is the last time you thought about any of these people without regret, remorse, or guilt? Do you remember, did you ever know, what made any of these people wonderful human beings, and how did they touch your life in a positive way? Certainly, if any of these people have absolutely no redeeming factors in the way their lives intertwined with yours, they are far in the minority. And if there are no good thoughts that go out toward these people, have you at least saved any for yourself? What did you tell yourself today that was an affirmation about how incredible you are? What interesting and unique gift do you possess that you took a moment to appreciate? Where do you place yourself on your gratitude list? Are you even on it?
If you take only one thought away from these words you are reading, let it be this :
You are a child of the Universe.
I’m not going to get into a discussion of who or what you believe in, because has no bearing on the above statement. The two indisputable facts that have relevance are : you were born, and you exist in this Universe. You want proof? Just look into the mirror - there you are. Now look out the window - there it is.
You were born to shine. One way or another, emitting one type of ray or another. It’s up to you to find out how to shine and what colors to transmit. This is the part that takes work. It’s what will cause pain and confusion and frustration. But it will also bring about the fullest sense of happiness and purpose you can imagine. And it can only be achieved by letting go of debilitating guilt about the past, while retaining the responsibility of ownership of the past. Addicts are most hard-pressed to find the beauty that lies within. But it’s been there since birth, and it cannot be destroyed. Poke around inside your mind and you’ll find it. Keep looking, and you’ll figure out how make it an active part of your life. Once you do that, you won’t have time to drag your feet and talk about what a terrible person you are.
Everyone who walks the earth has a responsibility to lift us all just a little higher than when he arrived here. You can’t lift anything when you live in negativity. And when you focus on every lousy thing you ever did and every lousy thought that passes through your head, you are doomed to live in negativity. Try being nice to yourself, loving yourself, admiring yourself, trusting yourself. Own the awesome power that lies within. Be as open and honest with your good points as you are with the bad. You will be able to help lift the human race by sharing yourself with the Universe in ways that you may never have imagined.
The important thing to realize is this - You still can shine. Today, tomorrow, next week. No matter how much time you spent in the darkness, and no matter how deep you dug. The opportunity to live again is in front of you right now. Begin by loving yourself for all the wonders that are you. They don’t have to be unusual or unique to be amazing. The tiny and seemingly inconsequential ingredients all play a part in the mix of mind, body, soul, and stardust that is walking around this earth and answers to your name.
But you can't heal if you focus only on the poison.