Friday, May 7, 2010

“Be, Change, Seek, etc.”

I’m a big fan of Mahatma Ghandi. For those who aren’t familiar with the man, I encourage you to look him up. He’s one of the best (if not the best) most recent examples of the power of change through non-violent means. He recently came up in the class I’m taking. The teacher was doing a lecture on social psychology and Ghandi was her main example of someone who was able to affect massive social change even though he was only one man. The point the teacher made was to never underestimate the importance of one person. Just one person can change the world. Ghandi is only one example. Think also of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Or Jesus. Or Buddha.

One saying of Ghandi’s that is often quoted is, “Be the change you seek.” This message, in different words, arrived in my email inbox as today’s ‘Just For Today’ and I smiled when I read it. The prayer was, “I will enhance peace in the world by living, speaking, and acting peacefully in my own life.”

The spiritual principles we learn in Recovery are not new ideas.

Recovery teaches us the power of letting go. We learn to accept our powerlessness over people, places, and things. We learn to stop trying to control the things we can’t control, such as other people. The Co-Dependents Anonymous fellowship addresses this issue directly in their version of the twelve steps. Their Step One is “We admitted we were powerless over others - that our lives had become unmanageable.” We can’t make other people behave the way we might wish them to—the only thing we can control is how we ourselves behave.

It’s up to us how we conduct ourselves in the world—no one else. I could sit here and blame my ex-wife ‘til the cows came home, saying that she was the one who provoked me and got me so angry. But the fact of the matter is that I was the one who smashed my fist through walls; she didn’t make me do it. She isn’t responsible for what I did—I am. And thank God I don’t have to do that anymore, by the way.

The way we share in meetings follows this idea of personal responsibility, too. We try not so much to talk to newcomers directly, but indirectly. We talk about our lives, the things we feel, what our thoughts are, and what we’ve been through. We share these and how we’ve learned to deal with them through working the Program instead of through the insanity of our disease.

When we share our experience, strength, and hope with newcomers, their ears perk up. They see themselves in our stories. They hear their feelings shared by others. It can be downright scary, too. I once heard someone talk about how the first speaker he really related to was a woman. This woman, who he was sure couldn’t possibly know anything about him, started talking about his feelings as if she were reading them out of his mind. One of my favorite compliments I've received after chairing a meeting was when someone told me they really liked what I had to say, but would I mind if next time I told my own story instead of his?

When I came into the rooms, I was lonelier than I could ever have described. Sometimes it was so painful that I kept it buried far enough down that I even fooled myself into thinking it wasn’t there. When I heard people share about the things I had done, the things I had gone through, I began to think (probably for the first time in my life) that I wasn’t alone.

This might be one of the best gifts we can give a newcomer—the knowledge that they aren’t alone. It can be a tough thing to learn. At first, I wasn’t really interested in being part of a big circle. Even today, I still have issues socializing at times. But as I’ve gotten more clean time and I’ve gotten more practice working the program, I’ve learned to depend less and less on my own insane thinking and more and more on the words and advice of others. It’s an honor and a privildege to continue that cycle and pass on what I have learned.

Before, I was alone. Now I am just a link in a chain, part of something much bigger than myself. The way I maintain my position in that chain is by being the change I’d like to see done in the world. I can’t make others more peaceful, but I can make myself peaceful. I can't make anyone else work the program, but I can be a living example of how the program works.

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