Friday, July 16, 2010

"Don't Should Yourself To Death"

You'll hear it every once in awhile. Someone will chair a meeting, or you'll be in a conversation afterwards, and a comment like this one comes out: "I had to eliminate some words from my vocabulary--always, never, ought, should." Maybe instead of 'ought' they'll say 'have to'. This comment can be real puzzling, especially to newcomers. It is a part of my program, though. I've found it useful, even if misunderstood by others. And just because I do it doesn't mean others need to, too. I dated a woman once who told me after we stopped seeing each other that she was so glad she could start saying 'should' again, and I thought quietly to myself how we all have our issues. As with so many other things, how I work my program is up to me and how other people work their program is up to them. But I digress...

'Never' and 'always' are pretty easy ones to understand. We don't live in a world of absolutes. We're not God and don't know everything. Sure, it's easier sometimes to think of things in black and white, but reality is mostly a vast, wide, gray area. 'Ought/have-to' is a really important one. The program of Recovery can be very empowering. Part of that comes from learning to take personal responsibility. Another part is from coming to fully understand our freedom of choice. We don't 'have-to' be clean and sober. We choose to be because (among other reasons) we don't want to be in pain anymore. We don't 'have-to' do anything; we make our choices and then we deal with the results.

But 'should' is my favorite word to not use. People will complain to me about, oh, anything and talk how it 'should' be this way or it 'shouln't' be that way. I listen, then say, "I'm sorry, 'should' isn't part of my vocabulary." Most people get really confused because they don't have the faintest clue what I'm talking about. To people in Recovery who know my views on this--like my sponsees--they'll hear me say it with a little more humor. "What is this 'should' word you keep using? I'm unfamiliar with that word. I need a dictionary..."

Here's my deal with 'should': 'Should' is the direct enemy of acceptance and second kin to denial.

If we're focused on the way things should be, then we aren't accepting them as they are. We aren't living life on life's terms. I shouldn't be addicted. Well, guess what--you are, and you need to deal with it. I shouldn't have mouthed off to my boss like that. Again, guess what--you did and now you'll have to face the consequences. I should really go grocery shopping tonight. Okay, yeah, so what? If you need to go buy food, go do it.

We'll use 'should' on other people. Someone will say something hurtful, or do something we don't like, or will act in a way we disagree with. So we say, 'they shouldn't have done that' or 'they should have said something else.' If we're doing that, then we've forgotten that we have no control over other people. 'Should' shows up with places and things, too. My favorite coffee shop is open til 11pm, but they bring the outside chairs in at 10. I could sit here and say they should leave the chairs outside until they close, but I'm powerless over places and things.

A lot of times, we'll say should instead of talking about how we're really feeling. We can recognize it when it happens, and we don't have to beat ourselves up about it either. If we think 'should' or hear it come out of our mouths, we can take it as an opportunity to look at what we're really thinking and feeling. We can turn that denial around and move ourselves forward with the deeper truth of what's going on inside us. Like anything else, it takes practice, but it can be done.

I do suggest to my sponsees that they try to avoid 'should' and the other words on the list above. It's a helpful tool for retraining our thinking, helping us to move away from being passive and start becomming active. Using the word 'should' keeps us in denial. We don't have to do that. We can stop focusing on what should be and start focusing on what is. If you're upset about something, then fine. How you feel is how you feel and it's okay to express that. You can even take action if you want to. I could write to the coffee shop and ask them to leave the chairs out. If someone is thinking they should be working the program better, they can stop thinking and start doing.

'Should' isn't real. It's a wish for things to be different than they are. If we're living in 'should', then we're back to living in our own privately defined world all over again.

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