By Eric Robert Hunter
Bring me fortune. Bring me fame. Even bring me a little pain. But ask me to trust? Now “Houston, we have a problem.” With three tenants of most recovery programs being willingness, open-mindedness and acceptance it is no wonder why clients of recovery programs exit changed people – regardless of how little or much that change may seem. In my own experience, being open-minded enough to be willing to accept things as they were often focused on situations or ideas I perceived as troublesome or negative. Letting my own worst enemy simply be my own worst enemy gave me freedom. Allowing other clients to express themselves and share their experiences during group sessions taught me patience and changed that bitter thought of “Well, I didn’t get to share,” to one of Thy will be done. Negative perceptions that I deemed as problems distanced themselves from me by my own force of thought thru the passive thinking of simply letting go. So willingness, open-mindedness and acceptance stayed with me as I graduated the 90-day program at Broadway Treatment Center but I had only practiced and gained mental agility as it pertain to the negative. Now the post-rehab dilemma: pertain to the positive. How do I accept the positives of life and why am I struggling to do so?
There is a ‘too good to be true’ thinking pattern that rings like an alarm bell when the promises of sobriety are fulfilled in a newcomer’s life. The used car recently purchased that is not a lemon. The get well job that is actually fulfilling and enjoyable. The phone calls from recovered alcoholics and addicts. Not to forget, the stable sober living environment in which a newcomer awakes in every morning. If you’re like me, you may start thinking “What gives?” or that some impending doom is around the corner ready to snatch my comfort from within because all of this is too good to be true. Alcoholism has a crafty way of habitually wiring the mind of its victims to accept and entertain situations as problems with only negative outcomes through destructive means. After the bridging of the gap and the newcomer stands on their own two feet, as wobbly as they may be, as reliant upon sponsorship as they may be, the struggle to literally reroute the synapses of our brains is all too real.
The overwhelming sense of security, actualized in mail arriving at the new sober home and taxable income signed to our names, is quite foreign. That ringing alarm of doubt is nothing but ego. The same ego that convinced the alcoholic or addict to use time and time again. If we have been leading lives of chaos, drama or indepthly the utter lack thereof (if you are an isolated drinker like me) is what we’ve trained our ego to compensate for and ultimately validate. Our feelings of despair, loneliness, uselessness, incarceration and depression were close acquaintances with the ego that trained in the gym of self-pity. That gym membership paid in dues of an allergic reaction and perked with the obsession of the mind at large. So understand, feelings of purpose, happiness, serenity, confidence, humility and solution are foreign nemesi of this ego we have so long allowed to take us out.
Recently my ego got the best of me in two ways. The first was that of integrity. Now, little did I know, my ego was actually doing me a favor on this one. My get-well job was that of a telemarketer and the service appeared to be altruistic during the course of training, however over the course of two weeks the truth of it clearly conflicted with my program’s honesty and service to others. At first, I resisted accepting the too good to be true mentality. I told myself that it’s just a job and I was trying to stir chaos into a peaceful situation. Ultimately, I left for lunch my fourth Monday on the job and emailed my letter of resignation effective immediately. Another alcoholic I speak to regularly and admire told me this is called integrity. I once again struggled to accept that positive view of my impulsive decision to terminate my employment so abruptly but I now realize he is correct. That decision speaks to the person I am and that’s a sober person I’m still getting to know – who am I to reject him?
The second way my ego got the best of me had to do with the program and process my sponsor is putting me through. I’ve been on my fourth step for two months now. In the midst of it, I relapsed. Upon return he instructed me to continue working on my fourth step. Of course we added in a few more readings and some daily practices regarding gratitude, but I was once again right back in the thick of a personal housecleaning: Pulling up all the faux pas mental rugs I swept the dirt under only to reveal its infestation and molding into the hardwood floors of mind. Anyone who has worked a fourth step understands the resurfacing of negative feelings associated with each inventory and this often leads to delusional conclusions of futility and overwhelming dread, ultimately causing a newcomer to consider shutting-down. Now the catch with my sponsors instructions on the fourth step was that during this inventory our weekly meetings and immediacy to one another would be suspended. Sure he was available to talk if I needed him but during this inventory he was not going to hold my hand unless we were praying out of a meeting. I went to him and expressed that I was hurt he didn’t make time for me anymore and told him that what I was getting was not enough.
He looked me square in the eye and heard me out. Then, he gently reminded me of the perimeters surrounding the work to be done on my fourth step. One thing he said during this uncomfortable conversation (at least for me it was) was to “Trust the process.” I had allowed my ego to riddle my mind with doubt, resentment and condemnation. I dissected with the bias of being a victim the program I so desperately asked him to give me. I’m not disappointed in myself for letting my ego get the best of me on this one. I’m grateful. Had I not faced my fear and spoke to my sponsor about what was eating away the core of my heart, I would have never gotten the emboldening of my trust in him. Rather than push me away, he drew me in closer. Unlike those similar vulnerable interactions I initiated when I was drinking, there was no argument to be had. There was only love.
The process is called a process for a reason. It’s a street we newcomers have never turned down before. For some this may be one of several times we’ve journeyed through the steps but the times are different. We all know New York City is changing, gentrification and steel glass are wiping out the mom and pop bodegas we frequented in our sweat pants and tank tops. But the streets of the city are still there. They still run East to West; North to South. The avenue names remain the same. But the people, the communities the organizations and meetings that inhabit such are changing. Just as things do in this life. So whether this is your twentieth time working the steps or the first, my biggest suggestion today is to trust the process.
If I wrote down specific instructions on how to get from Harlem to Greenwich Village and you decide to stroll through Central Park and take the scenic route because your ego convinced you that you deserved it; don’t complain about being lonely or distant from your companions. Don’t dismay at your tardiness or how tired you are by the time you reach me in Washington Square Park. I, like my sponsor was there for me, will be there waiting for you. Not with resentment, malice or judgement but rather with a question: “What? You didn’t trust me?
“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has followed our path.”
-p. 58, “Chapter 5: How It Works”, Alcoholics Anonymous