Grace In Recovery
For many years of my life, I could never give anyone a break. If they did anything that even remotely hurt me, no matter how benign it was, I would tuck it away in the old resentment bank that was in my mind and harbor feelings of anger for years. People needed to be perfect in my eyes, there was no removal for screw-ups. What was worse is that I used this same impossible measuring stick on myself and so as harshly as I judged others when they didn’t do what I wanted, I was even harder on myself. I would constantly berate and belittle myself, coming to the conclusion that I was a failure and that I was completely worthless. The littlest misstep would be cause for harsh self-criticism, which did nothing but just further fuel my alcoholism.
The problem with doing this was that I was constantly in collision with others, and I could find no self-acceptance of my own. It was almost paralyzing to a certain extent because every day I would wake up and think about the anger that others caused me and how I myself was worthless. This cycle would continue ad nauseam until I finally got sober. Well sort of.
After seeking services I found that the act of getting sober introduced me to a number of revolutionary ideas that I don’t think I would have learned any other way. I learned that I played a major role in many of the resentments that I had. I learned that I was not in fact a bad person but rather that I suffered from a chronic illness. Most importantly I learned that I was worthy of love. These new ideas allowed me to see how fruitless my perfectionistic ideals were for others, and myself, and how everyone was doing the best they could on a daily basis. I started to see that granting other people and myself grace, meaning giving forgiveness, understanding, compassion, and patience, was a much better way of living. This however has not always been easy, hence the good sort of above, but that’s to be expected.
Replacing harsh criticism with grace is not an overnight matter and I think one of my favorite lines in Alcoholics Anonymous comes when the book is discussing the nightly inventory. The book says, “We must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others.” I find this line to be very telling and also reflective of my own experience. The fact that these lines are in the book shows that giving myself grace will not always be an easy task. I spent so many years hating myself that just because I am sober today and live on a completely different basis does not mean that my old way of thinking won’t come skulking back in.
The past few years I have really worked on this though and I have found a direct correlation between my treatment of others and how I treat myself. The times that I have found myself being judgmental of others are usually times that I am being extremely judgmental of myself. I am not sure which way this correlation goes, but I have found that by allowing others the freedom to be themselves and not judging them for it, I myself enjoy a more comfortable presence in my own skin.
I have also discovered another reason why allowing others grace is so important, and that is because it allows them to have their own journey and experience everything that they need to experience. There were times when I would see my friends or people that I care about engage in things that I found undesirable. In the past, I would try to get them to act the way that I thought they should act, and usually this resulted in them doing what they were going to do anyways and me getting upset. I have found in time that I can offer my opinion if it is asked for, but allowing other people to make their own choices removes any of the anger that I would feel afterward. It also allows people to learn and grow at their own pace and not at the pace that I want them to change.
In return for allowing others their own journey, I have also begun to allow myself this same luxury. Although I will admit that allowing myself the same grace has been more difficult because there are still times when I operate under the idea that I need to be perfect. It is funny because sometimes I will come up against a new obstacle, such as moving back to Virginia after spending my entire sobriety in South Florida, and I will believe that I must be perfect through this obstacle. It is difficult for me to see that I have never done this before and so therefore I may not know exactly how to deal with the feelings, emotions, or actions that may come. Understanding this and then allowing myself the grace to be human makes walking through these life obstacles immeasurably easier, because I don’t also have to contend with the constant self-critic screaming in my ear.
The goal in all of this for me, if there can be said to be a goal, is to come to accept others and myself more and more with each passing day. I have been given sufficient grace by my higher power when I was spared from the life of hell that was my addiction and my aim is to humbly return this grace to others. I know that by showing others the grace that I was shown I will in turn be allowed to be more gentle with myself, learning to love who I am, and nurture my being. Giving people the benefit of the doubt or the patience to be themselves is something that we need more of in this world, and in the end, I hope that I am doing my part to spread this.