Acceptance and Understanding
I describe my childhood as my ‘dark ages’. I grew up without approval, acceptance, unconditional love, warmth, openness or understanding. Instead I faced judgment, criticism, shame, guilt, avoidance, transference, anger, raised voices, slamminG-doors, codependence, manipulation, denial and the tag-along silent treatment. In recovery I discovered acceptance and understanding. I found the confidence to be myself and to speak my truth. I was given access to suggestions, and tools.
As a child, I was necessarily present any time something went wrong, but I became instantly invisible as soon as I needed something. My parents communicated minimally with me and my siblings. When they did communicate – it was almost certainly negative. In turn, my siblings and I also failed to relate positively to each other. “Feeling” was the equivalent ‘F-word’ in my childhood. It still is to my adult siblings. I always knew my feelings didn’t matter.
The atmosphere in my parents’ house was determined solely by my mother’s mood. If she was in a good mood, everything was wonderful. If someone angered her, or her mood plummeted for any other reason, her wrath came spewing out.
Unfortunately, as a child I was too young to understand that her moodiness was not caused by any external stimuli – it stemmed from within. With typical childlike understanding, I absorbed her vitriol with no filters or boundaries.
Through recovery I’ve come to understand and recognize the unreasonable responsibility my mother placed on my siblings and me, expecting us to be gate-keepers of her happiness.
In recovery I’ve met others who understand me. I’ve found friends, with whom I feel comfortable to chat, vent, sit in silence or cry without feeling self-conscious. Recovery has introduced me to people with whom I can share my story without worrying about what they might think or who they might tell. That’s not what our relationship is about. It’s about me and my recovery, about them and their recovery. It’s about supporting one another. It’s about building trust, openness, acceptance and understanding.
In recovery I’ve acquired tools to help me through tough encounters with peers who are less than aware, less than open, less than willing. I’ve learned to react from a balanced, healthy and open place, in a way that preserves my dignity and sense of self.
Recovery has taught me how to stand up for myself and allow myself the dignity and respect that I deserve. I’ve learned that I’m under no obligation to enter into situations that are unhealthy, unsafe or which further the dysfunction. I feel stronger now, able to walk away from unhealthy situations without giving explanations or becoming defensive. I’ve learned how to protect myself.
Using the information and tools I’ve obtained in recovery I continue to work through the grueling process of Step Four – to look at the darkness and see it for what it really is. It is part of me, most likely a learned coping mechanism – not a big part of me and, more importantly, not the real me. It’s learned and it can be unlearned – through training, awareness and vigilance; through acceptance, compassion and understanding.
My journey of recovery has released me from the expectation of having my needs filled by those who cannot fill them. Instead, I’ve learned to find other, better, sources of love, acceptance and understanding. Recovery has changed my self-perception. I am not the person others named me – I am not their ‘stupid little sister’ or daughter who just ‘can’t get it right’ or ‘doesn’t toe the line.’ I am His child, searching for truth, a place to call my own and a bit of happiness and peace along the way.
Recovery has imbued me with the courage to pursue my dreams. I’ve summoned the courage to express my truth in front of a room full of strangers and to recognize my feelings without shame or excuses. My fellow meeting-attendees continue to support me week after week. Even after I quit and dragged myself back, these strangers accepted my return with understanding, acceptance and I’ve-been-there hugs. These strangers quickly became my new family – my ‘chosen family’.
Recovery gave me, and continues to give me, the courage to look in the mirror, change the parts of myself I am able to change and accept the parts I can’t. I’ve learned to look inward, to acknowledge and accept. I’ve been awarded the ability to appreciate the good in my life – the friends who love and accept me unconditionally. Most of all, recovery has taught me to put myself aside and offer compassion to another in sorrow or pain. And by being there for another, my inner child gains a measure of healing. By sharing some of my experiences, I can help guide another to avoid a painful fall or misstep.
Slowly but surely, recovery has shown me that healing is possible, and that ultimately, to quote a fellow member in recovery, “the joy in our lives is proportionate with the pain we’ve experienced”.
Calm in the face of disturbance
I will try to be unruffled, no matter what happens. I will try to keep my emotions in check, although others around me are letting theirs go. I will keep calm in the face of disturbance, keep that deep inner calm through all the experiences of the day. (24 Hours a Day, Feb. 16)
Before I began working my 12 step program, this would have been a dream, an impossible one. I was never unruffled, and could usually be counted on to "lose it" sometime during most days. Today, it is a possibility that this can really happen. If I think about why it's possible, there is only one answer for me, and that is, that I believe that my Higher Power is arranging the difficulties of my day in order to help me grow from them. It would be easy for me to see it differently - that He is trying to provoke me, get me to lose my temper, make things hard for me, etc. In fact, two people recently gave me that 'take' on their own lives. They are angry at G-d, feeling really ticked off and picked on. I just don't see it that way anymore.
Maybe there was a time when I often lived on the 'pity pot' thinking 'poor me' most days. But if so, that time has long passed. I feel like our world clock is somehow tickinG-down to something big, that we are all soon to see a big lesson of sorts. In that case, all this "learning opportunity" is good. I see things in a new light: My challenges in life are geared towards this - growth, learning and connection with my Higher Power. All these things that could easily serve to get me to lose my temper, have my emotions explode -- are now seen (by me) in a new way. So, no reason to "get ruffled" by the challenges and events. Instead, it's just another "spiritual" and "learning" opportunity to look at it all and see what I can do about it, learn about it, and even just to ask my HP what He wants from me, right here and right now.
What a different way to look at life! Even when I may see others around me losing their cool over the very same things. Often I feel like I'm in a time warp, or third dimension, since I am not feeling so stressed by the very same things that seem to stress others. This is especially startling to me, since I used to respond in the very same way. Perhaps this is what we mean in program about changing our way from "reacting on life to acting on life." I guess that's what's meant by "choosing" to live instead of having life just sort of run away with us. Choosing to remain calm in the face of frustration, too.
I like that -- the "choice" part. When I was in active addiction, my choices were gone. It was all automatic. Today I get to choose. Super-cool.
I pray that I may not ask to see the distant scene. I pray that one step may be enough for me. - 24 Hours a Day, Oct. 28
Essentially, the question here is whether or not I trust that G-d is taking care of me. If I truly believe that He is watching over me, planning out my life in the way that is best for me, even if this involves challenges and struggles, then it's enough to live in the now. I have no need to worry about the future. I don't have to anticipate what is coming next, or to stress about it. I can feel safe, no matter what, because I am like a baby in its mother's arms, not having to worry about the next meal. I do not have to ask "what's next?" but can take my time -- right here, right now, in the very step I am taking. This doesn't mean that I can't plan for the future just that I don't need to worry about it. Planning helps me to prepare that next step, but worrying trips me up before I even take it.
A good example for this concept is tapestry. On the back, it looks like a mess, with knots and clumps. But on the front, there may be a masterpiece - a magnificent picture. That's what our lives are like. To us, it often seems a mess - with stops and starts, with all sorts of knots and bungles. But to G-d, Who sees the true masterpiece of our lives, all of these little bits make up the complete picture of who and what we are meant to be, and will eventually become -- all the little parts that make up the whole. When our lives are done, and we are in our final "home" - right next to G-d, then we will be able to look back and see the whys and wherefores of our lives- the purpose and reason for all our difficult challenges and the whole picture. No longer will we question the challenges we faced, and why we had to go through them. In fact, we will be grateful for the things that made us who we were.
That is the trust, the faith -- that there is a magnificent picture and an Artist Who is designing it all. Only a fool would look at the back of the tapestry and question the purpose of all that mess. I hope that I'm not a fool. No point in worrying about the future, or wanting or needing to know it all before it happens, so as to allay my fears about it. With this faith, this trust, I can live in the now, and trust that G-d, my Higher Power, is guiding me and watching me -- one step at a time.
By Chaya Bluma
Fall has arrived here in Israel. Thank G-d! Rain has begun to fall. Few people grumble about the cold or the wetness -- since the dire water shortage in our country is a concern shared by just about everyone. It's even common to hear an update of the status of the water level in Lake Kinneret announced on the news.
Many talk about the weather as though it's simply a fact of nature. They complain about the weather forecasters' inaccuracies. They regard the rain or lack of it as a result of chance. We have a different way of looking at life. Our experience in recovery has opened our eyes to an expanded version of reality.
In Step 2, we "came to believe that a power greater than ourselves" is actually in control. Although we may sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that we can run the show, when we are "restored to sanity" we identify with the Truth. We have learned (often the hard way) that we need to connect with G-d in order to live a complete, healthy, sane, fulfilling, good life.
We read that in the Garden of Eden, although there were all variety of plants, there was no rain until Adam prayed for it to fall. Perhaps the vegetation could have survived from underground water sources, but Adam's responsibility was to ask G-d to bestow his blessings on the garden.
Similarly, G-d wants us to not only recognize that He is the source of everything, but also to attribute the bounty in our lives to Him. By strengthening our understanding that G-d knows best how to take care of us and our needs, and by expressing gratitude to Him, we can actively participate in generating more goodness in the world. Each Fall, on Shmini Atzeret we begin mentioning that G-d “makes the wind blow and the rain descend” during each Amidah prayer. We postpone our formal request for rain, however, for 15 days -- until the 7th of Cheshvan. Ostensibly, this delay was instituted as consideration to the travelers who had come to the Land of Israel for Sukkot in the days of the Holy Temple. It would take those coming from the farthest away that amount of time to return home.
Historically that makes perfect sense, but is there any additional relevance for us today in an age of high-speed travel? Aside from the fact that we continue the tradition of prayers instituted by our sages in their wisdom generations ago, we can benefit from exploring the symbolism of this delay. Perhaps there's a deeper meaning that relates to human nature, and the way in which we typically internalize ideas.
"The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it."- Big Book of AA pg. 83. Like it or not, there's frequently a lag between intellectually knowing a truth -- until it becomes part of how we view the world. For many, it is not at all easy to follow the Twelve Steps. Just for today, we try to do what we know is best for us. We continue to struggle, and sometimes to feel pain, although we already "know" that G-d is the One Ruler. We come to realize that our efforts of control are often counterproductive. Like the delay between mentioning that G-d, among other things, regulates rainfall, and praying for that blessing, we need time to make the journey from Step 2 to our ultimate goal in Step 12 – "to practice these principles in all our affairs."
May Israel's need for rain be a reminder that G-d, in His limitless mercy, is constantly "ready" to shower down His blessings on us. Our challenge is to humbly receive, and to constantly cultivate an attitude of thankfulness. When we can achieve that, we will merit all the myriad blessings G-d has in store for us.
We all have a choice between widely separated alternatives. We can like ourselves or hate ourselves. We can lift ourselves up or put ourselves down. We can be for ourselves or against ourselves. Actions, attitudes and thinking determine the direction of our choices. - Easy Does It, Oct. 12
I like this quote a lot. It reminds me that I am not just a victim of circumstances; that I can decide what my life will be like. There was a time when I was more comfortable just wallowing in the complaints and negatives -- when it was easier just to take it all, and use it as an excuse for my behavior.
These days, though, I like having the understanding that there is a lot that is up to me. I can take the same lemons and make lemonade out of them, instead of complaining about their bitterness. I can make good out of the bad, or rather, I can see the good in every situation, instead of viewing it as "all bad."
Everything that happens in my life is there for a reason. Everything is there to challenge me to grow -- to develop, to learn, to help others. There is no "bad", per say, when I can recognize that my Higher Power put it there for me; for some reason, some purpose. I recognize that ultimately, He only has my good in mind -- my best in mind. What happens in my life is there in order to enhance my soul and achieve its purpose in this world. That's a far cry from kvetching and complaining, and just wallowing in the pity pot of "poor me."
So what can I do with all of this today? I can look at things differently, I can have a positive attitude (even an 'attitude of gratitude'), and I can choose the right path and good decisions and actions.
Just thinking this way gives me the "oomph" and the "push" to get going and get doing. Sounds like a plan -- a good one, in fact.
By Susan T.
I am having such a hard time concentrating on the prayers of the Neilahservice, the closing prayer of Yom Kippur. My eight year old son, Shalom, is nowhere in sight. He hasn’t been in synagogue nearly the whole day. He left mid-morning to play at a friend; his father, who made the arrangements, assumed that he would be brought back to synagogue in time for the Minchah (afternoon) service. Minchah passes, Neilah has begun, and Shalom is still nowhere in sight. I am not worried about his safety; I am simply heartsick that his soul is not soaking up the Yom Kippur praying. I keep glancing over the divider in the center of the synagogue, compulsively eyeing my husband and other son, wondering if they are even aware of Shalom’s absence. In past years my spirit has been transported to exalted places during the Neilah service. This time, I can’t seem to get my focus off missing Shalom, or away from my steadily rising resentments at my husband for having dispatched our son so wantonly. I can barely concentrate on the words, let alone repeat the responsive verses. I am brutally distressed that my thoughts are in the mundane instead of the sublime. I use the occasion to pray: G-d, I am powerless over Shalom’s whereabouts. I am powerless over my husband’s poor judgment. I am powerless over the timing with which the friend’s family will eventually return my son to synagogue. I am powerless over my compulsion to blame. What’s more: I am powerless over my own inability to concentrate on the prayers. I can’t do it without Your help. G-d, I need You to release me. I can’t do it on my own. I can’t even forgive myself for not being able to concentrate.
I contemplate: This incident happened for a reason. This is part of G-d’s plan. This is perfectly scripted for my good. I intellectualize the notion but I can’t feel it. Like Jonah the prophet, second-guessing G-d, I wonder: How can it be good for Shalom not to be in synagogue on Yom Kippur? I rationalize: Maybe there’s a situation at the friend’s home that Shalom is able to help with. Maybe the father left already and the mother doesn’t feel well enough to walk the boys back to synagogue. Maybe there could have been an accident, G-d forbid, on the way -- and by being delayed my son was spared harm. I simply can’t get these preoccupations out of my head. In wondering why Shalom is not here, I have lost myself. Somewhere in this picture, I struggle to sense, there has to be something that G-d has intended just forme. The liturgy somehow slowly seeps in. G-d is forgiving, G-d is merciful. If I continue to feel anger towards my husband, how is G-d supposed to forgive me? I realize I need to pray: G-d, help me to be free of anger and judgment and resentment. Help me to forgive others, help me to forgive myself. Help me to trust You. I can’t do it on my own.
I am suddenly aware that I am experiencing a new, deeper place of brokenness. Through tears and sobs, that echo the tears and sobs of so much pain during the past year, I come to realize that I need G-d to restore me to sanity. It’s that obvious. So I ask. Rather, I beg. G-d, please relieve me. I can’t do it without You.
I stop peering over the divider. I quit looking for my son. I look in my prayer book, but, blurred by my tears, I can’t see the words. I look up at the ner tamid – the Eternal Light. So small, so still. At Kol Nidrei, I spotted that steady little light, and decided: that is my soul: A light that is sustained by G-d alone. A light that stays course, barely moving, only occasionally flittering. Steady. A pure glimmer surrounded by a sea of complexities, but a steadfast source of light. The light begins to anchor me. I am no longer preoccupied with Shalom. I hear Neilah. I am frightened that it is almost over. I hurry to catch up, wanting to savor those moments when I am locked in alone with G-d, before the collective recitation of Shema that comes at the end of Yom Kippur.
I am crying again, but this time it’s because my soul has actually managed to unite with its source. Conscious thoughts are finally stilled. The essence of my being is unified with G-d. I cry and shout: Baruch shem kevod malchuto le’olam va’ed – Blessed be the Name of the glory of His Kingdom forever and ever. I sway back and forth and plead: Hashem hu haElokim – G-d is the L-rd. I am finally me. My voice is one instrument in the symphony of souls calling to G-d in that Neilah moment. I am one of many but I am singular. My eyes are shut tightly. My face is tear-streaked. G-d, I want only You.
I hear the shofar (ram’s horn). In past years its sound jubilantly enjoined me to song and celebration, L’shana haba-ah Birushalyim– Next year in Jerusalem. This time, I am still crying: G-d, won’t you please sound the shofar of Moshiach? Around me, congregants are singing and dancing. I feel a nudge on my shoulder. I am not ready to respond. The nudge continues; finally it intrudes itself with a voice; a mother who prayed near me, whose child I insensitively “shushed” more than once this Yom Kippur, gives me a blessing: “I hope all your prayers are answered,” she lovingly offers. I think: She probably assumes I’ve been praying for the health of a loved one, or sustenance, or a husband for my daughter. Her tap helps me identify what my one and only prayer has been this Yom Kippur: G-d, I want only You. Please help me to retain my recognition that You are the source of my serenity; You are my anchor; You create everything perfectly just for me; You won’t let me down; You will help me find peace; You keep me in Your picture; You sustain the light that is my soul. I am now ready to leave synagogue with me in You; without judgments and resentments. You have lifted these character defects. For today, You have answered my prayers.