Posted by: innerpilgrimage | January 4, 2012

Shadow-Boxing Reality and Other Non-Acceptance Practices

      Clearly, I wasn’t listening when I wrote that all-important Step One yesterday: “We admitted we were powerless over [addict substance] — that our lives had become unmanageable.” I’m fighting a future that isn’t here yet, having expectations, assumptions, and black-and-white (all-or-nothing, right-or-wrong) judgments on them. My abstinence, though maintained, is reflecting this in how I am eating more sweets, still. Oh, that’s embarrassing, too, admitting that I thought I had it under control when I added them over the holidays. Again, my HP has me covered, which is a humbling experience for which I am grateful. Abstinence, sobriety, withdrawal–whatever one calls the surrender of the compulsive behavior to a Higher Power–is a gift from a Higher Power. It is not created through the will of any person recovering in a 12-Step program, and Step One is that second opportunity (only after Step Zero: “If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it – then you are ready to take certain steps.”) to accept the gift of a new way of life. Surrender isn’t slavery; it’s freedom from the golden shackles of the supposed pleasure an addiction is rumored to offer.

      I return to the Eileen Flanagan book, The Wisdom to Know the Difference, as a wonderful source for reminders of what I am constantly flinging myself into the future over. She has, even in the introduction, a more comprehensive Serenity Prayer which was spoken by Protestant theologian Reinhold Neibuhr, one which resonates in its depth of what it means to surrender to serenity, what it means to act, what wisdom means:
      “God, give us grace,
      To accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
      Courage to change the things that should be changed,
      And wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

      That’s a pretty powerful message, the program Serenity Prayer shorthand of which I try to use to remember this one. We are participants in (not victims of) a society which encourages us not to seek serenity. After all, Ms. Flanagan reasons, our insecurity keeps commerce moving at a brisk pace as we decide the next big cure will save our lives and bring us peace. The right cosmetics, the right food, the right clothing supposedly will fix it all and bring us a perfect (and unattainable) life. We are sold serenity, and we think we’re at fault when money can’t purchase us enlightenment. Unless we acknowledge this is a choice to pursue spiritual enlightenment in physical-world things, we are slaves to the beast. As I’ve said before, physical nourishment for the physical health, mental nourishment for mental health, spiritual nourishment for spiritual health. It is insanity to try to use any of the others to achieve serenity. This can be proved so easily, too: Reading won’t halt starving to death, nor will prayer. We have to surrender to reality, that food and clean water are necessary to keep a human body alive. It really is insanity to think that logic and “rational” thought or a physical-world object can build spiritual strength.
      Happily, like food and water maintains the physical body, prayer and meditation to a power greater than ourselves maintains the spiritual body. It’s simple, yet not easy. After all, we have a filter between our authentic selves and our bodies in the form of an amazing brain. This complex biological learning system helps us both with our physical health and our spiritual health. However, when we feed that amazing brain broken logic, lies we tell ourselves because we don’t trust what is so subtle to observe, that amazing brain will return broken logic. Not everything can be explained, and we find that we know far less as we learn more. In my experience, that’s often terrifying. It’s like when Judy Garland opens the door to her Aunt’s and Uncle’s house after it’s landed in Oz, and a Technicolor world opens to her. A whole world, far beyond what she could imagine, waited on the other side. She didn’t see much of Oz beyond the Yellow Brick Road, the Emerald City, and wherever she saw when she got transported by the Wicked Witch of the West–once the witch realized this outsider was a bigger threat than first assumed. “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” didn’t take her everywhere in Oz; it got her from Point A to Point B for a purpose. She knew more was out there, a whole land, and even the dangers weren’t entirely real until she faced them. The unknown when we open a door is vast, just like the land of Oz. We, however, are limited in what we can experience with our amazing brain and amazing bodies. The spiritual self bridges that gap, but that can be even more worrisome; the spiritual self, unlike the brain and body, opens the door to the infinite expanse of the Universe. Want to face off with what we really do not and cannot know because it is beyond what we can sense, even in our imaginations? Take a spiritual journey, and embrace the humility of learning precisely how infinitesimal a human being is–even as we reach the infinite.
      Ugh, that Oz metaphor was messy. How about this, then: Look up at the night sky from a city, then look up at it from the country or the sea, where there is a lot less light pollution. It’s like a whole new night sky opened up, one that you will know is there even after you return to the city. Then, look at the Hubble Telescope’s Deep Space photos, images taken in what appears to be empty space from Earth. It’s out there, too, even though we can’t perceive it. And even the Hubble is limited. What wonders would we see if we could leave the Solar System and take images just outside of its borders? Then consider the city’s night sky. What we perceive, even as we know more, is almost nothing compared to what’s out there. It’s a choice to either have wonder or to be afraid of it. The wonder is serenity; the fear is anxiety of thinking the brain and body are the end of the road for human existence. Accepting that we can’t know everything, even as we try to (the Hubble Telescope, itself, being a wonderful example of trying to expand our knowledge base) is a powerful acceptance practice.
      The problem is when we live zoomed-in. The behaviors of others around us affect our lives, and we get frustrated that just when we think it’s controlled . . . it goes askew. Like cleaning a home, things come and go, things are moved by others, and things are used which need cleaning and putting-away again. As much as we want to clean once and have it stay clean, we can’t have that. To maintain a clean home is daily progress, not a one-time fix–just like living in recovery.
      So, I have acceptance-practice. I have to deeply accept, perhaps by repetition, that I am powerless over my addictions, and my attempts to find the Magic Cure for a Perfect Life makes my life unmanageable. There is nothing in this world which will create a perfect life. Nothing. There’s no pill, no time-saving device, no food, no lover-savior. Happily Ever After does not exist, because we are evolving beings in an evolving world. Each human being has a lifetime–short or long–to accept our place in that evolving system. We are part of a learning system, and aligning with it by learning what we can and accepting we will never learn everything is pure acceptance. Part of that learning system is to accept that others are learning alongside of us, that their authenticities won’t look like ours from our perceptions. They have the lessons they need to learn; we have ours. To try to force our learning on others causes conflict–within us and outside of us. We don’t want someone to control us; we know controlling others is impossible and undesirable; we try it anyway and fail. This is the dis-ease of addiction, non-acceptance of what is exhausts us into seeking some relief. That search for lasting relief, even though it doesn’t work as a lasting solution, is the manifestation of addiction.
      I am trying to control my teenager’s life. It doesn’t work, as any person with a teenager could tell me. I want to push my teen to learn from my past, to learn that not trying one’s best effort and not working to connect to individuals instead of consider them “enemies”, in order to get my teen into a particular mindset. I learned that without the foundation of motivation to learn, what one can do will be limited. That’s not realistic, though. In a learning system, anything is possible with the right combination of energy. Logically, however, I have decided the equation, “Work hard, get a higher education, be financially stable,” is infallible. So, I suffer. I cause problems in the relationship with my child. I cause problems within myself, as I want to be entirely supportive yet fear if I don’t lean hard, my kid will end up homeless and jobless and miserable.
      In other words, I regret so much the choices I made in my own youth that I don’t want my kid to suffer those consequences. The problem is, my kid won’t suffer the same ones I did. It’s impossible; we are completely different people. Not better or worse than each other (humility), yet still different. So, my well-intentioned advice is just that. It’s an opinion which often turns harmful in frustrated anger that my child won’t hold still long enough to do what I want.
      I am powerless to control his choices, as I should be. Yet, when I try? My life goes into a level of unmanageability that threatens my abstinence from compulsive eating. This is one of those situations when I am focusing on the wrong thing I should change. I am trying to change him, not how I approach him. What is the most important thing I want him to learn from me, the legacy I want to leave? Well, I want him to know that failure is a successful life lesson, and I want him to see that progress is more important than chasing after the impossible: a perfect life after finding the single, magic cure which makes it perfect. How do I do it? Well, I have to accept that I need to LIVE it, not talk about it. I have to accept that he may not choose to have that in his life, as I didn’t choose for decades–even as I spent time twenty years ago in ACOA and Al-Anon rooms. The strength and courage to simply live like that and know that having exposure to a person who lives and loves using HOW (honesty, openness, willingness) will be enough. He will have the knowledge that it exists, and that’s the extent of what I can change. I can change how I approach the world. I can learn to follow the seven pillars of mindfulness (non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go of outcome). I can remember that opinions are not mandates, and my advice to others is an opportunity to change something within me.
      I’m considering getting a nice little compact mirror to carry around everywhere. When I want to give advice to someone else, I should whip out my little Self-Awareness Mirror and say what I wanted to say to that person directly to my own reflection. After all, I am the person I can fix, and if I don’t like something someone else is doing? It’s something I do which I want to change in myself yet feel I am powerless to do so. If I want others to be abstinent in order to strengthen my own? I need to be abstinent in order to strengthen theirs. If I want a sponsor and cannot find one, then I need to do the steps as best I can with what I have (and there is a glut of learning resources in bookstores and on the web which can get me there), and become a sponsor for people who cannot find one. If I want someone to reach out and lift me from the life I find unmanageable, I need to reach out to my Higher Power and lift myself from that unmanageable life. And since I know it’s well-intentioned to others? It certainly is well-intentioned for me. Live Step Zero, and let people choose to make those changes in themselves if they want what I have as I follow that well-intentioned advice and have the courage to change what should be changed: me.
      Simple, but not easy. That’s the essence of recovery, right there: choosing a simple solution over the easy path to unmanageability. It is easy to criticize and advise others. It is simple to live mindfully and use that awareness offered by the urge to advise in order to change the things which make my life unmanageable.
      My name is Jess, and I am a food binge-arexic, toxic love addict, and real love avoidant. I tell people a lot about acceptance, even as I don’t practice that acceptance. That’s insanity, being unwilling to show-don’t-tell. That is, to me, the essence of Tradition Eleven: “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, films, television and other public media of communication.” If I live program, I don’t have to proselytize. A life of serenity is an oasis in a desert of longing. I was attracted to it. Every time I meet a person who’s living a honest, open, and willing life of recovery, I am attracted to it again. There’s something miraculous about a person who enters the rooms with that calmness which just changes the energy in a meeting. And if I keep progressing, I can be that for others–HP willing to grant me that grace.


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