"I spent most of my life doing the
Serenity prayer backwards, that is, trying to change the external things
over which I had no control - other people and life events mostly - and taking
no responsibility (except shaming and blaming myself) for my own internal
process - over which I can have some degree of control. Having some control
is not a bad thing; trying to control something or somebody over which I
have no control is what is dysfunctional."
The Dance of Wounded Souls
Self-honesty is the foundation of the Twelve
Step Recovery program - the principle underling the first step. There are
many different levels of honesty, including "cash register" honesty, emotional
honesty, being honest in interactions with others, etc. All levels of honesty
are important in various ways but early in my recovery process I learned
a great deal about being honest with myself from Dr. Paul's chapter in the
Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous - "Doctor,
Alcoholic, Addict." That level of honesty had to do with being honest with
myself about my expectations.
There is an old joke about the difference
between a neurotic and a psychotic. The psychotic truly believes that 2
+ 2 = 5. The neurotic knows that it is 4 but can't stand it. That was the
way I lived most of my life, I could see how life was but I couldn't stand
it. I was always feeling like a victim because people and life were not
acting in the way I believed they "should" act.
I expected life to be different than it
is. I thought if I was good and did it "right" then I would reach 'happily
ever after.' I believed that if I was nice to people they would be nice to
me. Because I grew up in a society where people were taught that other people
could control their feelings, and vise versa, I had spent most of my life
trying to control the feelings of others and blaming them for my feelings.
By having expectations I was giving power
away. In order to become empowered I had to own that I had choices about
how I viewed life, about my expectations. I realized that no one can make
me feel hurt or angry - that it is my expectations that cause me to generate
feelings of hurt or anger. In other words, the reason I feel hurt or anger
is because other people, life, or God are not doing what I want them, expect
them, to do.
I had to learn to be honest with myself
about my expectations - so I could let go of the ones that were insane (like,
everyone is going to drive the way I want them to), and own my choices -
so I could take responsibility for how I was setting myself up to be a victim
in order to change my patterns. Accept the things I cannot change - change
the things I can.
When I first started realizing how much
my expectations were dictating my emotional reactions to life, I tried not
to have any expectations. I soon came to realize that it was impossible to
live in society and not have expectations. If I have electricity in my home
I am going to expect the lights to come on - and if they don't, I am going
to have feelings about it. If I own that having electricity is a choice I
make, then I realize that I am not being the victim of the electric company
I am just experiencing a life event. And life events occur for me to learn
from - not to punish me.
The more I owned that I was making choices
that caused me to give away some power over my feelings and that those feelings
were ultimately my responsibility - the less I reacted out of a victim place
- the more serenity I had about events that occurred. To believe that unpleasant
stuff should never happen to me was a truly insane, dysfunctional notion.
The reality of life is that 'stuff' happens.
Of course, getting to the place where I
could accept life on life's terms was only possible because I was working
on letting go of the belief that it was happening to me because I was unworthy
and bad - which I learned growing up in a shame-based society. It was essential
for me to stop blaming myself and feeling ashamed of being human so that
I could stop blaming others and always feeling like a victim. In other words,
it was necessary to start seeing life as a Spiritual growth process that
I couldn't control in order to get out of the blame them or blame me cycle.
I found that there were layers of expectations
I had to look at. I wanted to feel that I could be a righteous victim if
someone told me they were going to do something and didn't. But then I had
to own that I was the one who chose to believe them. I had to also realize
that falling in love was a choice and not a trap that I accidentally stepped
into. Loving is a choice that I make and the consequences of that choice are
my responsibility not the other persons. As long as I kept buying into the
belief that I was being victimized by the person I loved there was no chance
of having a healthy relationship.
The most insidious level of expectations
for me had to do with my expectations of myself. The "critical parent" voice
in my head has always berated me for not being perfect, for being human.
My expectations, the "shoulds," my disease piled on me were a way in which
I victimized myself. I was always judging, shaming and beating myself up
because as a little child I got the message that something was wrong with
There is nothing wrong with me - or you.
It is our relationship with ourselves and life that is dysfunctional. We
are Spiritual beings who came into body in an emotionally dishonest, Spiritually
hostile environment where everyone was trying to do human according to false
belief systems. We were taught to expect life to be something that it isn't.
It isn't our fault that things are so screwed up - it is however our responsibility
to change the things we can within ourself.