Thursday, June 18, 2009

It Is What It Is

The Recovery World is full of slogans and sayings; we repeat them so often that sometimes they start to feel rote. I forget to remember their deeper meanings. Many of them are short and funny, like some of my favorites: What other people think of me is none of my business, Sobriety Delivers what Alcohol Promised, or Dopeless Hopefiend.

Many of them are simple, clear and startlingly true. I hated the slogans I would hear when I was in early Recovery. It took me a while to realize that I didn't like them because they mostly spoke the truth. You see them often on bumper stickers, like First Things First, Easy Does It, One Day At A Time,and This Too Shall Pass.

And, despite my early cynicism, they are very helpful. The message most of them preach is Acceptance. In recovery we often talk about how we don't have control over people, places or things. We only have control over how we respond, how we let other people influence us. And we talk about trying to do the Next Right Thing.

And we talk about feelings. Man, do we talk about feelings. We talk about how we feel about our feelings. Some days it is enough to make me want to lie down on the floor and go to sleep. But, with time, I realized why we do this. Because oftentimes we don't even have control over our feelings, either. As alcoholics, for many of us this is at the root of why we drank. To manufacture the right feelings. To hide from the ones we don't like.

Yesterday I had a bad day. Nothing life altering or tragic, but all-in-all a bad day - nothing clicked. It was two steps forward and one step back all day. It started in the morning when someone I don't know well got really angry with me over something that wasn't my fault. The rest of the day unraveled from there... my perspective on the world had shifted. Suddenly everything felt unfair. My son has a cold, he isn't feeling well, and he was super cranky all morning. I had lots to get done, and not enough time to do it. The dishwasher wasn't working properly. I stubbed my toe. I lost the car keys. I felt victimized by everything - doesn't the world know I'm trying my best, I thought. Why can't things just go my way for once?

Those little slogans began winking at me from the back of my subconscious. Take It Easy, they said. This too shall pass. When I'm in a horrible mood, it colors my whole perspective. Suddenly nothing can go right. In truth, the only thing wrong is my outlook. There isn't anything really different about today versus yesterday. I'm just choosing to see things differently. Just Breathe, my subconscious says.

In Recovery, I have learned that I can't go around emotions, and I can't make them go away. A bad mood is just a bad mood - no more, no less. And bad moods don't last forever. Somehow, when I'm feeling joy or happiness, I don't have the unrealistic expectation that I'll feel this great feeling forever, so why do I do this with bad moods? What is the point in letting a bad mood ruin everything? Dishwashers can be fixed, stubbed toes heal, and lost car keys can be found. If people, places or things are making me feel badly, it is because I'm letting them. Serenity is not freedom from the storm, it is peace amid the storm. I can't keep storms from coming, of course I can't. But I can try to keep my perspective grounded and peaceful. Sometimes, in order to do this - to ground myself - I have to give a name to what is wrong. What we have here is a bad mood, I'll say to myself. I'm feeling pissed off because nothing is going right today. I'm resentful that someone yelled at me for no reason. I'm stressed because I have so much to do. I allow myself a few minutes to sit in it, to wallow in the unfairness of it all. To luxuriate in how underappreciated, or resentful, or angry I feel.

Then it is time to move on. Because, in the immortal words of Henry Ford, "whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right".


  1. hmm, good way of looking at it all.I like that.

  2. "Serenity is not freedom from the storm, it is peace amid the storm."

    I'd like a poster of that in the bathroom, above the kitchen sink and a tiny one in the car. And a tatoo of it on my arm.