Monday, 12 April 2021

Step 3, Exercise 1 & 2: Surrender & Wisdom

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of this Power of our own understanding.


Step 3, Exercise 1: Surrender


Step 3 asks us to surrender – to turn our will and our lives over to the care of our Higher Power. Notice that the step says care of, not control of. There’s ease, gentleness, comfort and support in this kind of surrender. Step 3 asks us to make a commitment to let go of our stubborn, habitual or irrational need or desire to control things that are clearly beyond our control. These are “things we cannot change” – like the actions of others, the weather, the passage of time, and our compulsive gambling. By allowing our benevolent guiding spirit or Higher Power to handle these things, we free ourselves to address the things that are within our control. These are all the things we listed in Step 1, Exercise 4 – like remaining abstinent, attending meetings, being honest, finding spirituality, achieving balance. If we allow ourselves to be cared for in matters over which we have no control, we can direct our energies to effecting change within ourselves.


Write about three things you could lose – or you’re afraid you could lose – if you were to make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of a Higher Power. Write about three things you could gain.


Control - Since I’ve come into recovery, I have struggled with spirituality and I have spoken about it throughout my step work. One of the reasons I struggled was this sense that I would be losing control over certain things if I “turned it over”.  I had this idea that if I was to put my faith in a higher power, then that meant I wasn’t putting any faith into myself. That I would lose control over the decisions I was making in my recovery. That I would have to look towards this higher power and instead of controlling my journey, it would be controlling my journey. My thoughts on control extended out beyond me and towards other people, places and things. I wanted to be in control of where and when I did things or how I responded to situations or how I behaved. If I turned it over I would lose that and become this generic “recovery robot” which is something I have always said I never want to become. I also had a view that people who “turned it over” were mentally weak or unable to cope with issues on their own. I pretty much thought the idea of a higher power was a cop out. Which of course, I have come to realise, was utter bollocks.


The fact is, I’ve figured out that control is one of the things I have been able to gain since “turning it over” and this is because I have realised and accepted that the only thing I can control is my mind. I can’t control the thoughts inside there, but I can control how I respond to situations and what people, places and things I allow to occupy my mind. I can disagree with someone, even get pissed off at them, I can feel that emotion but then I have the control not to dwell on it. Not to let it live rent free in my head. It’s difficult to do and a lot of the time I struggle with it and that is where I reach out to someone and talk to them. They usually allow me to vent about it and I realise that I can’t control what has happened and I just need to let it go. That is a level of control I never had before when practicing my addiction. I was never in control during that period of my life and even when I was internally fighting the spirituality side of recovery, I wasn’t in control then either.


Reading about Stoic philosophy helped me realise this about my mind. From reading ‘The Little Book of Stoicism’ now I’m aware that only I have access to my mind and only I can ruin my life. I’m responsible. The emotions I feel, as real as they are, don’t come from the outside, they come from the inside. I generate those emotions, I generate my pain. If something happens, my judgement or my reaction is what causes me to feel how I feel. Marcus Arelius says, “remove the judgement and the hurt itself is removed.” Don’t judge the event and I won’t get harmed. That of course, is easier said than done but it is something I try to work on daily. I am still a judgemental bastard but where I am seeing progress is in responding vs reacting to events outside of my control. So my mindset now is that no matter what uncontrollable challenges I am facing in life (things I was scared to lose control of before), I have the power to decide what these events mean to me, only I have the freedom to choose my best response. My response will either delight me or my reaction will harm me.


Epictetus advises to always have two rules ready at mind: (1) there is nothing good or bad unless we choose to make it so, and (2) we shouldn’t try to lead events but follow them. Resistance is futile, take things as they come, and make the best of what’s in your power.


Independence (Definition - not requiring or relying on something else: not contingent/not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct) - Those definitions of independent are what I was afraid I would lose. I was concerned I would have to rely on others for the rest of my life, that I wouldn’t be able to stand on my own two feet. I would constantly have to ask others for their opinions and guidance, especially a higher power. I wouldn’t feel free to make my own choices as I would be too busy worrying about what other people would think. I would have this image to try and adhere to in recovery and be this person that other people wanted me to be. Again, as with control, this was all bollocks and my old addictive behaviours trying to maintain dominance in my brain. 


It turns out two of the other definitions of independent are, not subject to control by others and showing a desire for freedom. Those two definitions, plus the two from above I want to break down separately to show that by “turning it over” I haven’t lost independence, I have actually gained it because, like control previously, I never truly had independence in active addiction and I certainly didn’t have it in early recovery as I struggled with the spirituality aspects of the program.


Not requiring or relying on something else: not contingent - Do I require recovery to stay away from the first bet or to prevent myself sliding towards another addiction? I believe that it is likely, but not certain to happen, which is the not contingent part of the definition. My main reason being in recovery is about growing as a person and living a happy and smoothly flowing life. The Stoics call that eudaimonia and one of the corners of the Stoic Happiness Triangle is Live with Arete which is basically expressing the highest version of myself moment to moment to moment. I fail at doing this very often but it's something I focus on trying to improve daily. I’m not tethered to my recovery for fear of relapse or going back to my addiction, I am in recovery because I want to be in recovery. I can see the benefits and the opportunities with my own eyes. I can choose either to be in recovery or not to be in recovery and when I compare that to the lack of choice I felt when in active addiction, then I have gained independence.


Not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct - I have really struggled with this step for a long time and all I had to do was open my eyes and read it properly. I now have a clear interpretation of this step and it pretty much explains it at the start. I made a decision to let go of what I can’t control and allow my higher power to handle that shit so I can focus on taking deliberate action for change in my life. So again, by me being open to guidance from my higher power, it has given me a new level of independence that allows me to focus on taking action to change my life for the better. When it comes to other people, I seek them out for opinions and guidance in conduct because I am teachable, because I want to learn. Again, there is choice here. I am always open to suggestions from others in recovery because, in my opinion, this is a program built around suggestions. I don’t give advice to anyone because for me the power of suggestion is much more successful. 


Not subject to control by others - I’ve already written enough about control earlier on but I just want to link that for me, realising that I control my own mind helped gain independence. Back in active addiction I was controlled by it, by gambling and it felt like I had no available options. All I could do was continue to gamble and try and fix things myself. Compare that to now where I am in control of my own mind. When my mind is clear and in a good place I can make good choices. I can respond. When it is not clear I can make bad choices. I can react.


Showing a desire for freedom - Desire is all that is required to gain access to recovery and from there it is up to each individual person. I don’t think it gets much more independent than that. The beauty of it is that independence doesn’t mean doing things alone, as I have touched on. I never have to feel alone in recovery if I do not want to. So many people are breaking free of their chains of addiction and cultivating a better life for themselves and together we walk this journey because we are all showing a desire for freedom.


My personality - Again, this is another one that I felt like I could lose but it turns out I have actually gained it by “turning it over”. Being this generic, literature quoting, constantly happy (like seriously, who the fuck is THAT happy) fake recovery robot was and probably still is something I fear. I was afraid I would lose who I was. I would lose what made me, me. I would lose that spark, that charm, whatever way you want to put it. I worried that I would turn into this generic person in a room full of generic people and it would all be a lie. That all sounds a bit extreme but I have seen people like that in rooms (they walk amongst us).


In all seriousness though, this program has given me a personality that I could only ever dream of back when I was in active addiction. It has brought out a personality that quite honestly, I didn’t even know was inside of me and I’m genuinely happy. Yes, I’m still a judgemental prick at times and yes my humour can still get very dark but those things (and more) that I was afraid I would lose have been enhanced and improved. I also think my personality has allowed me to relate the literature to my own experiences more because I’m not a fan of quoting with zero substance or leaving out how it has impacted my recovery. I’m not afraid to show in a meeting that I have flaws and character defects that need working on. I don’t believe in a set way that I should speak to a newcomer. I have a personality, flaws and all, that I am not ashamed about. This is who I am and if you don’t like it, that’s fine. I quite honestly couldn’t give a shit. 


How do we become willing to open our minds and hearts to the benevolent guidance of a Higher Power? We can start within the program itself. Many of us in G.A. have come to experience the meetings and the fellowship as a power greater than ourselves. Through sponsorship, we can align ourselves with members who practice the principles of the program and embody its spirit.


Do you have a sponsor? If yes, write about how the relationship connects you to G.A. and supports you in your life. If no, list the qualities you would look for in a sponsor and write about how a nurturing relationship with someone in G.A. could enhance your recovery. Are you willing to make a commitment to choosing a sponsor within the next 60 days?


I do have a sponsor and this is my second sponsor in the program. I had about a 6+ month gap there where I didn’t have a sponsor and for a while I probably had an attitude, and ego, that I didn’t really need one. One golden rule I have though is that if it’s in the step workbook, I’m going to do it and I knew this question was coming up in step 3 so I made the decision to look for one. 


I didn’t really look for long as I knew who I wanted to ask because in my sponsor I see someone who has humility, is at peace with themselves and they are considerate of others. One other massive trait they have is that, even after a lot of time in recovery, they remain teachable and that is something that I currently have and want to retain. These qualities and more is what made me reach out and ask if they would sponsor me and they are qualities that I feel help connect me with recovery.


Step 3, Exercise 2: Wisdom


Surrendering our will to our Higher Power enables us to know our Higher Power’s will for us. Letting go of our need to control (or be controlled) opens the door for us to develop the wisdom to know the difference between the things we can change and the things we can’t. Because we’re not attempting to exert out will, acquiesce to the will of others or force an outcome, we are empowered to see situations as they really are, determine whether our participation is appropriate, assess our options and make productive choices.


1) Does surrendering your will mean sacrificing your independence? Even if it does, might it not be worth it?


I covered this in exercise 1 above - Independence (Definition - not requiring or relying on something else: not contingent/not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct) - Those definitions of independent are what I was afraid I would lose. I was concerned I would have to rely on others for the rest of my life, that I wouldn’t be able to stand on my own two feet. I would constantly have to ask others for their opinions and guidance, especially a higher power. I wouldn’t feel free to make my own choices as I would be too busy worrying about what other people would think. I would have this image to try and adhere to in recovery and be this person that other people wanted me to be. Again, as with control, this was all bollocks and my old addictive behaviours trying to maintain dominance in my brain. 


It turns out two of the other definitions of independent are, not subject to control by others and showing a desire for freedom. Those two definitions, plus the two from above I want to break down separately to show that by “turning it over” I haven’t lost independence, I have actually gained it because, like control previously, I never truly had independence in active addiction and I certainly didn’t have it in early recovery as I struggled with the spirituality aspects of the program.


2) On what do you usually base your decisions? Anger? Intuition? Fear? Logic? How has that worked for you in the past? Is it working for you now? Are you willing to consider another path?


This is an interesting question and one that I will break down into three parts, active addiction, early recovery and now because I feel like I have based my decisions on these four things throughout each stage, but in a different way each time.


Active addiction - This is the stage where I would have used intuition combined with one or more of anger, fear and logic. Intuition is defined as “the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.” For me it’s clear now that I never gave rational thought to any decision I made and there was always a level of intuition running through every decision. The outcome was always going to involve gambling as that is what I felt like I enjoyed doing and no matter how I felt, good or bad, it would always make the situation feel that much better. I would combine it with anger if somebody pissed me off, which is self explanatory but I would also do things based on anger if I felt hard done by or unfairly treated. Fear was largely based on decisions that could end up getting me caught or expose my gambling to those around me. When it comes to logic, I do like to think of myself as a logical person and I would have used this to my advantage to manipulate people or situations to my benefit. 


Early recovery - This was the stage when the intuition became less of a constant running through each decision and I would say that decisions based on anger were rare. I’d still get angry, don’t get me wrong but I would usually vent to my sponsor or a close friend before deciding my next step. The intuition was lacking because I was giving a little bit of rational thought to what I was doing some of the time. I was still a work in progress but I was at least aware that I didn’t know everything. Fear was probably more to do with my low self-esteem and focusing too much on if I was doing a good job sharing in meetings, helping people, writing my blog etc. Logic, again, played a role. I was trying to see situations from all sides, learning to be aware of other people’s feelings but I was still manipulating situations from time to time.


So, for these two stages there is a theme that I can see and that is the theme of control. I was using anger, intuition, fear and logic to try and control situations in active addiction and in early recovery I was doing exactly the same thing, albeit I framed it in a healthy way. Which it wasn’t. It didn’t work in active addiction and it wasn’t working for me in early recovery.


Which takes me to now. I am much more willing to let things go and play out as they do without attempting to control or manipulate the situation. Yes, I still get fucked off at people, places and things. Yes, I still vent to people I trust before reacting to a situation so that I can instead respond to a situation, if required.


The intuition I am working towards would be defined as the power or faculty of attaining the wisdom to know the difference between the things I can change and the things I can’t change without having to think about it. That is some top level shit if I can get to that point so for now I’ll have to make sure I keep thinking about it which to me is using my higher power. 


Fear doesn’t often play a role in my decision making for two reasons. One, I know if I am being honest I have nothing to fear and two, if something does happen that makes me fearful, I know I’m not alone and can reach out and talk to someone which I have found usually removes the fear before I make a decision.


Finally we get to logic and yes, I still use my logic but it is to realise that I can’t manipulate situations anymore and I can’t control situations anymore. In fact, it’s more than that. It’s that I don’t need to manipulate or control situations (or people) anymore and I use my logic to see that there is another path that I can take. A better path. 


3) What does the phrase “Do the right thing” mean to you? How does it work? Cite a recent example from your life.


I always say that if I wake up today, try to do the next right thing each time, then I know I won’t gamble today, and I believe that. It’s worked for me so far. That takes a lot of pressure off me worrying about whether I will gamble and allows me to focus on my recovery. So to me, trying to do the next right thing is simply dealing with situations as they arise and try, I like to emphasise try because rarely do I get it right, to handle that situation the best that I can. How I know it should be dealt with. Using what I have learned on my journey so far and trying to apply it to everyday situations. It’s about putting into action what I am learning in recovery.


How does it work? This is the point where I imagine it wants me to say I turn it over to my higher power. Let my higher power guide me. I guess I kind of do, in a way, just not worded like I’m on my knees looking up at the sky. Instead, as I said in exercise 1, I made a decision to let go of what I can’t control and allow my higher power to handle that shit so I can focus on taking deliberate action for change in my life. For me, one of the key things is asking myself if I know how to handle the situation in question. Sometimes I do, or think I do, and proceed and sometimes that is a mistake. Other times I realise I don’t know how to handle the situation and reach out and ask someone else. It could be that instead of reacting I take a moment to compose my thoughts and respond. It’s all about getting honest with myself and implementing what I am learning. It’s all about action, not words.


A recent example and I’m sure there are many failures I could talk about, most of which are situations in which I lose my shit and shout at the kids for something, but a positive example recently of it working well was when I was moved teams in work, which wasn’t my choice. I could have bitched and moaned about it but instead I just realised it was something outside of my control and I accepted it was happening and moved without issue. My manager was grateful I took the news well and that the transition was smooth and I am also enjoying my new team. If I had bitched and moaned it probably would have happened anyway only with me causing unnecessary waves in the process.


Russ


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