Despite my experience with recovery and the 12 Steps, when difficulties arise, I still occasionally catch myself falling into old thought patterns. Some of those thoughts are a gut-level emotional response to the situation. Some are my attempt to find a quick solution to a problem. Neither is particularly productive nor useful. Fortunately, my experience with recovery helps me find my way through those uncomfortable moments back into the light. Here’s my story from when three things disrupted my lovely, tranquil world early in 2012, each devastating in its own way.
Three Disruptive Moments
The first disruptive moment came when a friend and I were discussing her fifteen-year-old daughter’s addiction problem. My immediate temptation was to think that this was unique and different—a special problem that needed to be dealt with in an extraordinary manner. I thought—there must be some kind of therapy, magic medication or miracle action which could fix the problem once and for all. Rescue and fix—that’s the answer. These thoughts raced through my head and I’m sure through her parents’ minds as well. How can we make the problem just go away?
Then my husband, Bill, complained about a floater in his eye that had been there for nearly a month affecting his vision as he was trying to finish a large wood carving. His balance and driving skills were rapidly deteriorating along with his peripheral vision. So it was off to the emergency room where we discovered a brain tumor and possible lung cancer. This all started on Monday, and by Friday he was in surgery to remove an egg-sized tumor from his optic nerve. Life was looking rather bleak—these are not things I would ask for. These are gifts wrapped in barbed wire. Surely, this is unique and special? What can I do to fix it?
Finally in late March, my dear friends lost their beautiful mountain home—one of twenty-seven homes lost—in a sudden and devastating wildfire. The fire started after a controlled burn got whipped into reactivation during one of the windiest days I’ve ever experienced in Colorado. Wind is relentless; it worms its way into the tiniest flaps and cracks to rip apart a seemingly solid structure. Add fire to the mix and there is real trouble. The controlled burn had been considered safe and contained since it had been conducted nearly two weeks prior, in winter––albeit an unusually dry winter. Tragically, a few deep pockets of embers flared during the windstorm that blew through that day. What is to be done when everything is gone—all the material stuff? Isn’t this the worst thing ever? How do we make this better?
My friends said, “The fear of losing everything is worse than the actuality.” When I asked if we could trade gifts (fire for cancer) they said, “No, we don’t want yours.” And rightly so. Each of us receives the “gifts” we are meant to have—the experiences our souls crave in this life.
So how do we cope? In truth, there is no magic to keep “bad” things from happening or to “fix it” when they do, but there is something that helps in every difficult situation. I look to the teachings of Recovery.
Why is Recovery THE Answer?
Recovery tells me that my attitude is the only thing I can change and therefore is the only thing I am responsible for.
The 12 Steps give me a way to change my attitude, although seeing what my real habitual attitudes are can be painful and humiliating. Step Nine is to take responsibility for my past actions by admitting they have harmed and disturbed others in my life. Ironically, these are often things that hurt me more than they have anyone else, and revisiting them is equally painful. They are the things I don’t want you to know about me.
- I don’t want to tell you that as my friend struggled with her daughter’s addiction, I thought, She at least got to have kids; if that were my daughter, I would have handled it differently—in other words, perfectly!
- I don’t want you to know that when Bill was diagnosed with a brain tumor and lung cancer, my first thought was, He’s losing weight and I’m not!
- I don’t want to admit that when my friends’ house burned my thought was, They get a new house, what about me?
I share my innermost thoughts and feelings many times in 12 Step fellowship meetings. It is an incredible and freeing experience and while I wouldn’t wish the way I have felt, thought, and behaved in these instances on anyone, it sure is comforting to know that others in the room have at times thought, felt, and behaved just like I have.
Yes, the old, habitual ways of thinking are still there—the petty focus on myself, the desire for a quick fix. Perhaps it’s the human condition that allows the shitty little kid inside of me to whine and complain or that allows me to think I can solve everything. But, I no longer simply have to live with the most unattractive parts of myself. The 12 Steps give me a way to recognize and accept those parts because without acceptance there can be no change. When I attempt to hide those parts of myself, they grow and grow in the darkness that is my belief in the lie, and I can certainly gather the evidence that the lie is true. But once I accept them, I can change my attitude and, ultimately, my thinking and my behavior.
Like the old Chinese proverb,
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime…”
the Steps teach me a way to deal with the uncertainties of the universe, my human condition, the shitty little kid and the lie that constantly tries to invade my life. They teach me how to fish. The beginnings of the change in my thinking are detailed in our book “Dig Deep in One Place,” but the change continues today as I journey on this great adventure finding out who I can be if I just stop believing the lies of the habits of a lifetime—that whining, unattractive part of myself.
Bill and Sandy Fifield are passionate artists, authors and speakers.Their life together began as an equal artistic partnership that was eventually transformed by addiction, alcoholism and co-dependence. Ultimately, however, their path led them to a place of happy, joyous freedom. In 1992 when recovery entered their lives, they enthusiastically threw themselves into helping others. Their book, “Dig Deep in One Place: A Couple’s Journey to a Spiritual Life,” was written to share their experience with addiction in hopes of bringing strength to all who read it. Website