"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."
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
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.