Each of us could probably create a list of people that for some reason or other presses our buttons. Some people on our list would be obvious choices like our spouses, parents or our siblings. Then of course there are co-workers and acquaintances that also rub us the wrong way. All of these people do have one thing in common. They seem to say or take actions that get us involved in resentments, drama, and behaviors which are inappropriate. For many of us these transactions have been taking place for years and sometimes decades. We often angrily blamed these people for “what they did to us”.
Many of these same people took up ample space in our fourth step. As part of that process we have come to realize that we are not victims in this life. When a person makes an inflammatory statement or does something which is inappropriate, in that moment we have the power to make a choice. How we respond will determine how the rest of the transaction will go. If we don’t go after the bait, they may still escalate depending on how heavy a player they are. However at some point, if we continue to not buy in, they will change their behavior or go and look for someone else to “play” with. When that happens we have tasted emotional sobriety.
Personal Reflection: Do I still go after the bait?
Cell phones have seeped into almost every aspect of our lives. As such, it’s almost impossible not to overhear conversations taking place wherever you go. On the bus, in an elevator, at the Laundromat, we are frequently bombarded with phone conversations. Though we might not intend to, we are almost forced to overhear the conversations of others. When we do so, we recognize that many of these conversations concern complaints that one individual has against another. When the conversation starts with, “I can’t believe what he or she did to me”, you have a pretty good idea in what direction the conversation is headed.
Our approach in the program is different. A program conversation usually starts with, “so after thinking about it, I really need to take a look at my part in what happened”. We don’t believe that we are victims in life. If things keep happening to us, on some level we are setting ourselves up. When we change our behavior; people around us change theirs as well. If they don’t, we can always find healthier people. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear someone on the phone taking personal responsibility for their actions?
Personal Reflection: Do I still feel I’m a victim?
One of the hardest lessons we needed to learn in the program was powerlessness. We used to think that we had the power to control other people. If they only did it our way; then everything would be fine. “If only my wife would stop nagging me about my drinking, then our relationship would be so much better”. Or, “if only my boss saw how good a worker I was, then I would finally get that raise”. Or, if only my children took my advice about career choice, then they would be successful”. Usually an old timer brought us back to reality by asking, “so how’s that working out for you”? When asked that question we began to realize that we really were powerless over people, places and things. Our powerlessness extended far beyond controlling our drug of choice. It extended to our spouses, children, employers, parents, friends, and institutions. That realization was indeed humbling.
Along the way, we discovered something else. Yes, we were powerless over others, but they were powerless over us as well. Ultimately, no one could make us do something, or feel something unless we allowed them to do so. For a long time we played the role of victim in life. We came to see that this was also a choice. Others could not exercise power over us unless we granted them the right to do so.
Personal Reflection: Is powerlessness a one or two street for me?