When I’m feeling anxious or upset, it helps to read inspirational quotes which I usually look up online. I’ve dedicated a Pinterest board to these quotes, and I will spend sometimes half an hour just reading through them. It’s part of neuroplasticity, what Tara Brach talks about in her dharma talks, of rewiring the brain to focus on the positive instead of the negative.
I got the above quote from this website, where you can find many more like it.
Whatever you think about becomes your reality. When I get so focused on what I’m not getting instead of the beautiful life I already have, my world becomes small. It’s easy to fall into this space of negativity; it takes more work to try and realign my attitude—but it takes less work today than it did a year ago, and last year it took less work than a year before that.
I’m not saying everyone should skip into work singing zippidy-do-dah—although that can be fun and would not hurt in the least—I’m just saying it helps to see the richness of life, the meaning in life. It’s what Viktor Frankl talks about in Man’s Search for Meaning.
Last night I got to meet someone who’s just starting on her journey of self-discovery, of living a life of sobriety. What a blessing to watch someone else make a decision to get sober and be happy about it. Often alcoholics aren’t super happy about quitting drinking and their old way of life. It’s a big decision, a huge change, and when drinking alcohol is your only way of coping with life’s problems, it’s scary as hell. We have to find a different way of living life, after having lived this way for years, maybe decades. But when you find that place where other people have done the same, gotten sober and are happy about it, and have a good life without alcohol, it’s such an eye-opener. It was for me, anyway. It gave me hope that maybe I don’t have to stop by the liquor store every night after work, maybe I don’t have to apologize for what I did last night because I blacked out and made a fool of myself. Maybe I can wake up remembering what I did the night before. Maybe one day I would no longer obsess about drinking. And that happened for me.
What did not happen for me was that I do not always get what I want. And that I did not want to hear from people who’d been sober a long time. How can a person be happy if they don’t get what they want? There’s no way for me to convince you with words alone, if you’re like me, but I’m going to try anyway. The only way I learned was through experience. When I finally figured out that life has its ups and downs regardless of my strongest efforts to get what I want, and that I have the choice for how to cope with those undesirable events that happen in life, that’s when change happened for me.
This might be old news for some of you, but so far for me the meaning just goes deeper with every experience. No matter how hard I tried to keep my ex-boyfriend, that relationship did not work. No matter how hard I prayed for my mom not to die, she died. It doesn’t mean life sucks and then you die, nor does it mean that I forced myself to laugh and celebrate after such heartache. No. I cried. A lot.
Then I realized how short life is, how precious our time here is.
This quote and image came from tinybuddha.com where you can find more inspiring quotes.
It’s helpful for me to think about someone else for a change. How can I be there for someone else as others were there for me? What did others say or do when I was down?
A couple of weeks ago a woman from my Sunday night AA meeting told me that she felt like there’s no sobriety at that particular meeting. I happen to be the person who finds speakers to lead the meeting, so I took it personally. It sounded like an attack to me, that she was saying I did not choose inspirational speakers, and my feelings were hurt. This particular woman is about the age my mom was, and she’s been like a big sister to me for a few years now, and she has 20 plus years sober, so to hear that from her really got to me.
Internally, without expressing it to her, my first reaction was to apologize for not being good enough, quickly followed by anger. How dare she attack me and my meeting that way? (By the way, it’s not my meeting—no meeting belongs to any one person but to the group as a whole.)
“So… you don’t feel like there’s any sobriety here,” I repeated back to her, a question but said like a statement, like a double-dog-dare-you-to-insult-me statement. Which is bold for me. Usually I immediately start apologizing for my very existence, but the new me who’s been emerging does not put up with that shit. I explained that I have no control over what other people say or do, and I thought about apologizing for something the speaker had said, but decided against it. It’s not my job to apologize for anyone else.
This particular situation I’ve been ruminating over since it happened. At first I’d decided in my mind that she could eff off, and who needs her as a friend anyway. I didn’t need her blessing. Maybe we just wouldn’t talk that much anymore. She probably didn’t approve of certain things I’d said or done, and if so, she could go along her merry way. If you don’t like this solution you’ve chosen, if we’re such bad people to you, then find another space.
Then I realized that this is exactly the kind of situation where I can exercise compassion. Why might someone say what she said, particularly when I (and others!) see it differently?
Because “we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” This quote was attributed to writer Anais Nin but apparently originates from Rabbi Shemuel ben Nachmani in the Talmud.
What might be going on in my friend’s life that would make her offer such a negative view?
Well, she’s been in physical pain for a long time now, and she’s done just about everything she can to resolve the problem, and so far nothing has worked. Her best friend died last year. Those two things I know. Who else knows what’s going on in her life?
And is it really my responsibility that she didn’t see the meeting as inspirational? Not any more than it would be if she had. How many times have I gone to a place expecting hope and getting none particularly when everyone else there seems to be in a different boat than me. Just wait until they get a divorce and see how they feel. Wait until their loved one dies and let’s see who can talk about jumping for joy then. But that’s all just part of the us-against-them mentality we create in our heads to separate ourselves from each other, that I use to isolate myself. She may have been doing it then, but I do not have to react with the same sentiment. I’m reminded of one of my favorite prayers:
Grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted.
To understand, than to be understood.
To love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
This is my favorite part of the St. Francis prayer, and I repeat it to myself daily–when I’m doing well–because I need a reminder. Otherwise I’d just do my own thing and y’all can all move along—an attitude that left me lonely for many years.
So I sent my friend a positive affirmation the next morning to let her know I was thinking of her. How many times had she done that for me in the past? A lot. Now I have an opportunity to be there for her, even when she’s being a grouch.
Now. If I can just take this same attitude with me when it comes to my closest, oldest loved ones. That’s where the real work begins. That’s where true growth and love happens. It’s progress, not perfection.
Love and peace,