Last weekend, I wrote a little about how I have been working this past year on coming at the world from a place of love, and that this isn't so much acting on feelings as it is establishing a practice. You don't have to literally LOVE your enemy, but you consciously choose to act towards him or her in a loving way. This has the effect of lifting you both.
In the past when I was drinking, when I was, say, irritated with someone, I may have resorted to ridiculing them, or acting out in small ways (actively or passive aggressively), or even outright by seeking revenge. Well, I'm not drinking anymore; I consider myself an adult (or at least I want to be), so I just don't go there anymore. Gah. I have let that nonsense fall by the wayside. Besides, every parent has told their child that revenge is unsatisfying: you may feel triumphant for a brief moment ("Ha! I got even! I showed them!"), but then that taste turns into sawdust in your mouth. The realization comes that you've lowered yourself, sinned against your own spirit, acted out of malicious intention, shown the colors or stripes that don't really represent the real you, or the you that you want to be. You wind up feeling petty and stupid and small.
In AA, we freely admit to huge failings on our parts--we all are, after all, only human--but neither do we hesitate to tell others where their reactive thinking may also not be serving them well. Newbies sometimes get drawn up short ("Who the hell do you think you are telling me this?"), but eventually the messages start to sink in. We ALL have to break those old patterns of unproductive thinking lest we return, in frustration, to the bottle. We have to undergo a profound change in order to quit our addiction. And what comes with that, when we see newbies still caught in the old patterns of self-destructive thinking and behaviors, is a gentle "calling it as I see it." "Yes, Johnny, you're rationalizing a selfish behavior." "I wonder if you've considered that this action might hurt you more than it hurts him." "Why do you keep clinging to the belief that you've done no wrong when, in every situation, it takes at least two to tango?" The whole idea behind and value of the Fourth Step is to get each of us to see that it's necessary to own your part of things so that you're not doomed to repeat your mistakes. If your sponsor isn't pointing this stuff out to you, you're either perfect (unlikely) or perhaps you'd better get a new sponsor.
People unaccustomed to such candor might sometimes think we're coming at them from a holier-than-thou place, that we are so egocentric and condescending we've taken on the task of handing down the word to them from on high. No doubt there are some Old Timers in AA who do come off like that, but for most of us, it's not like that at all. We are simply trying to help by sharing what we came to learn about ourselves when we were in early recovery. Addicts are amazingly predictable in their thoughts and behaviors--and let's not forget, society is an addict. My friend Stacia likes to say that my recovery posts are less about AA than they are about life, period, and how we cope.
For many of my AA pals and certainly to my sponsor, I am still very much in early recovery. Still, I have enough sobriety under my belt that I do try to help--AA asks us to--so I try to come at it all from a place of love. I certainly don't LOVE these people (heck, I barely know most of them), but I can surely ACT with love. Thus, when I open my mouth in group or push the "publish" button on this blog, I first double-check my motives at the door. If I say something difficult (and another reader who is also a friend once said to me that sometimes she finds reading my blog makes her uncomfortable--but that's HER stuff, not mine--she still gets way more from it than a few moments of discomfort; and then I would respond to that by asking her to consider WHY those certain things might make her uncomfortable; there is clearly something there that needs to be mined)... yes, of course I'm aware that whatever I may write or say might be misunderstood or that it might be taken in a way other than I intended. Heck, it's happened at least once or twice that I know of (so it's bound to have happened other times, too). Lately, some of these posts wind up being shared around, and I have no idea whose hands they may land in. But it's a risk I'm willing to take if I feel I genuinely have something important to say that is intended to be helpful; ie, if my motivation comes from a place of love.
(Sometimes I delete posts for that reason. They don't pass the "love" test. I do so adore my "delete" button. Back into the ether it goes, bye bye.)
And then there are the blessings, the occasional random emails I get from someone who has stumbled upon this blog and found I've described something he or she is only too familiar with, and they find strength and empowerment. It's not that it's anything profound: I'm just describing my life, in some cases the lives of people I have met or know now (out of respect I try to keep names out of it), but this is how human beings forge connections. Lately, God speaks to me sometimes out of the mouths of others.
I was reading on Zenhabits about this same subject this morning. I don't identify as Christian or Buddhist or Taoist or really with any particular religion (I suppose mostly Christian, as that is my background and culture); I like to borrow the things I like from them all. It's a post worth reading: "10 Tips for Life's Greatest Challenge: Love Thy Enemy."
And, I always, always, come back to my favorite prayer of all, the St. Francis Prayer (in AA, the 11th Step prayer). I just can't repeat this prayer without my spirits being lifted and remembering that yes, indeed, God has greater things in mind for each of us than getting stuck in the mire of selfishness, resentment, bitterness, and hatred. Here it is:
PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI
Lord, make me a channel of thy peace,
that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
that where there is error, I may bring truth;
that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
that where there is despair, I may bring hope;
that where there are shadows, I may bring light;
that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, 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.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.
I hold no hatred in my heart. We're all in this together.