How Much Pain?

“In every case, pain had been the price of admission into a new life.” 12&12 p.75

The question is, how much pain? How much suffering? Every one of us that has come into these 12 step rooms has experienced their share of pain and suffering and, most likely, caused some for others too.

After over 30 years I’ve come to the conclusion that most of us fall into one of two categories: victims or blamers. Of course, all of us have, at one time or another, blamed and felt like a victim. But in working with others I have noticed a district difference between these two types of recovering individuals.

First, a little about the blamer. I’m one of them, so I speak from extensive experience. As such, I’ll use the first person tense here.

My tendency to blame comes primarily from a fear of being wrong. I came from an alcoholic home, my dad was a black out drunk and physically abusive. Being wrong, or for that matter attracting any attention, could easily result in tremendous physical pain. I had two brothers and the best option for self preservation was to blame one or both of them. I know, not very nice. This fear of being wrong was indelibly etched into my being, and followed me through my life, long after it had any value. In fact, I discovered that blaming pushes others away and prevents me from the opportunity to take responsibility and change the things I can. It’s the opposite of humility and prevents growth.

I have heard many people say things like “Wow, issues from childhood, daddy issues, when are you going to get over it?” Well I’m her to say that, at least for me, I haven’t done so yet. But I’m working on it and have made tremendous progress. My belief is that spiritual development and healing character defects is a lifelong progress. I’m gentle with myself and, at the same time, encourage others to call me on my shit so I can continue becoming the man I want to be.

Now about the victim. From my childhood I have some experience with this too, though not quite as much. My wife, years ago, was constantly rubbing her fingers together over her shoulder when I would tell her how hurt I was. I legitimately thought I was opening up to her, explaining how hard it was for me. What she told me was she was playing the world’s smallest violin because I was talking like a victim. That’s dangerous behavior for an alcoholic. We’ve all heard the saying ‘Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink.’ Her violin pointed out something I needed to hear – stop playing the victim James, it’s boring. Plus it may lead to drinking. Well her song worked on me. I’m rarely playing the victim these days (though I still blame my poor wife too often).

But victimization for many of us in the program manifests itself much more deeply. Often, as a result of events that have happened in their lives, these members have a hard time seeing how wonderful they are. Sometimes playing the victim was a way to get attention. Others, like myself, were truly victimized growing up. Looking in the mirror and saying ‘I love you’ while looking into their eyes is difficult, if not impossible. The idea that they are a victim and/or are not deserving of the good things life has to offer has been deeply ingrained in them. Rather than feeling great, with moments of feeling bad, many feel bad, with moments of feeling just ok. This is tragic. I have a harder time helping those people in my 12 step work. But many have found that exercises like writing gratitude lists, saying ‘I love my life’ out loud, and looking in the mirror saying all the things they love about themselves tends to help.

The blamer is hurting others and pushing them away. The victim is hurting themselves, and also pushing others away. Both these behaviors cause repeated pain. It is only when the pain is too much, when it’s so great that we can’t take it anymore, that we finally surrender and ask for help. For many, it’s the pain that leads us to recovery. But many of us that have been in the recovery for a long time also suffer great pain and misery. This often happens when we’ve strayed from working the program and being in the solution. Either way it’s a wake up call. A red light. A warning that if we don’t get into action soon, something bad will happen. Disaster is looming, but there is a way out.

It says in the Big Book on page 19, “… pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet.” That was my solution at 20 years of sobriety, and many years in Alanon. I dusted it off, picked it up, and started working it with the passion of a drowning man. And as a result, I’ve been able to truly love my life. – James

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