Control panel

May 30, 2008

I was going to write about spirituality in response to this post, and at some point I will. (That’s a difficult post, though. Who wants to read about someone else’s beliefs? It won’t change yours.)

Instead, something else keeps coming to mind as I reread the post and reflect on the conversation that inspired it – the subject of control.

SJ wrote: “I am still looking for logical solutions to similar issues; it is important to me that I remain in control, that I understand what I am doing and why, and that I remain true to my principles.”. Working a twelve-step programme (henceforth 12SP) ticks three of these four boxes.

It is entirely logical. I’m doing something that’s known to have worked for hundreds of thousands of people where everything else failed them. If I were any more logical I’d be Mr Spock.

I understand what I am doing, and why.

And I am being entirely true to my principles – 12SPs place integrity and honourable behaviour at the centre of the recovery process. In fact, doing this work is upgrading my principles no end.

But I am not in control.

Working a twelve-step programme involves the explicit surrender of control to a higher power of your own choice. Step 1: ‘We admitted we were powerless over [insert substance or activity] – that our lives had become unmanageable. Step 2: ‘Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity’. Step 3: ‘Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God’. ***

So I am wondering whether control is a part of the difference between us. Firstly, I cannot be in control because I am an addict. I am powerless over my addictions. Pretending I can control them is what got me into this mess, and trying to be in control of my life would be a rapid route to misery, and probable relapse. That is probably not true for SJ.

But, also, when I read ‘it is important to me that I remain in control’, I react to it. I think, ‘but you can’t be in control’. I mean, we aren’t in control of very much. We aren’t in control of what’s happening to the planet. We aren’t in control of how other people behave – both politicians and those around us. We aren’t even in control of what’s in our minds. (I do believe we can be, but I think it takes years of dedicated work. I’m a lot better than I was, but I’m still a complete novice.) For me, trying to be in control isn’t only counterproductive, it’s illusory.

Accepting that I’m not in control takes a great weight off my mind. If I am powerless over something, I can’t be expected to fix it. This gives me permission not to think about it, but to hand it over to God and turn my attention to stuff I can do something about – working my own recovery, or helping other people to work theirs, or having a nice day doing boring things. And I can be happy.

When I start worrying about something, it’s a clue that it’s time to do more work on my programme, more admitting I’m powerless (step 1), more handing over to God (step 3), more not being in control.

I know it sounds counterintuitive. But it works.

*** This post still isn’t about spirituality, but I must say that working a 12SP does not mean that you have to believe in God. Most people who get into recovery are not theists, and often would describe themselves as ‘not at all spiritual’. That’s why the higher power is ‘of your own choice’. Many people make their home meeting into their higher power. It is a spiritual programme – and people develop their spirituality as part of their recovery, even if they never come to believe in God – but it is not a religious programme.

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6 Responses to “Control panel”

  1. Sarah Jane Says:

    I have responded to this in a separate post, but I’d also like to clarify what I meant by talking about solutions being “logical” and “understanding what I’m doing and why”, because I don’t think I meant it quite as you’ve interpreted it. What I mean is that I need to understand how the solution will take me from where I am to where I want to be – “because it did it for other people” isn’t good enough for me, because I’m not other people and I frequently find that things that work for them don’t work for me. And I need to understand exactly why each individual action contributes to the overall solution.

  2. Francesca Says:

    Good Lord. How do you ever do anything?

  3. dan Says:

    I keep finding that “because it worked for other people” is almost hopelessly awful for me, too, except when it’s (at times unpredictably) not. So I like having some semblance of control as well, even though it often feels completely illusory.

  4. Francesca Says:

    Something we discover in 12SPs is that we [addicts? people?] are very good at ‘being different’. We have become experts on why other people’s solutions will not work for us, and it has therefore been a self-fulfilling prophecy. In 12SPs we learn to be ‘one among many’ and assume that what has worked for others will work for us – and it does.

    Please note that I am absolutely not suggesting this is true for you. It is certainly true for me. If I’d assumed I was similar rather than different and been willing to try others’ solutions earlier, I could have saved myself and others a lot of pain.

    I’m not being very good at being ‘one among many’ – my ego does not like it at all, and it’s very different from what I was told when I was growing up. But it is a tool of recovery. The more I master it, the better I will do.

  5. Sarah Jane Says:

    How do you ever do anything?

    Thoughtfully. I admit have to have an in-depth understanding of everything, but I have to be able to see how it fits into the plan.

    And it’s not that solutions that have worked for other people will never work for me, but I have to find them for myself.

  6. Sarah Jane Says:

    Don’t, not admit.


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