I mentioned in this space about the Cleaning Piece III exercise I was engaged in, which was simply not to say anything negative about anyone for three straight days. Like the good alcoholic that I am, I couldn’t leave a simple thing alone, and amped up the challenge (see? it was an exercise at first, then I turned it into a challenge. Any further, and I would have transformed it into a Death Battle Royale) to include any negative thoughts that I had as well, including self-criticism.
Set myself up to fail, didn’t I?
Well, the whole point of doing this wasn’t so much to stay silent, or to “win” it, or to not say anything negative out of prideful boasting. For me, the whole point of this was to increase my self awareness, to take stock of how I approached others and myself, and to move the roving camera eye of insight towards that part of my spirit and psyche. It was like zooming in on a running closed-circuit feed and taking notes. It was just the simple awareness of watching where my mind went.
In terms of saying anything negative – I think I scored it five times over the three days of actually saying something out loud that wasn’t kind, useful or loving towards someone else. The comments were on par with my modus operandi – sarcasm dressed up in pearls to undercut someone, present or not, to deflect from the actual anger and fear underneath, and to bolster my ego. In other words, I said things to make myself feel better. It calls to mind what it says in the Big Book:
“Selfishness, self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate.” (pg. 62)
So I step on the toes of those I deliver my maple syrup soaked darts at, whether they know it or not, and then wonder why later I am disturbed or feeling guilty. All because I am being selfish. And that is where the awareness comes in…and the desire to change. All this self-awareness is all nice and Dr. Phil and all, but unless it’s followed up with change, it’s an exercise in futility for me. During my life, I often knew that what I was doing or saying was not what I should be doing or saying. I knew when I was turning the screws on someone or when I was being harmful. To myself especially. Sometimes, I didn’t know I was hurting someone, but didn’t care to investigate. So to be aware is just the key to open the door of effective change. But I need to go further.
Willingness will actually open that door.
The most surprising thing during these three or four days is that the voice of the inner critic – the voice that has always enjoyed dogging me down, that liked to tell me what a piece of crap I was, the voice that used to lash me with a cat-o-nine tails regularly…was barely there. It was very surprising – probably the greatest revelation I had in these days. I almost instinctively turned things around by changing perspective. If I messed something up (I often do!), I just thought “Oh, well that didn’t work. Next time I will…X, Y and Z.” And that was it. No electric chair, no iron maiden. What a vast and tectonic shift for me. Hazzah! That never happened in my old life. I would have chained myself to the hood of my car (figuratively speaking of course) and whipped myself with snow chains. Ouch.
Here’s the takeaway on this: I can’t control my thoughts. This isn’t a mind control trick. This isn’t about directing where my thoughts come from, nor is it about attempting to exercise iron clad dominion over my mental life. If I could have control over every thought I had, I wouldn’t need AA or anything else for that matter. I would just think “You don’t need to drink today” and I would respond “Alright!” and then go on my way, sip virgin Mint Juleps and build a nice tree fort for the neighbourhood kids.
Thoughts will come. That I have no doubt about. And they’re not always loving ones. But I have no control over them. What I do have control over is how I react to them. I have absolute control over that. I have power over that. I can pause, reflect, pray, get counsel…and do or say what I feel is right. In this particular exercise, when I hear some guys talking about someone who isn’t in the room, what are my thoughts? They could be “Join in! That guy really is a jerk – tell them the story about him in the elevator…they’ll think you’re funny” or “Jump in – the water’s warm! Say something witty!”. But I pause. I ponder if what I am going to say is kind, thoughtful or of use. Is it? No? Then I move on. Grab some stuff and leave the office. Or change the topic to make it work related. That is the challenge for me. And it continues forever more.
This is where rubber hits the road for this ol’ drunkie. Time to take out the trash. And it starts between the ears…and then it comes washed into my heart, flows through my veins and breaks open a grin, a laugh, a spark in the eyes.
I am clean.