* We begin to learn tolerance, patience, and good will toward everyone, even our enemies, because we can see them as sick people.
This definitely takes practice!!
I have a sponsee in another fellowship who is of enormous help to me because she really struggles to see her enemies as sick people. She reminds me often how attractive my anger is to me.
Anger can be very alluring because it makes me feel powerful. When I’m angry about something, I’m sure that I’m right! I’m sure that someone else is wrong! They deserve my wrath, and I deserve to give it to them! This is absolutely intoxicating, especially after decades of abuse.
And it’s especially intoxicating when they ARE doing something to harm me, or they have, or they seem like they might! Because that feels very validating to me. Because it’s evidence that I can point to (sometimes real, sometimes imaginary, sometimes both) that says, “look! I’m right! I’m right to be angry! I finally get to be right, after years of feeling like I’m deeply wrong and not worthy!!”
I see that so vividly when we have tenth step conversations like (paraphrasing here)…
“I resent my terrible neighbors because they threw trash in the recycling again!”
“Are you asking higher power to lift it?”
“I did, but he didn’t take it!”
“…Did you let go of it?”
“Why should I let go of it? They’re terrible people and they’re always doing this!!!”
“Because it’s burning you up inside, consuming your thoughts and your energy, and you can’t do anything to change it?”
“I don’t know how to let go of it.”
“Well, is it possible that, like us, they are sick people?”
“They’re jerks, is what they are.”
(I adore her. She cracks me up.)
It’s like the saying, “would you rather be happy, or be right?” I was always confused by that because I don’t want to be happy and wrong! But it’s not that those are mutually exclusive, it’s that focusing on “being right” often means obsessing unhappily about things that are technically accurate (e.g. “people shouldn’t put trash in the recycling”) instead of other things that are also accurate and that work better for us (“if there’s something I can do about it, let me; if there’s nothing I can do about it, let me move on”).
I am grateful to the fourth step because when I worked to figure out what my part was in different situations, I learned why I sometimes do things that are illogical, unhealthy, or harmful. And that taught me a lot about what reasons other people might have for being jackass– I mean for doing things that are illogical, unhealthy, or harmful!
For example, it made it possible for me to look at other drivers who were making bad choices and realize that I have also made mistakes. That maybe they are in personal crisis, or exhausted, or just got distracted, or haven’t learned how to merge yet. Instead of resenting them for endangering my life or delaying my errands and being wound up and agitated about it for much more time than I actually spent in harm’s way.
The most important thing about this, for me, is that when I have that compassionate understanding of others, I also have it toward myself. My fourth step revealed to me that when I went around resenting people all day for parking their cart diagonally across the grocery aisle because they were taking up space that I needed, I was also telling myself that it wasn’t okay for me to take up space. I was also telling myself that it wasn’t okay to be oblivious or make a mistake, that I would deserve the same level of rage that I felt towards these people if I made a mistake, if I took up too much room, if I did something that I didn’t realize triggered someone.
That if I did something out of an addiction or did something that was intentionally harmful, I deserved months and years of rage, deserved to be struck down where I stood, that it would never be enough to stop acting out and do my best to make amends. That there would never be anything that would make me fit to walk the face of this earth — which is essentially the message I received from my childhood abuse.
I don’t need or deserve that message! I need and deserve happiness, compassion, and serenity, just like all the other human beings on this earth.