By: Marilyn L. Davis
“There should be a balance between material and spiritual progress, a balance achieved through the principles based on love and compassion. ~Dalai Lama
Spiritual Principles: When Do the Monks Arrive?
In one of my first lectures in treatment, I kept hearing about the spiritual principles that I needed to merge into my recovery. My schedule included art, physical and music therapies, all taught by people who weren’t part of the regular staff. Week two offered yoga and meditation, and we had to sign up for these to decide interest.
For the spiritual principles listing on the sign-up sheet, I falsely assumed that I’d go to a dimly lit room, with incense wafting and cloistered monks reading from musty, dusty tomes. I hoped that they would enlighten me and give me ancient wisdom on how to change.
Instead, I learned from recovering people like myself in recovery support meetings. However, I’ve realized over the years that the spiritual principles are universal.
We’ve Had Other Teachers
When we decide to make changes in our attitudes, behaviors, and feelings, an inward focus allows us to see where we need to make these changes. But for many of us, there isn’t an immediate correlation between changing from one aspect to another.
We just don’t know what to change into because we weren’t taught, didn’t listen if we were, or for some of us, we judged these aspects and attributes as weak.
I’d urge you to use these principles whether you attend 12-Step meetings or not; after all those monks use them, even if they didn’t teach the course.
“Looking forward” to what you think enlightenment might be at some grand point in the future keeps you from seeing the truth of its presence right now.”― Enza Vita
Try using these principles as an alternative and replacement for self-defeating behaviors and thoughts. I guarantee that you’ll get better outcomes in your life, and not have to meet a single monk, or travel to some mountain top to do it.
Principle: Self-honesty: Free from deception, dishonesty, or deceit
Lying and deception were the norms in our use. Oh, we may have had a few moments of honesty and given back the change when a sales person gave us too much at a store, or been angry and let everyone know exactly how we felt. But to be honest about ourselves proved difficult.
We often lied to ourselves about ourselves because facing the truth was too painful.
Reflecting on our lives is a beginning towards identifying what needs changing. When we find those self-defeating behaviors it’s insightful, but also frightening. Seeing how self-centered and self-absorbed we were is often the reason we decide to change.
Self-honesty is also finding those qualities within that need nurturing.
I couldn’t practice self-honesty in my early recovery, but I could be factual. I made the effort not to minimize or embellish the facts. It was a good start towards self-honesty.
Principle: Acceptance: To receive into the mind, understanding, to come to terms with the findings
Acceptance is an attitude of non-judgment—neither liking nor disliking. For example, look at any pencil. You might decide that you don’t like the green one, but the red one is fine. That’s about preferences, likes and dislikes.
Acceptance is that they are both pencils; neither one is better than the other, nor is one less than just because we like one color over another. Acceptance is not deciding that something is pretty or ugly, good or bad, and it’s the same for our actions. We don’t continue to judge them as “bad” as we’re more likely to have conflict in owning up to them or even admitting them if we judge them harshly.
Yet, if people comment on how nice we look, how well we acted, or give us praise for an accomplishment, we probably feel pride. We are not solely our shortcomings and character defects.
Without this understanding of our talents and strengths, we can feel defeated and overwhelmed and give up before we’ve given ourselves an opportunity to heal. We review the comments to see if they are true.
It is a painful process to look at our shortcomings, but to change, we must decide what to change. Recovery isn’t pain-free, but it gives us a choice of pain – the acute pain of awareness and change, or the protracted, chronic pain of addiction. Don’t judge what you find, change what doesn’t work for you and give energy to your positive aspects. If you come to terms with your addiction, and your healthy and unhealthy behaviors, you can then begin the recovery process in earnest.
Ultimately, acceptance is taking positive comments or criticism as just something to look at within ourselves and see the truth of it.
Recovery Sparks Hope
Principle: Hope: An instinctive belief in the possibility of change, an anticipation of situations improving through change
Hope is the reason that we do almost everything. As a child, we didn’t understand that if we were tired, sleep would relieve that feeling. As adults, we know that when we’re tired, rest will make us feel better. We also didn’t know the relationships between being hungry and eating. We cried, someone fed us and we felt better. There was hope in the actions and functions even though we did not know this at the time.
In early recovery, we hope that if we do what others have done, we will experience similar results. We move from hoping something works to the faith that certain actions will produce either positive or negative outcomes over time and with experience using different behaviors.
Hope motivates us to try the different suggestions or change our attitude about certain situations. Hope gives us the courage to use alternatives to get better results. When we do things over time, we lose our awareness of the hope and just understand that each action produces predictable results.
Principle: Faith: Taken from the Greek word πίστις – to trust in outcomes without evidence yet
Trust and faith were usually in short supply in your use. Because of the dishonesty of people in the drug world, we had probably become jaded, paranoid, and distrustful of people in general and had no faith in our fellow-man.
However, if our regular drug dealer was not available, and we wanted drugs, we would extend trust to a new dealer rather quickly to get what we wanted. We paid for what they were offering and went on our merry way, rarely questioning what they were offering, or setting up a time frame for when we would trust what they were selling.
Instead of adopting this same attitude in recovery, many people erect the trust shield, “I’ll have to trust you and have faith that you know what you’re talking about to listen to you.” Some of us wait until we have confidence in someone to follow their advice or directions.
That wastes more time, and all people suffering from addictions have lost enough time.
When we are new in recovery, it is difficult to believe in, trust or have faith that the people don’t have hidden agendas. We wonder about their underlying motives for being helpful, or why they act like they care. When we move our suspicions aside and take people at face value, it is surprising that the majority of people do not have some hidden agenda or ulterior motive.
They are genuinely interested in being helpful, as it reinforces their belief in being caring, supportive of others, and getting emotional reinforcement from those actions. Most people are trying to be helpful when they share their experiences with us. When they give suggestions, it is because they found them beneficial, and they want us to experience positive outcomes in our life as well.
Furthermore, think about this logically. Why would anyone give directions or instructions that were faulty or had no history of working? They would end up looking foolish and that’s not something that most people strive for in their lives.
If you have trouble trusting a person, then trust a process. The process of recovery has been around since 1939, long before most of us were born. The process was valid then, and it is valid now. Have faith in that.
Risk Taking to Improve our Lives
Principle: Courage: Attitude or response or mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
We all did incredibly risky and dangerous things in our lives to use. Yes, we might have experienced some fear in our actions, but we overcame that fear and participated in risky actions to get what we wanted. Courage is risk-taking to make our lives better.
We have courage within us. We’ve just used our courage in ways that could have destroyed us; in recovery, we use this to improve our lives. We use our thrill-seeking, risk-taking attitudes in a positive way – we trust others, sharing our problems with them and listening to and following through on their solutions.
Principle: Integrity: The quality or state of being whole or complete, entirety, undivided and honest
Most of us lied in our use; we were untrustworthy. We didn’t keep promises, and people could not depend on us to follow through with commitments. Learning to act in a consistent, reliable and dependable way takes an effort. But we will show people that we’ve changed and have integrity in our lives when we keep promises, show up when we said we would, or give time and attention to someone who needs us.
We can set goals for ourselves and work towards integrating better qualities into our make-up. If these goals include a new set of values and beliefs then when we carry them out, we are becoming better people and can experience a feeling of pride. In all attempts at change, we have to be willing to experience discomfort in the process of change. We won’t succeed every time, because these are new behaviors, thoughts and feelings. However, if we keep trying to improve, we will.
Principle: Willingness: Having the mind favorably disposed; to do something specific or implied
Willingness is an attitude or motivation that shows when we comply with suggestions or solutions. We risk acting on these suggestions, especially when we are unsure of outcomes. Most of us can’t see the value in sharing our problems with strangers; are unsure of their competency in giving us directions, and aren’t comfortable in talking about ourselves.
However, if we are willing to put our fears and doubts aside and comply with the recommendations and instructions, we see that this willingness translates into better results. Willingness means that we have an interest in exploring solutions that will promote our recovery. Although enthusiasm for change might be more than we can honestly feel early in our recovery, there can be enthusiasm for having an opportunity to get better outcomes.
And we can be willing even when we are feeling confused, bewildered or lost. Just knowing that others have experienced successes in their recovery means that by asking we can receive guidance. And that is consoling.
In Listening, We Learn
Principle: Humility: absence of pride, arrogance, or vanity
Humility is the opposite of arrogance, thinking that we are the best, know it all, or are above others. When we are genuinely humble, we realize that although we are good at some things, we are not good at others. It is a perspective about ourselves that allows for accomplishments, as well as the lack of them.
Being humble allows us to listen and in listening we learn. We stop making excuses for why we can’t do something or make changes, and ask for guidance. Being humble enables us to ask others how to do something when we cannot and giving help when we can.
Humility will also allow others to see us as approachable, as most people do not want to ask the “know it all”. However, they will ask the person who recognizes their strengths and limitations.
Principle: Justice: Quality of righteousness, honest and fair, doing something in a manner worthy of one’s abilities
Justice or a balanced perspective allows us to decide our accountability in our life choices and take responsibility for those choices. We review our actions and see if we can improve on them the next time. As we grow in our recovery, we are able to make better choices, and accept responsibility for the choices we make.
We are fair in placing the responsibility of our life exactly where it belongs, squarely on our shoulders, not blaming and projecting our faults onto others.
Forgiveness: For Them and Us
We understand that our addiction drove us to harm others and ourselves, even when that wasn’t our intent. We also realize how many people have hurt us.
When we extend brotherly love to others that have harmed us, it means that we forgive them just as we want forgiveness from those we have harmed.
However, it doesn’t mean that we keep people in our lives who would cause us more harm.
That might include those who still use; not because they are bad people, but because we are no longer involved in that world. We can love them from a distance.
We Are Given Choices In Our Recovery
Principle: Good Judgment: The act or process of the mind in comparing the ideas to find agreement or disagreement and find the truth
When we make amends, we are acknowledging our past wrongs. We are asking what we have to do to correct a situation. We are not looking for absolution from someone, but seeking settlement where possible. We use good judgment in the process and do not make amends with a simple, “I’m sorry” and hope that is enough.
We’re prudent or cautious when we decide who we make direct amends to – those that are appropriate. For instance, if we had affairs, it might not be right to make direct amends to the spouse if they were unaware of the relationship. Rather, an indirect amend where we decide and follow through on a commitment to stop having affairs would serve all.
In our recovery, we are learning to think differently, not the self-centered thinking of addiction, but a more rational, logical, analytic approach to life’s problems.
When we are uncertain of a decision, we have trustworthy people to ask about our choices or we can wait for further clarification through meditation. Our mental processes become sounder in our recovery, as the brain heals and we make changes. Good judgment returns as shown by our better choices, or because we are using our common sense to seek advice from others.
Over time, we will begin relying on our decision-making because our goals will have changed as well.
Principle: Self-discipline: Planned control and training of one’s self for the sake of development
In our addiction, we lacked self-discipline. If we wanted something, we just took it. If we had feelings we didn’t like, we numbed them. Our existence was on/off. We didn’t plan, have any patience or ask the advice of others, we acted or over-reacted to life. In our recovery, we use self-discipline to plan, show patience and wait, or ask the advice of others.
We exercise restraint, dignity and poise and those are better qualities than our self-centered and self-defeating behaviors from our use. We continue making changes; we strive to be better today than we were yesterday.
Principle: Perseverance: To pursue any action in a steady, consistent manner once begun
In our use, reliability and dependability were almost non-existent. We may have persevered in getting and using, but it was a harmful application of this principle.No one could rely on us; our addiction governed the majority of our actions, and our needs came first. We didn’t finish things; we weren’t reliable, or we created instability in our family’s lives.
Perseverance in our recovery means that we complete the tasks, are accountable and reliable. People learn to trust us because we keep our promises. We exercise restraint, dignity and poise and those are better qualities than our self-centered and self-defeating behaviors from our use. We continue making changes; we strive to be better today than we were yesterday.
Principle: Open-mindedness: Free from prejudice; not closed to new ideas
Our open-mindedness comes from seeing other perspectives. We are willing to show patience and tolerance towards others, hear them out and listen to their ideas.Unlike our attitudes in our use when we rejected the ideas of others, we acknowledge that there might be alternative solutions that we didn’t think of for a given situation.
When we’re humble, open-minded and willing, we see that other people do have insight into a problem and that following their suggestions might improve our lives.We have an opportunity to can gain valuable information when we listen to others. We get solutions that we didn’t have.
Being open-minded means that we can learn from others about a better way of acting, thinking and behaving to get more positive outcomes in our recovery.
Awareness breaks through denial. We cannot be consciously aware of our lives and still pretend that things didn’t happen a certain way. While we can argue about situations and get defensive, awareness breaks through those defenses.
There is additional knowledge that comes in recovery. An occasional hunch or inspiration that gradually becomes a working part of our being. We find this awareness in praying or meditating.
Love of Self, Others, and The Concepts
Principle: Love: Work done or tasks performed with willingness, from fondness or regards for the person or the work or cause
Love is a misused word in the English language as we only have the one word. We state that we love someone, love ice cream, love the stars, or love things. In many other languages, there are different names for distinctive types of love. Agape is love that is kindly and lenient towards others. We must surely love the work to carry it on just as we must surely love the alcoholics and addicts that we are trying to help. However, in helping, we don’t expect personal credit when our solutions work out for someone else.
They did the work; they get the credit for those changes.
We’ve shared out of the love of helping, not a love of our words and directions. Our stories are to encourage someone to change; that something we say might spark a desire in them to grow into the person they can and want to be.
Recently, I was training an intern and one of the participants cut me off by interrupting me each time I said anything. Yet, when the male intern said the same thing, the young man listened, nodding his head in acknowledgment of the facts. The intern’s message was accepted while mine was rejected. I asked the young man what made a difference. He explained how women weren’t valued in his family and they weren’t allowed to tell men what to do, so he just naturally argued with women.
I told him that I appreciated his candor and that the intern would talk directly to him, and I would speak indirectly through the intern. At first he liked that idea, until he saw that others were getting positive results working directly with me and asked if we could start over and would I talk to him directly? We started over and worked well together after that.
We always have to remember that it’s what is said that is important, not who is saying it.
We move our egos out-of-the-way if there is someone who is correct in the message that others can relate to better than us. Sometimes, if we move on and find another person who is willing to share and listen, the original person sees the results and can come back to us for direction.
Principle: Service: Help beneficial or friendly action or conduct, giving or assisting to another
We share what has worked for us to change our lives. We pass this knowledge to others, without expecting them to give anything in return. Service to others is a way of living.
We can’t moralize, criticize or judge when we share the work of recovery. It rings false and in turn, people don’t pay attention. We offer suggestions, solutions and answers that worked for us, and when we share the information from that perspective, it is authentic, genuine and more likely to be received by others. People will see or hear the truth when we share from the heart.
However, we can only say the same thing to someone for so long. If they reject what we are offering, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong; it’s just not right for them at this time. All, we can do, is share our experience, strength, and hope.
We have to be mindful of who, when, and how we share our recovery; spending too much time with someone who cannot hear, may deny another the opportunity to recover.
We waste valuable information and time when we try to get someone to see the necessity of change if they are not willing to hear it or just can’t process the information as we are relating it.
Common Changes – Uncommon Results
Using these principles builds a solid foundation for our recovery and improves our spiritual well-being. Realizing aspects of ourselves that we should change is exciting and inspiring when we view change as an opportunity.
When we use these principles, this is a demonstration of our changes and growth in our recovery. Others will see these changes in us.
And for many of us, we find gratitude that we are given a chance to make things right, and improve the relationships we have with family, friends and ourselves.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart