By: Marilyn L. Davis
“If you want your life to be different, you have to start reacting to life differently.” ~ Bryant McGill, Simple Reminders: Inspiration for Living Your Best Life
Recovery is Like the Movie, Groundhog Day
Bill Murray plays a character named Phil in the movie Groundhog Day. Caught in a time loop, Phil repeatedly lives the same day, every day.
While a comedy, the movie has become a visual lesson in redemption, rebirth, and the process of change for many spiritual seekers.
Phil knew what would happen if he acted in a certain way, and he did not like the consequences, so he modified or outright changed his behavior to get different outcomes.
Repeatedly given the same life choices, either be selfish or become a better person, he transformed from an egotistical smart-ass to sensitive, compassionate, and considerate.
Addiction: Repeating the Same Actions – Over, and Over, and Over…
Yogis, the Jesuits, and psychoanalytic practitioners have told the producer, Harold Ramis, that they feel a strong spiritual kinship with the message they see in the film, Groundhog Day. In the case of the psychoanalysts, he said, “it’s the ‘we keep reliving the same old patterns over and over until we gain the right to free ourselves.”
In our addiction, we are often faced with the same lesson and seemingly didn’t learn the first time the experience appeared. We just keep repeating the same mistakes. We may even create the illusion the universe does not like us.
Unfortunately, many people get into recovery and think life lessons will not come again.
The reality is that if the life lessons were not happening again, we would not have an opportunity to do something differently. Reacting in the same way or repeating the same self-defeating behaviors will only get you the same outcomes, much like Phil.
Recovery and the Repeated Lesson
How many times have we experienced the same adverse outcomes from our actions but still don’t change:
- The strained relationship with family members
- Stealing, telling lies, and manipulating others for our needs and wants
- Breaking our promises
- Continuing to use drugs and alcohol
When we repeat the same behaviors, our actions harm them, put them in financial difficulty, or we expect them to take care of us and forgive us “just one more time.”
They have resentments towards us. They do not like the behaviors that we show towards them. They are tired of the constant chaos that having a relationship with us creates in their lives.
Shifting Focus to Others Instead of Changing
When they confronted us in the past, many of us pouted, cried, got defensive or tried to negotiate our way out of our responsibilities. Or we got hostile and aggressive, throwing up every perceived wrong that they committed over the years.
We compared the love they had for us versus the love of siblings; anything that would get the discussion refocused on anything but our use and behaviors.
- “You never believe me, but I’m really telling the truth this time.”
- “I know you like my sister better than me.”
- “You never understand; it’s not my fault.”
- “All you do is criticize me and never compliment me.”
- “I promise, if you just help me one more time, I’ll straighten up.”
I’ve Been Here Before
When I got into recovery in 1988, I wanted to have a better relationship with family members. I thought that not using drugs and alcohol was enough to start over. What I didn’t realize was that there were self-defeating behaviors and codependent traits that would have to change in my recovery as well.
I expected my family to forgive and forget. Unfortunately, forgiveness comes when people see us changing, acting differently, and not staying the same.
Resolving To Act Differently
I remember that at one of my first recovery support meetings, someone said:
- “Do something different.”
- “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”
The way I felt in early recovery didn’t change just because I quit using. I still felt entitled, arrogant, and owed. My parents provided me with a place to live when I left treatment and did not ask me to pay rent; however, my mother expected me to help with dinner or the dishes. I, however, believed that I should be allowed to eat and then get ready for my meeting.
After about two weeks of this behavior, my father cautiously approached me and asked why I wasn’t helping. I defended my actions, saying how tired I was from work, and did he forget that I had a mandatory meeting each night at 8 PM?
My dad pointed out that most nights, I left the table and then got ready for my meeting. Then I still had time to read the paper or watch the news for 30-45 minutes before I went to my meeting, so he thought I had time to help.
The following night, I got home from work and asked my mother if she would like some help preparing dinner. She smiled and said, “That would be nice.”
After dinner, instead of rushing upstairs to get ready, I said, “I’ll clean up tonight, why don’t you two play Backgammon.” That got a smile from both my parents. I loaded the dishwasher, saw the news, and still made my meeting on time.
Here It Comes Again: Will I Act Differently?
Other life situations started happening again. There was a familiarity with them, and I thought that I probably should explore different ways to behave and not my usual actions.
There were two coworkers that I had after-work drinks with before treatment. The college changed my department after I returned from treatment, so I had been able to avoid these two. I ran into them one day on campus, and both asked if I’d like to get a drink after work. I knew I could not do that, but was afraid to hurt their feelings with an honest refusal.
However, I was also unwilling to go with them. I decided to tell them I had plans that night but thanked them for inviting me. I knew that I was avoiding the truth, but I could not endanger my recovery by going to a bar.
When I ran into them again about three weeks later, there was another invitation. This time, I told them that I was an alcoholic and that I could not jeopardize my recovery just to be social. Then I questioned whether this answer was too abrupt.
I missed these people in my life. So, I asked if we could have a safe lunch together sometime and catch up, but that if alcohol was part of the meal, I wasn’t able to attend.
This candid admission on my part was different. But I knew that some lessons would keep reappearing until I learned how to handle my life, my recovery, and my feelings better.
Start Seeing The Patterns
When you find yourself thinking, “I’ve been here before,” in your interactions with people, reflect on the outcome of the earlier situation.
Evaluate the outcomes from the perspective of your previous actions, the conversations, your attitude, and their reactions.
Think about the time that your boss made unreasonable demands on your time, or the coworker gossiped about you. Did you react poorly to them? Instead of discussing the time constraints with your boss, you hung your head in shame and seethed inside. You started acting in a passive-aggressive way, obsessed with his rudeness.
Instead of talking directly to the coworker to decide if there was a conflict between you, you started gossiping with others about him or her, talking about their behaviors. Feeling bad, you reacted poorly.
Stop, What’s a Better Alternative?
In recovery, there are opportunities to do things differently because the same or similar life situations will happen again.
When these situations happen, it gives you the chance to do it better this time.
Instead of reacting poorly to the similar situations that the universe provides for you, try thinking, “Thank goodness for it happening again.”
You set up a personal boundary with your boss by asking that he respects your regular work hours. While you are aware that there will be times that everyone has to work late, the repeated pattern of a crisis on Thursday has to stop.
You make an appointment with your coworker after hours to discuss any conflict between the two of you. You can state that you are uncertain if there is one, but that the relationship seems strained, and you want to get it back on track.
Breaking the Patterns and Creating Different Outcomes
The first few times that you venture into new behaviors, you will probably not do them well. It’s rather like learning to walk; you will take a few steps, stumble and fall.
However, just as learning to walk was a goal when you were younger, learning to act and not react in your recovery can become your intention, and that will take practice.
When we approach repeating life lessons as an opportunity to act better and improve our relationships, we appreciate “it” happening again, which allows us to act differently. So, just as Phil learned his lessons, in recovery, we can learn ours and act differently.
And finally, we can probably predict better than Punxsutawney Phil.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart.