About Me

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I have recovered from the disease of Alcoholism. I believe there is only one person really,.. everybody. And that peace of mind is everything. -So treat your neighbor as you would treat yourself, because your neighbor IS yourself. I think most of recovery is what I would call common sense, but that learning to be ordinary is a true gift very few people acquire. My ambition is to accept everything unflinchingly, with compassion, and therefore be intrinsically comfortable in my own skin, no matter what. I am comfortable being uncomfortable and am willing to go to any lengths to improve my life. I believe the Big Book was divinely inspired, and is extraordinarily powerful. Unfortunately AA's best kept secret a lot of the time. (In my opinion). I just try to do what works, no matter what it is.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

There's always SOME truth in criticism

There's always some truth in criticism. ..well apart from 'shape shifting reptile' !! baloney!

It is tempting to think that the more one accumulates information, and the more success one has at passing on the message of recovery to people with less experience, that the more infallible one becomes, or more impenetrable to stupid mistakes, projections, misplaced blame, and various forms of 'justified' moral superiority.

But I have found that not to be the case. One of the reasons I am intrigued by personal and moral superiority, is because I find those pitfalls are much more readily available to anybody who has successfully managed to stay sober for some time. Yes of course arrogance exists in many forms and I have met my fair share of arrogant newcomers. But I'm just saying that for those who are lucky enough to have managed to overcome a compulsion to drink for a long period of time, and also have overcome a lot of personal obstacles, then there is a very strong temptation to occupy the moral high ground when one encounters people who are clearly less able. Either because they cannot stop drinking, because they have little or no grasp of how arrogant they are.

One of the things I frequently tell Sponsees, if they follow the path of steps that way I was shown them, is that they will enjoy (as described on page 83) "a feeling of neutrality safe and protected", "the drink problem has been removed, it does not exist for them". Whilst that might not seem very impressive to a non-alcoholic, unfortunately due to the unwillingness of many AA to follow suggestions, it's not common for people to feel like that in AA recovery. I find that most members of AA that I meet do not feel as though they are "in a position of neutrality safe and protected". Because this is the case, it would be easy to feel superior in some way to these people.

It's because of this that I tell Sponsees and when they start, the they will have to work very hard in order to overcome arrogance and superiority at a later date. It's easy to feel humble when everything you do you turns to crap. It's much harder to stay humble when most of what you do succeeds. Of course not everything succeeds, that's not what I mean. What I mean is, we have a good chance at life. And things really start to work. Often for the very first time. We start getting along with our family. We start getting along with the people we work with. We start to be of real help to the people we meet. Our friends and family start relying upon us for our assistance. The people we have helped in the past, come back because the thing we passed onto them, really worked for them. And seeing all these nice things to happen is really lovely.
But none of these things make me or anybody else less prone to error, or faulty judgement. There is no critical mass of life experience or information that can shield either you or I from our own stupidity, or carelessness.
And blindness doesn't leave us simply because we did well yesterday. So basically we never get to put our feet up. Life has nasty way of reminding us when we take our eye off the ball. You snooze you lose.

So when I am on the receiving end of criticism, there may very well be some truth in it. It's highly likely I'm doing something wrong, and that I may be contributing to the problem unwittingly in some way or other. Mainly because none of us can lay claim to EVER being ENTIRELY free of error.
Of course some criticism is expressed in a way that is difficult to take on board, but that does not make the content of the criticism any less valid. Alternatively, a form of criticism may be expressed very eloquently, yet its content is utterly misplaced. The same is true of compliments. A compliment could be very skilfully expressed, yet have no basis in truth. Or a compliment could be expressed really poorly, yet reflect a real virtue of some sort.

I regularly receive criticism of some sort another from AA's I meet. Misery loves company. And if I communicate that I believe (on almost cellular level) that happiness is an inside job, that understandably ruffles some people's feathers, who haven't had the good fortune to have that experience.

"We cannot subscribe to the belief that this life is a vale of tears, even though it was once just that for very many of us"

so yeah, people get pissed off. It's the nature of the beast. I don't take it personally. I'm not saying I like it, I just don't take it personally.

Basically I'm just saying that criticism goes with the territory. Especially if the results you are getting are not very similar to that of the majority membership of AA. So long-term sobriety is in some respects can be pretty thankless. Until of course others get grips with your approach, and get to see the benefits of it first-hand. Only then, are people able to genuinely put their prejudices and reservations to one side. I think that's fairly normal. I don't think makes them difficult, obstructive, or worse in some way or other. I think I was the same. I think I only really understood how powerful a program was after I had completed the first nine steps. The longer I am sober the more I see what an extraordinarily powerful vehicle the AA program is for all kinds of self-realisation.

When I encounter criticism from Sponsees and newcomers I completely understand that they don't understand. I find it unpleasant to be on the receiving end of their negativity. It actually feels like little arrows are physically piercing me. Not nice! Quite toxic. And very draining if I stick around too long. But what I mean is, regardless of all the things I've learned, and regardless of all the experiences I have overcome, I don't assume that I'm right, or without fault, when something goes wrong. Perhaps I make too many allowances for people's genuine reservations about what I am telling them. Who knows? All I know is that that's how I feel when things go wrong. When someone reacts badly to what I'm saying. (apart from total !! crazy nutters)

But by and large I would say defensive, critical reactions are very common in AA. AA is full of touchy, restless, irritable and discontent people so it's hardly surprising people disagree in ways that are not terribly !! skilful! As you may already know from reading this blog, I have very low expectations generally of others. I don't expect people in AA to be gracious when they encounter something they don't like. I expect mudslinging and other such childish reactions. So it's hard to disappoint me by behaving childishly, but like I said before, I don't have a heart of stone, so yes I feel the consequences of attacking comments just like everybody else.

Anyway I just thought I would share that. Basically nothing is as simple or as comfortable as you would like it to be. And there is no point at which you stop questioning yourself. Anyway I better be off. I'm only doing this because I'm avoiding another task! So have a fabulous Tuesday, and I hope your weather is as nice as ours :)


molly said...

recently i listened to an interview with byron katie called 'accepting criticism gracefully'(download is here: http://www.steverrobbins.com/getitdoneguy/byronkatie-acceptingcriticism/)

i really enjoyed it. she makes mention about how when we feel the 'jab' or stress of the criticism, that can be a sure sign that there is at least SOME truth in what is being said. my automatic response all my life has been to defend, feel hurt, fight back, hate the person etc. But to start thinking 'COULD THEY BE RIGHT?' as i'm hearing it has helped. not saying i LIKE it but i'm beginning to learn how to open to suggestions and criticism.

but i like the way she gives examples of how to respond to it and i've been meaning to post about it. so if someone says 'you are stupid and wrong.' and if i TRY to hear the 'could they be right' and tell them 'thank you for telling me that.. SHOW me where i'm off. give me examples so i can grow and learn'.. instead of immediately fighting 'no, YOU are the stupid and wrong idiot bastard!'.. which, obviously, starts a war.. but yeah - i like the examples in the audio. helps to hear dialogues on the HOW and practice. it's a lifetime of work and practice huh.

enjoyed the post.

Syd said...

Great post. I have heard about a lot of "weird" behavior in the program. Things like 13th stepping newcomers, verbal altercations, etc. Just a lot of things that don't happen in Al-Anon as much.

That being said, being critical of each other is something that I find contrary to the program. It's probably my sensitivity. I like the Live and Let Live philosophy. And the unity of Tradition One is important. Gossip and the backstabbing that I hear about really turns me off. It seems the antithesis of practicing the principles in all my affairs.

I like that you don't let the criticism get under your skin. That means a sense of security in who you are is present. And that is a really good thing.

Let Go, Let God said...

I got a lot from your blog today even though I find listening to criticism difficult although I think there is a difference between my feeling convicted or feeling condemned. Condemned I'm just wollowing in my guilty feelings but convicted I feel motivated to want things to change. I like what Syd said about the difference in the programs. I am a member of both but find that Al-Anon has done more to help me change my actions. I'm an alcoholic and I don't want to go to AA meetings anymore because of what I see there. I'm not saying I'm not a member, I'm just going more where the recovery helps me the most.

Findon said...

Good post. I can be very dogmatic in my approach to the program and expect others to follow my elad. I have had to learn, that all I can do is speak my own truth. This is how I did it. This is what I believe works. If someone wants me to sponsor them, I tell them that I can give them my experience and they can use that to plan their own way with the program.. I also stipulate that if they want my time, then there are three things I expect from the. 1st Work through the steps with me. 2nd Attend a step meeting at least once a week. 3 Work, ( I believ work is an integral part of the program. It's surprising how many fall down on 1 and 3.

indistinct said...

An interesting post.

I'm approaching the third anniversary of my sobriety date I find that I still struggle with my character defects, and that most days the concept of "a feeling of neutrality safe and protected" remains elusive.

The drink problem has been removed without a doubt. That I continue to have "daily reprieves based on my spiritual condition" is such a blast. Each night I have gratitude as I lay my head on the pillow and acknowledge to my Higher Power that I've been clean and sober one more day.

It's the "ism" that continues to haunt me. My 5th steps revealed to me just how much my life has been controlled by fear and just how much I desire to feel fearful. How often my thoughts bring me back to feeling afraid of some future boogie man.

I've been reading "The Power of Now" by Eckart Tolle and have been following his suggestion of taking on the roll of an observer, watching my own thoughts, seeing how they don't like to reside in the present moment, how they like to worry about something in the future.

Since I've started doing this, I have been taken aback at how much time I spend in this useless activity. How I always find a new (or old) reason to start again. Someone told me that how step 7 works is that we see ourselves working in our defects and when it finally becomes painful enough we do the work we need to do to stop behaving that way. God will help us get out of them but we need to do our part.

I can stop and imagine myself nestled in my Higher Powers hands, imagine that I am trusting God to be in control and then let go of my egotistical desire to have everything happen my way. It is a peaceful place that has yet to become a reality in my life. I imagine that it will become more of real to me as I continue down this journey of my life, doing the work I'm supposed to do.

As my first sponsor said to me so many times when I whined at him because I was not changing fast enough for my liking. "If you want what I have, put in the time. Time takes time."

Thanks for the inspiration. (and a blog entry as well!)

Wait. What? said...

This was insightful and something I really needed to read today. Thank you.


Lou said...

I came here from another blog, and I found this post thoughtful and well written. As an Alanon, some AA's have alienated me and actually scared me with their unyielding stance. I see arrogance for sure, and thanks to reading this I know I'm not imaging it!

Unknown said...

I find that arrogance is the ego trying hard not to be destroyed by the grace of humility and awareness. I see this in meetings quite a lot and have avoided being in our AA service group for some time since the people tend to fight a lot and disagree a lot, I just don't like the drama of it, so I give service at my meetings and with others as much as I can.

Thank you deeply for this post, it's just good to know we're all human all just truckin' along on our journey.

J-Online said...

I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for the wonderful post!

johno said...