My first six months in recovery, it's no exaggeration to say that I felt my mind expanding on a regular basis. Not only was I shocked that I didn't actually have to ingest vats of cocaine up my nose every few days, but I was also astounded by the rules for living that I was suddenly being given.
I grew up in a house where my dad used to joke so often that the Golden Rule was that whoever makes the gold makes the rules, I never actually knew there was another Golden Rule. In short, I grew up believing that in order to be happy, you had to go to an Ivy League school, make six figures at your first job and sue people before they sued you. I had no idea that it was my self-absorption that was making me miserable, let alone that I had esteem issues and was angry to an almost un-live-able degree. Sitting in meetings, or just talking to people outside of them, I'd hear stuff that some could say was were nearly cliché-like in its simplicity but it made so much sense that I couldn't help repeating it to nearly everyone I came into contact with. Some people didn't get it -- I already explained where I come from -- but often those who did would think I was some sort of a genius (I'm reasonably certain I took credit at least some of the time). The expressions I got the most mileage out of were:
When you point a finger at someone, there are three pointing back at you.
I'll never forget a guy named David saying this to me outside a meeting when I was maybe three months sober. I was complaining about someone -- a skill I excel at, even today -- when this guy who had what I thought then was a nearly unfathomable amount of sober time (five years, maybe?) casually offered up this chestnut as feedback. It was his way of saying that those things that enraged me the most about the object of my disdain were actually the exact same things I did when I was at my most egregious and that's why I was so pissed off. (I did get a little hung up on trying to figure out where the fifth finger went, though.)
Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.
Oh, how this one blew my mind. I had spent a large portion of my life enraged at the various and sundry people I felt had wronged me (see above) and I truly, genuinely believed on a certain level that I was so powerful in my anger, my dirty looks and silent seething actually had an impact on them, rather than realizing it only made me look slightly unhinged. I thought I was protecting myself with all this anger, not realizing that the only one I hurt was me. This isn't, of course, to say that I don't occasionally still indulge in juicy resentments now and again.
I'm not much but I'm all I think about.
This one, and its stepsister, "I'm the piece of crap in the center of the universe," was another one that stopped me in my tracks. Most of my life, my self-absorption had been off the charts and it was matched only by my self-loathing. And I didn't have any idea until the day I heard this one and felt how much it resonated. Before recovery, I thought the world revolved around me but I also regularly told myself I was stupid and unlovable. Again, I'm much better now, but I still make some trips to the annex of self-obsession and self-hatred.
Expectations are resentments under construction.
Boy, were my expectations high back in the day -- expectations of you mainly. This meant that I regularly wondered why I had such bad friends, horrible family members and terrible bosses. I basically decided that you were all going to do exactly what I felt you should and then felt incredibly hurt and resentful when you did not. And I had no idea I was writing scripts in my head for everyone to follow! I still have a hard time keeping my expectations low but I'm inspired by the most serene people I know, who seem to expect very little from other people and save a lot of time resenting them and expecting them to die.
Hang out in the barbershop long enough, and you'll find yourself getting a haircut.
Okay I'll admit that this is my least favorite of the five listed here, only because I think it sounds a little silly. But I'm wholly behind its message -- which, to me, basically means that you'll probably eventually drink if you bar hop with your old crowd, will have an urge for powder stimulants if you keep in touch with your dealer and will inevitably enter slacker-dom if you piss away your time with sad people who aren't motivated. And also, of course, that your hair will surely come out shorter if you do a lot of time at the barbershop.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.
This post originally appeared on AfterPartyChat.