Promise #2: We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness
As a result of recovery, I am free to live my life the way I see fit and I do not have to let others or society –even my recovery community – tell me what that has to be. I can choose each action I take and I can be responsible for every action and its consequence. And because of thatfreedom I am able to be a part of the human community in a way that I never thought possible. And thatfreedom has been one of the keys to me finding a happiness that is lasting.
The problem is that it seems not a lot of people today know what happiness is. Or perhaps said better – know what will truly make us happy. We feel a fleeting rush and confuse that with happiness. We give others the power to make us happy – and therefore also the power to make us miserable. We believe that satisfying the bottomless desires within us will bring us happiness. We think happiness is something we should just expect and are disappointed, and even resentful, when it does not come to us as a gift from the Heavens. “After all,” we say “I am sober…don’t I deserve happiness?” As if happiness is an entitlement. The founding fathers of American democracy talked about the pursuit of happiness as an inalienable right. But happiness itself? Well, nobody ever promised us rose gardens despite so many of us in recovery seeming to think that. I know I did for the longest time of my recovery. Of course, most of us have one thing going for us when it comes to the proverbial garden – a bounty of fertilizer!
What has been most difficult has been admitting when I am not happy. It almost feels there is this unspoken obligation to be happy in recovery – paint on a happy face. I see it all of the time – as if having problems or being unhappy somehow means you are not doing your recovery “right.” I can’t count how many men I have spoken to with years of recovery who have come to believe that there is something wrong with them talking about their pain because they have 20….30…even 40 years of sobriety. Just the other day I had breakfast with just such a man – with forty years and when he faced incredible adversity at 35 years he had convinced himself that he was supposed to be the elder and being the elder meant he wasn’t only free from problems but superhuman.
I have spoken with others who feel like they are breaking some unwritten rule if they talk about wanting to use or act out with their addiction after they have been sober a certain amount of time. Just another kind of insanity. All of this is ego. And pride. And….BS! There is no freedom when we feel like we have to put on an act in order to fit in the one place that is supposed to be safe enough for us to show up however we need to. There is nothing that is more valuable than us having a place where we can be authentic. When we don’t have that, what have we got? I don’t know about you but painting on that happy face gets me drunk – after I have decimated every relationship that means anything to me. Sad but true.
In my tenth year of sobriety I admitted I was not very happy in most of the areas of my life. As a result I was exposed to the possibility of true happiness. I gave myself permission to stop pretending. Again. When I was desperate in that first year I did not care about fitting in because I was desperate to learn how to live. Plus, I was still convinced deep in my heart that I did not fit in. At ten years it was different and it strengthened my muscles enough so that I was able to do it again at fifteen years and even seventeen years. Today, I do know anew happiness, and that it comes through the “right living” laid out in the Twelve Steps – and that happiness is not an end in itself. That facing my unhappiness creates space for my happiness to deepen and to be longer lasting. The true freedom has come in realizing that I will not always be happy and I do not have to pretend.
There is nothing wrong with being unhappy – it is what makes happiness meaningful. There is something very liberating when you come to realize that you are as free to be unhappy as you are to be happy.