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Chance, Choice, Reaction.

1 September 2016

In AA we spend a lot of time talking about what we can control and what we can’t. Life will happen, you can’t choose what gets thrown at you on the wings of fate. All we can do is take it a day at a time. My house is going to leak, sometimes. Or I might break my leg. Or my employer might decide they don’t want my services anymore. Who knows. the world spins and eddies of misfortune spin at all of us. We have to absorb them. Some of those misfortunes are ones, just or not, that we are born with.

But we have choices as well. Each day when I wake up I decide to spend the day sober. I decide to go to work or not. I decide to run. I decide to rest. I decide to cook or to eat junk. I decide to go to my meeting or skip it. I decide to antagonize others or attempt to be a voice of serenity. I may be more or less successful in enacting these decisions, but they are mine. And failing at following through on something I decide to do is its own kind of decision.

I have more decisions. Ones that I think are often not recognized by the world at large as decisions. I can choose to be offended or not. I can choose to be baited when someone wants to hurt me. I can choose to be angry at politics or religion. I can choose to balance my work life and my social life in a way that makes sacrifices of one for the other. I can choose to be angry about the circumstances of my genes and birth. Or I can choose to be entitled by them. I can choose to be angry I have to make these choices.

Most of us choose not even to recognize they are choices. It took me some 33 years to do so. And at least another two or three of practice before I could act, even imperfectly, on that recognition. And I’m not perfect at it now. But I see the choices I have. And I can take ownership when I make choices that make me unhappy. I can take ownership when I choose to be unhappy.

For me, now, most so-called “negative” emotions are the emotions of reaction. Unhappiness is much more akin to surprise than it is to satisfaction. When something comes along that I can’t control but wish were different, or when I realize too late I’ve made a bad decision, or when a bad decision I made on purpose finally bears its rotten fruit. Then I am distinctly and often deeply unhappy. That lasts until I recognize it, identify my part, and then select and action to take to address it.

After that comes determination.

And eventually, acceptance and usually satisfaction or happiness again. Because I have changed my circumstance, or recognized that life is simply going to batter me for a bit. Because I can recognize how I led myself into these circumstances. Because I can take action to change them.

There is no fairness in life except what we choose to make. And working towards greater fairness is a noble goal. I admire those working towards it, and I like to think I’m one of them. But there is no way to make life truly fair. For the most part, I got lucky. In a few respects, I got a very short draw indeed. But I’m not satisfied with my life because I have been, overall, given a much better deal than a bad one.

I’m satisfied with my life because I’ve been taught a perspective that allows me to accept that I will not win every battle. I am not exempt from trouble. I don’t deserve any more than any one else. And I understand that most of my problems are self-created. And I believe that that’s true of almost everyone.

I know it is, because I mingle daily with persons who have come from far less, suffered much more, and then done much worse than I have. And though some have risen far further, most have not. Most live modest lives of graceful utility doing simple work we take for granted. And almost all of them are happy. And almost all of them see the value in their lives and offer of themselves to others.

I am an alcoholic. My disease is one of the most misunderstood and denigrated, shamed, and hated afflictions. I am a fortunate alcoholic. Not only to be in recovery, but not to have murdered or burgled or beaten or robbed. But I sit daily with those that have. I count them among my friends. We sit in the basement of a church, and we laugh about how good our lives are. Even as we continue to suffer the consequences of our actions. Even as society considers us reprobate. Immoral. Weak.

We use simple terms to describe ourselves. Lowlife. Scum. Asshole. Thug. And we use the past tense.

Take away the alcohol, begin to understand the choice. We drank to express the anger, to act on animal impulse. To give permission. Excuse.

Now, in sobriety, I have been given something that feels like a superpower: I get to choose how I feel about things, even when I am made victim of injustices. I may react with rage or malaise or bitterness. But that’s only my reaction. My choice is to respond to chance with determination. To find my part, how I led myself to a low place I don’t want to inhabit, and then how I can climb my way out of it.

And that last part, well, it  starts with grabbing the outstretched hand of another drunk. Which is why, as I’m climbing, I’m always reaching back for a hand that might need mine.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anne Martin permalink
    2 September 2016 14:46

    This hit home – I’ve been making some bad choices lately, pretending that it’s God’s will for me when I distinctly know that it is not, and those choices are beginning to “bear their rotten fruit”. Thank you for your words.

  2. Syd permalink
    5 September 2016 08:59

    Great post. Awareness, acceptance and action–I get to choose how I will act and be. It is powerful stuff.

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