Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Getting to Recovery: Statement Three

Note: This is the third in a series of essays on the 13 Statements of the Women for Sobriety program. These statements are copyright to WFS and I encourage you to see their website for more information.

If You’re Happy and You Know It


To be happy is a universal desire. We all want to avoid sorrow, and to bask in the comfort of a happy heart. In early sobriety, this yearning often runs headlong into the disbelief born from our own doubts and the fear that positive emotion is something we cannot experience. We may grasp the concept of statement two, that negative thoughts destroy ourselves, but the idea that we can develop happiness remains foreign; how can we possibly develop happiness when we feel so emotionally confused?

“Happiness is a habit I will develop”

The moment we step into sobriety, we are a blank slate ready to fill with new thoughts and new experiences. As strange as it may seem, this is the perfect time for us to begin to develop the habit of happiness. The important thing is to recognize that happiness occurs in the smallest of moments as well as the greatest of triumphs. It is up to us to seize upon the minor joys and to build from them an attitude of grateful happiness.

The mere fact of our sobriety should bring us joy. We are overcoming the life-threatening problem that has haunted us, asserting our right to live healthy, sober lives. Every moment that we do not drink is a moment where we can feel happiness; but we must be aware of them. We must be in the present. To be in the now is to allow ourselves to experience emotions that otherwise might be too fleeting to recognize.

It is not practical in daily life to be aware of every single moment. We can however, take time each day to slow down and focus on the present as it rises and passes away. During this time, we can practice developing happiness as a habit. As we focus on the exact present, we can be grateful that we are sober, that we are alive, and that in that moment we require nothing more than to be aware of our own happiness. Even in the midst of crisis, we can still feel happiness in our dedication to our new lives. As we observe this joy and ourselves, we build the habit of recognizing it. We can then expand our knowledge to seeking out happiness in other situations.

What is happiness? In the simplest terms, happiness is an absence of sorrow. We can choose to see any situation through the filter of one of these emotions; it is up to us whether the glass is half full or half empty. Even if our first thought is that it is half empty, we can instantly remind ourselves that we have the power to fill the glass to the top. We can take the negative emotion and transform it into joy that we can implement what we have learned in our sobriety; the hard work that we have put in will now pay off as we overcome that which is troubling us.

There is a Chinese proverb, “One happiness scatters a thousand sorrows.” Finding joy in a single moment can interrupt the negativity that threatens to drown us and allow us to take a deep breath and prepare to tackle the problem at hand. Our daily practice of experiencing the happiness in a single moment comes to fruition as we take control of our thoughts and do not allow negativity to overwhelm us.

This is not to say that we can approach the world with a Pollyanna attitude, never feeling stress or anger. We should not do so. What we can do is to use our knowledge of momentary happiness to allow our negative emotions to move through us and not linger. We can prevent negative energy from taking over our thoughts, remaining after their cause has passed. The very fact of negative emotion can be a source of joy; we are experiencing our true emotions, unblurred by alcohol. We are truly alive. The recognition of momentary happiness can bring us this peace.

“Happiness is created, not waited for”

It may seem that this idea of momentary happiness, while making sense in theory, will be difficult to implement in our real lives. Nothing can be farther from the truth. We already create happiness; anytime we feel joy, it is an emotion that we have created in response to a situation that pleases us. We must accept therefore that we are capable, with practice, of creating happiness in any situation.

Aeschylus, the Greek playwright, said “Happiness is a choice that requires effort at times.” We must be willing to expend that effort in order to create the happiness that we deserve. When we first become sober, happiness most often seems a foreign concept. Drinking has caused such negativity in our lives; we have depended on it so much to create our emotions, that we find it hard to imagine feeling without it. We must do so, however, in order to move forward into recovery. Happiness is a natural state; we must simply seek within until we find it.

A gratitude journal can be very helpful in building the habit of finding happiness in daily life. By writing down the things that we are grateful for we give ourselves clues that we can use in finding momentary happiness in times of difficulty. For example: If in our journal we say that we are grateful for a job that allows us a place to live and food to eat, we can find happiness in a moment of job stress in knowing that we do in fact have these things. The stressful situation remains, but we have removed some of its power by reminding ourselves that at least in general, we are grateful for our job. We must do this in a positive way, not with the attitude that we must accept an unfair situation because we need the job. If we truly feel this way, we should feel happiness that we have recognized it and can therefore be proactive in dealing with it.

When I was in basic training many years ago, there was a girl who didn’t like me. She took every opportunity to belittle my abilities, especially where our drill was concerned. One day, she looked me square in the face and told me that we would most likely not get honor squad because of me. I could have responded with equal venom, but I saw the opportunity to take the high road – which would cause me great joy – and so I responded with a simple and non-sarcastic “You could be right. Thank you for pointing that out to me.” She was left open mouthed and looking like an idiot.

By focusing on the happiness to be found in the situation, I diffused it. I didn’t allow the negativity to drag me in. In the end, that girl wound up to be one of my best friends. I chose to see the glass as half full, and filled it the rest of the way with a new friendship. In doing so, I not only practiced happiness, but set a boundary. When we find happiness in a situation, we empower ourselves to face it with positive energy. Others can view this energy as boundary setting because it is not defensive or attacking, but peaceful and calm. It is determined.

In short, happiness can be found in any situation, if we are only open to it. We do not have to accept or enjoy what is happening to us, but by understanding that there is some joy, however small, to be found in it makes it easier to handle. It can allow us to take the high road when our negativity wants to be as mean and nasty as someone is being to us. It can open a dialog of understanding that might otherwise be lost. It can enable us to set boundaries.

In the end, finding the happiness within ourselves is never a wasted endeavor; as Jean says in the program booklet, “happiness is a feeling that comes from an inner contentment, comes from our feeling pleased with ourselves.” That is the clue. We can feel pleased with ourselves in any situation if we merely open ourselves to the truth of momentary happiness; find that which joy brings and find the treasure of contentment.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll;
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

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