Note: This is the fifth 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.
"I am What I Think."
Many of us enter sobriety as strangers to ourselves. We have used alcohol as a substitute for self-reflection and self-change, as well as the antidote to unpleasant emotions that arose from our inner negative self-talk. It was OK to call ourselves stupid, unworthy, or to let anger run through us, because pouring a drink would make it all better. At least, that’s what we convinced ourselves was true.
The results of this internal self-abuse outlast our drinking. We find ourselves sober, but still programmed to view our abilities through negative eyes, and lacking a sense of self-worth that would encourage us to change. I am going to focus on how Statement Five applies to this “negative stasis”, as interrupting and replacing the flow of negative thoughts must begin with the words we use on ourselves.
"I am a Capable,"
In the most basic sense, we are capable of thought. This capability extends to both negative and positive thinking. We often say to ourselves, “I can’t think positively”, which simply isn’t true. We have positive thoughts every day, we just don’t recognize them. Do you believe the sun will rise in the morning? That is a positive expectation, a positive thought. Most of our daily existence is based on positive beliefs; that the sun will rise, that we will continue to breathe, that the universe will continue to behave more or less as it did when we went to sleep, or left for work, or started dinner.
Once we recognize our basic positive beliefs, we begin to see how we can change our default thinking from that of negative (I can’t) to positive (I am capable). We are capable of positive thought, of creating a positive frame through which to process information. That frame is already there, in actuality, and all we have to do is accept it and decide to use it consciously. We can then begin to work on accepting our basic competence in using that frame to change our outlook.
We are not merely capable of thinking about ourselves positively; we are competent in doing so. Of the four C’s in Statement Five, “competent” is often the most difficult for women to embrace. It suggests an ability that many of us don’t believe we possess. Whereas capable tends to describe a future event – we will be able to do something at some point – competent means we already have the power to complete the task. In fact, we are competent in positive self-talk. As I said before, we already do this in our basic daily routine.
When we focus down to the most minute of thoughts, as is done in some active Buddhist meditations, we see that we are constantly encouraging ourselves; I can lift my foot and put it down, I can breathe in and exhale, I can stand and sit. We are full of innate positive energy. All we have to do is practice that positive expectation when speaking to ourselves consciously to begin the transformation from a negative world view to the positive frame we seek.
Another thing we often neglect to recognize is how caring we are toward ourselves. Looking again at the most basic of activities, we very rarely act in an uncaring way toward ourselves. We do not deny ourselves our basic needs – such as breathing and sleeping - and we usually act to avoid things which will hurt us. The decision to become sober is deeply self-caring, though we don’t always recognize it as such. It can be viewed as the first conscious application of our basic caring in our journey of recovery. When we approach our self-talk with this knowledge of our basic caring nature and the recognition that we have already made the move from unconscious to conscious application of that caring self, we will find our words towards ourselves to be kinder and more loving.
Finally, when we speak to ourselves we need to do so with compassion. Being gentle with ourselves will help us view the world through calmer eyes. Practicing compassion toward ourselves opens the energy pathways and allows the universe to flow through us in a positive manner. Compassion doesn’t mean self-indulgence in the sense of excusing harmful behavior; rather, it means approaching ourselves with an acceptance of what we have experienced and a willingness to allow ourselves to express what we are feeling.
When we are compassionate towards our thoughts, we eliminate the need for defensiveness and open a dialog wherein we can work to change negative beliefs in a positive manner, without belittling or degrading our existing self. Women have an innate ability to be compassionate, but we have been conditioned that we cannot apply this compassion to ourselves. Breaking through this society-imposed prohibition can be difficult, but the rewards are vast.
Jean Kirkpatrick referred to Statement Five as “the keystone of the entire program,” and all the other statements build upon this one. We create our external reality based on the words we speak to ourselves, and by practicing the four C’s with our inner talk, we establish a foundation upon which our New Lives can flourish. When we remember that we are capable and competent in thinking positively about ourselves, when we are caring with our internal speech and compassionate when we approach existing beliefs and emotions, we will find the universe unfolding with limitless possibilities awaiting our exploration.