Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Getting to Recovery: Embracing the Competence Within

I am a competent woman and have much to give life. This is what I am and I shall know it always.

When we first enter sobriety, we often feel as though we are surrounded by the wreckage of our drinking.  Everywhere we look, we can easily see things that we have damaged or destroyed through our alcohol use.  For this reason, it can be very difficult to accept Statement Twelve as having any meaning in our early recovery.  It is far too easy to shake our heads and say, "Maybe in a year I'll be competent, but I'm certainly not now."

This feeling may be reinforced by others who, either actively or passively, indicate that they have little confidence in our ability to remain sober.  When we were drinking, we frequently based our self-concept on how we thought others perceived us, and so in early sobriety we automatically turn to those same people for approval, regardless of whether they are trustworthy judges or not.  An important step in our recovery must therefore be to stop giving our power to others, and start accepting our own self-worth.

I am a competent woman

What does it mean to be competent?  It can be defined as having, "suitable or sufficient skill, knowledge, or experience for some purpose."  In other words, to be competent is to be properly qualified for a task; so to say "I am a competent woman" means at its core that we have the basic ability to exist.     For some, even this concept is difficult to accept.  We can confuse being competent with being perfect, and failing to be perfect equals being incompetent.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  Nowhere in the WFS literature does it say “you must be perfect or you are a failure.”  This perfectionism comes from within and often represents our internalization of perceived or real expectations during childhood.

Recognizing that our ideas about competence and perfection are often based in our childhood allows us to confront another problem we may encounter when accepting this statement; the tendency to look at the past as indicative of future behavior.  We think that if we have failed in the past, then we are likely to fail again.  And since we are likely to fail, we are not competent.  Look closely at this idea; do you see where the flaw lies?  Our belief in our present abilities is based on our past self.  That past self is one who drank.  We no longer drink, thus we are not the same woman and can't assume that our past behavior predicts our future success.

Accepting ourselves as competent women means living in the present, saying "I am able" instead of dwelling on the past and saying "I wasn't able, and so I must not be able now".  We must learn to live in the present if we want to move forward.  Think of your recovery as a road you are driving on; you won't get very far if you try to steer using only the rear view mirror.  Saying "I am a competent woman" is a strong affirmation of our intrinsic power as individuals.  It encompasses far more than our sobriety; it means that we accept ourselves as possessing the skills to live a successful life without reliance on alcohol.  It also helps ground us in the present, reminding us that the past is gone forever.  We are not saying "I wasn't competent before," and we are not saying "I might be competent in the future".  We are reminding ourselves that we are, at this very moment, competent.

And have much to give life

Everyone has something to give life.  We aren't all Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, or Sally Ride.  We may not ever win a Nobel Prize, or become president, or speak to a stadium full of people.  That doesn't mean we have nothing to offer, nothing to share.  It is the little contributions that we make every day that keep the world moving, not the actions of the latest rock star or politician or religious figure.  The smile we offer a stranger on the train, the door we hold open for someone loaded down with packages, the "I love you" we tuck our children in with; these are the things that keep the world turning, and these are things we all have the ability to do.

Our sobriety is a gift to life as well; both our own and the lives of those around us.  Sobriety allows us to interact honestly with the world.  When we are sober, we can be fully present; we can give our full attention to the tasks we undertake and complete them to the best of our abilities.  Our recovery may inspire others in ways we never know of.  Even those who don't know of our struggles with addiction can be touched and changed by our recovery; others can see us grow even without knowing the reasons, and they may be inspired to grow as well.

The greatest gift we can give life is to be fully present in it.  When we live with a belief in our basic competence and a willingness to face each day sober, knowing that we have the ability to handle any challenge without drinking, we send out a positive energy that others can feel and often react to without knowing why.  This unspoken exchange improves the quality of everyone's lives, not just our own.  When others see us being truly present, it encourages them to be present as well.  It is this gift, often not even consciously given, that shows how much we have to give.

This is what I am

Competence is intrinsic to our existence.  We all have within us the suitable skill, knowledge and experience to sustain recovery.  Competence doesn't equal perfection; we will always learn and grow in recovery if we open ourselves to the experience.  Competence doesn't always equal success, either; we may slip and slide a bit along the way, but our belief in our competence allows us to continue moving forward. 

When we accept our competence, we are able to live in the present.  We can release the past and embrace our current sober lives.  Being in the present, we contribute our positive energy to the world, making it a better place for ourselves and for those around us.  We ARE competent.  We are sober at this moment, we are living at this moment, and we are open to life's lessons at this moment.  We needn't regret the past or fear the future when we recognize our competence; we are doing the best we can with what we have. 

And I shall know it always

As long as we recognize our basic ability to live without alcohol, we hold the key to preventing surrender back to a life of drinking.  We can strengthen our belief in this competence with affirmative thoughts and actions.  When we face a difficulty without drinking, we grow in our competence.  Knowing each moment that we are competent naturally leads to a future of competent, sober living.

Each moment we have a choice; we can focus on that which holds us back, or we can focus on that which moves us forward.  Accepting and embracing our competence allows us to focus on that which moves us forward.  We are competent and we do have much to give life.  We have the ability to maintain sobriety, to grow in our recovery, and to give back to life a positive energy which improves the world around us.

This is what we are.  I am a competent woman; you are a competent woman.  Embrace your power and ability to live fully without alcohol.  Be the woman you are capable of being, and know always that you have much to give life.


  1. I love the pieces that you have written using the WFS statements. Thanks & keep up the great work! :-)