Many people feel that, in total, their lives aren’t all that bad. Sure, things could be better. They might half-heartedly attempt a suggestion from a self-help book or TV talk show now and then – only to abandon it when it doesn’t instantly work miracles in their lives.
As the years go by they may feel they are living in what Thoreau called “quiet desperation,” but are reassured by the thought that most everyone else is too. That’s just the way it is.
But “the way it is” does not mean “the way it has to be.”
Sure, we all have changes we’d like to make. You might suppose you could afford to lose a few pounds, or be friendlier to other people, or get more organized. Perhaps you’ve noticed that you are a bit too negative, that your tendency to be overly critical of yourself and others is counterproductive. Maybe you just have a vague sense that you could be a better spouse, parent, employer or friend – but you and the people in your life seem locked in rigid patterns of behavior that seem impossible to break.
People in 12 Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous refer to such malaises as “high-class problems.” AA members use the spiritually-based Steps to deal with such issues – but only after freeing themselves from their most destructive and deadly compulsion: the abuse of alcohol or drugs. Once that crucial first step is taken, they undertake a spiritual path to recover their lives.
Alcoholics and drug abusers can’t begin this spiritual journey until they’ve “hit bottom.” They must reach a point where they see the utter hopeless of their condition and realize they can’t change it on their own will power.
They must admit they need spiritual guidance. This is a humbling, often painful admission.
There are many who say AA and other 12 Step programs don’t work. In fact, they’ve worked for millions of people – but they never work for those who have not hit bottom.
In the early days of AA, membership was limited to drunks in the advanced stages of their illness – those who were unemployed, penniless, facing commitment to asylums or on the verge of death. But today there are a great many “high bottom” recovering alcoholics in AA. They somehow hit bottom and were motivated to make major changes for the better without ever suffering the most severe consequences of their illness.
Do a few extra pounds have to multiply into morbid obesity before you’re ready to change? Does your tendency to be a bit too negative have to escalate into bitter hatefulness?
You may need to hit bottom. But the bottom needn’t be any lower than where you are right now.
Admit And Surrender
You may have already admitted to yourself and others that you have a bad attitude or you’re not very organized. But have you told anyone how much it really bothers you? Have you admitted that you feel utterly powerless to change your behavior?
AA doesn’t work for even the most miserable alcoholics if they have other ideas. If you’re still kidding yourself that you’ll do it “when the time is right” – whatever that means – or are constantly coming up with ideas that sound good but never lead to meaningful action, you are likely to remain stuck.
Don’t just admit that you have a problem. Admit that you’re utterly and hopelessly defeated by it.
Think It Through To The End
High bottom AA members benefit from the stories and experiences of the so-called “last gaspers.” As low bottom alcoholics relate the stories of their lives, the high bottoms see that their current attitudes and behaviors were present in the low bottoms long before extreme difficulties arose. They see the progression of the illness and realize they can stop it now, before they’ve lost everything.
If negativity is your issue, think of people older than yourself who have taken that quality to the extreme. Imagine yourself as a bitterly unhappy old man or woman, alone in the world. Are you a little disorganized? Think of the most exasperating, scatterbrained people you’ve ever had to deal with. See how your lack of organization could only be the beginning.
Taking your little problem, whatever it is, and blowing it up to the extreme may seem absurd or even comical at first. But it’s a spiritual axiom that we are either moving forward or moving backward. If a behavior is blocking you from your spiritual center, you are moving backwards. A behavior that seems bad now will become more ingrained and increasingly cut you off from the world of joyous possibility.
There are people in AA who have never driven drunk, never been to jail, never lost a job or been divorced or suffered any form of public humiliation. Yet they feel a spiritual kinship with those who experienced all of these things and worse.
Your problem doesn’t have to be severe to be serious. Any obstacle to joyful living is a serious obstacle.
Try, Try Again
Once you have convinced yourself that the problem you have is serious and could lead to much greater unhappiness in the future, try whatever techniques you read about or saw on TV years ago that “didn’t work.”
They may not have worked because you hadn’t hit bottom.
Maybe they won’t seem to work at first this time, either. A great many AA members did not get sober immediately upon joining the fellowship. Relapse is sometimes a necessary part of recovery.
If you don’t succeed immediately, don’t immediately blame the technique. Don’t even blame yourself. Simply realize you haven’t yet bottom yet – and go through the mental process described above yet again.
You’re life may not be that bad. But if something is preventing you from being your fully actualized self, you have a serious problem. Decide to hit bottom now. It’s the only way to reach new spiritual heights.
It will look like this: Hitting Bottom to Reach New Heights