Why do we walk into recovery with a list of what we expect to receive for our efforts?
Why do we have demands about what life is supposed to look like in the weeks and months that follow our last drink or hit?
I hear plenty of people in the early years say that they are grateful, but the complaints and dissatisfaction start oozing out before long…
They’re presently back to telling you that “people suck” and how they’ve been wronged by life.
They’re disappointed. Expectations aren’t being met. Assumptions about what sobriety would feel like don’t match the reality.
Expectations and Impending Doom
I made my first few attempts to get sober in order to save my dying marriage and family at all costs.
Those are what I wrote on the metaphorical list of demands I slid across the table to God, telling Him what was best for me…
The outcome is easy to see coming, like the lights of a train in the distance.
I stayed (mostly) sober for a brief period of time, things calmed down between my wife and I, and recovery became much less important.
Presently, alcohol crept back into my life, and we did the painful family dance again—over and over and over.
The Flip Side of That Coin
What happens when God doesn’t give us what we want?
When the spouse doesn’t come back right away…
When CPS isn’t putting your case at the front of the line…
When we’re still making $10 an hour after 6 months and nobody’s begging to hire you for 60 grand a year… Or even 30.
Nobody’s begging us to be part of their lives…
Out of one side of our mouths, we say, “I’m so grateful for everything I have.“
Out of the other, we say, “This isn’t doing me any good. Why keep trying when this is never going to work out?”
Victims Don’t Stay Sober
Victim thinking often looks like this:
- They’re holding me back
- They’re mistreating me
- This isn’t right
- This isn’t fair
We’re so quick to push the eject button on our new lives when we don’t get what we think we deserve.
Back to Childish Ways of Thinking
When we were drinking and using, we begged God for this or that…
We begged for relief…
We told God what we had to have to survive…
Our prayers resembled wish lists…
The nightmare continued.
We got sober when we agreed to surrender those demands and allow God to run the show, but so many of us find ourselves back in the same childish mindset.
We’re back to setting up hoops for God to jump through.
The negotiations begin again…
In effect, we begin to say, “I know what I’m doing THIS TIME. It will be different THIS TIME.”
Those thoughts should feel familiar…
Haven’t we all said that before—about our drinking and using?
How is it that we fail to see that we’re still in or back in that line of destructive thinking.
On God’s Time
“If there be divorce or separation, there should be no undue haste for the couple to get together. The man should be sure of his recovery. The wife should fully understand his new way of life. If their old relationship is to be resumed it must be on a better basis since the former did not work.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 99)
Everything you want, everything you expect does not come true just because you’re being good at the moment.
We’ve made enough promises and false starts for several lifetimes.
The demonstration of our newfound way of life is a long journey, with trials and rewards coming and going.
When we create that to-do list for God to accomplish for us in early recovery with a time frame attached, we set ourselves up to fail.
Your Best Interests at Heart
“Sometimes it is to the best interests of all concerned that a couple remain apart. Obviously, no rule can be laid down. Let the alcoholic continue his program day by day. When the time for living together has come, it will be apparent to both parties.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 99)
It may take time or not happen at all.
You’re not in charge, remember?
What I Can Reasonably Expect
I get to live with significantly more freedom than I deserve.
I get the opportunity to put together a track record of consistent behavior and build trust.
My health will improve.
If I practice spiritual principles daily, I can expect my financial situation to improve over time.
Personal relationships will improve.
The Bottom Line
“Let no alcoholic say he cannot recover unless he has his family back. This just isn’t so. In some cases the wife will never come back for one reason or another. Remind the prospect that his recovery is not dependent upon people. It is dependent upon his relationship with God. We have seen men get well whose families have not returned at all. We have seen others slip when the family came back too soon.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 100)
The chances skyrocket for a lot of good things to happen.
I am guaranteed better odds with a God who will watch over the Big Picture.
The more I focus on very little detail going right or wrong (according to me and my infinite wisdom), the more likely I am to be disappointed.
The more likely I am to develop a victim’s mindset, the less likely I am to stay sober for much longer.
I decide each and every day that I need God just as much now as I did on the first day I got sober—to trust that God is taking care of things and has my best interests at heart.
Or, I can get pissy and whine about my expectations and perceived needs not being met—become a victim again.
It’s About Potential
I am alive.
I choose to face today, no matter what circumstances swirl around me.
When I find true surrender inside:
- I see how much good is happening.
- I recognize the potential exists for a life of true value.
- I have hope.
- My perception of fair or unfair means so much less.
The more stable my sobriety becomes and the more I come to rely upon God and a life of spiritual principles, the potential for a better life increases.
When, where, and how that life will play out are not up to me. There are things I must do, and there are choices I can make, but my expectations must remain grounded in reality.
God has my best interests at heart.
My responsibility is right in front of me—to maintain the conditions that keep possibilities on the table.
Instead of keeping a list of demands, why not slide the blank page of the remaining years of your life across the table to the God of your understanding, saying:
Write me a really cool comeback story! I don’t know what is best, so write it for me. Just make it meaningful, would you?
That is surrender, one very important way we stay sober and a place we find contentment.
David S. is an alumnus of the SONTX Residential Program and served as a house manager. He is celebrating sobriety as a up-and-coming writer in Dallas.