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[ Opinion ]

Addiction, Recovery, & Recurring Painful Experiences

RJ Handley

One of the greatest spiritual truths I have learned after the 12 Steps is that we will repeatedly experience the same painful situations until we drill down to the root of the problem. If you are like me, you know that we often see the small stuff we need to work on, yet we remain blind to the big stuff. Even after eight years of AA, I had not come to terms with my unhappiness with life. I was unaware that my greatest battle was with life itself.

Like some Roman gladiator armed with a mace, I swung at life believing I could stand unscathed from its inevitable pain. Only after learning the futility of trying to control life and learning instead to surrender to it did I finally grasp the Big Book principle of accepting “life on life’s terms.” How foolish I felt not practicing this truth after my 12-step work with my sponsor and then with my sponsees. And I missed the essence of the Serenity Prayer that I had been dutifully reciting with my fellow AAs for years at the opening of meetings. “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change” is ultimately about accepting life as it is.

I realized that I had still been investing my time and energy in an attempt to fix all the externals in my life—my wife, my home, my colleagues, my friends—so that I could feel more comfortable with my everyday life. I failed to understand that the only way I was going to experience true happiness was “to have the courage to change the things I can.”

What can I change? Not other people, but only myself. But how? By asking God to allow me to see the things within myself that needed to be changed. With the same courage it took to complete my 4th Step years ago, I plunged into a “searching and fearless” inventory of all my thoughts and behaviors that repeatedly sabotaged my relationships with other people.

God is a wonderful teacher who won’t allow us to go on to the next lesson in life without learning from the lesson at hand. When we don’t learn the lesson, God keeps offering it in a different context. The entire cast of characters changes, but the same pain keeps recurring. Only when I stopped and looked deeply within to the core of each problem did I experience release from the problem and the pain associated with it.


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