Sometimes humility is easy; sometimes it’s not.
In an earlier chapter, I realized that the stance I’d taken on returning to Pennsylvania after treatment had been completely wrong. My peers and counselors had always advised me to stay in NYC—drumming it into my head for months—but I couldn’t see it. Why? Fear. NYC terrified me. I had no confidence in the treatment center, or my own ability to remain sober. What helped me recognize I was wrong was the absolute relief I felt when I finally allowed myself to entertain the notion of living in New York. I no longer had to rationalize my fear. Once I felt the relief, I knew I was onto something. After that, it was a simple matter of admitting I was wrong. Accepting the will of the group. Being humble.
In a situation like that, humility is easy.
Everything adds up. This is often how it is in early recovery. You can expect to get good direction from the group, whether you’re in a treatment center or relying upon an AA home group. In early recovery, the big decisions are often the most basic: Don’t drink. Go to meetings. Don’t start a romantic relationship. Don’t end a relationship.
But sometimes a situation is more complicated; sometimes humility requires more of us.
In this chapter, I had been in recovery about seven years and the situations I was finding myself in were becoming more nuanced and challenging. I still needed to remain sober and attend meetings, but now I had to make some potentially big decisions about the direction my life would take over the next few years. Worse, there were hitches that added to the pressure – school was about to end, and I had fallen in love with my future wife who lived on the other side of the country. I knew I couldn’t live in Pennsylvania anymore, but that’s where my ten-year-old son lived. I had shared my dilemma with my sponsor and all my AA friends and the answers I was getting back were about what you’d expect: Some people had a strong opinion one way or another. Other people recognized it as the kind of a decision only an individual could make.
For the previous seven years, I had been working with my sponsor to foster an ability to look inside myself; to learn how to solicit help from my peers and to meditate. To listen for the Higher Power. When I looked inside, here is what I found: the rush of new love; the fear of leaving behind school and all its familiar rituals; and the shame of the failure of my first marriage.
That is what I had to make my decision. Plus the cacophony of people who held a strong opinion one way or the other.
With a situation like this, the real humility—the hardest kind of humility—comes from knowing that you may not have all the answers, but that you have to make a decision anyhow. This type of humility means accepting the fact that one day you may discover you were wrong. Sixteen years ago I decided to move across the country, thousands of miles away from my ten-year-old son. I knew that’s not what he wanted me to do, but I did it anyhow. I didn’t do it to be mean or to escape my responsibility. I did it because I didn’t feel as if I had any other choice. I married the woman I moved across the country to be near. I found a good career at which I excel. I own a home and am raising a small family that I absolutely adore. But I still don’t know if I made the right decision all those many years ago. In my memory, I can still hear my oldest child’s ten-year-old voice crack when I tell him news, when he hears the hard truth. The hardest kind of humility comes from when you understand—you are absolutely certain of the fact—that you royally fucked things up, but you have to go ahead and be kind to yourself anyhow, because that’s just the way recovery works.
Sometimes there isn’t a home group behind you. Sometimes there is no consensus among your peers. Sometimes you have to look inside and take the love and the fear and the shame and do the best you can with it. And then, of course, you have to live with it.
Reading group questions for Chapter 7:
No questions this month.