Although most of us would prefer to not feel pain, it’s necessary if we want to survive. Imagine accidentally putting your hand on a hot stove and not feeling any pain. You’d leave your hand on there and experience extreme damage to your hand, and some of it might be permanent damage. So, although pain sucks, when we look at it like that, we submit and say, “Thanks evolution for allowing me pain so I can survive.”
While feelings of physical pain help us not do stupid things, it’s much harder with psychological pain. It blows my mind when I watch people stay in their psychological pain without metaphorically taking their hand off the stove. The problem is, I’m far too familiar with doing the exact same thing.
Finding the Willingness to Change
Previously, we discussed one of my favorite quotes and equations about suffering: Suffering = pain x resistance. I’m much better at avoiding resistance today, but seven years ago, my resistance almost led to so much suffering that I was either take my own life or relapse and slowly kill myself.
I waited three whole months to finally get a sponsor in AA. I walked into the rooms as someone who had lost everything and had a 10% chance of living. Even as I was knocking on death’s door, I was still a stubborn asshole.
Whether it’s mental health or addiction recovery, we over-complicate the hell out of it. The reality is that it’s not rocket science. It’s actually quite simple, and I saw it with my own eyes. I sat there watching everyone who refused to get a sponsor and work the steps either be miserable or relapse. I also sat and watched people living these incredible lives because they got a sponsor and started working the steps.
So what the hell was I waiting for?
After three months of causing my own misery, I finally got a sponsor. I received what they call “the gift of desperation”. I was finally willing to take my hand off the hot stove and start working on all of the things about myself that were keeping me sick. I reached a point where I was actually ready…or so I thought.
A few hours before meeting with my sponsor, he asked me a question that’s changed my life forever. “Are you willing to do whatever it takes to stay sober? You don’t have to answer now, but have an answer ready when we meet up later,” he said.
I don’t know if I’ve told you this yet, but I’m a crazy person. When he asked me this question, I’m not exaggerating when I say that I had the most insane thoughts of what he was going to have me do to stay sober. At this time, I still thought AA might be a cult too, so that didn’t help.
Was he going to ask me to sacrifice a baby goat to stay sober or something?!
Well, when we met up, and he asked for my answer, without hesitation, I said, “Yes.” I was so desperate that I was legit thinking, “Welp, sorry baby goat, but I gotta do something.” Fortunately, he didn’t ask me to sacrifice any baby farm animals. Instead, he asked me to do something I perceived as 1,000x worse.
Am I Willing to do Whatever it Takes?
The two things he asked me to do was to call him once a day and read 164 pages of the AA Big Book. Now, what he asked me to do may seem silly and easy to some of you, but for me, it wasn’t.
I hated calling people on the phone. I had so much social anxiety, which included phone anxiety. I was the type of person who was deathly afraid of awkward silence and would have a million thoughts before answering the phone or while the phone was ringing as I waited for the other person to answer. Calling him once a day? What the hell would we even talk about?! And aside from this, I hated reading (which may surprise some of you who know how much I read now).
That resistance that had caused my suffering was slowly creeping back in, but I remembered what I told this man. I told him that I’d be willing to do whatever it takes to stay sober.
How in God’s name could I tell someone that I’m willing to do whatever it takes, and then just be like, “Welllllll, I’m willing to do whatever it takes besides pick up my phone and read a book.”?! I couldn’t.
So, each day when I dreaded calling this guy and didn’t want to read, I remembered how I made a commitment to him that I’d do whatever it takes. More importantly, I made that commitment to myself and my recovery.
What about everyone else in my life? This wasn’t just about me. My addiction and my unstable mental health affected everyone in my life. It affected my parents, my grandma, my sister, my friends, my son’s mom and my son.
It’s difficult as hell to work on ourselves. Therapy, step work, journaling and every other therapeutic method involves us doing this deep introspection. We must revisit past traumas and start recognizing all the fucked up parts about ourselves. Nobody wants to do that, and it goes for me too. So, even to this day, when I don’t feel like working on myself, I always remember that commitment I made to do whatever it takes to be mentally well for my recovery, myself and my loved ones.
Are You Willing to Do Whatever it Takes?
As you’ve probably figured out, I’m pretty passionate about all aspects of mental health from psychology, to coping skills, to decreasing the stigma, increasing awareness and advocating. I’ve been reading some excellent books lately on some aspects of mental health and mental illness (yes, these are two different things), and we have a lot of work to do.
I won’t dive into all of the nuances right now of mental health policy in the United States and other parts of the world, but although I’m an optimist, no matter how much we do to improve mental healthcare and awareness, we’re still going to face a major challenge.
This morning, I was having a conversation with my girlfriend’s grandma, and she asked me my thoughts on the current state of mental healthcare with so many facilities closing down and there being a lack of funding and ability for people to get their medications. I told her my thoughts, but I also explained that the toughest challenge we face is whether or not people are willing to do whatever it takes to get better.
No matter what’s going on in your life right now, no amount of access to mental health resources can help you if you’re not willing to get better. We can make medications free, but if you don’t take your meds, you won’t get better. You can receive free therapy, but if you’re not willing to do what your therapist suggests, your life won’t improve that much. If we’re being honest, it might not improve at all if you don’t do anything.
I know this experience all too well from my experience working with addicts throughout the years. I’ve seen people in the same place I once was and the hearts of their family members breaking. I’ve watched families force loved ones into 12-step meetings or spend thousands of dollars sending them to treatment. I’ve known people who were given more opportunities to get well than most people will have in a lifetime only to relapse and die.
I often think about how with all the medications we have available, my wish was that we had a medication that made people willing to get better. If we could figure that out, we’d see many more people begin improving.
So, at the end of the day, it all boils down to your willingness. Are you willing to do whatever it takes to get better? If so, what’s that look like? Ask yourself this every day. Ask yourself this multiple times a day if you need to. Because it’s not, “Are you motivated to do whatever it takes?”, it’s “Are you willing to do whatever it takes?”.
I promise you that as soon as you find that willingness to make changes and improve your life, you’ll begin moving in the right direction, and it won’t be long until you experience the benefits.
If you’re looking for affordable therapy from the comfort of your own home, I personally use BetterHelp online therapy. I have a badass therapist, and I highly recommend this easy-to-use service. By clicking here to sign up, it helps support the work I do as well.
Originally published at https://www.therewiredsoul.com on November 24, 2019.