Tolerance Is An Important Part Of Recovery

There are a variety of characteristics that make up what we refer to as “spirituality,” but it seems to me that tolerance stands out as one of the primary things we need to work on in recovery. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines tolerance as 1. capacity to endure pain or hardship; and 2. sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own. Both of these are important for recovering people to remember.

We addicts know The Way Things Ought To Be. We tend to be hard-headed, opinionated and prone to black and white thinking.  Generally, we are solidly for or against things, and rarely see the world in shades of gray.  Of course this doesn't apply to you, but I'm sure you know others who are at fault, and you probably have pretty definite ideas about them.  Right? 😉

The capacity to endure pain or hardship would be pretty well ingrained in addicts already, were it not for the fact that we spent most of our time, most of our money, and most of our attention actively avoiding those two things. We are folks who do not believe that it is okay not to feel okay. Considering that the first few months of sobriety find us extra-sensitive to many of the things that the alcohol or other drugs covered up, it becomes apparent that we are stuck with a period where we're going to have to endure certain discomforts without drugs to round off the sharp edges. In short, we get a crash course in what most other folks know already — sometimes you hurt and you just have to walk through it, but it doesn't last forever.

The upside to this is that without chemicals dulling our senses we are also going to be able to experience happiness — even joy — in ways that we never could previously. That may not happen right away, but it's worth working for.

Just as important is the aspect of tolerance that involves others. It is recognizing their right to be who they are, without interference from us. We run into all sorts of people in recovery, and unfortunately many of us bring our prejudices along with us: religious, political, racial, social, or any combination of those. Still legends in our own minds, many of us feel free to force those opinions on others.

What if someone is really down on himself, barely hanging on, keeping a stiff upper lip, and I come along and try to shame them by telling them how wrong they are as a person.  Is that going to help? I doubt it. If they're in a meeting they may just get up and walk out. I've seen it happen. I don't think it's ever happened because of me, but I hate to even consider the possibility.

People in recovery, especially early recovery, have one paramount purpose: to stay clean and sober. They don't need people “should-ing” on them. If we believe in fiscal conservatism, that's fine. If we love Jesus, or Allah, or follow the Middle Path, that's fine too. If we dislike gays, we're missing out on some interesting friends — but that's our privilege. It is not, however, our privilege to push our opinions about outside issues on other people in the rooms of recovery. Our primary purpose is to stay clean and sober, and we have no opinions on outside issues.  Remember?

Tolerance is about letting other people find out who they are, and letting them know that's okay. We expect that courtesy from others, so the least we can do is be tolerant ourselves.

Why did I have so much spirituality before I got clean, and now I can’t seem to get it back?

We go through a lot of changes when we get clean and sober.  After all, our whole world is turned around.  We go from total self-involvement to learning to depend on and to help others.  Our priorities shift from finding mood-altering chemicals to trying to get them mostly out of our minds.  We begin to look at our past realistically, and we start learning to forgive ourselves and move on with our lives.

We also have post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) to deal with.  Those issues can range from an inability to sit still and think about much of anything, to depression — occasionally both in the same person.  They are caused by changes in our brain as it repairs itself and returns to something like normal, and they can go on for months, alternating relatively good periods with some pretty uncomfortable times.  But millions have gotten through PAWS successfully.  With the help of our program, so can we.

Recovery takes time.  Getting to something like normal takes time.  And time takes time.  We are accustomed to getting what we want when we want it, and having immediate results from the getting.  Suddenly we are being told that we’re “right where you’re supposed to be,” and we don’t like hearing it one bit.  We still what what we want, when we want it.  As the old joke goes, “God, please grant me the gift of patience…right now!”

So it’s not too surprising that we find ourselves unable to focus on spiritual things.  In fact, our concepts of spirituality may themselves be undergoing changes, and considering the other changes happening in our lives, that’s hardly a surprise either.

The best thing for us to do is follow suggestions, remember that we have the rest of our lives to develop both our sobriety and a spiritual way of life, and simply not worry about it for the time being.  If we get up in the morning with the realization that we’re not hurting, and are grateful for it; if we try to do the next right thing as often as we can; if we sit down at the end of the day, consider our successes and failures, and remember that we have tomorrow to improve; if we remember to be thankful for a day without getting high and the prospect of another one tomorrow, then we have done all we need to do to insure that our spiritual life will develop, in it’s own time.

Just like recovery, spiritual growth is a process, not an event.