I’ve been thinking a lot lately about change. I’m not talking about the sixty-seven cents that I have in my wallet, but the kind of change that transforms someone. The kind of long-lasting, sustained change that reverses our self narrative, that alters our perspectives and improves our lives. I’m talking about heart-change. Do we humans have the capacity to change those parts of us that make us sick, hold us back, or limit our happiness? Does it ever happen? Can we take what makes us “bad” in the eyes of others or ourselves, and mold it into something “good”?
My immediate response to those questions is yes, of course people can change. I see it all the time in meetings – people who once were down and out, drinking alcoholically, losing all of the things that were important to them, incapable of living life on life’s terms, now sober with new, richer lives in which they not only don’t regret their pasts, they use their own experiences to help others. But then I see it. Or hear it. Someone says or does something that is inappropriate, hurtful, or insulting to someone else at the meeting and I start to wonder…have they really changed from who they were before? Or have they just changed some of their behaviors, like choosing not to drink anymore? Is their motivation for living a life of sobriety a desire to avoid the negative consequences that their active drinking caused, or have they truly had a heart-change?
I guess that’s where the waters get a little bit muddy for me. I really do think that people have the capacity to change, I’ve seen it and lived it myself. When I look back at the me of 5 years ago, it is drastically different from the me of today. Not just my behaviors and actions, but also my thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and values. I honestly believe that I have had a heart-change about a number of things, and that those changes have gotten me to where I am today, which is a much healthier, happier place. Even so, at times, I still feel my old ways of thinking trying to worm their way into my head. I have to consciously speak my new truths to myself, otherwise I would be right back where I was before. It would be so easy. Is that what happens to the people who I see in meetings acting like dry drunks? Maybe. I don’t know. I guess we’re all on our own paths. Whether that path leads to real, meaningful and sustained recovery is up to each individual.
I’ve heard it said that the two reasons that people really change are: they have learned enough to want to change, or they have been hurt enough to want to change. When it comes to getting sober, for me it took both. I had been so hurt by others, but more so by myself, that I had to change or I was going to drink myself to death. I had also learned enough about sobriety and people living sober successfully, that I knew it was possible, if it worked for them, it might work for me. Making the decision to change was the easy part though. It took me a really long time to realize that just not drinking wasn’t going to be enough to make me happy and healthy. I had to make some big changes, practice open-mindedness, and realize that my way of thinking wasn’t the only way. It was hard at first. When you go along living for almost 40 years, it feels impossible to let go of some of the things that you held onto as truth, even when you have evolved enough to know intellectually that they are false. But, I guess that’s where the process begins.
And it is a process.
A long, long process.
But it’s a process worth undertaking.