From Entitlement to Action in Recovery

entitleagencyEntitlement is “I deserve this just because I want it” and agency is “I know I can do this.”  The combination of fear of disappointment, entitlement, and performance pressure is a recipe for hopelessness and self-doubt.

– Brené Brown The Gifts of Imperfection

Dr. Brown’s quote is quite revealing.  I witnessed a dramatic shift from entitlement to agency in my recovery – and like everything, the shift is a process and not an event.  But I was not a total slouch, born with the proverbial silver spoon in my mouth.  In fact, I had my first factory job when I was 16, and have been generally financially self-supporting my entire life – never unemployed for more than a couple of weeks between jobs.  But, I was incredibly resentful of my state in life compared to others.  I had a ready excuse to explain why my relative brilliance was not recognized by the world.  I recollect well, after accumulating a whopping 0.7 GPA during my first try at college, telling my academic advisor I did not need his bourgeois education – I was going to make it on my own.  All of which led me to a detox unit some ten years later.  I have posted about some of this before.

But in recovery self-doubt has remained.  I was about seven-years sober, finally earned BA and MA degrees and was awarded a full scholarship to a PhD program.  I distinctly remember driving across the Indiana cornfields to register for classes and thinking “who am I trying to fool” and “what will happen when they find out.”  As good as I could get on the agency thing at that time was convincing myself that I was going to give this my best shot, and also give myself permission to drop out after the first semester if I was clearly in over my head.

In less than five years I graduated, got my dream job, but again was incredibly concerned about being found out.  Fast forward 20 years and I am now retiring from a different dream job.  Over the years the “I know I can do this” has become a bigger part of my existence.  Take writing.  The “publish or perish” higher education mantra is impressed upon students along with the pecking order of prestigious publications.  I have published well above average over the years, but not until the last five years have I felt I truly found my writing voice.  My best writing is in my “professional blog” that would fill another four or five books but that is considered the lowest on prestige chart.  But I find everything except my blog writing to actually be a rather tedious unenjoyable process.  The only real exception to that has been my last edited volume.  I believe this is the case because the last book is one that most expresses my values and interests.

So, I might add to Dr. Brown’s definition that “I know I can do this and I want to do this

The process of finding and then living into true self has been the most exciting part of my life in recovery.  My “bourgeois education” provided some equipment for that process, but, without question what I have received through the 12-steps and other related recovery is where I have learned how to use that equipment . . . and I am always pleased to know that the process is never done!

Hope in Recovery

hope in recoveryI was shocked to discover that hope is not an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process.  Emotions play a supporting role, but hope is really a thought process made up of what Snyder calls a trilogy of goals, pathways, and agency.  In very simple terms, hope happens when:

  1. we have the ability to set realistic goals (I know where I want to go).
  2. We are able to figure out how to achieve those goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative routes (I know how to get there, I’m persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again).
  3. We believe in ourselves (I can do this!)

– from The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

I have always counted Hope as an important guiding principle in my recovery.  Brené Brown, in her book the Gifts of Imperfection clarified my thinking on this.  Basically, my adherence to Hope is based in part on a “glass is half full” mentality. I wholly attribute this state of mind to the extent I am living in recovery.  Flowing from the trilogy presented by Dr. Brown:

  1. The one-day-at-a-time, process not an event, approach of 12-step programs has taught me to be proactive and solution oriented.
  2. I have learned to make plans but not be too terribly attached to the immediate results.  However, I also know that I learn from results and am able to alter my plans the next time around.  I ultimately achieve results that are more aligned with my true self.
  3. Belief in self is one of the greatest blessings in recovery.  As I go through time, I am more comfortable in my own skin.  I am also more confident in who I am and the vision to which I aspire.

Without question, this understanding of Hope is integral to my existence today.  Without recovery, Hope goes out the window.  And perhaps most exciting is that my understanding of Hope, leads to new surprises and opportunities as life continues forward.