Right versus wrong…what’s the difference?
How much should I fight for what’s right and oppose what’s wrong?
If I’m working on recovery behavior, how do I focus on serenity and peace and yet still combat wrong as I see it?
The topic of right versus wrong has been on my mind a lot lately, especially in conjunction with people’s beliefs and feelings.
If my wife shares her feelings about how I’m acting, about how what I’m doing, to her, is a trigger and reminds her of the old, addictive me, how should I handle that? Is her opinion right or is it wrong?
If a sponsee or friend in recovery begins to blame his wife or others for his actions, expressing that “They are crazy…they are selfish…they are blaming me for everything” or that he is trying but this or that keeps getting in the way of him truly recovering from porn addiction and masturbation and lust, what’s right and what’s wrong?
These are some of the questions I want to address today in this discussion topic.
What is Right vs. Wrong Mentality in Addiction Recovery?
One of the guys I look up to a lot in recovery, Steven C. says it simply, “Get honest!”
How does that relate to right versus wrong?
For many years of my life, I thought I was being honest with myself and others, but, as I look back, I was lying to myself over and over again and believing the lies I was telling. Honesty can be a pretty gray area for an addict.
I’ve learned that a good measure of real recovery from addiction is three simple words:
And what I’ve learned lately is that humility is hard to fake.
In connection with the question, then, about right versus wrong, if I have a situation where I’m tempted to be right or tempted to fight back and make a case for why someone else is wrong, this, to me, isn’t being humble.
For example, when my wife shares her feelings, they aren’t right or wrong, they are simply her feelings. If I get defensive, if I get angry, if I get irritated – to me, this is addict behavior; it’s not humble and I need to surrender and let go.
I had a sponsee share his thoughts with me the other day, and, to be honest, they caught me a bit off guard. But after reviewing them, they caused me to reflect on how I’m handling my interaction with sponsees.
Here’s part of what he said:
Nate texted me today to check in on me. It was nice. I need to be the one reaching out to him.
But to be honest, I feel like I’m just gonna be told what I’m doing wrong either in the way I’m reaching out, how I’m analyzing the situation, or for just not reaching out often enough. So it often seems like a bit of a lose lose.
I think this has been eating at me for a little while actually.
Maybe that’s what a sponsor is though. A person who’s there to just constantly point out how we really should be looking at things. I know I’m not perfect at the way I deal with my emotions. And I’m sure as hell not perfect in the way that I react to how my wife is doing. I know that. For me it’s a little discouraging, and it’s probably a good indicator as to where I’m at in recovery, but reaching out for me is hard enough, that I don’t want to feel like I’m gonna get criticized for doing it wrong, or analyzing my situations wrong.
Nate is a passionate dude when it comes to recovery. I’m grateful for that. But I kinda shut down when I feel like someone is pushing their own agenda on me. That’s a big part of my addictive behavior. That’s the “I make my own decisions thank you very much” attitude. Also known as P-R-I-D-E…
But, I know Nate. He loves me and wants to help me. It’s myself I need to get over. I know he comes from a good place, and fact is, he’s been able to call me out on things when I start to drift and don’t see it. I believe that it saves my life having someone like that. But it does get hard.
I think maybe it’s that I feel like if I’m gonna call to surrender or check in, I need to have worked through things completely already and have it figured out. I can’t call to try and figure it out. It’s backwards I know, but that’s how I feel. I’m legitimately worried that sometimes he’s gonna go, “Sean what in the hell are you doing!?” I think these feelings come from me though. If I lust, or if I hold onto my negative feelings and then think about calling, I feel like I’ve already screwed up. To me I always anticipate the conversation being about “Why did I not call earlier?” “How did you even let it get this far?” “You’re obviously not living in recovery properly.” That’s just where I see the conversation going in my brain. It’s the same approach I had to repentance and working the steps. I had to dig myself out a certain amount, before I could call upon the help of the Savior. That’s my own broken mentality. That’s the “I’ve gotta do so much before I can ask for help or even deserve help” mentality. I will call Nate tomorrow and we can talk about these feelings together.
These were his feelings. Were they right or wrong? In my opinion, if I start to analyze or get defensive or make a case for why he’s wrong and I’m right or whatever, I’m in the wrong. Period.
It reminds me of the question I’ve seen in Step 4: What’s my part?
Sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes feelings come that I honestly didn’t intend to cause in those closest to me. But those feelings are what they are; if I’m working my own recovery, I can’t let the feelings of others cause me to go back to a place of anger, resentment or making a case for why I’m right and they’re wrong.
In the Big Book of AA it reads:
Argument and fault-finding are to be avoided like the plague. In many homes this is a difficult thing to do, but it must be done if any results are to be expected. (p. 98)
Besides, we have stopped fighting anybody or anything. We have to! (103)
Ultimately, what I’m reminded of is that I don’t have all the answers.
I make mistakes all the time – just ask my wife and kids. They see me make the same mistakes over and over again.
I don’t know how to deal with the right vs. wrong situations other than to focus on my own recovery and remember the serenity prayer:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
Thy will, not mine, be done.
I look forward to your thoughts and experience.
Loved the reminder about humility. My Father always tells me, “Stay humble, Stay Hungry.” Hungry in this sense refers to staying motivated to work at getting better each and every day.
I think the Spirit will help us find the balance between fighting for recovery and keeping that broken and humble heart. If we fall into arrogance or pride at one end of the spectrum, or into self loathing and self pity and apathy on the other…then we are off course.
Thanks Kent. I like the reminder to “Stay Humble, Stay Hungry!” What you said reminds me a lot of the serenity prayer, where I can ask God to direct me on the things I can change, give me courage to let go of the things I can’t change, and have the wisdom to know the difference.
Jeff C says
I really like this quote by Elder Renlund and believe the concept can apply here as well:
“We can stand firm in our beliefs and have a loving relationship with those who hold differing opinions. For example, I believe drinking alcohol is a violation of God’s law. So what do I do when I am hosting friends who do not believe as I do? My wife and I arrange to go to a restaurant with them where they can order as they choose to. And when they order wine with their meal, I do not get in their faces and call them out as sinners.
Similarly, can I be friends with individuals who are living together without the benefit of marriage? Absolutely. And when I am with them, do I stand up in great indignation and call them to repentance, even though they are presently engaged in behavior I do not agree with? No, of course not.
We can stand firm in our beliefs and have a loving relationship with those who hold differing opinions. Let us not forget that the plan of salvation offers the love and mercy of our Savior Jesus Christ to all.”
It is helping me, as an addict, to focus on the right and good things that help me to connect with others. This allows connections to form. One thing I know is that I have never been able to create connection, the opposite of addiction, by focusing on what is going wrong, trying to figure out who is right/wrong, and placing blame. That has only lead me further away from connection and deeper into resentment, anger, blame, shame and addiction.
Thanks for the topic Nate!
Awesome comment Jeff! That is a great quote and one that I want to read and study more.
I can’t change others, I can only love them.
The moment I start trying to change others or focusing on what’s “wrong” with them or why they aren’t doing things the way I would do them is the moment I’m falling into my old addict self and not looking closely in the mirror at the beams in my eyes.
My wife pointed this out the other day: if I’m talking a lot about my sponsees or people in my group that I’m worried about, that is a trigger to her. I thought about that and realized she’s so spot on – shifting blame and passing judgement on others instead of taking accountability for my own thoughts and actions is what my addiction has been all about for most of my life. When I don’t want to deal with my own problems, I quickly look at others and try to point out why I’m “much better than they are…”
I really appreciate your comment and the quote you shared. Thanks again!
My reminder I came up with is H2O. Water is essential for all life, as it is for recovery. H2O can mean two things:
Honest, Humble, Open (i.e., Accountable)
Or, you can subsume accountability under Honest and Humble, and use the O to mean One day at a time – that’s what I do to remind myself about persistence.
If I am honest and humble, each day, I will be okay (i.e., in the right mindset). This is basically Step 10 in action!
Thanks Sam! Honest, Humble and Open/Accountable are great practices. I feel one of the red flags for me as I’m trying to work on recovery is the mentality of a checklist – “Yep, got that figured out – now what?”
What I’m learning the hard way is that the practice of being Honest, Humble, and Open are a a day to day, even moment to moment endeavor.
I’ve been guilty for far too long of faking honesty. I can be open-ish. But I’ve learned from my wife that I can’t really fake humility at all. If I think I’m right and others are wrong, if I get defensive or pass blame back to my wife, if I justify my actions in any way or minimize what’s really happening – this isn’t humility (or any of the other practices).
Thanks for your feedback and for sharing how you practice these concepts in day to day living.
Sometimes I wish I could just check them off my list and be done 🙂
Perhaps the question should not be it right or wrong, but what should I be doing or how should I be reacting. With my wife I decided that I damaged her enough. Whether she was right or wrong when she told me something I didn’t like it’s not so important as rebuilding the relationship I had damage so much.
With my sponsees the question is am I testifying of principles am I sharing experiences and am I trying to NOT give them advice. Because a sponsor’s job is not to give advice but to testify of principles and to hold the sponsor accountable. However, all this needs to be done with an abundance of love and humility. I constantly look at these ideals and try to follow them and when I find that I’m not following them I try to correct myself.
This is all a Growing Experience and I realize I am not perfect but I strive for these ideals. This is what this discussion about right vs wrong brings to my mind.
Life has gotten so much better since I have realized I do not need to be right.
Thanks Kevin! All great feedback. I feel the same way about my wife: I’ve hurt enough as it is. My job and role now is to be there to listen to her, seek to understand her perspective, and always ask myself what I can do to help her feel more safe and be able to reestablish the trust I’ve lost due to my selfish choices.
With sponsees, I’m learning as well. The comment from my sponsee that I shared above has reminded me that I’m really there to listen most and respond less. If a sponsee wants advice or feedback, I’ll share MY experience and that’s about it.
I do feel that, as you said, it’s a growing experience and a practice. I have to remember to seek for progress and not necessarily perfection.
Thanks for your comment and experience.
Belief is the key term in the equation of “right or wrong.” It doesn’t seem to matter if we believe that we are either right or wrong; such a belief, or prioritization of that belief over other values like kindness, love, empathy, etc., is what creates enmity between ourselves and everyone else. If you believe that God said that alcohol is a violation of His law, then I would suggest that, just like the quote from Elder Renlund points out, this is a personal charge that you alone are to take upon yourself, and to NOT spend time telling anyone else that they are in violation of said law. Those who see your belief in action and are drawn to it will enquire about it and naturally affiliate themselves with it and you.
The more difficult question at play, I believe, is this: Doesn’t not calling people out on whether they are right or wrong just lead to lawlessness and chaos?
Here’s how I see it. I can stand for what I believe and state my beliefs without framing them in context of contrasting/opposing them with anyone else’s beliefs or actions. It is my job to learn and practice love, patience, empathy, humility, and the many other personal virtues that are good/most desirable because they foster connection, engender trust, relieve suffering, and feed the spirit.
Rule of law is the role and responsibility of governing bodies comprised of a variety of belief systems and structures. Democratic societies provide a natural and essential outlet for framing belief systems about laws, right, wrong, good, bad, etc.; and if approached with dignity and respect, the ability to showcase personal beliefs in a broader light is a natural part of the process. If, however, the law goes “bad” then that just means that the contrast between what you believe and what others believe and do will become more self-apparent without having to antagonize anyone in the process. Truth and kindness play out over time and are self-sustaining without any help outside of living them. Whether I live in a “free” government/country/society according to my preferred definition of free is less important than if I am living the values that I hold. See ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Victor Frankl for a great example of what it means to live ones values in the face of impossible difficulty.
As I mentioned in group last week, my obsessive clinging to facts and truth has made me a jerk. I prioritize facts/truth over relationships. One example, if you recall, is that if my son says he saw a Lamborghini, I make sure to tell him it isn’t one. Don’t want him to believe a lie (even though it really doesn’t matter). My not just say, “Cool, dude, that’s awesome!” With my wife, when she gives me the lecture about how for years she took care of the kids at night when I was downstairs looking at porn. I want to correct her and say it wasn’t every night. But, who gives a crap about that? As another example, I often criticize people for the way they do things, and say that I am not being critical, I’m just stating the facts. Lastly, I sometimes point out what my kids are doing by saying things like, “You are throwing a fit over …” My wife tells me to stop tearing them down. I say I’m not tearing them down, I’m just stating the facts.
I am starting to prioritize humility/honesty (which means prioritize relationships), over facts/truth. It is probably better to have a good relationship with my family than to make sure they know that I know (or at least think I know) the facts/truth in any given situation.
Here is a related issue. Often I am so obsessed about how well I am doing, and whether or not I am in the right or in the wrong, that I don’t think about others. Here is an example. About a year or so ago, I would feel good at work, and then go home and feel all this conflict and tension. I told my wife that coming home was the worst part of my day – not good BTW. What I meant was that I was successful at work, but sucked at home. So, committed to doing better at home. I would say a prayer in the car or at the door before going in, and commit to being a good dad/husband. Then I would say something wrong, and crap would hit the fan, and I would throw up my hands. I can’t even make it one night without messing up! My wife aptly pointed out that maybe instead of spending so much time obsessing with how I am doing as a dad/husband, how well am I doing each night, etc., I should think about my family. Duh! So now when things start going to the crapper at home, I try to think about how I can better attend to the needs of my family. If I start focusing on my performance, it is a losing battle.
For me I can often struggle with wondering what other people think is “right” and trying to then do that, rather than learning and doing what I feel is “right”. This has often contributed to resentment that can creep up on me as I begin to feel like I need to live up to other’s expectations. Not healthy. However, trusting in someone else’s direction of how to work the steps and live in recovery was exactly what I needed, and still often need, as I learn what recovery is for me. When I first started down the path of real recovery, it was in large part due to a sponsor who was willing to share his experiences, and I was willing to listen and follow his example. When he shared what worked for him, I had to decide to trust him because up to that point, I didn’t know what recovery looked like. I’d never lived it.
For me now, the right vs. wrong question of how I’m recovering is often less important that just being honest. If I’m honest, really honest, then that will lead to real recovery. I feel how I feel, and nobody can really tell me that it’s right or wrong. That’s just how I feel. Sharing those feelings with others can help me make sense of them, and learn how to better react to those feelings. So I try to worry less now about whether or not I’m living according to someone else’s expectations, but that doesn’t mean I hide my behavior. It actually means I’m more open about it. And if I’m living in recovery, I’ll be willing to listen to my sponsor and friends, who are also in recovery, as they continue to share what’s worked for them.
Thanks Sean! This happens to me too – it’s about worrying too much about what other’s think instead of God. It’s way too easy to fall into for me. Or it’s about being seen as someone that has it all together, has it all figured out, or whatever – in anything, not just this stuff.
Honest. Humble. Accountable.
This is a new quick check-in I’m trying to ask myself. Am I being honest? Am I’m being humble? Am I being accountable?
Many times I’m trying but am fighting something or someone in my mind.
I agree too that sharing feelings with others helps so much. Our call yesterday, for me, was so helpful to just share my real feelings in the moment. I’m learning that listening to others share and not thinking about what I’m going to say has also been really helpful. If they ask for advice or feedback, I’ll give it. But if not, I may ask additional questions to dig more.
Thanks for the comment!
Great subject matter, thanks for this post. I needed it. My wife and I were stuck in a nasty rut for almost 3 months because I was obsessed with being right about what was wrong with her feelings about me, or perceptions on what she thought was going on in my head. All she really wanted was for me to tell I love her and am aware of her and her feelings. Instead I argued and we were disconnected for months. It wasn’t about being right or wrong, just connected, that’s all either of us wanted.
Cameron – that sounds like me! I dread the talk with my wife that happens, typically late at night, where things start getting tense, and I feel like every time I open my mouth I am further digging my own grave. These conversations usually go on for several hours, while my eyes are glazing over, and I’ve almost dug to China. Hopefully by the end we reach a resolution, but not always. In any event, I’ve now found that the solution for me not digging my own grave is H2O – humility, honesty, one day at a time. Let go of my obsession with facts, “take it on the chin” so to speak, own it, focus on how she feels, etc. Not that I succeed at doing that very often, but, when I do, surprisingly the above mentioned discussions go a lot quicker and cleaner.
Best answer I’ve found for me in these situations is to ask myself the question:
“What’s my part in how she’s feeling?”
“What’d I do to cause these feelings?,” whether I agree with them or not.
Sometimes what my wife has shared with me is really hard to hear, but it’s her reality and has been caused by either past behaviors that have resurfaced or little things that remind her of how things have been.
All I can do is listen and think about what I can do right now to rebuild the trust I’ve lost.