Thick dark clouds hung fat and low, pregnant with a January rain. The snowy peaks of the mountains banked a sea of white caps curling beneath a blustery wind.
Corey & me were looking out over Howe Sound through a picture window, warmed by a crackling fire with a hot cup of coffee. She’d called a couple of times with desperate sobs to say her life was spinning out of control, and then accepted my offer to meet in person. I could feel her fear across the table. Her clothes were rumpled and her beautiful blue eyes were bloodshot.
I began with “So, you feel like your life is unraveling; yet somewhere inside yourself you sense you want something better, you know your life could be different. At the same time, you hear an inner voice screaming, ‘Change is terrifying!’ And that voice is so loud and strong, is scares you. So you pick up another drink, and after a while you don’t hear it anymore.”
Corey looked gob smacked, like she was asking, “How do you know?” and then nodded. “Giving in to my cravings has put me into this rut that I can’t seem to get out of. It’s a vicious cycle; like I’m stuck in Groundhog Day. And then I have a couple of beers or a little whatever, until the anxiety passes and I can tell myself ‘Aw, it’s not that bad, and I’m not really hurting anyone but myself’.”
I challenged her. “And yet it must be ‘that bad’ because you’re asking, ‘how can I stop?’ I wish I could play those last couple of phone calls back to you. You sounded really messed up.”
A whistling, piping pair of eagles planed the airwaves near the window. We relaxed into watching them for a moment.
“So it’s the fear of change that’s holding you back.” I continued.
“Totally. The fear of change, and what it’s going to take to make it stick. I don’t want to make new friends, or wonder what I’m going to do with myself on Saturday night.” Her hands shook a little as she drained her coffee. “I’m going out for a smoke.” She left the table and I contemplated what was going on below the surface.
We tell ourselves ‘it’s not that bad’ and ‘I’m not hurting anyone but myself’ to justify and rationalize what we know in our heart isn’t working anymore. Whether it’s drinking, using substances or food to escape, or suppressing feelings of being unhappy or mistreated, the problem lies in that we’re not being honest with ourselves. When we ‘push past’ our internal wellness indicator and deny how we’re honestly feeling, we soon find ourselves ‘acting out’ in ways that harm us, and those we care about. The fear of change is the root of the problem, and the pain lies in the resistance.
Being around someone who’s happy, cheerful, and satisfied with life is contagious. We naturally feel better in their company. The same is true about being around someone with harmful habits, or a miserable attitude. This also affects everyone nearby: physically, mentally and emotionally. We want to get out of the line of fire, move away from the dark cloud that perpetually surrounds them, and don’t understand why they won’t just do something about the harm they’re causing. Yet if we love them, or need them, or rely on them, walking away is not always possible.
For the person with the problem, the insecurity and discomfort that accompanies change is painful and difficult to come to terms with. Changing any habit takes guts, persistence, the possibility of failing and the discomfort of feeling vulnerable. Yet without risk, there is no reward.
I rubbed the smooth wood of the table and watched the fire dance. The server poured more coffee. Thunder clapped in the distance and the clouds released their rain. “It’s really coming down now,” he said. Wind chimes tinkled as Corey opened the café door and walked back to our table.
A little agitated, she spilled out “I don’t understand this surrender thing. What does that mean? How do I surrender? Why can’t I just stop when I want to?”
“Those are good questions. We could say surrender is simply moving over to the winning side. It begins by giving up the fight, which feels counter-intuitive, yet it’s the only way to break free of whatever habit is plaguing us. Not having to fight with our conscience anymore brings a huge relief, and not picking up that first one marks the beginning of freedom.”
She took a deep breath. “I notice lately I need to drink more to relax. These last few months it’s been harder to gauge when I’ve had enough. I think I might have blacked out driving home the other night, because I don’t remember how I got there.”
“So you’re drinking more than you used to, and you’re less able to control yourself. What’s that like?”
“That’s scary too. I don’t know which is worse! Being afraid of what will happen if I don’t stop, or what will happen if I do!” Her tears began to flow.
“Gotcha.” I said, “It takes courage to be honest.” The fire gave a loud pop as an ember flew onto the terra cotta tile. “When the pain of not doing something outweighs the pain of staying the same, we can begin to change.”
She raised her eyebrows and said, “I hadn’t thought about it that way before.”
“So here’s the good news, Corey. Surrender is a process. When we realize we no longer have control over the substance or our behaviour, we begin by surrendering the fight. Just for today, just for right now. Gradually we find safety in that decision as we notice life gets better. Things around us will change. Yes, you may have to find new friends and something else to do on Saturday night. But that’s not all. The self-esteem we gain from making better decisions for ourselves, the inner feelings of taking personal responsibility, are what strengthens us and gives us the conviction to continue. And no, change isn’t comfortable, but what’s the alternative?”
“I don’t know,” she replied as she blew her nose and dried her tears. “I’m scared.”
“That’s understandable. What else are you feeling or thinking?”
“My stress relief for years has been running. After the first five minutes or so I hit my stride and get ‘into the zone’. The air moving through my lungs and the motion of my limbs find a rhythm all their own. I forget my shyness and how awkward I feel most of the time. When I got this job, being the ‘new kid on the block’ made me feel insecure. So to fit in, I started going to the pub with everyone after work. If I wasn’t drinking every day I could get back into running.” Her voice sounded hopeful.
“Sounds like you’d enjoy that. Anything else?”
“Yeah, I’d like to be feeling better. Not so sad and depressed all the time. And when I don’t feel good I keep to myself. I miss my family. We used to get together more often.”
“Let’s go get some air,” I suggested. The server thanked us as we paid for our coffees. Outside the freshness felt good, despite the chill. We opened our umbrellas to walk the short distance to the lookout. Gravel crunched under our boots.
“You know,” Corey began “I hate being miserable and feeling lousy. I’d really like to start making some different choices.”
Panoramas always made me hopeful. Through the curtain of rain, the elevation and the view lifted my spirits. The wind moved the clouds further inland and took the rain with it. Bracing against the cold, we watched the sky as the downpour ended.
“When change is scary, I always find prayer helps. Would you like to pray together?”
Corey looked puzzled. “I don’t really know any prayers for moments like this.”
“Well, I may know one. Let’s close our eyes and open our hearts. When we sincerely ask for help, God is always listening.”
God, thank you for helping me to be honest
enough to see the truth about myself.
Thank you for showing me my fears,
please help me and remove them.
Help me outgrow the fears
that have haunted me and prevented me
from doing Your Will
Direct my attention to what You would have me do.
Corey smiled a little. “Well that was kind of weird,” she said. “But I do feel better.” A gloved hand flashed a wave goodbye as she said “Thanks. Think I’ll go for a run.”
I turned into the wind to walk back to the car and thought how fitting the expression ‘the winds of change’, for a day like this was.
 Adapted from The Twelve Step Prayer Book, 2nd Ed., Bill P and Lisa D., Hazelden Press 2004