I am writing this post today on two levels: firstly, as directly applicable to the change of sobriety, particularly as it affects those who are currently experiencing the cruel pain of relapse or the difficult days of early sobriety following a relapse. secondly, to anyone, such as myself, struggling with other transitions, whether they have taken place already and the work is to accept and deal with them, or if they are new challenges being entered into with trepidation and uncertainty as to how to achieve them…

what got me started on this road was a line I wrote to a sober penpal.

willingness is all.

I thought that it was a quote but cannot now find it. it may be Biblical… but what the hell does it even mean? and what is willingness? and if it is all, how can I get it?

trying to put some structure into these thoughts. what is necessary to bring about a change in one’s situation? if it were an equation, what would be the factors?

well, to start with, the desire to change. does the following hold true?

desire = change

sadly, no. this is what can be so heartbreaking reading forums and blogs of people trying to achieve sobriety. however great the desire, it alone cannot bring about change. I am old enough to remember when televisions had four buttons and one had to stand up and walk across the room in order to change the channel. the desire to watch a different channel is insufficient.

so, then, if desire + X = change, what is X?

willingness is defined as the quality or state of being prepared to do something.

if one has the desire to do something, and is in a state of being prepared to do it, then change can occur. so, how can we get ourselves into this state of being prepared to do something? here’s one article (don’t read it if you’re feeling vulnerable as it may well piss you off. it pissed me off and I am on top of the bloody world at the moment. of which more later. anyway, back to the article..) which extols the value of willingness as an agent for change and reads really well right up to the point where it says:

‘Willingness is an intensely personal thing that has to come totally from within. How do we come to have the willingness that’s critical for change and improvement? I wish I could pass along an easy answer. For most of us, it comes when we hit some kind of bottom. For some though, the willingness comes about due to careful self-examination, being honest with ourselves, and an ability to make difficult choices and stick to it.’

I’m sorry, I just don’t buy that. I just can’t. because that’s not what I did. I tried the last sentence when I was trying to achieve moderation, and it didn’t work. am I supposed to pull willingness out of my own arse? or wait till I get a DUI or kill a child in the street because I was driving hung over and didn’t register them? how low exactly would my bottom have to be?

no, no, no. there is a better way. other people are a better way. what if tools combined with human connection can create willingness? 

desire + (tools * human connection) = change

if desire is a candle, and the tool is the match, and connection is the oxygen, then the candle flame can burn…

here’s a much more helpful article about willingness. in a extract:

‘One of the most crucial questions to ask past clients who have directed their lives in a way they always wanted them to go is, “how did you do it?” Essentially the question is really “Why now?” The benefit is not just the therapeutic nature of asking ourselves these questions, it is my supreme curiosity. Helping others to make changes is the most complicated and sneaky part of my job. The same tools could be given for the same challenge to two different clients and one will use them and the other won’t. The same encouragement and support could be offered and it will assist some but not others.

The question of how to generate willingness is one of how do we create motivation. In the majority of clients I have supported, desire is not lacking, its motivation that’s missing. Many elements of our lives can provide motivation but the one element that I have witnessed as the most powerful, lasting, and effective is the connection to the people we care about. Said another way, when all else fails to create a desire for change, the relationships we cherish can often stand the test of resistance.

Utilizing others in our life to increase our motivation can be a painful and difficult journey. The first phase of that journey I have found to be helpful is to prepare ourselves for vulnerability. The second phase is to request feedback from those that are important to us. The third phase is to integrate and apply that feedback to our experience. The fourth phase is to use the gift of feedback to clarify our goals and generate the sense of connectedness and support within ourselves.’

the problem with this scenario is that the people we care about most are often those least qualified to help us with the change we want to make. but that’s ok. it doesn’t have to be people we care about. we can find people who know how to do the thing we want to do, or who are learning to do it too, and by hitching our wagon to theirs we not only learn from them but create new networks of people we care about. bloody hell, we are a fundamentally marvellous species!

because together we are more than the sum of our parts. the scientist in me says that willingness to learn from a common experience confers an evolutionary advantage. my spiritual side responds that the divine spark in one person reaches out to the divine spark in another.

and I like the idea of connection, possibly because I am stubborn and independent. and if anyone tells me I need help, or added support, I laugh recklessly in their face before attempting a solo crossing of the Kalahari Desert on a child’s scooter and a single Fruit Shoot because I don’t need any help, no sirree. if I accepted help then you might guess that I am as weak and inadequate as I know myself deep down to be, so make mine a Cherry flavour and where’s my suntan lotion?

but connection – yes. I can just possibly accept connection. 

how about you? how can you bring more connection into your life? and no, it’s not as simple as I make it sound. we may have barriers. we may have been hurt or betrayed and be terrified at the prospect. I know. still. if I have to choose between the risks presented by other people and those of being left alone inside my own head I know which is the most dangerous.

off to connect my little socks off this week-end with some lovely sober buddies. scared a little bit, excited a lot. if you’re not coming – I wish you were 😉

Prim xx

post edited to add: did you notice I wrote this after thinking about something I said to a sober penpal? Q.E.D., I think…