Empowerment Through Vulnerability

Empowerment Through Vulnerability

Step 7: “Humbly asked Him to remove our
shortcomings.”

Twenty years in the military taught me that empowerment comes from strength. To most folks being a fighter pilot is a sign of courage because of the high mortality rate associated with people who fly single-seat-super-sonic jet fighters. Dog fighting, dropping bombs, air-to-air refueling and flying 550 mph 100 feet off the ground are nothing compared to the courage it takes to be totally vulnerable in this world.
Be careful what you wish for: While working step 4, my sin of pride came to the forefront. I always pretended to have self-control and believed I was in charge of my own destiny. God was just a figure in the background that was going to judge me some day. With all the vulnerability and humility I could muster I asked God to remove my obsession for alcohol and drugs – that prayer was answered almost immediately. God did not override my free will, though. I was finally willing to change and God simply delivered the miracle of recovery as He has for many before me. God would gradually rise out of the shadows in my life and become an active, living entity with whom I co-exist today.

There appears to be a delicate balance between doing what is right and doing what we think needs to be done for survival in this chaotic world.

Yet there is no need to distribute our efforts between love and fear – all undertakings need only to be directed toward the awareness of God’s love and knowledge of His will for us.

We spend our lives achieving, struggling and resisting and still the vessel we live in dies. Life’s experiences deliver the wisdom to recognize our human ambitions are of little worth. By no longer fearing death, as we feared life, we are given a glimpse of heaven and an invitation to later cross the threshold into eternity.

With the time I have left here, I will remind myself every day that my true purpose is to learn, heal, forgive, love and teach. I will not project the darkness of my ego but instead humbly convey the glowing light of God’s love.

In order to humbly ask God to remove our defects we must muster the courage to erase pride. We do this by discovering the empowerment of vulnerability.

Humility is the opposite of pride, arrogance and self-deception. Self-deception is the sum of the misguided thoughts we learned to believe about ourselves. Some of these beliefs we were taught, and some we incorrectly perceived because our brain defends its primitive desires.

Our egos love to deceive us with false pride and low self-esteem. False pride and low self-esteem outwardly appear to be opposite emotions; nevertheless they are equals in terms of the damage they cause to our mental health. This is the epitome of self-glorification and the delusion of being worthless.

The ego does not understand humility, mistaking it for self-debasement. Humility consists of accepting our roles as spiritual beings. These include learning, healing, loving, forgiving and teaching.

True humility shuts out the screaming voice of ego and listens to the quiet voice of spirit. Occasionally, the ego is sneaky and may whisper a grotesquely bad idea. This is why in early recovery from addiction or other mental health issues we share our ideas and plans with people we trust. We ask for opinions, pray and listen and then formalize our plans.

Eventually, emotional maturity enables us to distinguish between the voices allowing us to intuitively know how to handle tough decisions. We learn that the voice of the higher self is the message of truth and love because it is the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Step 7 is the beginning of our acceptance of our true function on earth. It is a giant stride toward taking our rightful place in salvation. Asking God to remove our shortcomings is empowering in itself. It is a positive assertion of our right to be saved. And it is an acknowledgment of the power that is given us to teach others. God wants us to communicate with Him, through the Spirit, on a higher level than the prayers we were taught.

A Course in Miracles teaches that God is not part of us but that we are part of God. This is the reason God gave us free will. For us to complete our communion with God in eternity we must align our will with His. The quest to align our wills with God’s will is our only assignment on earth.

As human beings it is impossible for us to comprehend the mind of God. With that said, it is not impossible to see clearly the will of God. For man to think like God is like asking a dog to think like Newton. Dogs cannot perceive gravity no more than humans can perceive the reality of God’s mind.

Man mistakenly plays God by attempting to precisely control the outcomes of our thoughts and actions, and yet we avoid the one real truth: Everlasting life is reality and time on planet Earth is so short that it is merely an illusion.

We make so many assumptions about God based on the half-truths we learned along the way that we entirely miss out on the meaning of faith: no matter what, it’s going to be all right.

Comfort Zone and Connections

When we become vulnerable, we initially feel uncomfortable.  How long we spend feeling uncomfortable depends on how familiar we are with taking risks. Risk-takers build immunity to the discomfort associated with trying something new. If we accept these premises, we will agree that vulnerability provides for a sense of delayed gratification – uncomfortable now, content later.    Recovery professionals are exposed to many uncomfortable situations. The normal human tendency may be to gloss over or avoid discussing the messy or embarrassing topics with our clients. This avoidance is a passive form of codependency that addictions counselors must be made aware. Once we delve into sensitive issues the intimate connection that is establish builds trust. To achieve this connection the addicted person must become vulnerable and honest.
When discussing relationships with addicts, they usually bring up heartache. When discussing connections they divulge a history of disconnection. Addicts rarely have a strong sense of love and belonging nor do they feel worthy of having a good life. Getting high temporally cures low self-esteem and numbs feelings of unworthiness. True healers are aware that the basis of recovery is guiding a person to feelings of authentic self-worth using vulnerability to bring about empowerment.

People who have a strong sense of love and belonging simply “believe they have a strong sense of love and belonging”.16 They intuitively believe they are worthy. The mission of counselors is to instill a sense of worthiness while nullifying the attachment to entitlement. In doing so we help override feelings of shame, abandonment and fear. This transformation is mandatory for a spiritual awakening to occur.

Shame, Abandonment, Fear and Codependent Relationships

Shame is the belief that we are inherently bad and unworthy of love; it is usually internalized at an early age. Shame digs far deeper into our consciousness than does the feeling of intrinsic guilt. Being guilty of making human mistakes carries no long-term baggage. Shame is a deeper fear of disconnection followed by the belief that we are not good enough: disconnection leads to feelings of shame and unworthiness.

Shame and abandonment create deep fears in children that prevent emotional and spiritual development. Codependent and addicted parents who themselves have never matured are unable to set good examples. Codependent parents may be overtly enmeshed; they do not allow their children the dignity to make mistakes, feel pain or create individual thought patterns. They make unreasonable demands on the child, and when the child doesn’t measure up he or she internalizes feelings of unworthiness.

Addicted parents who struggle to maintain good appearances in the midst of their chaotic existence are not capable of healthy parental connections with their children. Many times children will compensate for their immature parents and take on responsibilities beyond their limits. This not only robs the child of his or her youth, it establishes a sense of abandonment. Abandonment may be as subtle as not being mentally present or as obvious as a parent leaving or dying.
It was painful for me to recognize the fear and pain instilled in my sons as a result of my selfish addictions. I’m grateful today that I now have the opportunity to openly share these thoughts with my sons and take responsibility for my lack of parenting. We cannot mend pain retroactively, but being vulnerable enough to ask for forgiveness and courageous enough to accept that we may not be forgiven is a key to our spiritual growth.
Recognizing the past for what it is and resisting the temptation to blame others, we emit positive vibrations that not only shed light into our consciousness, but also rub off on those close to us.

Liberation and Love

The first step toward liberation is gaining an understanding of where our thoughts and behaviors originated. It is paramount that we learn to love ourselves and to realize that positive self-esteem can only come from within. Sharing and giving to others, while also separating ourselves from the chaotic events of daily living, is the beginning of awareness.

This also allows us to transcend from a place of powerlessness to a place of enlightenment. Fear and love cannot coexist because they act in conflicting ways in our lives. Fear is restrictive, repressive and limiting. Love is expressive, abundant and free flowing. Fear contracts; love expands. Fear retreats and love forges new pathways. Fear is closed off and stagnant; love is open and vibrant. Because of the reflective nature of our universe, the mindset we most often hold will be mirrored in our experiences and in every person we encounter.
We may hold the misguided belief that it is risky to love because we fear rejection. Vulnerability is the willingness to invest in a relationship that may not work out. Vulnerability is saying, “I love you” first. One of the greatest gifts of my recovery was having a male friend who had the courage to tell me he loved me first. He was a Marine, a Vietnam veteran. His vulnerability was the catalyst that boosted my then lacking self-esteem. His words made me feel worthy. Soon it became easy for me to tell my friends that I loved them.

Humor: Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

Recently I was hypnotized in an attempt to investigate my subconscious. I guess I was hoping to get more in touch with my higher self. My hypnotist records her sessions, so her assessment of my time under was most likely very accurate. There were two strong messages that came out in this session. The first was that I needed to have more fun! The second and more profound message was that I take myself too seriously.

Of course, my wife who has been telling me this for some time, found it amusing that I had to hear it from a hypnotic state for me to actually internalize this flaw. When I consciously made myself aware of this trait I started recognizing it in others. It’s like buying a new car then suddenly recognizing how many cars just like yours are on the road. I started thinking the whole world is just too damned serious.

Understanding starts with awareness, knowing how we see others is how we see ourselves. Being aware of how vulnerable we are and taking risks to share our vulnerability separates us from our egos.

Working Step 7

There are two ways to accomplish step 7: the quick, easy way or the long, challenging way. I tried both and failed miserably at the quick, easy way. I’m still working on the long, challenging way.

While I was still “out there” (code for being an active alcoholic or addict) I was driven by my self-centered fear, which resulted in irrational grandiosity. As with every addict, my brain produced deceptive messages that resulted in cognitive distortion. Long-term cognitive distortion causes broken belief systems and a false sense of self. I actually believed that my distorted thoughts were true.

My broken belief system first came to surface at the age of 20. I considered myself to be at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: completely self-actualized. I believed the personal growth from enlisting in the military at 17 and the fact that I was attending college taking advanced psychology classes had enlightened me enough that I could understand and explain the meaning of life. Of course, my “wisdom” increased with my alcohol and marijuana intake and I was able to ignore that my first college professor told me that I was wasting my time at the University of Toledo and with my aptitude I would be more better off attending a trade school.

Also, I had scored so low on the SAT exams that I was directed to go to night school before enrolling in the University. Of course, I ignored that directive and enrolled anyway.

A year after declaring my self-actualization, I failed the Air Force Pilot training entrance exam. This immediately delayed my goal of becoming a fighter pilot. After that, I never considered myself self-actualized again.
I was required to wait six months before taking the exam again. The second time, I had better results. My commander, Colonel Charles Bell then chose me over six other young men with far more education and qualifications than I to attend Undergraduate Air Force Pilot Training (UPT). He told me he didn’t want any more college preppies and that anyone who drank as much as I did would make a “damn good fighter pilot”.

Two and a half years of rigorous training that included thrills, heartbreaks, failures and successes formed me into who I wanted to be: an Air Force fighter pilot. My pride in achieving this status soon turned to arrogance and conceit. I developed a pompous ego fueled by alcohol. The combination of false pride and false pleasure took me down the road to addiction. I was a lost soul until I found meaning and purpose in recovery.

History and Truth

The word humility is derived from the Latin word humus, which means earth: common as dirt and having no particular distinction. The sixteenth-century mystic, the first Saint Theresa of Avila says, “Humility is simple truth”. The recognition of the importance of humility in humanity goes back much farther.
In the sixth century, St. Benedict articulated certain traits that go hand in hand with humility. Even in the 600s they were giving suggestions 12 at a time:

Conscious awareness of the reality of God
Avoidance of self-will
Following directions
Transparency (no secrets)
Patience and endurance
Acceptance
Diminishing self
Be one of many
Observe silence
Practice appropriate decorum
Speak gently, restrained and brief
Be modest

The Seventh Step Prayer

My Creator, I am now willing that You should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that You now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to You and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do Your bidding. Amen

Larry Smith