Compassion in Recovery
As a spiritual principle, as they are called in Alcoholics Anonymous, compassion is a valuable asset to attain. Other members will be from different backgrounds and different socioeconomic situations. All kinds of people arrive in recovery settings. This is why there are treatment centers from one end of the spectrum to the other. So it is an important quality to be able to work with and within groups of people who are very different in outlook, life experience, and beliefs. Open-mindedness about their differences from ours will allow us to remain open to hear their story, feel their feelings, and walk with them on the path of recovery.
Compassion is not the same thing as pity, nor is it the same thing as looking down on someone who is different. It is the ability to love and accept someone, while remaining steadfastly at their side. We do not need to join them in their experience, but be comfortable enough with their experience to hold them dear while they have it. Compassion allows us the freedom to know what we know and to let that person know what they know, without condemning them for different beliefs about what we both know. We can appreciate their path to their knowledge, even though it is vastly different than the path we have taken.
Compassion is the bridge that will allow all of us to heal, in our own way, in our own time, with our own concept of a Higher Power, everyone equal, regardless of any evidence that there are differences that we would see. Judgment has no home in compassion. To judge someone else’s experience or their path is to deem it better or lesser than our own. This is not the road to compassion, but the road far away from that state. True compassion is difficult to attain. It is a rare commodity in our social environment, but an absolute breath of fresh air when we encounter it.
To begin to acquire compassion for others, we must first learn to hold ourselves in compassion. We must let go of judging who we are, how we are, and what we have done and been in order to fully and completely accept ourselves. Then we begin to care deeply about the state of our hearts in walking through our lives. As this deepens and grows, we are able to become more fully compassionate of ourselves. We do not condemn nor ridicule ourselves for what we may perceive at shortcomings, mistakes, or perceived flaws in our internal or external being. This is an extraordinary amount of unconditional love to give oneself. If we are able to achieve this toward ourselves, we are able to utilize this kind of acceptance and love with others.
Compassion brings great responsibility. For when we begin to practice this kind of intense acceptance and caring for us, we must treat ourselves differently. We then begin to walk this path with others and grant them sanctuary from their own harsh judgments. As this happens, we have radically accepted them as human beings who are in process of becoming. We are always in the process of becoming, we will never arrive. As we grow more and more comfortable with practicing compassion, we become more responsible to those whom we claim to love. This means that we must continue to care more deeply and to judge less harshly every day.
Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.