There are a variety of characteristics that make up what we refer to as “spirituality,” but it seems to me that tolerance stands out as one of the primary things we need to work on in recovery. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines tolerance as 1. capacity to endure pain or hardship; and 2. sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own. Both of these are important for recovering people to remember.
We addicts know The Way Things Ought To Be. We tend to be hard-headed, opinionated and prone to black and white thinking. Generally, we are solidly for or against things, and rarely see the world in shades of gray. Of course this doesn’t apply to you, but I’m sure you know others who are at fault, and you probably have pretty definite ideas about them. Right? 😉
The capacity to endure pain or hardship would be pretty well ingrained in addicts already, were it not for the fact that we spent most of our time, most of our money, and most of our attention actively avoiding those two things. We are folks who do not believe that it is okay not to feel okay. Considering that the first few months of sobriety find us extra-sensitive to many of the things that the alcohol or other drugs covered up, it becomes apparent that we are stuck with a period where we’re going to have to endure certain discomforts without drugs to round off the sharp edges. In short, we get a crash course in what most other folks know already — sometimes you hurt and you just have to walk through it, but it doesn’t last forever.
The upside to this is that without chemicals dulling our senses we are also going to be able to experience happiness — even joy — in ways that we never could previously. That may not happen right away, but it’s worth working for.
Just as important is the aspect of tolerance that involves others. It is recognizing their right to be who they are, without interference from us. We run into all sorts of people in recovery, and unfortunately many of us bring our prejudices along with us: religious, political, racial, social, or any combination of those. Still legends in our own minds, many of us feel free to force those opinions on others.
What if someone is really down on himself, barely hanging on, keeping a stiff upper lip, and I come along and try to shame them by telling them how wrong they are as a person. Is that going to help? I doubt it. If they’re in a meeting they may just get up and walk out. I’ve seen it happen. I don’t think it’s ever happened because of me, but I hate to even consider the possibility.
People in recovery, especially early recovery, have one paramount purpose: to stay clean and sober. They don’t need people “should-ing” on them. If we believe in fiscal conservatism, that’s fine. If we love Jesus, or Allah, or follow the Middle Path, that’s fine too. If we dislike gays, we’re missing out on some interesting friends — but that’s our privilege. It is not, however, our privilege to push our opinions about outside issues on other people in the rooms of recovery. Our primary purpose is to stay clean and sober, and we have no opinions on outside issues. Remember?
Tolerance is about letting other people find out who they are, and letting them know that’s okay. We expect that courtesy from others, so the least we can do is be tolerant ourselves.