A friend told a story that has stuck with me for several years. It is Ed’s story.
Ed was a highly successful business man. He was moving up the corporate ladder and was at a place where he was being offered a very large advancement. At 35 years old, he would be one of the most influential men in his business and would be compensated very, very well.
The only drawback was Ed’s hair. Ed had always had long hair and, although it was always well groomed and trimmed, it was a distraction from the professional image his new position required. With the offer for this prestigious position was the caveat that Ed cut his hair,.
In telling the story, my friend said he was perplexed by the fact that Ed turned down the offer because he was unwilling to cut his hair. He asked Ed why he had made that decision. Ed initially skirted around the answer. As his confidence in my friend grew, he told my friend it was because he had ugly ears. His ears were so embarrassing he would give up a very prestigious professional advancement rather than expose them.
Unable to visualize what Ed’s ears must look like, my friend asked if he might see Ed’s ears. At first Ed was unwilling. Over time and developing a relationship with Ed, Ed trusted my friend enough to show him his ears.
My friend looked at Ed’s ears in disbelief for several minutes. He finally took Ed to a mirror and asked Ed to expose his ears again. Ed complied and saw the reflection of the two men in the mirror. My friend pointed out that their ears looked exactly the same. Ed’s ears were in no way deformed.
As if he was four years old, Ed stood at the mirror and told the story of coming in from playing one day. Excited to see his mother he ran in to the kitchen. His mother was on the phone talking and laughing. When Ed entered the room, his mother stopped laughing and said, “I need to go now. Ed just came in to the room and you know what big ears he has”.
It’s never what is said, it is how it is heard. Ed heard, in those last five words, that he had ugly ears and he never once asked if that was true. He simply believed it. For 31 years he made many important decisions in his life, including turning down many substantial business offers, based on a self imposed, limiting inaccurate story he told himself.
To some this story may seem strange or even ridiculous but to the alcoholic whose entire life has been shaped by limiting stories, it is not. The alcoholics applying the recovery process of Alcoholics Anonymous in to their lives discovers dozens of self limiting stories, stories interpreted by children, false beliefs that have ruled their lives and created physical, emotional and spiritual limits and problems. “I am no good”, “there is something terrible wrong with me”, “if you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me”.
Ed had a ceiling on his professional growth as well as his personal and emotional growth as the result of a story he had been telling himself his whole life. A story that wasn’t true.
Although there is no research to support the idea, it is the belief of many recovering alcoholics that their drinking began as a means of repressing some of these “ugly ear” beliefs. The fears born from false conclusions drawn about themselves seem to be silenced with alcohol. Described as “shy” or “socially awkward”, the alcoholic seems incapable of mixing in groups but, with a few drinks, that same person may become the life of the party, the most gregarious person in the room. The alcohol works to quiet the negative messages. The alcoholic appears the same as his social drinking friends. For the alcoholic, however, a need develops to drink more to achieve the same affect. The alcoholic’s friends may begin to point out an increase in the amount he is drinking. The stories, “you are not enough”, “there is something terribly wrong with you”, “if they find out who I am, they won’t like me”, get louder and the drinker must drink greater quantities of alcohol to achieve the desired effect.
As the amount of alcohol consumed increases, the negative consequences of alcoholism increase, creating a downhill spiral. Fun, fun with consequences and then simply consequences. At the bottom of this spiral, the drinker surrenders and admits that alcohol has become his master. He acknowledges the fact that he is no longer choosing to drink. He is aware that alcohol now controls every action, relationship, decision and event in his life. He is indeed powerless and his life is truly unmanageable.
A drinker is able to stay sober on this admission for a short period of time. Family members and friends may be so happy that he has stopped drinking that their praise and encouragement will boost his confidence in his ability to stay sober for several days, weeks and maybe even months. What the friends and family don’t know, is there continue to be underlying stories that keep relationships at a distance, professionally growth at a standstill, and prohibit emotional and spiritual growth. It’s as if, without alcohol, the drinker is literally frozen in time. No one, not even the drinker, is aware of the subtle impact of these beliefs. The drinker, becoming agitated and restless, begins to look back at his life before he stopped drinking and feels as though he had over reacted and quitting drinking altogether was a little extreme. Perhaps he could just have one drink occasionally. Family members and friends see their non drinking friend as someone who is slipping away. Yes, he was a little too robust when drinking but now he is almost 100% anti social. If he is out with friends, his mood is almost always black. He use to enjoy a good time. Now he’s a burden in almost every social situation. Maybe he’s right, a drink every now and then could not possibly hurt.
And then he’s drunk. And then he is arrested for drinking and driving. And then he loses his job because he did not come in on one more Monday.
Perhaps there’s a better way. Engaging in 12 step recovery is one possible solution. Admitting complete defeat is only one of twelve steps. The knowledge of being powerless and unable to manage is simply a beginning.
Identifying a problem and not seeking a solution has no long term value. Seeking sanity, soundness of mind, right thinking, is the beginning of a recovery process that will free the alcoholic of the stories he has told himself since he was a small child. Twenty, 30, 40, 50 years the messages, “I am not good enough”, “there is something terribly wrong with me”, “if you knew me, you wouldn’t like me”, begin to be healed when trust is developed between two people who hear the same lies. “I know how you feel because I have felt the same way”.
Luckily, Ed had developed that trust. When my friend asked Ed to show him his ears, Ed complied. Thirty one years of rationalization, justification and denial slipped away as Ed looked at the image of the ears in the mirror.
Ed created a story by what he heard. That story had controlled his life for 31 years. Thirty one years of missed opportunities; physical, emotional and spiritual. Thirty one years of choices made by a four year old who believed he had ugly ears.
Encouraged by the freedom he felt, Ed was willing to continue the recovery process and unearth many more lies and limiting stories in his life. He has been sober since the day he stood at the mirror with my friend and looked at reality for the first time.
Me? I have a friend who thinks if you really knew her you wouldn’t like her. We are going to the park and she is going to tell me her story.
Email your questions or topic suggestions to: email@example.com and let’s experience this journey together. You will remain anonymous.