The Causes and Effects of Our Actions
Both in recovery and in our using, our actions have effects on the world around us. In my personal recovery, understanding this cause-and-effect relationship has helped me to change many thought, speech, and behavior patterns. This comes from the foundational idea of karma, or effects of our actions, and can help us greatly in our recovery.
The Idea of Karma
The idea of karma has been important for me in my recovery. If you want to learn more about it, One Mind Dharma explains the root idea of karma and what it means in our modern life very well at https://oneminddharma.com/what-is-karma/. In essence, the Buddhist idea of karma is not that there is a god in the sky tallying “good karma” and “bad karma.” There’s really no such thing as good or bad in fact.
Instead, the teaching is that karma is simply the effects of our actions. When we do something, it creates an impact. This may be a thought, a physical action, or speech we use. And the effect of our action isn’t always as cut-and-dry as we sometimes think. Karma doesn’t mean if you cut somebody off in traffic, you’re bound to get cut off yourself down the road somewhere. It’s not a tit-for-tat relationship as we often imagine.
For example, if I lie to you, there are effects that come about. I may be cultivating a dishonest relationship, teaching myself it’s okay to lie, and have difficulty with that weighing on my conscious. Yes, it may make it more likely that I am lied to in return because I am creating dishonest relationships, but the direct effect is often deeper. In another example, if I pick up the phone and call a sponsor when I feel like using, the effect may be that I am met with care and kindness, and don’t use. If I don’t pick up the phone, the result is that I am left to deal with the experience on my own.
Karma is super relevant to the idea in twelve-step of contrary action. When we take contrary action, it has effects. Sometimes, when we are newly sober, we don’t feel like doing certain things. My sponsor had me take commitments to help me get to meetings. I didn’t want to, but I did because of the recommendation. The effect of this decision and follow-through was that I regularly went to meetings, got to know the community, participated, and built lasting and supportive friendships.
This also goes for the times we feel like using. We can “play the tape through” and recognize the consequences of the deciding to relapse. If we stay sober, what is the effect? Most likely, the worst-case scenario is that you’re going to have to go through some discomfort without drugs or alcohol to numb the pain. If you use, what is the effect? Maybe you temporarily kill the pain, but what else happens? As we begin to see that our actions have effects, we can take responsibility for the lives we create.
By continually taking contrary action, we have the opportunity to build a new life for ourselves. If we keep making the same decisions that ended us up with so much suffering, we’re going to continue to be in pain. Sometimes, understanding karma means trying something new. We can look back at recent decisions we’ve made and how they’ve effected us. Sometimes, we can see clearly. Other times, we need to just put one foot in front of the other and trust.
We can get overwhelmed sometimes with all that needs to be done. When we get sober, we want to change everything about our lives. It can be helpful to remember that all we need to do most often is take baby steps. Little actions here and there add up. Before we know it, we’ve built new habits and a new life for ourselves. If we try to make changes to everything all at once, we can end up exhausted.
Try changing one behavior in your life. Maybe it’s a way you speak, something you do like going to meetings, or how you drive in traffic. Set an intention and give yourself the wiggle room to make mistakes. Notice the effects of your actions and how you feel. One of the best things in my own recovery is simply noticing that something doesn’t make me feel right. It may be flaking on somebody, telling a white lie, or not picking up the phone when I’m struggling. On the other hand, notice when an action is nudging you toward some freedom and recovery as well!