You may have heard it said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Today I heard an even more succinct translation of that colloquialism. This person who is in recovery from addiction stated, laughing at the irony, that insanity is knowing what the outcome will be; same as it ever was and making the decision to engage in the self destructive behavior anyway. He wasn’t sure what led him to fall into that literal and symbolic hole again and again. I wondered as I sat with him about the nature of this learned behavior and what it would take to him make better choices. I often share with my clients this poignant poem written by Portia Nelson:
Autobiography In Five Short Chapters
I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost… I am hopeless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in this same place. But it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there. I still fall in… it’s a habit… but, my eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
I walk down another street.
How many times have I walked down the same street, imagining that THIS time, the sidewalk will be nice and smooth, no bumps or pitfalls? Plenty. I (like all of us) repeat patterns because they are familiar and I think that is the way I am expected to interact with others, or perceive a situation. It is when I reflect on outcome that I am able to honestly assess what is in my best interest. It is that classic ‘fearless and searching moral inventory in 12 step parlance,’ that each of us, regardless of if we are in recovery with which we are called on to engage. I do it every day, asking myself if I have brought the best of who I am into each encounter with a fellow being. Gratefully, mostly I have been able to say a hardy YES! I guess that makes me (relatively) sane.