The Virtue of Patience, Part I
This is the first installment of a two-part series focusing on cultivating the virtue of patience and applying it to recovery from addiction.
I like to define patience as the ability to maintain one’s composure in the midst of challenging circumstances. According to the dictionary, patience is synonymous with calmness, composure, and serenity (Merriam-Webster, 2007). Irritability, as you might suspect, is the antithesis of patience. Patience can also be defined as the ability to keep a calm, upbeat attitude when confronted with extremely frustrating or tedious circumstances beyond our control, such as getting caught in an unexpected traffic jam while driving home from work.
It is extremely challenging to maintain our patience in the midst of today’s fast-paced society. All too often we are bombarded with challenges demanding an instant response; from the moment we wake until the end of the day when our head finally hits the pillow. We become so addicted to instant responses that texting replaces normal conversation and multitasking is the norm for many people. I spent most of my adult life in Southern California, which to me represents the epitome of a culture hard-wired to promote chronic impatience. One afternoon, while I was driving home from work, I actually witnessed a fellow driver hastily brushing his teeth as he forged ahead on the freeway!
The Value of Patience in Recovery
Those of us in recovery from or still struggling with addictive disorders tend to be an impatient lot. This is not surprising, as part and parcel of the addictive process is the obsessive search for instant gratification, instant solutions to life’s problems, and the promise of an instant escape whenever we are confronted with circumstances we believe are just too difficult to bear. The latter reminds me of the old joke about the man praying for guidance to help him develop the quality of patience, saying “Lord, grant me the virtue of patience—and give it to me RIGHT NOW!!!”
Physiologically, the overingestion of stimulants—including caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and sugar, which many alcoholics and/or addicts often binge on when they give up their drug of choice—contributes to the addict’s baseline state of accentuated impatience and irritability.
In contrast to the addictive lifestyle, recovery entails a lifelong journey of growth and healing that challenges us to bring forth the qualities of patience and fortitude in all of our affairs. This is particularly true during the early stages of sobriety, where we often feel irritated and out of sorts as both our minds and our bodies are attempting to attain a new state of equilibrium in the absence of drugs and alcohol. Manifesting the quality of patience can also be extremely difficult whenever we are confronted with a major challenge that we feel ill-prepared to cope with, such as the loss of a job, a divorce, or a serious illness. Using basic tools of the program, particularly turning to our Higher Power and the serenity prayer, can be most helpful in striving for spiritual grounding in the midst of these challenging times.
A Personal Quest for Patience
I consider myself to be in recovery from chronic impatience. My tendency toward impatience is triggered in part by acquired familial traits—my father was extremely impatient, as are both my brothers. I am also a perfectionist with highly critical tendencies. These traits were also heavily influenced by environmental conditions; both of my parents were rather critical school teachers, and I have spent a considerable portion of my adult life in academic settings that foster both perfectionism and a critical outlook. I also believe that my chronic impatience was exacerbated by my choosing to spend thirty-five years of my life living and working in a very fast-paced environment.
Almost forty years ago I attempted to counter my impatience by taking up a form of meditation called “transcendental meditation,” which I have faithfully practiced twice a day since becoming a meditator. In recent years my quest for serenity has included moving to a more relaxing environment and a conscious effort to deepen my connection with my Higher Power, as well as with valued members of my family and friends.
Since relocating to Tucson four years ago, I greet the day with a contemplative period of prayer and meditation, followed by an hour-long hike in the beautiful foothills that virtually lie at my doorstep. I also find that the pleasant year-round climate, including an abundance of sunshine on most days, together with the fact that our community of over half a million people has somehow managed to retain a friendly, small-town quality, are very conducive to infusing my life with patience and serenity.
I am painfully aware of the severe toll impatience can take on our personal relationships. Close to nine years ago, upon retiring my wife and I moved 1,200 miles from our home of over thirty-five years to an isolated community on Washington’s Olympic peninsula. While I am sure that many old-timers enjoy the abundance of fresh air, forest land, and snow capped peaks, we rapidly discovered that this environment was not our cup of tea. Confronted with seemingly endless gloom and wind-chill, compounded by an acute sense of isolation from family, friends, and professional peers, we both lapsed into rather severe depression. While we toughed it out for close to five years, our perceived harshness of this strange environment took a heavy toll on our relationship. Predictably, our mutual discontent fed into an escalating cycle of irritability and impatience with each other.
Typing the above I was reminded of a quote I recently read in Unity’s Daily Word that really hit home. Quoting from the reading, “If I am having trouble being patient, it is a clue that I have moved away from being kind and loving” (Daily Word, 2013). Writing these words of wisdom down on an affirmation card, I added “I take a deep breath and experience God’s love flowing through my entire being and outward toward those around me.” I find that these words, which I reread every morning, are extremely helpful in honoring my daily vow to be consciously kind and loving in my communications with my wife and others around me.
Based on my own experience, I have come to believe that turning to our Higher Power for guidance on a daily basis is essential to progressing on our ongoing quest for lasting patience and contentment. I especially call upon my Higher Power to guide me in striving to instill in my life a good balance and blending between pride, confidence, and humility.
Concurrent with our move to Tucson, I began attending a local church with my wife to support her in her desire to return to her childhood faith. While I do not currently identify with any particular form of organized religion, I find the sermons to be extremely helpful in deepening my connection with my Higher Power, and draw both support and nurturance through a church-based men’s group I recently joined.
I hope the above reflections may be of help to you and your clients in nurturing the quality of patience in your own lives. The second and final installment of this two-part series on patience will deal with the value of patience in our ongoing quest to strengthen our recovery through integrating a wellness-oriented lifestyle into our personal recovery program.
Until then—to your health!
Daily Word. (2013). Patience: I am patient, kind, and loving. Retrieved from http://www.dailyword.com/dailyword/patient-friday-december-27-2013
Merriam-Webster. (2007). Patience. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary and thesaurus. Springfield, MA: Author.