Embracing the Quality of Patience, Part I
This is the first installment in a two-column series focusing on embracing the quality of patience, with particular reference to its relevance to enhancing both the successfulness and overall quality on recovery from alcoholism, drug addiction, and other addictive disorders. This initial installment will expound on the quality of patience and summarily discuss ramifications of cultivating patience in promoting a more in-depth experience of recovery, together with assisting clients in attaining higher levels of physical and mental-emotional health and well-being along with substantially improved quality of life.
One of my favorite affirmation cards reads, “Embracing patience is the royal road to happiness, serenity, and true contentment.” Like many if not most people in recovery, trying to integrate patience into my life is truly entails a lifelong challenge.
Reflecting on my tendency to get caught up in a whirlwind of activity, attempting to tackle what appears to be a million and one “urgent items” on my plate, I am reminded of an old joke you have undoubtedly heard before. It involves a high-strung gentleman, on his knees and praying to his Higher Power, “Lord, grant me the quality of patience . . . and give it to me right now!”
In actuality, a much more effective approach to cultivating patience is embodied in another old joke. A harried man jumps into a taxi in Manhattan and shouts to the driver, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?!” The driver turns his head toward his passenger and calmly advises, “Practice, practice, practice!”
Many if not most practicing alcoholics and addicts have a rather impatient side to their nature, demanding that everything be the way they want it to be right now. Impatience is closely associated with a strong desire for instant gratification, which at least at first is conveniently attained through ingesting their drug or drugs of choice. This, together with physical dependency, serves to keep alcoholics or addicts trapped in the inevitable downward spiral of addiction.
As any addiction counselor is well aware, patience and persistence are key cornerstones of successful long-term recovery. Working the Steps is not an easy process, and the desire to move forward in recovery requires constant support and validation. Accordingly, I firmly believe that working the program under the guidance and encouragement of sponsors who have walked the path before is virtually essential to acquiring the patience and forbearance needed to successfully navigate the many obstacles and set-backs alcoholics or addicts inevitably encounter during the early and middle stages of recovery. As readers are well aware, attaining and maintaining true sobriety requires a deep commitment to recovery that goes far beyond maintaining abstinence, per se.
As a staunch wellness advocate, I strongly encourage everyone in recovery to embrace a wellness-oriented lifestyle as an integral component of their recovery. As I describe in my book The Wellness-Recovery Connection (2004), in addition to dramatically enhancing one’s physical and mental-emotional health status, a lifelong commitment to pursuing wellness in recovery invariably opens the door to exciting new vistas in enhancing overall quality of life. Examples include manifesting the courage to find and follow your heartfelt dreams and fulfill your true sense of purpose in life; moving beyond surface ways of relating to developing deeply fulfilling relationships with others; nurturing the quality of personal integrity, together with a strong desire to help make this world a better place to live in; and greatly increasing the amount of joy you experience through making choices that enable you to spend more time doing whatever you truly enjoy doing.
Returning now to the physical and mental-emotional dimensions, let us take a moment to consider how damaging chronic impatience can be to these important aspects of our health and well-being. When we are chronically impatient, we go through life being constantly “wired tight,” feeling overstressed and out of sorts most of the time. This manifests itself in the form of extreme irritability, resentment, despair, and withdrawal. Not surprisingly, this mindset wreaks havoc in both our lives and the lives of those around us—we push other people away and all too often end up feeling isolated and desperately lonely.
Over the past several decades, a wealth of evidence has accumulated concerning the detrimental effects of the chronic stress overload on our physical health. A classic example is the pioneering research of Friedman and Rosenman, who shared a cardiology practice in San Francisco. As reported in their landmark book, Type A Behavior and Your Heart (1974), their research documented a substantially higher incidence of serious heart disease among their high-strung, hyperaggressive, “Type A” subjects than was the case with their more relaxed, easy-going “Type B” counterparts. Voluminous subsequent research efforts have documented an association between chronic impatience and increased susceptibility to a wide range of health issues. Included among these are the common cold, hypertension, stomach ulcers, diverticulitis and other gastrointestinal problems, flare-up of arthritis, chronic back trouble, migraine headaches, and debilitating asthma attacks, to name a few (Hafen, Karren, Frandsen, & Smith, 1995).
On the flip side, mounting evidence supports the efficacy of various interventions designed to induce a sustainable experience of increased calmness and reduced tendency to engage in highly impatient and aggressive behavior. These interventions have concurrently been associated with positive impact on subjects’ physical and mental-emotional health status.
Many of these interventions constitute various forms of mindfulness practice including contemplative meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, devotional prayer, and insight-oriented journaling. A large number of studies have focused on meditation and in the main have documented a positive association between regular practice of meditation and reduced blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety, together with subject’s self-reported perceptions of experiencing increased peace and serenity, and reduced stress in their lives (Benson & Klipper, 1975; Caudill, Schnable, Zuttermeister, Benson, & Friedman, 1991; Fentress, Masek, Mehegan, & Benson, 1986; Mandle et al., 1990).
Over the course of this column I have attempted to expound on the quality of patience and discuss in some detail ramifications of cultivating patience in promoting sustained recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction, while at the same time promoting enhanced health and well-being and substantially improved quality of life. In the next and final installment I will focus on identifying and discussing a variety of practical steps we can take to more fully integrate the quality of patience into our lives. In the meantime, I encourage you to reflect on what steps you might take to experience more patience, serenity, and true contentment in your own life. Until next time—to your health!
Benson, H., & Klipper, M. Z. (1975). The relaxation response. New York, NY: HarperCollins.