Having been born into a dysfunctional family, fate was less than kind to me.
In my youth, an ability to distinguish between good reasoning and the irrational had yet to develop. There was little strength within me to grasp anything that would help break my chains. There seemed no way of escaping this terrifying situation. All a child can do is endure, and perhaps seek an explanation, if not a way of coping with such a broken spirit.
I pleaded with God but my situation never seemed to change. As a kid, there was nothing in my power to change my circumstances. After a while, I stopped praying. I stopped trying. I stopped fighting and fell into a pattern of learned helplessness.
Anger consumed my heart and haunted my soul.
A lot happened before I met God again, but there was something that helped shift my pattern of thinking in the interim: the stoics.
I read this passage when I was getting sober for the last time:
“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.”
Epictetus, Enchiridion, Chapter 1
Seems like such a simple and obvious solution, but one I had completely missed through my struggle: focus on what you can control, and don’t worry so much about what you cannot. This is a practice that is constant in life, and while it’s not easy, this does place things in perspective. This notion of tranquility through acknowledging limits of my control, and sustaining focus upon thought quality pulled me out of the nagging despair I felt the majority of my life.
It’s not easy to practice because it requires constant supervision and correction of thought. It requires vigilance, rigorous self-examination and unyielding honestly. Although I am no sage by any measure, after years of clinging to a negative and defeatist view of life, the tenants of stoicism have helped me let go of one toxic element of life at a time.