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The gift of discernment

dis·cern·ment /dəˈsərnmənt/


1. the ability to judge well. "an astonishing lack of discernment" Similar: judgment taste discrimination

2. (in Christian contexts) perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual guidance and understanding. "without providing for a time of healing and discernment, there will be no hope of living through this present moment without a shattering of our common life" (compliments of Google)

I actually like the Christian context version of the definition, just changing it to a more general spiritual context and I'm good as gold on that.

I was told about discernment being a gift early on in my sobriety. I was 24 and about 6 months sober and struggling to decide what to tell my sponsor and what to bring to therapy or friends or other resources (boss, mentor, parent?). In the program, we do a thorough inventory of all our resentments and usually it's a two-way street and even though we are resentful, say, towards a parent for saying a harsh word, we too had some choice words in return. So thus, we have our part, which we later take to that person to make right later in the steps. So on one particular day, I was talking in therapy about not wanting to tell my sponsor some of the details of a very vulnerable and intimate detail of my current relationship, because, although I loved her sobriety and wanted her opinion and felt I could trust her to steer me well back to sobriety if I was faltering, I felt iffy about her relationship advice based on her current relationship issues (there was a lot of yelling, crying and blaming happening. In all fairness it was happening in my relationship too, I just didn't think she had a solution for me here). That is when my therapist (who was also over 20 years sober) applauded my discernment. I asked him what he meant by that. He paused, took a deep breath and looked back in forth in thought, and said gingerly "discernment is a gift from your Higher Power. It is the little voice or intuition that stops you before you speak." I was so relieved. I thought I had to tell her everything and then deal with the interpersonal discomfort that was sure to ensue when I didn't heed her advice. I subsequently discovered that it is A-OK to use a sponsor for only my spiritual program of action to maintain sobriety and then look elsewhere for advice on the other realms of my life. He suggested I find a person whose relationship I admired and to ask them for help instead of my sponsor and that, I'd likely find what I was looking for. At the time I was feeling a bit lazy and a little skeptical and really wanted a sponsor who could do both, but ultimately I learned this lesson again and again over the years and I'm cool with that. It takes what it takes, but now I know that I don't go to the barber for dental work so to speak. But at the time, I was just getting used to asking anyone for anything resembling help and practicing being vulnerable with my circle of people and it felt weird and foreign given my blueprint (upbringing) for lack of emotional intelligence.

A couple of years later I went to my first Al-Anon meeting (a sister program of the same 12 steps for families and friends of alcoholics) and the topic was "Going to emotionally unavailable people for emotional help, also known as trying to tap a dry well..." And tears immediately began to roll down from my eyes and as I stared at my lap to hide them and thought "crap, no, no, no, I can't belong in this program too!" You see, I had just had a difficult week with my father, mother, and boyfriend at the time. They all seemed to be misunderstanding me and making my life "difficult". It turns out, I was trying to been seen, heard and understood by people with figurative earplugs and eye-masks on. No matter how hard I hollered and waved my arms, they were going to just mow over me. With my parents this has been an extremely hard-won lesson. I still revert back a little here and there and the old resentment about them not supporting me in the right way crops up, but I have a lot more compassion for myself now, that for years was not there. Now I can see the little girl trying so desperately to be loved by two people without a lot of emotional resources and I can move quickly to being sad instead of angry and then roll that into action by stepping away. After I excuse myself (sometimes looks like silence, walking away peacefully or setting a boundary in response to an old button being pushed) I pray to the Universe here to hold my tongue, and acknowledge the wellspring of emotion beginning to boil. This is now my first indication, I've stepped in some shiz I need to back away from. Peace is my number one ideal right now and I'm saying no to anything that wants to relieve me of that. Really I'm just saying yes to all the things that are me, and I've realized that people pleasing is no longer more valuable to me than well, Me. I begin reaching out to my husband, sponsor or friend who will be able to carry my pain and walk beside me for a while and release it back to me (and my Higher Power which allows me a higher perspective) so I can feel connected and be available again for someone else in turn (maybe even those same parents, or my children, or a sponsee, my husband, client or friend). The service and understanding given to me in a rough situation increases and I pay it forward. This happened over many years of practice and continuing to flex the muscle of "asking for help," in combination with the gift of discernment.

I've learned through burnout at my job (trauma therapist for 5 years) that living my life so that others are happy, but not stopping long enough to see if I'm happy led to lots of unhappiness. I'm pretty big on people living their calling. Whether that's tightrope walking, songwriting, urban farming, building a tiny house and living off grid, or running a company I'm so happy you are doing you. I think we'd be a lot happier if we were all doing that more. I'm not big on security anymore. I used to think security in the form of money, possessions, friends, and respect were everything and you had to prioritize getting them and keeping them up. I don't know if its the pandemic, or its just the time I've had to really reflect on it, but I don't think those things are ever secure. If I stop paying my mortgage, my house goes away. When I die, I'm not taking anything with me so why waste my energy keeping, housing and cleaning a bunch of junk that just weighs me down to one place? People come and go along with the seasons of my life. And it turns out some people just don't like you no matter what you do, I think some of it is subconscious, maybe I have the same look as an ex girlfriend or same tone as a grade-school bully and for whatever reason I'm off-putting, I get it. I saw a saying on a cup today that said "once you've ruined your reputation you can live quite freely." And while I found it funny, I also thought, if you live authentically (honestly as yourself as much as possible) and don't rely on the approval of others, you will be free from the get-go. The journey has been half the fun though. I certainly would be telling a different story if I'd had it all together early on. My old therapist once said "Lauren, wouldn't it be great if we all grew up at 18." He was lamenting on the age that we are considered "adults" and the fact that I was sad about learning how to socialize in my mid-twenties and going back to college and feeling a little behind my peers developmentally. And I loved that too. That we are allowed to all have a different story. It keeps it interesting and maybe a little mysterious about what we're all here for, what do you think?

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