Patience is not easy. In fact, it is one of the most challenging personality traits to develop on for many people. The saying, “patience is a virtue” is well known and reminds us that the ability to wait for something without getting angry, frustrated, or upset is a valuable quality in an individual. This saying comes from the list of “seven heavenly virtues” from the Catechism of the Catholic Church; patience is accompanied on that list by prudence, justice, temperance, courage (or fortitude), faith, hope, and charity. Most people will agree that each of these qualities are positive and desired, but why is patience so elusive and hard to tame?
Struggles with patience are extremely common, and many people, when asked, will list it among their primary weaknesses. From the time we are born, we are waiting to grow up. Once we are grown up, we are waiting for work to end, waiting for the next paycheck, and waiting for the next vacation. We wait for friends to call us back, we wait to lose ten pounds, and we wait for the mail to come or the pizza to be delivered. Although all of these things include waiting as part of their natural process, no matter how much waiting we do, waiting never seems to get easier. We become impatient, and then we scold ourselves for not being more patient people.
Addicts are even worse at being patient than the average person, and as you can imagine, this quality of impatience also transfers over to people in recovery. When you were an active drug or alcohol abuser, you regularly gave in to impatience – and fast. Human beings, and all animals, want what they want when they want it, and when you were addicted to drugs or alcohol, all common sense related to the quality of patience went out the window. Time and time again, you wanted your drug of choice or a sip of alcohol, and time and time again, you granted that wish for yourself – immediately. This continued throughout the life of your addiction, and as a result, you became more and more addicted – until you finally called it quits.
Now, although you have broken free of your addiction (hooray!), your habit of impatience remains, and it can be a big challenge – and even a threat – to your ongoing recovery. Why is patience so challenging? What can we do to defeat it, and develop it for the future?
Why We Are Impatient
People are impatient simply because our primal and reptilian selves still want to run on impulses and instinct. Although we have grown and developed as a species since homo sapiens took center stage around 200,000 years ago, and although we hate to admit it, much of our deep down, true selves are still driven by these forces. There is a small part of our brain, located just above the brain stem, that scientists call the midbrain, which houses the hypothalamus. This tiny part of our nervous system fuels survival instincts like eating, drinking, and breathing. This part of us loves instant gratification, and seeks and encourages it whenever possible.
When we use alcohol and drugs, especially when we indulge in them regularly as addicts do, the midbrain becomes over-stimulated. Our inherent impatience increases tenfold. If when the midbrain calls for a substance, it is consistently given it immediately, it will come to expect that substance again and again, and soon an addiction forms. If that substance is suddenly taken away, then the midbrain is not happy, and it then tells the body and mind that again, and again, and again.
When an addict enters rehabilitation and begins his or her journey on the path to recovery, the desire to get well immediately is strong. The motivation is there, and the desire is, too. Unfortunately, the brain does not change as quickly as the mind often hopes. For months or years or even decades, the addict has been feeding the midbrain what it wants, and has been masking the sensible thoughts that discouraged this abuse in the beginning. Change does not happen overnight; it will take a while before your brain and body catches up with your thoughts, no matter how patient you think you can be. Throughout recovery, and especially in the early stages, you must take things step by step and build a firm foundation, rather than just jumping in and hoping for immediate change. Patience, no matter how challenging, is especially vital in early recovery, and onward moving forward, as well.
Why Patience is Important
Patience is not just a virtue, it is an extremely important quality to have in life and in recovery in particular. In recovery, you must remember that recovery is a process, not an end result. Certainly, you want to stay free and clear of drugs and alcohol, but even in the early stages, you must understand that recovery is something you will be working on for the rest of your life. Since there is no completion or end goal when it comes to recovery, you must be patient, and enjoy the process. As they say, you must take every day one day at a time.
You may consider reflecting on the results of being impatient, in order to inspire patience within yourself. When we are impatient, it certainly makes whatever challenge we face more difficult to overcome. Furthermore, you likely know from personal experience that rushing something usually causes the whole task or project to go wrong, setting you back even further than where you initially began. You simply need to be patient, trust the process, and let things develop as they will in their own time.
The bottom line is this: patience is giving up control. When we harbor a deep desire for things to happen the way we want them to happen at a speed we dictate, we are trying to control things. Being patient is letting go of that control. This is very difficult for so many of us, but when we look at the big picture, we are reminded that good things come to those who wait, and if we are patient, that waiting will become far easier.
How to Develop Patience
Although it is hard to develop patience, it is not impossible. There are things you can do to help embrace and encourage patient behavior within yourself.
- Don’t cut corners and don’t rush things. Always put forth your best effort on everything you attempt. If you know you did your best, perhaps you will be less likely to try to will greater results.
- Practice meditation. There is no better way to get better at being patient than to regularly sit silently, focusing on your breath, for as long as you are able. In time, the length will increase. Any time you are feeling impatient, return to this.
- Set a timer or play games with yourself. If you are waiting for something but are suffering from impatience, make small promises to yourself. Tell yourself you will think about something else for five, ten, or twenty minutes, and stick to it. Passing time in this way will help you to forget about your impatient feelings, rather than help you continue to focus on your uncomfortable, impatient feelings.
- Talk or write it out. Sometimes, addressing it rather than ignoring it can be helpful. If you are feeling impatient, sit down and write all about how you are feeling, or call an understanding friend and do the same. Sometimes just letting the words and feelings loose, and recognizing your frustration, is all you need to be free of it.
- Get involved in time-consuming activities. Doing things that take a lot of time to complete can help to train you against your ingrained desire for instant gratification. Work on a needlepoint project. Start a 5000 piece puzzle. Go for a twenty-mile hike. The end is the reward, but it won’t come quickly.
- Practice consideration. Look at all sides of a situation. If you think something should happen sooner rather than later, but it seems to be taking forever, perhaps you have not considered all sides of the issue. There are reasons some things take longer than you expect. Figure out what they are, and it may be easier to accept the speed at which things are happening.
- Work on self acceptance. Realize that changes in yourself come from inside of you, and if things are moving more slowly than you would like, perhaps that speed is actually what is just right for you. Who we are plays a part in everything that happens to us; use patience to get to know yourself better than ever before.
- Keep the faith and let go of fear. Stop being afraid to let things unfold the way that they will. There is an order and process to everything. Once you fully understand and grasp, that, patience will follow.
As mentioned many times above, developing patience is challenging. However, it is not impossible. There are things you can to do become more patient, so if you struggle with impatience, you should try them. Fully embrace the fact that recovery takes time and that you must be patient and take things one at a time as they come. Don’t get upset that things are not progressing at the rate they want; instead, sit back and enjoy the process. This is easier said than done, but with the right mindset and armed with the right ideas, you can do it! Good luck.
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