Willingness: The Key to Recovery

“What we call the secret of happiness is no more a secret than our willingness to choose life.” – by Leo Buscaglia

The essence of recovery from depression is to become willing to do the impossible: namely, to show up for your life. You don’t have to know how you’re going to get up and out of bed, make breakfast, and get yourself to work (if, indeed, you are working at this point); goodness knows you don’t want to do any of those things. You only have to be willing to. It’s a starting place, a baby step. Every moment of every day that we’re not asleep presents us with the opportunity to express our willingness to be well, if only to ourselves. And if we’re not willing, we get to ask for help with that.

What’s the difference between wanting and willingness? We all want to be well. When we’re not feeling so bad that death would be preferable, we want to be well. But are we willing to be? Wanting and willingness are not the same thing. Wanting is an ephemeral hope, an emotion that, especially for depressives, is fleeting and sometimes unrecognizable. But we know we’re supposed to want to be well, and so, dutifully, we do.

Willingness, on the other hand, requires giving something up. We know this intuitively. We’re not quite sure yet what it will end up being, but we understand at some level that there is something we’re pretty attached to, as yet undefined, that we’ll have to let go of in order to become well.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about whether I even wanted to be here on the planet, never mind whether I was willing to be here. Most of the time, I didn’t. It was too hard. The thought of even attempting to climb out of the deep, dark well that I was trapped in was overwhelming and contained within it the seeds of its own failure. But I knew that feeling like getting better wasn’t going to happen for me. After years of being mired by severe depression, I finally realized that I was never going to feel like doing anything. I had learned through years of 12-Step recovery that the way out was through: through willingness. The rest would follow. And if I wasn’t willing to be well, I could pray for the willingness to become willing.

How do you know if you’re willing to be well? If you did the journaling exercise from the previous blog post (“A Key Question,” July 8, 2010), you may have been surprised by what you learned from writing with your non-dominant hand. If you feel comfortable sharing what you wrote or simply discussing what you learned, please feel free to do so in the Comments section.

Another simple way to determine if you’re willing to be well is to close your eyes and focus your attention on your heart center. Imagine that your heart has doors, kind of like French doors that open outward. Ask yourself: “Am I willing to be well?” Quick—are the doors of your heart open or closed? Perhaps even bolted or chained? Open doors denote that, yes, you are willing to be well. The road to recovery won’t be an easy one to travel, but it’s doable. You’re already well on your way. Closed or locked doors indicate, hmmm, a certain reluctance to changing the status quo. And that’s okay. It’s not a permanent condition. (Neither is depression, for that matter. But we’ll go more into that at another time.)

How can you shift from unwillingness to willingness? Through the use of prayer and affirmations, potent tools for life transformation. First, ask your Higher Power, whatever that means to you, “Please give me the willingness to become willing to be well,” or whatever version of that feels best to you. Second, begin affirming, as you go throughout your day, “I am willing to be well; I am willing to be well; I am willing to be well.” It may take a few days, a few weeks, a few months, perhaps even a few years before you feel a shift. Everyone’s journey to recovery is different; everyone walks a different path. There is no right timetable; there is only your timetable.

I honestly don’t remember how long it took me to move from unwillingness to willingness; I think it was probably a couple of years. My depression was so intractable, it was like trying to move the Rock of Gibraltar (which I have, in fact, seen in person and which is truly massive). No matter how low I got, however, I remembered to say to myself, “I am willing to be well; I am willing to be well; I am willing to be well.” It gave me something to hang on to; it gave me hope.

Even if you don’t believe that saying a six-word sentence (out loud if you’re alone, or silently in your mind if others are around) repeatedly could make a difference for you, what have you got to lose? Try it.

Next time: “The Dailies.”

(c) 2010 by Patricia R. Henschen


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