The penultimate article in our series on the Seven Heavenly Virtues may come as a surprise to some. Not the concept of patience as a virtue—which is, after all, a rather common expression—but rather the fact that its counterpart in the Seven Deadly Sins is generally held to be wrath. It may be a bit difficult for some to determine what, if anything, wrath could have to do with patience. But do not worry—this is most certainly an issue we intend to address within this article.
We will also have to address the concept of anger, as it is sometimes listed in place of wrath in the Seven Deadly Sins. Anger and wrath are most certainly linked, but they are different enough that one could easily claim that different levels of patience are needed to deal with each. And much as we did with diligence, temperance, chastity, kindness and charity, we will endeavor to look at several attributes related to patience and how these attributes are exemplified by some of the various circumstances in which we are most likely to become impatient.
Part of the reason that some may misinterpret patience is that we have a tendency to simply associate it with waiting for something. But forbearance plays a fairly significant role here, too. So as always, we will start by defining patience as one of the Seven Heavenly Virtues before discussing how it may relate to addiction recovery and how we can use it to overcome tendencies toward wrath or general anger. This particular virtue is of special importance to those who wish to maintain their sobriety, so it just may behoove you to pay close attention.
Defining Patience as a Heavenly Virtue
From the way we describe patience above, you might already be realizing that this virtue has much in common with temperance. The general connotation that comes to mind when we hear the word is the ability to wait, to not act impetuously when we are anxious about getting what we want in a given situation. And in many ways, this quality is certainly important when in sobriety. But at the same time, we must go beyond temperance to get at the real heart of patience as one of the Seven Heavenly Virtues. For in this context, patience is largely about hope and faith.
We are blessed with many fortunes when we maintain a strong level of faith, but none is so vital to the recovering addict or alcoholic as endurance. In order to gain this sort of endurance, we must practice what is known as kenosis—the willingness to surrender our will to that of something greater than ourselves. Or, to put it plainly, we must embrace the teachings of Step Three. We must do so in all matters, but especially when we face the sort of hardships and emotional disturbances that would have previously driven us to substance abuse.
Make no mistake, these jolts of negativity will most certainly continue to enter our lives, often unexpectedly. We will experience the sort of anger that drives good-hearted people to wrath. We will experience grief and depression, sometimes due to a troubling loss. We will suffer from stress as a result of our jobs, educations, relationships or even just the everyday mundanities of life that sometimes feel so tedious that we feel as if we simply must escape. Patience is the ability to remain steadfast throughout all of these negative experiences, trusting that things will work out in the manner they were destined.
While patience may have a lot to do with hope and faith, it was not actually one of the original virtues combined to form the Seven Heavenly Virtues as we know them today. Nonetheless, Christians will know the Holy Ghost as the prime repository of this virtue, working within those who wish to practice gentleness and self-restraint. Those of other faiths or even no faith will simply know the old saying that “patience is a virtue.” Such sayings are not generally derived from thin air. They extend back through the ages, to the days of men and women whose lives demanded a far greater level of patience than most of us will ever have to comprehend. Certainly, we in our comparatively spoiled day and age can find a way to utilize this virtue in our mission to maintain sobriety.
Patience’s Role in Addiction Recovery
Forbearance does not come easy to the addict or alcoholic. Despite our occasional tendencies toward sloth and procrastination, it is easy for us to feel impatient whenever we feel boredom sinking in. Our first inclination will be to find a new way of treating ourselves, which is fine within reason. But if this does not do the trick, we may find ourselves sinking into old habits before long.
We can also be rather impatient when awaiting results, whether from the sober routine we have constructed for ourselves or even from the sheer expectations we have attached to sobriety. The First Promise suggests that, through sobriety, we will discover a new freedom and a new happiness. And while this is supposed to happen when we start unloading our guilt through the practice of Step Nine, most of us will not want to wait. Early recovery is not always comprised of the happiest of days, and those who lack patience may give up on sober living before it has a chance to really work its magic in their lives.
Many will find themselves similarly impatient while awaiting a new promotion, or the next step in a romantic relationship. Granted, general dating advice for recovery dictates that such relationships should not be sought within the first year. But many were in relationships before entering sobriety. It is easy for us to feel that our willingness to enter into recovery has earned us some sort of reward, even before we have begun truly working any sort of program. Driven by selfishness, we may cast patience by the wayside.
Then, there are the times that we are truly tested beyond compare. We recently told the story of Alexa, a bright young woman who developed severe cancer not long after entering recovery. If we are to define patience as the ability to remain steadfast when under great strain, she is a pillar of what patience should look like when exhibited by the recovering addict or alcoholic. Despite her hardship, she still gets out of bed every day and does what she needs to do in order to maintain her sobriety. She could have chosen to become angry at the world, but she chose instead to retain faith in it. Few better examples of patience in recovery spring to mind than the trials of this young woman and her ability to react with grace instead of outrage.
Learning to Favor Patience Over Wrath
Speaking of outrage, wrath is one of the biggest obstacles we will face when seeking patience in recovery. We often place blame on others due to false pretenses, sometimes caused by envy. But every once in a while, our anger might appear to be slightly more justified. Unfortunately, justified anger does not mean that justice will be doled out. At least, not in the manner of our choosing. In such events, we may find ourselves driven to balance the scales however we see fit.
In these moments, we must truly stop and think about all that we are sacrificing if we follow through on our hateful urges to seek revenge. Perhaps we won’t drink over our actions, but we will take several steps backwards in our efforts to remove our character defects. In the end, no amount of anger is worth giving up our chance to become better people. As we stated in our breakdown of the Serenity Prayer, enacting change in the lives of others is not always courage. If we cannot truly say from an objective standpoint that the changes we seek are necessary, it is better to simply pray for serenity.
Anger subsides over time if we allow it to do so. But if we make no effort to let go of our resentments and allow anger to become a part of our mental obsession, it will eat us alive. It can be helpful to throw ourselves into service work. Doing good deeds for others is therapeutic in that it reminds us that there is good in the world, and that we can be that good if we so choose. It also shows us that there are many who have been far worse off than we have ever been. But from a purely practical standpoint, it allows us to get our mind off our anger and focus upon something else. If patience alone has failed us, healthy misdirection can be a pretty decent back-up plan. This will become patience through time, provided we remain virtuous.
Patience is a virtue that simply cannot be overlooked, whether in the face of anger, fear, sorrow or any other negative emotion that might fling itself our way. It is an unfortunate fact of life that sobriety will not keep us from experiencing hard times. The uplifting news is that, as long as we stay the course and do not turn to our former vices for synthetic relief, we will ultimately deal with these tribulations much better than we had before. And through the fellowship of our brothers and sisters in recovery, we will never have to face our trials alone. This, more than anything, should make patience an exceedingly achievable virtue for those who are willing to put their faith in it.