I believe in willingness rather than willpower as the key to a blissful life.
I have always had a strong will. As a child, I gave my parents fits because I had my own way of doing things and wouldn’t let anyone deter me once I set my mind to something. In my early 20s, I hiked hundreds of miles solo on the Appalachian Trail, staring down blisters, dehydration, sweltering temperatures and the general aches of hauling 40 pounds of gear over one heart-pounding mountain after another.
But my fierce willpower was no match for my addictions. By my late 20’s, I was enslaved to alcohol, anonymous sex, and suicide-inducing relationships. I tried countless times to stop or at least curb my self-destruction. I would swear never to drink or use or sleep with a stranger again. But before I realized what I was doing, I was back in the euphoric hell that is addiction. I wouldn’t even see it coming. My willpower sat in the back of my mind, collecting dust, useless against this adversary.
Then early one July morning, I found myself in the emergency room at Phoenix Baptist Hospital having my stomach pumped and being forced to drink what I can only describe as a charcoal milkshake. The night before I had intentionally ingested three dozen aspirin and had chased it down with a half bottle of Irish whiskey. I had given up trying to fight this disease. I just wanted it to be over.
But during the eight hours that I lay on that emergency room bed, a change occurred. I became willing to see things differently. I became willing to admit I had a problem. I still had no idea what the problem was, but I was at least willing to acknowledge that my life was out of control, and that my stubborn way of “fixing” things was worthless.
I became willing to do whatever it took to find a solution to this mysterious problem. I became willing to go to as many AA and Al-Anon meetings as it took to stop using. It was willingness and not willpower that opened the door to my recovery.
Willingness showed me a power greater than myself and greater than my addictions. It opened up the truth of my dysfunctional history and attitudes. Willingness led me to make amends to those I had harmed. And in 1999, I even became willing to donate a kidney to a stranger, making me one of the first persons in the country to do so.
It has been almost 11 years since that morning at Phoenix Baptist Hospital. And every morning, I renew my willingness to see things differently and to let go of everything that isn’t love. Willpower is just a distant memory. Today it is willingness that sustains me and allows me to live a blissful life.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.