Who am I without my reactivity?

My friend Suzanne was at the very beginning of her recovery process when we met. She had a great sponsor and worked the program diligently. We didn’t talk about it much but I’ll never forget something she shared with me. She said, “I’m a funny, creative, outgoing person. But I’ve been drinking since I was a kid, who am I without alcohol?”

I’ve been thinking about Suzanne’s fear of the loss of self a lot lately as I’ve worked on self-acceptance. On the one hand, it’s a very positive, affirming process, one that allows me to see and cultivate my essential self. But just as Suzanne feared that giving up alcohol and drugs might leave her without a personality, I’ve wondered who I am, who I am becoming as I let go of reactivity.

Reactivity is our ego at work, when I identify with my ego and react against what is, against the present moment. Eckhart Tolle writes that when we do this, we treat the present moment, “as a means, an obstacle, or an enemy” and strengthen the ego. For me, this often takes the form of spotting another’s hypocrisy in the midst of interpersonal conflict; it’s also about using my quick, sharp tongue. When I’m playing defense, caught off guard by someone’s criticism (or my assumption that I’m being criticized), in other words, when my ego feels threatened, I’m a formidable verbal opponent.

“What,” Tolle asks, “is reactivity? Becoming addicted to reaction.” And addictions are addictions because they can produce the illusion of pleasure. Beyond my gift for snarkiness, when I think of situations where I’m reactive I picture times when I’ve been able to make quick decisions, address challenges, head off problems. I can be a good person to have around in a stressful situation. And besides, a lot of people laugh at my smart-ass remarks. Of course, if I draw the complete picture, I have to admit that I’ve jumped to a few inaccurate conclusions, stepped in when others were perfectly capable of managing a situation, and added to a general state of negativity. I’ve also hurt others with my clever words. Turns out, I can make a stressful situation more stressful.

Today’s photo is of my friend, FFF. That stands for Fight, Flight, Freeze. I put a holiday bow on FFF because in this season, FFF’s on really high alert. Like many of you, I will spend more time than usual with family and friends, coworkers and neighbors, in crowded stores and on busy streets. Each encounter, each present moment will provide my ego with an opportunity to react—to fight, to flee, or to freeze. I’ll keep FFF in my pocket, a present to myself that reminds me to stay in the present. I don’t know who I am without my reactivity, but in the spirit of my brave friend Suzanne, I’m willing to take the risk finding out.