How Has Your Perception Shaped Your Life? – By Sally Stacey


We each view the world through unique lenses of perception. These lenses are comprised of the meaning that we give to things, such as our life experiences, beliefs, cultural background, values and current feelings to name but a few. Gender, age, race and other criteria can also play a role. All these things act as filters, thus no two persons perception of reality is completely the same. It stands to reason therefore, that if you change your perception in someway, you can change your reality. Powerful stuff.

Long before addiction occurs, our self-perception can be significantly tainted. Negative self-perceptions (often based on how we think others perceive us) can lead to feelings of inadequacy, being unattractive, unlucky, unlikeable and so on. Perception of others and happenings can also take on a life of their own. Any of these negative perceptions can lead us down the slippery path of addiction.

In active addiction, the lies we tell ourselves and others, the omissions, the deceptions and poor behaviour, can all have a major, negative influence on our perception of self. Certainly, I bathed in shame, guilt and self-loathing on pretty much a daily basis for years. Furthermore, I blamed myself for almost everything that went wrong in the world, irrespective of whether there was any truth to it. Others in active addiction often blame everyone but themselves…the empty bank account, getting fired, unhappy family relationships and so on…all someone else’s fault. Both perceptions are usually a long way from actual reality.

And then, by whatever process, we find ourselves in recovery. By this time, often our self-perception has messed with our self-worth and/or self-esteem to a degree. Our perceptions of events and/or of others has potentially messed up our relationships with family, friends, co-workers and Joe Public at large. The perception of our past can also be heavily skewed, distorting events in various ways. That’s a hefty chunk of baggage to be carrying as we start our journey of life in recovery.

Just where does this journey begin? Our perceptions will undoubtedly have an effect on our recovery choices. Do we go to detox, rehab, spend time in a half-way facility or do we perceive it to be unnecessary? Also, which recovery mode should we adopt if we choose to go that route…12 Step, SMART, LifeRing, Refuge Recovery to name but a few. And what about therapy? Or going it alone?

Then there’s the matter of who do we feel sufficiently comfortable in telling about our addiction issues, in revealing the fact that we are in recovery? Our perceptions will differ as to just how much stigma we think still exists out there and of it’s importance to us. Some will feel happy to shout their recovery from the roof tops informing family, friends, work, social media contacts, the mailman and anyone else who might be remotely interested. Others will limit the numbers to their nearest and dearest..and others will fall somewhere in between.

I think it’s fair to say that most people in recovery view putting down the substance or stopping the addictive behaviour as just the beginning, that the real work in recovery lays beyond that initial act. Perception and it’s restoration to a healthy state is part of the process.

Aside from healing any distorted past perceptions, we also have our day to day life to live in recovery…which often involves building relationships with a whole new bunch of people within a recovery setting.

Our perception can influence how we regard others in recovery. Belief systems spring to mind; whether someone is religious, spiritual, atheist or agnostic, especially when belief is perceived to be an important component of recovery or when the belief held is significantly different to our own. Differing values, preferences, age and gender etc., can all have an effect on the friendships and connections we make.

Sponsorship arrangements or mentors will be sought through the lenses of perception. I made a big mistake in A.A. once, perceiving that simply because someone had over three decades of recovery time and spoke eloquently about the AA 12 Concepts, that they would make an excellent sponsor. Not so. Experience had me changing that perception pretty fast, lesson learned. And so the beat goes on. Our perception can serve us well or we learn and change it accordingly.

And what about when perceptions differ? The mud can fly with both parties being convinced that their perception is the right one. Perception over such things as an idea, a solution, a recovery principle, perceived rule and a whole slew of other things. It can lead to people taking great offence, getting angry, feeling hurt, judged or belittled. Sides can be taken, fingers pointed and coffee invites cancelled if the situation isn’t nipped in the bud.

Relationships aside, our perception can affect how we view our problems, our good fortunes, our life in general and our environment. The well-known idiom comes to mind about whether the glass is half full or half empty. An optimistic person is more likely to perceive the glass as half full and a pessimist, half empty…that’s the general idea. A quote I like which fits in neatly here is “Life is all about perception. Positive versus negative. Whichever you choose will affect and more than likely reflect your outcomes.” Sonya Teclai.

Perception creates our reality and as such is a huge deal…impacting every corner of our existence. It can hamper or enhance. Awareness is key I think.

How has your perception played out in your life so far? What have been your most challenging perception issues…both prior to and during addiction and also in recovery? What are the warning signs that your perception is going off kilter either in regard to self or with others? How do you get yourself back on track? With respect to a healthy perception, how do you maintain one in daily life…with regard to self, others and your environment?

Curious to hear your thoughts and experiences. Feel free to use some of the questions above as a guideline, or not. Write as feels comfortable. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Sally S

About Sally S

Born in Yorkshire, raised on the little Island of Guernsey...I’ve always been a curious type of person. A bit of a nurturer...fascinated by people, cultures, nature and the world at large. My mother tells me my most frequently uttered word as a young child was “why?” and I was that kid on the beach that never lay on a towel catching rays but would spend my time turning over stones in rock pools to see what lived underneath. Having lived in a few countries and explored many more..I’m always humbled and perhaps oddly comforted by knowing that I’m just a tiny dot in a vast world of interconnected life. Forever evolving, forever changing. Addiction is a large part of my adult life..when active, it was a destructive force but the existential crisis it eventually led to is something I am now truly grateful for. I don’t know what lies around the corner but one thing I’m pretty sure of, life in recovery is for living
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  1. Not including my addiction, perception was my biggest problem. So, if the main problem centers in my mind it makes perfect sense that my perception was twisted and needed to be changed.
    With the help of several old timers that were living the program, I decided that I needed to do more. I found a sponsor that seemed to have what I wanted recovery wise. He had a working knowledge of the Big Book, our suggested program of recovery, because he had worked the Steps with a sponsor and continued to try to live by those same 12 principles.
    Talk about an awakening! As the result of working Step 4 and finding out what was wrong with me I could actually begin to correct my twisted perception. Then being ready to cast these weak items out, I could move forward continuing to work on my defects, turn them over to my Higher Power being willing to let him take them, start cleaning up my side of the street and learn to apply this design for living in my life.
    It was very hard for me to have a relationship with anyone else until I learned how to have one with myself and my higher power. By working the Steps, I found that I was the one that needed to change, not the world and everyone else around me.
    This is my experience, some may not agree with it and that’s okay. It simply means they found another way that worked for them. I can only share my experience, strength and hope about how I found the solution. If someone needs to insist that they’re right and someone else is wrong that seems a little closed minded to me and not very spiritual either.
    I am happy with me today and I carry the message that was freely given to me. What a wonderful attitude adjustment I was given because I got honest with myself and was willing to follow a few simple rules.
    Great blog and many blessings to you my sweet friend!

  2. Perception is in the perceiver.

    “The fullness of the half empty glass or the emptiness of the half full glass?” ~ Rev D

    Thanks Stacy!

  3. Great article. I enjoyed reading this Sally. It shows how everyone’s personal reality is flavored by their life experiences.

    The woundedness I lived with was initially doctored with alcohol and drugs in my mid-teens. It seemed to work—I liked who I was and liked how I felt. It was magic. Of course, I was the doctor. Anyone who knows me knows how that turned out.

    My personal translation of reality was altered in a positive way when I sobered up and began the recovery process. Up to that point, I was just an angry target afflicted with Murphy’s Law spirituality and Bad Karma. Why me? It took a long time to understand the “Why not you?”

    I had never taken a good look at myself, which explains some of my personal distortion. There was so much that was invisible to me. My inventory shed new light on so many areas of my life.

    In time, I understood that I was the catalyst of most of my problems, and thus, the results I was getting weren’t unusual. {Perception change.) Life wasn’t going to change because I was sober—that’s too much to ask for—but now I could change because of new information about myself.

    The longer I stay sober—the more I try to live in the Great Right Now—the closer I get to a Reality I can enjoy most of the time (aka the good Karma). I find I can turn off my thinking and be here now.

    Is it possible that our perception of reality is inversely proportional to the size of our ego?

  4. Wow!This is Thought Provoking Indeed!

    The first thing that came to mind after being made aware of this Subject seemed a bit sad and I didn`t really want to go there. It`s been important to stay positive after I let things become SO Grim in my life.

    I also felt like I could have the Wrong Kind of Perception in mind. After reading several Comments I realized the way I`ve perceived my world has changed a number of times in my life but is beginning to come back in what seems to be a really big full circle.

    A really big full circle on account of my age.

    And Wow, Even as I write this I`m becoming more aware of how many times this Circle has happened but much to my well being that Circle seems to have brought me back to the Childlike More Innocent Way of Percieving MY WORLD, SURROUNDINGS and the PEOPLE in It.

    As a Child…My Artistic way of viewing my world was most likely and the most interesting way of seeing things. Only to be distorted with events usually involving people or surroundings that caused wrinkles in the fabric of my True Nature. As I reflect on this, it seems to explain my tendency to be a loner in a lot of ways. I liked the way I viewed the World I didn’t like it if ANYTHING CHANGED MY WORLD.

    I had been Blessed with the ability to recognize Beauty in most anything that is anything in my natural surroundings. I could turn over a rock and find something beautiful.

    The sad part is, I had a fear of people and had acquired some agoraphobic traits at a young age because of just enough traumatic experiences to instill that into me.

    I`m learning things about myself as I ponder on this subject and write about it! I`m beginning to realize why I had to ESCAPE the world as it had become to me Back to the Way I percieved it to be in the first place.

    I wanted it to be the way I saw it as a Child. I wanted all the Difficult things to Go Away! I wanted Peace, Tranquility, and Beauty! I wanted everytime that I had to associate with people to be Pleasant and Easy and Fun.

    I`ve pondered on what to write on this subject every time I noticed your Status Update regarding this Subject but had no idea that I would unravel the very beginning of the behavior that would eventually lead to my ALCOHOLISM!

    I wound up Drinking to Make the World Go Away so I could have my Childlike Perception of the World BACK.

    I didn`t want Anything to change what I found under that rock. I didn`t want Anyone to change the way I felt. I wanted to Hide if I didn`t like what I saw or felt. I wanted EVERYTHING to BE BEAUTIFUL ALL the TIME.

    It is becoming Almost too Obvious for me to handle that I never wanted to grow up and ever have anything change That Original Perception of this World and every time Anything did I tried to make it Go Away and after so many times that I couldn`t accomplish that in a mature fashion I found other ways, Namely Alcohol, and eventually Drugs.

    Wow, Sally, this is actually far from what I thought I would write but it`s actually only the beginning of how my Perception as I know to explain it has influenced my behavior though my life and has made it obvious how many times my life has changed in many different ways because of influences that changed my Original Perception.

    I have found this complicated to put into words, It`s just a colossal subject to even think about much less be able to describe.

    I will surely have to come back to this and add the thoughts I had really intended to discuss here.

    Thanks, Sally, It`s been a learning experience! This explains Everything about why I could replace Alcohol and drugs with knowing people like you that I was able to associate with at ITR. I got my World Back when I met Y`all! I`ve had Pleasant, Fun, Happy and even Beautiful conversations and times with Y`all! I didn`t need Alcohol and Drugs to make the Ugly World go away because I found a Nice New One when I met Y`all.

    I`m So Happy to have All of You in MY WORLD!

    Sincerely, Andy

  5. A wonderful talk Chip, thanks so much for the link. I plan to watch it again at some point and will recommend it to others. Another keeper.

  6. Thank you Sally for another thought provoking subject which indeed does impact all our lives on a daily basis. As I was pondering what perception means to me I was perusing youtube and came on this talk by Tara Brach. It gave me a perspective that was not new to me but that I had not been able to put into words. Here is a link below if anyone would like to listen. The means of perceiving are our five senses and our minds which we all know are often quite skewed. It’s like I view the world through a kaleidoscope that has been filled with arbitrary pictures, mythologies, ideas, beliefs, etc. that for the most part are not even mine. So how do I get to a place where there is some clarity of vision? I believe you said it. Awareness. The more time I spend in stillness. Just being still. Observing the constant stream of thought. The ideas, beliefs, and dearly held values that upon close inspection fall apart into the nonsense many of them are that I realize that it’s possible I have never even beheld a tree as it really is. Have I ever looked upon anything free from mental commentary? In it’s natural, pure state? The answer is I don’t know. As I write this now I am coming to realize that perception may never offer me an accurate view of life. Could it be just a dog chasing it’s tail? Hmmmmm.
    Tara Brach

  7. Whelm, what an awesome link..a great read. Thanks, a keeper.

  8. Some great responses here so far, thanks to all 🙂

    I think the biggest distortion I had was in active addiction when I perceived that many people drank like I did, it was ok.. when of course they didn’t and it wasn’t. It took me reaching a level of emotion pain that I could no longer live with before that perception was smashed. I was an alcoholic and with that acceptance came the chance to heal and have a happy, contended and meaningful life in recovery.

    The most challenging issue for me was my perception of self that I came into recovery with as I mention previously. Some of the negative feelings quickly dissipated, others lingered and required a fair bit of work including therapy outside of any recovery mode. Working Step 5 in AA was a huge turning point for me, I felt cleansed almost and my self-respect returned, I felt empowered and motivated. I learned to love myself again, to value myself in a healthy way just as I did others.

    One of the obvious ways that I realise that my perception maybe just a little of kilter is when I’m perceiving things one way and the rest of the world and his dog (a slight exaggeration) is perceiving things differently. At that stage, I may look within to see what’s going on, why I’m perceiving things the way I am…and to see if I need to make an adjustment. I may also ask for feedback from close friends and family. Also trying to place myself in another’s shoes, to try and appreciate that their perception of something may well simply differ from mine reduces the likely hood of me personalising a difference of opinion.

    I try to maintain a healthy perception by keeping it in balance, hopefully as close to the true reality as possible. Recognising all the ways that it can be impacted is huge. On a day by day level, the way I perceive my world can impact my emotional state. If all I perceive (see) is doom and gloom, it is likely that I will subconsciously look for things in my day to shore up my perception and end up sad, fearful or anxious. Ruminating on something can also have the same effect. By changing my perception (focusing on what I have to be grateful for is the best tool for me) I can can some rays of sunshine into my everyday at some level no matter what the weather is doing. I see the glass as half full and half empty 🙂

  9. I have to watch my water intake, so my half-full glass is probably a good thing. I’m just starting “A New Pair of Glasses” to change my perception, which is usually pretty negative. All I can see is people who have more than I. I am also a chronic pain patient who has basically taken the maximum dosage of Tylenol for 25 years and they did a study at Ohio State about how people who take that are apathetic. (That is my excuse and I’m sticking to it.) But I really need to be around and try to help people who are less fortunate than I am and there are lot of people who are. (Most all of them in countries we are bombing.) For me, I think my perception will change a lot when I start serving my higher power and thinking about what I want to leave behind in this world. And most important is my perception of myself.

  10. What are the “stages of change”? Please explain, I am very interested.

    • Here is an overview of stages of change:

      Prochaska’s Transtheoretical Model (TTM) acknowledges that lasting change generally proceeds through six key stages: from Precontemplation, to Contemplation, then to Preparation and Action. But that’s only the beginning, and we can easily coast right back into preparation or contemplation if we lose our nerve, focus or steam. For our behavior change to prove sustainable, it must enter a Maintenance phase (generally, six months or more of consistent action) until it finally becomes ingrained as a stable habit. This final, ongoing phase is known as Termination, which implies that the change is now a permanent part of our lifestyle.

      Most “just do it” programs fail to embrace the reality of this complex and fluid progression. Instead, they encourage people to jump straight into action, leapfrogging over all those messy preparatory steps.

      Unfortunately, those might be precisely the steps that give our change efforts the greatest chances of success. And so it happens that a great many of us who jump directly into action wind up falling right back out of it — again and again.

      Once you take stock of Prochaska’s model, all of this seems self-evident. And it seems curious that these insights became part of the modern psychological canon only relatively recently.

      • This TIM is very interesting and makes sense to me. Often perceptions have been held for a persons lifetime and can be very difficult to change. I need to ponder this more. Thank you for posting.

  11. Thank you Sally, for the wonderful blog to ponder over.
    Before recovery, I had a negative view most of the time concerning myself and others. I was mostly looking for whatever I did wrong and the same for other individuals. My perception was not positive most of the time. Because of this, it was difficult to keep and maintain friendships over long periods of time.
    After recovery, I learned how to like and love myself. I found out that love and tolerance is our code. I learned how to like and love others much more deeply. My perception changed from negativity to positiveness. I have several long time friendships.
    Also, I used to look at the glass as being half empty. Now, instead, I look at it as what’s important is not that it’s half full or half empty, but that it can be refilled.

  12. Another thought provoking article Sally!

    Once again, I find myself wanting /needing to read your article a couple of times and then think about how it pertains to my life and recovery efforts.

    I’m a firm believer that my I have gone through several stages of life in my recovery and my perceptions have shaped how I sought out help and applied various tools.

    Call it the rose colored glasses of my youth – brash arrogance of “knowing it all”, the damaged man that was bitter after life through me some nasty curve balls, or finally, my surrender and acceptance that sobriety was crucial to a better way of life.

    Perception is in the eye of the beholder. It is often easier for me to look at others peoples situation and “see” the obvious ~ but not so easy to do so with my own issues.

    I had an aha moment when I read about the “Stages of Change” and that there is a clear path that one goes through when attempting to make most major lifestyle changes.

    This concept allowed me to take a more active role in making many changes in my life, helping to adjust my perceptions as needed.

    Thanks again Sally for making me ponder!

  13. This is an excellent article, and so on point as to how we can choose to be happy or not happy in our lives. Half full or half empty, better with or without, it all boils down to the fact that we ALL have something to be grateful for, and all have something we could complain about. It’s a choice as to what we focus on. I have days where I can start thinking negatively about how I wish this or wish that, and try to stop and remind myself of the many things I do have to be grateful for. (Living around negative people who always see the negative is so not fun.) And living our days focusing on all bad things about our lives is not healthy or fun! We do what we can to change the things we can but remain grateful for all the blessings we have; this makes it possible to have joy in any situation. Not always happy the circumstance but deep down joy can be found if we look at all we do have. I love this topic Sally, thank you!

  14. My experience, I have learned to look at things in a different perspective! I’ll take your water in the glass example! The classic view is either half full or half empty! Right? Well, how about looking at the glass as having water! Whether it’s half full or half empty! There’s still water in it! The point is that it really all depends on the person looking!
    In situations that I face today, I strive to look for the angles that are not so obvious! Then maybe some other perspective may reveal itself!

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