Everybody’s got one. A project, a task, a chore, something that you’ve been meaning to get done, and that dogs you subconsciously. “Man, I really need to get around to…” Fill in the blank.
For me, that project is the basement. I have actually written about this once or twice on this blog. My basement had become a house-sized junk drawer. If something did not have a home, it was placed in the basement. If a quick clean-up had to be done because company was coming, all debris got thrown into the basement. When kids came over and weather was poor, kids played, amongst the clutter, in the basement, and they NEVER cleaned up. Add all that to the normal basement-y stuff (baby clothes, tools, decorations, etc.) and I’ve got myself quite a project.
And, like most projects I don’t want to do, I procrastinated, big-time. I kept trying to think my way into right acting, but visualizing the end result, making mental to-do lists, even wandering around the mess, but, shockingly, this effort produced no results. Go figure.
So with the confidence that only sobriety has brought me, I finally hatched a plan this past summer. I took the kids down to the basement, with a pen and paper, explained the mechanics of a brainstorming session, and asked them what their vision of our basement could be. The results of that brainstorming session could be the fodder for another post (my kids have very active imaginations), but by the end of that session we had a rough plan in place: let’s work on clearing out, and then we’ll move onto phase two, beautifying the basement. The culmination of Phase I was a yard sale, to be held at the end of the summer.
Well, things have ebbed and flowed since the brainstorming session, unexpected setbacks, as well as a windfall in the form of a neighborhood yard sale, and, as a result, we have reached the conclusion of Phase I this past Saturday. Here is some pictorial evidence:
I smile just looking at these pictures, and I have been down to the basement quite a few times in the last 48 hours just to wander around and admire.
Here is why I am writing about this experience, it is not just to brag about my empty basement! First, I would have never, ever achieved this goal without the tools I learned in sobriety. My entire life, pre-recovery, had been to procrastinate until forced into action, and then it was to take the most expedient, least labor-intensive course of action to get past whatever crisis into which I had landed. Just look at the before pix… this was not a mess that had been accumulated in a couple of months, it was something that I brought with me from my last home, and did nothing more than add to for the past 7 years. So I am practicing these principles in all my affairs… I made a mess, and I have cleaned it up!
I am also writing to talk about the unexpected bonuses that came along with the clean-up. First, amazing though it may be, I was the only person who really cared about the disaster area I called a basement. Kids are kids, they don’t think much about it, and my husband’s modus operandi was “out of sight, out of mind.” However, I was able to rally the family into a real team effort, and everyone responded accordingly. Over the course of the summer, I worked with the kids, the kids worked with each other, my husband and I worked together, and my husband worked with the kids, culminating into a total united front in the form of a very well-attended yard sale this past weekend. We have never worked on a project of this magnitude before as a family, and I believe we all gained a lot from our combined effort.
For myself, the project took me out of my comfort zone a lot… keeping up with the ongoing work, motivating a group of people that did not have the same level of commitment as me, asking for help, researching how the heck to even have a yard sale! And the biggest piece of the puzzle: dealing with the overzealous crowds! As someone who has never held a real yard sale, and someone who does not attend yard sales, I was very, very unprepared for the general craziness that went into that day. Negotiating, answering questions, feeling like I needed to be 10 different places at once… all a very new and very uncomfortable experience. I would like to think I learned a lot, but I’m not rushing out to have another yard sale to test this theory out!
Finally, and the most surprising lesson I gained, was learning to let go. I really had no idea what a candidate for Hoarders I really was… I had 22 Rubbermaid containers of baby clothes, from newborn to 5T (keep in mind I have only 2 children, and they are at least 6 years removed from these sizes). I should have been ecstatic to see these clothes go, but I had a pang every time someone came up to me with money for them, and I found myself telling the story of when my children wore those clothes last (and yes, I’m sure they all thought I was certifiable). At the end of the sale, my rule was: nothing goes back in, so we packed up and took the remaining things to the Salvation Army. Now the rubber really hits the road: I had to put my hands on these clothes, and put them in a bag to leave. That process took almost as long as the yard sale itself. The main thing that got me through was the invaluable wisdom of Time With Thea, who has been giving me amazing advice throughout this project. She told me that rather than feeling like I am giving something up (memories, my kids’ childhood), I should instead focus on what I am giving to somebody else (clothes for people who need them, creating new memories for new families). I’m telling you, I was actually saying those words out loud as I bagged up the remaining clothes!
Sorry for the wordy post, but this project has been in the works for months, and I am just so excited to report the exciting results!
I believe, once I hit publish, that this is my 300th post, and I am so grateful to have all of you with whom to share my life!
Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Step 10 is the first of the “maintenance steps:” actions to be taken on a daily basis for the rest of our lives. Assuming that you have done the “searching and fearless” inventory required in step four, and assuming you have done (or are working on) the amends process in steps 8 and 9, step 10 is pretty simple. As often as need be, I was taught at least on a daily basis, take a look yourself… thoughts, actions, attitude… examine, and ensure that all are in line with your new way of living. Of course, the not-so-fun part, if you happen to discover that you’ve said or done something that is not in line (Who? Me!?!), repair the damage as quickly as possible, so that you may move on.
This step is a good way to continue the practice of looking at myself, my behaviors, and my mistakes, rather than reverting to form and condemning the behaviors and mistakes of others. It’s an ongoing way of “keeping my side of the street clean.”
It’s also a way of maintaining the serenity gained from working the first nine steps. Here’s an analogy: I am guessing that everyone has at least one area of their home that serves as a dumping ground. Sadly, I have a few areas, but the worst offender is the basement. And when I do not maintain the order, and keep inventory of what is going into the basement, things slowly but surely spiral out of control, organizationally speaking (which, by the way, is the current state of affairs). Numerous times in the past 7 years of living in this house I have done the “big clean:” purge the basement of all non-essential items, organize the remaining, and then clean it from top to bottom. But then, we host a big party, and we need to get stuff out of the way, immediately! Then, Christmas comes, and all the newly emptied boxes need to go somewhere, as well as the gifts that we are unsure where to put. And then a change of season comes, and the previous decorations need to come down in a hurry, so who has time to store them properly? Before you know it, the basement is a disaster.
Now, if I had just taken the few minutes needed for each of those occasions, found a home for new things, organized the old, the basement would be in good standing. Because I did not, I now need to do the “searching and fearless” inventory that I had already done several times before.
Step 10 is taking those few extra minutes each day to keep my life in good working order. If I fail to regularly take a look at myself, resentments start to pile up, regret over poor choices gather, and, before I know it, I am feeling horribly and can’t begin to unravel the emotional knot my life has become.
There are other benefits from taking this mini-inventory: it keeps me from the wasted energy of judging everyone else, it keeps the focus on what I can control (myself) and keeps the focus away from what I can’t (everyone else). Making amends promptly is, like everything else, not easy to do, but with practice gets a lot easier, and there is something to be said for laying my head down at night with a clean conscience!
The picture above is my son and his boy-band mates (my son, in the middle, sang, while his friends played sax and guitar) after their performance in the school talent show yesterday. What a miracle to witness their enthusiasm!
Since I believe there are no coincidences, the fact that I have been to 3 meetings in the last 7 days centering around the 4th step, I have to deduce that I am meant to reflect on it.
The fourth step is “made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves,” and it is widely viewed as the most intimidating of the 12 steps. I actually think that the 5th step… telling all about your 4th step to another person… is way scarier, but that’s just my opinion.
When I ponder the 4th step, I have a feeling similar to the feeling I had when I pondered cleaning the basement (see previous post “Baby Steps”)… I am overwhelmed, because I honestly can’t picture completing it. In fact, it is worse than the basement, because at least I can visualize a clean basement, as I have seen it before. I have never completed a moral inventory, and I’m not sure I understand what the words mean.
What I do know is the testimony of those before me who have completed the step, and feel something magical happen to them, I have heard about it countless times. I know I want that feeling, and the idea of truly understanding myself, assets and liabilities, is an exciting concept. Right now, it’s just the steps I need to take between where I am currently and the end goal of self-awareness that I have no clue.
For now, I just hang on to the idea that when it is time for me to do this step, I will have the courage, and the knowledge, that I need to complete it, searchingly and fearlessly.
Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.
The elevator to success is out of order. You’ll have to use the stairs…one step at a time.
It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs.
We’ve all heard quotes like the ones above, and a million more like them. But I am working on a project this week that really, really makes me appreciate these quotes, and how truly important the concept of baby steps is in life.
We have a huge basement, that becomes a catch-all for the debris of life with small children. The longer you put off cleaning up a huge basement, the worse it gets. And basically, I have put off this basement for a year.
It got to the point that even thinking about this project made my stomach hurt. I honestly could not fathom how to get from point A to point B. I thought about it, talked about it, even brought people down to help me figure it out… I did everything but work on it.
So last week, I went down, and as Nike would say, “just did it.” And I took one really small part of the basement and cleaned it. I figured I would put in one hour a day and see what happened in a week’s time. And guess what? In two days it started looking habitable again. Now, rather than dreading it, I have confidence in getting the job done, and, while I won’t say I look forward to it, I believe I make my basement clean and organized once again.
I can apply these same principles to my recovery. When I try to picture myself as “recovered,” how I should feel, act, and think, it overwhelms me. But when I think about what I need to do today only, it becomes attainable, and, 76 days into it, I can actually feel confident about doing all I need to do today to remain clean and sober. Put enough of those days in a row, and I will know what a recovered person looks like by looking in a mirror!