I’ve been dealing with two different issues that have remained unresolved for long enough that I thought I needed to make a decision: either keep trying different strategies in the hope of enacting change, or let go of the situation entirely and decide that since it is out of my control, then I should remove it from my life. Neither of these options was sitting well with me, so I figured I would sit down and write about it. In looking for an image to correspond to this writing, I came across the one shown above. And I am so glad I did, because it really gave me some clarity for both of the issues with which I’ve been grappling.
The two situations are entirely different, involving people from different parts of my life, but in the end the struggle I’ve been having involves the same thing: I am putting myself, and my thoughts of what is right and wrong, front and center, when in fact I am almost completely immaterial. In other words: there is a God, and I’m not Him. In both cases my motives are pure enough, I want what’s best for people who are struggling. The problem, of course, is the idea that I know what’s best, and that I think I hold the answers to solve anyone’s problems. Pure, unadulterated ego at work.
I have known for some time that my all-or-nothing thinking rarely gets me anywhere productive. The notion, “well, I tried, you’re not listening, so I’m done” is an attitude that I have used, unsuccessfully, in the past, and I’m not sure why I hang onto it. After all, what if anyone in my life had acted on that thought with me when I was in active addiction, where would I be now? I shudder to think of what my life would be like today if that were true.
So the key for me (as it usually is) is finding the balance. Balance between being helpful and supportive, but not being overwhelmed or consumed by the problems of others. Balance between being there for people, but creating healthy boundaries for myself. As with all matters, I am a work in progress, but the self-awareness and consideration before action are definitely areas of improvement for me!
A little more than two years ago, my husband had to cancel a business trip because of my active addiction. Today, I am more than halfway through a week with him away on business, and all is well. I am so grateful that my sobriety has brought back the trust in our family!
I had an interesting experience last night that I thought I’d share about today. I was asked to speak at a lecture series run by an organization called PRO-ACT (Pennsylvania Recovery Organization-Achieving Community Together), which is an advocacy and recovery support initiative. My lecture was a compilation of the series I wrote on this blog, found in the category labelled Twelve Steps in Everyday Living, in case you are interested.
Here are the reasons why last night was unique. First, I have never done anything quite like it before. In AA, I have been asked to share my story multiple times, and of course that has certain anxieties associated with it, but this felt a lot different. I guess when I am telling someone my life story, there is no room for opinion or rebuttal. It’s not like someone is going to stand up and say, “No, I don’t agree that you lived like that!” Whereas in presenting my writing, there is room for criticism, or dissenting opinion, or complete disinterest (I guess, now that I think about it, there could be complete disinterest in my life story, but so far I have not encountered it!).
Another difference is the audience. In AA, I feel at home, and I believe that at the heart of it we are all the same. In this room of about 50, I have no idea who is really present, because it is open to the public. For all I know TMZ was there recording me so they could make fun of me on that night’s broadcast (I sincerely hope everyone knows me well enough to know that I am joking!). Yes, I do put my writing and opinion out there for the blogging world to see, but there is certainly more anonymity in sitting at my home computer than there is standing at a podium in front of live human beings.
So, I definitely had serious butterflies going into the evening. I arrived, and found I would be the second of the two scheduled speakers… whew! I have some time to relax. I sat through the first speaker, ironically enough the subject was mindfulness, that poor woman certainly had at least one audience member completely unable to stay in the present! There was a break, and the hosts were setting up my power point presentation, and…
In walked my husband, who rushed as quickly as he could from our daughter’s basketball game to come and support me. Such a beautiful moment, and I thanked him immediately, but also said I would be able to give more genuine gratitude once my lecture was finished. We’re chit-chatting, in an attempt to calm my frayed nerves, and the thought occurred to me…
I am going to share my story in front of my husband!
Now, true enough, the majority of this lecture is material he has already read, but the first 5-10 minutes of it was my qualification, why I have the right to be standing in front of these people and discussing the 12 steps of recovery. To qualify myself, I need to give the highlights, or, rather, lowlights, of my active addiction, and the consequences of it. Ye Gads, I thought I was nervous before this thought, that was nothing compared to what I was feeling now!
And then I mentally reviewed all that I was going to cover. Am I revealing any new truths? Nope. Covering ground that hadn’t yet been covered by us as a couple? Again, no. Am I, at the heart of it all, speaking my own personal truth, and am I willing to stand by what I am saying? That’s a big Hell Yeah!
So I took a deep breath, and, as those marketing geniuses at Nike would say… I just did it. And I got through it, without embarrassing myself in any way (that I am aware of). And no one ran out of the room screaming, no one fell asleep in their chairs (that I am aware of), so I guess I will call it a success. But for me, the biggest takeaway, I will list below…
That I can tell my story, I can share my real self, and my husband tells me that he has never been prouder of me… that is a real miracle.
This step, the AA equivalent of the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation, is important because it is not enough to acknowledge missteps to yourself, it is essential to vocalize them aloud to another human being.
I think I may be an anomaly, but I could not wait for this step. Once I got through the inventory, I needed to run it by someone to make sure I had done it right (and yes, I do recognize that validation is a critical issue for me). I didn’t love admitting all my most shameful secrets to another, but having established a relationship with my sponsor, knowing that I could trust her implicitly, and, most important, knowing that she had been where I had been, made the process a lot less stressful.
What I learned from this step, recovery-wise, is that I am not alone. I am not the Worst Person on the Face of the Earth. And although I can’t explain it, there is something to the whole idea of unloading the burden of your secrets… it really did make me feel lighter mentally.
It was at this point in my step work that I became fully convinced of the power of this program. Towards the end of the 3 1/2 hour session with my sponsor, she said to me, “I feel like God keeps putting something in my head.” It would be too complicated to write out the play-by-play, but, long story short, she was able to show me patterns of my addictive behavior that I truly had never seen, I’m still flummoxed by how she put it together. But she was absolutely correct, and that she could point it out to me, simply by my speaking aloud my 4th step inventory, convinced me that the steps work.
Step 5 is a work in progress in everyday life. Having learned that holding it in makes the problem worse, I work very hard to unburden myself at every opportunity. Whether it is admitting my feelings to my husband, confiding in my sponsor, sharing at a meeting, I make sure to verbalize whenever I feel bad about something. And the magic continues… usually, by the time I am finished telling whatever it is that’s on my mind, I really do feel better! I’m actually reading a book right now, The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, and in it the main character talks about an experiment she did in her psychology class:
…these students she’d never known before, but had perhaps seen on campus, had freely told her about their breakups with their beloved high school boyfriends or girlfriends or the deaths of their mothers or even, once, the diving-accident death of a little brother. But the words they spoke were immaterial; they didn’t know that the only aspect she was studying for the experiment was body language. Jules watched their hands and their head movements, taking notes… They were relieved telling her about their pain, even though it didn’t actually matter how well she listened.
I guess the expression “getting it off your chest” exists for a reason. Only by articulating problems can we really and truly release them. For me, that is the true reward of step 5… voicing your fears, your worries, your resentments, your pain, so that you can let them go. In the past, I had the completely opposite mindset. My thought process was: “this is my shit, why should I burden someone else, that would just make two of us burdened with it?” I have since learned this is absolutely not the case. When I carry the burden of negative thought, and I keep it to myself, it stays with me. I can bury it, or gloss over it, pretend it doesn’t exist… but it is still with me. And it will rear its ugly head over and over again, unless I do something about it. The action I need to take is so simple, so basic, it almost seems too good to be true: I need to talk about it. By exposing it to the light of day, I take away its power.
My regular Friday meeting’s topic was Step 5; my husband read an insightful work-related article about honesty being the best policy, and the section of the book I read right before sitting down to write this post talks about the value of unburdening yourself… that’s a miracle!
It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution. –Oscar Wilde
So finally I can move on from my ramblings about the fourth step, because I have officially completed the fifth step, which is “to admit to God, to myself, and to another human being the exact nature of my wrongs.” There are many who fear this step more than any of the twelve, but for me this was much easier than writing everything down. In fact, I found it vital to share my fourth step inventory with someone, simply to make sure I had done it correctly (and, to be completely honest, I enjoy the validation of hearing I did a good job).
All-or-nothing person that I am, the fifth step session lasted 3 1/2 hours, so I should mention the first benefit I received upon completion is the gratitude I feel for having someone care enough about me to sit and listen to the “exact nature of my wrongs” for that length of time!
In addition to gratitude, the fifth step gave me other blessings as well. First, the simple pride that comes with accomplishing a difficult task. I still, two days later, smile when I remember that I have thoroughly completed 5 of the 12 steps, I never thought that would happen! This, of course, can quickly turn to fear at some of the upcoming steps, but that is a subject for another post.
I have already written what I gained from completing the fourth step, which is two main things… seeing a lifelong pattern in my behavior, and discovering the inherent “why’s” behind what I do what I do. But missing from that process was a second set of ears, which is so critical to genuine understanding. Trying to figure out almost anything on your own is a dangerous proposition. I believe the expression is “a man who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Same idea applies… I can write down everything in the world that has ever happened to me, but until I process these thoughts with someone who has been there and done that, the inventory is going to have a pretty limited value. As many dots as I thought I connected on my own, Ann was able to connect even more, and she asked the kind of questions that helped me understand even more that my issues have been life-long, and not just a matter of circumstance.
Finally, and this may seem obvious, but there is a freedom to shedding light on your deepest secrets. In the moment it feels grossly uncomfortable, of course, but once I pushed through the discomfort, and laid it all out, I felt different… I won’t say miraculously different, I wouldn’t want to overstate it, but I felt calmer and a great deal more confident that I can truly complete the 12 steps.
Last night was my fifth session with Ann, who is taking me through the 12 steps in my recovery program. I have been given my first writing assignment. Multi-tasker that I am (or some might call it lazy), I figured I would combine my homework with today’s post. So here it is:
I am not a visual person, so I don’t “picture” God when I am praying. Rather, God for me is more conceptual… He is a power greater than myself, greater than any human being, greater than anything I can even imagine, so to try to put a face on something I cannot comprehend seems silly. I believe this power is everywhere in the universe, but in particular He exists in every human being; therefore, the God of my understanding is within me at all times.
The way I make conscious contact with this Higher Power is by calming my mind as best I can, thanking Him for all the blessings I have in my life, asking for the things I need, and attempting as best I can to listen to what He is telling me. He responds to me in many ways… He is the quiet voice in my head that, when I listen, brings me peace, He helps me to observe signs that I used to call “coincidences” but now know was God showing Himself, He provides countless blessings that bring joy to my life, and, when I experience pain, I believe He is helping me to learn and grow from it.
The listening part can be the most challenging. The best analogy I can come up with is this… have you ever had to deal with a small child that is sick with fever, is also hungry, and needs his/her diaper changed? That child is inconsolable, and until his/her needs are addressed, cannot be soothed. That is what I feel like I was to God… I was so distracted by my own self-created problems, so disconnected from Him, that my life became completely chaotic. The more chaotic my life became, the less I was able to calm myself and listen to what God was telling me to do. Luckily, the situation has reversed, and my life has come into a wonderful balance. And I have faith that the more connected I am to God, the better my life will become.
Have you ever really thought about your concept of God? How would you describe Him, or Her, or It? I bet you will be amazed by the thought process, I know I was!
I cannot believe that after 104 days I am still hearing new AA slogans, but today I did:
You must act your way into right thinking, you cannot think your way into right acting.
This has been stuck in my head all day for two reasons. One, I cannot believe this is the first I’ve ever heard of it, and two, because, frankly, I did not understand it. I needed to have it repeated twice, and I had a bunch of follow-up questions to better understand its meaning.
My main hold-up to embracing the slogan this morning: if I am in early recovery (and I am), then the one thing I know for sure is that my thinking is frequently not right (and that is being kind to myself). So if I can’t trust my thinking, then why would I act on it? The answer made sense for people in recovery… you don’t trust your thinking, you trust people in the Program with good sobriety to lead the way for you. You act based on their suggestion, and it is by those actions that your thinking will become right.
But as I contemplated the slogan, I realized it, like all the others in AA, is completely applicable to the entire human race, not just to addicts. So if I want to have a healthy lifestyle, I can sit around and think about all the changes I need to make with regard to diet and exercise, while I continue to eat and be sedentary… or I can just get up and move my body, I can pick up a piece of fruit instead of a chip. Thinking about doing anything simply does not “get ‘er done!”
This title may be a bit misleading, because I am not planning on revealing any deep, dark secrets (not that I don’t have things to confess, just not today!). At this morning’s meeting we read and discussed Step 5…
Since I am not anywhere close to attempting Step 5, I cannot speak to how difficult or rewarding it is, but I have heard many tales that it is both. To my way of thinking, Step 4, where I have to write down all my wrongdoings, is a lot more daunting than telling my wrongdoings to someone else, but I may feel differently when I have to actually do it.
But interesting and relevant to me is the idea that there is a personal benefit to confession. Certainly this concept is not original to Alcoholics Anonymous; confessing your sins is probably almost as old as humanity. What amazes me is how quick, and how remarkable, the rewards can be.
I am currently struggling with an issue right now that is both complex and troublesome. Being relatively new to recovery, I am still fairly reserved about sharing my troubles in the rooms of AA. Yet, I am told that is what I must do, and I must be willing to take suggestion. So, despite much anxiety, I was able to share some very personal issues with another member in the Fellowship. That person certainly did not have any answers for me, she was mostly there to lend an ear, but the relief I felt was instant and palpable.
In fact, I felt so empowered by the results of this “confession” that I decided to build on the positive feelings it generated. After my meeting, I took a very difficult step in the direction of solving my issue. This step involved another confession, and the results were the same… instant relief, this time mixed with pride that I completed a very difficult task.
I guess the point is that you don’t have to wait for an elaborate 5th step in order to reap the benefits of confession. Simply sharing troubling thoughts with another human being has an instant and positive effect. Give it a try!
The inspiration for today’s post came from a video I watched, and I recommend it highly. Here is the link if you are interested:
If you are not interested, the gist of the message is this: in order to have true connection to others, you must first feel worthy of connection, and you must also accept vulnerability in your life. You don’t have to look forward to it, but you need not dread it, either, you simply must accept is as a fact of your life. Which, let’s face it, vulnerability is a fact of life, so it would probably be a lot simpler to accept it than to fight it every step of the way.
The speaker in the video does a much better job explaining these concepts, so I urge you to view the video. I watched it, and tried to figure out what it means to me. In terms of believing myself worthy, I am a work in progress. The unwavering support of family and friends in my darkest hour is something concrete I can point to and draw the conclusion that I must be worthy, because otherwise I would be very much alone right now. That feeling is carrying me through the early days of recovery, but I know that is only one very small step, because feeling truly worthy must come from within, and it must be independent of anyone else’s opinion. As I said, I am a work in progress.
In terms of vulnerability, well, I am not sure how much I consciously thought about it before watching the video, but I would say I am making some serious strides in that department. At this stage of the game, vulnerability to me means letting people know I am an addict, and continuing to have a relationship with them. It means honestly answering the question “how are you?” and believing that they want to hear my answer. It means being uncertain about the state of my marriage, but attempting to regain that trust and love. It means leaving a family party to go to a 12-step meeting, and then returning to the party with my head held high. It means losing a close relationship with a family member, but then be willing to spend time with them and be able to look them in the eye. It means opening up and sharing personal details of my life with a group of strangers at a meeting, and believing that they want to help me.
There is probably a lot more I can do to be vulnerable, and, now knowing how important it is in my life, I will actively seek ways to do so. A good friend told me early on in this journey that it is essential to put myself out naked for the world to see, and, at the time, I thought it was melodramatic and over the top, but he obviously knows what he’s talking about. So don’t be too surprised to see me on the street corner wearing a sandwich board telling the world that I am 75 days clean and sober…