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M(3), 3/21/16: Spot Check

back_in_the_saddle

Happy Spring!

It’s getting happy, though not quite there yet.  It’s sunny, but cold, I am mending from an illness, though not yet 100%.  Sorry I missed last week’s post, I missed the meeting as well.

Since time moves along whether I am sick or I am well, this week we covered Step 10 in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  For those unfamiliar,


Step 10:

Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it


Reading this step is timely, as I have been struggling of late with those self-critical voices that dog all of us to a greater or lesser degree.  My voices start out very innocently, and are disguised as The Objective Devil’s Advocate…

Are you sure you’re exercising as hard as you could?  I’m sure you’ve got more left in the tank.

Which turns into…

Of course you can do more, if you don’t then you have clearly failed to exercise properly.

Which can easily morph into…

You suck at exercise!

Now, this is one very small example, but multiply that by 1,000 and include every area of life, and you’ve got the inner workings of my negative brain gone haywire.

So reading step 10, and remembering some of its fundamental tenets, was particularly helpful this morning.   Things like:

Focusing on nothing but the negative is not the point of any inventory

A true and honest appraisal must, but its very definition, include the good that is happening.  It could probably go without saying, but once I start to look at the good that is happening in my life, I realize that it far outweighs the bad, and severely limits the negative chatter.

We need to look at progress, not perfection

This lesson can’t be taught enough for me.  It is so easy to wonder why I can’t do more, achieve more, be more, but what about what I’ve done compared to where I was?

In fact, the very nature of my share this morning had to do with the discontent I’ve felt while I’ve been sick… how it messed with my head, made me feel unnecessarily down on myself, and how I am looking to regain my serenity after visiting the doctor and having to take medicine.

A gentleman who shared after me talked about having the opposite experience, how the first time he went to the doctor in sobriety he was elated, because he could actually tell he was sick, since he was no longer self-medicating with alcohol.

Excellent point, one I had forgotten in my low physical state.

After that a newcomer shared, and said she looks forward to the day where she can feel sick in a legitimate way.  Currently even if she does feel under the weather, she will lie to her husband and say she feels okay so that he doesn’t question her drinking wine with dinner.

Message received, Universe:  there has been progress for this alcoholic!

Courtesy, kindness, justice and love is the way to handle pretty much anybody and everybody with whom we come in contact

Really, enough said here.  Well, one more thing… I need to include how I treat myself in that list!

A long-timer talked about how he favors step 10 above all else, because it is one that is so universal, and so easy to make progress.  In early sobriety, he could not think of something as daunting as putting pen to paper and writing a lifelong inventory, but he could look at the day and see what he did right and wrong.  By starting small, he was able to build up to the other, more labor-intensive steps.

Another attendee focused on the notion of justifiable anger, and whether we in recovery are entitled to it.  He has decided that for him, the answer is no… there is no excuse for holding onto anger in recovery.  In any situation where he finds himself resentful, he looks to correct his part in the situation, and let go of the parts where others are responsible.  Like everything else, this practice takes time and patience to cultivate.

Another gentleman talked about the gift he received from the regular practice of step 10:  self-awareness.  Knowing when to take action and when to sit back, when to open his mouth and when to keep it shut, when to push himself and when to rest, these are the fruits of the labor involved in a regular self-inventory.

So there’s hope for me yet.

As always, there was so much more shared than I can write down in one blog post.  I’m just glad to be back in the saddle!

Today’s Miracle:

Sitting upright and writing a blog post after having chaired a meeting.  After the past week, I can say that all counts as a miracle!

 

 

The Steps in Everyday Living: Part Ten

Boy Band

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!

Today’s Miracle:

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!

The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Four

Step Four:  Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

I just went back in my past posts to read what I wrote about this step as I was undertaking of it, and here’s what I concluded:  I am a whiner!  But here’s why:  nothing scared me more about the steps than trying to complete this one, and with good reason.  It’s the first where more than a decision has to be made, you have to take pen to paper and do actual work.  My fear prior to actually completing this step is that I would never be able to do it perfectly.  And, good alcoholic that I am, if I can’t do something perfectly, then I don’t want to do it at all.

On the other hand, my desire to complete the steps outweighed my fear of doing them imperfectly, so onward I went.  The most basic explanation of step four is this:  get out a pen and paper (lots of paper), and look backwards through your life.  There are categories, which may vary somewhat depending on who is “taking you through” the steps.  My categories were:  resentments, fear, sex conduct, and people I harmed.  With each category, I listed everyone and everything that I could remember that would fit into each category, and write a short description of each.  So, for example, if I had a strong memory from childhood that came up when I considered resentments, I would write down the person, and a brief explanation as to why I held the resentment.  Now, here’s where the rubber meets the road:  in the last section of each category, I needed to list my part in each resentment (or fear, or sex conduct, or people I had harmed).

As you might surmise, this was no small feat, and it takes a serious time and emotional commitment to complete this step.  In terms of recovery, step four was illuminating.  I discovered quite a few patterns of behavior that have been ongoing from as far back as I can remember.  Even things that I knew about myself in a vague way, such as my tendency to be passive aggressive, was spotlighted throughout my entire life, in ways I did not even realize.

So from a recovery standpoint, step four allows the alcoholic/addict to see very clearly how the addictive substance is nothing more than a symptom, and that the true nature of our malady, the real cause, is in our minds.

Step four, while time-consuming, would be a fantastic tool for anyone to use in their lives.  Here are some everyday analogies:  did you ever attempt a diet that asks you first to not change your eating habits, but to simply record them?  And when you do this, and look back over the log of your eating, you have a much clearer picture of what you are doing right and wrong?

Or how about any basic budgeting tool… isn’t the first step to take an accurate and honest survey of how you actually spend your money on a daily basis, and only then can you make the proper decisions on how best you can save your money?

Well, it’s the same basic premise.  If you are looking to make changes in your life, if you are unhappy and can’t quite pinpoint the cause, then before you can make any meaningful change, you need to figure out what you have been doing, both right and wrong.  The word inventory in this step is apt:  you need to take stock of what is good, and not so good, before you can figure out what to keep, and what to throw away.

Feedback from my friends in recovery is requested:  how has step four helped you?

Today’s Miracle:

My sponsee was in the hospital with a serious health condition, and she was discharged yesterday afternoon.  Her first request:  could I please come over this morning so we can continue our work on the steps?  What a miracle!

Steps 10 and 11: How the Steps Are Ruining Me!

Step 10:  Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it

Step 11:  Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out

It still blows my mind that I am a person who has completed 11 of the 12 steps of recovery.

As I mentioned yesterday, steps 10, 11 and 12 are considered maintenance steps, in that they are to be practiced daily for the rest of my life.  Step 10 is more or less a “spot check” inventory, to be completed at any time of the day, particularly if I am feeling off-kilter.  Step 11, as it has been explained to me, is to be done nightly, where I review the day, take note of things done well and not so well, and asking God to help me take whatever corrective actions I might need to take.

Mini-confession:  I have heard much about step 11 in the past 9 months, people in meetings speak often of the importance of praying first thing in the morning, and then again right before bed.  I have long been in the habit of getting on my knees each morning and thanking God for another day, but by the time I am ready for bed I am usually very ready to go to sleep, and really enjoy drifting off to the sounds of whatever sitcom happens to be playing on TV (30 Rock is my favorite).  So, every time someone mentioned the idea of night-time prayers, I pretty much said to myself, “I’m not at step 11 yet, no need to rush things.”  I guess that thought’s out the window!

So, for the past couple nights, I began the ritual of reviewing my day.  To my astonishment, I have been given a gift.  I have found that in reviewing my day, I have been very pleased (so far anyway), which is an absolute miracle in and of itself, since I have been known to be a little hard on myself.  Of course there are always things upon which I could improve, but the good far outweighs the bad, and I am filled with even more gratitude for the life I am leading.

Last but not least, here’s what I mean by the steps ruining me:  I find myself unable to just say whatever I want anymore, because now I know I have to review it at day’s end, and I simply don’t feel like making yet another amends!  This whole personal inventory thing is killing me!

The Courage of Honesty

You are you.  Now, isn’t that pleasant? –Dr. Seuss

Sometimes the answer to the question in the quote above is yes, and sometimes, especially after looking back at past mistakes, the answer is a resounding NO!!!  Fortunately, more often than not these days, the answer is a positive one.

Okay, so I am officially through my fourth step, which means I have completed a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself.  Sound scary?  Yes, indeed!  I feel good for having accomplished it, but nothing miraculous happened to me yet, other than feeling proud of myself the way I do when I complete any project.

The most interesting part of the whole experience was noting the patterns that emerge in my behavior.  It seems at the heart of it, lack of honesty is my biggest problem with respect to the harm I have caused others.  Believing that people will discover the real me and run as fast as their feet will take them seems to be at the heart of my dishonestly (geez, even writing that was difficult).

Logic would follow that having the courage to truly be myself seems to be the ultimate goal, and, hopefully, the ultimate reward.  Without realizing it I have been working towards this goal for the past 243 days.  And this is just one more thing where it is all about the journey, rather than the destination… progress and not perfection!

Fear and the Fourth Step

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. -Dale Carnegie

Who reading this is sick of me saying that there are no coincidences?  Sorry, but, no coincidence that the day I am attempting to do my “fear inventory” is the same day I am embarking on the legal program I wrote about last week.

When I first started the fourth step inventory, I thought the fear inventory would be the second easiest of the four worksheets (the other three are Resentments, People I Have Harmed, and Sex… if you can’t guess which one will be the easiest than you haven’t been reading my blog very closely).  I don’t, or at least I didn’t, think of myself as a very fearful person.  I don’t worry much about any of the obvious things (probably I should be worrying about)… things like death, car accidents, and the like.

But when I sat down with the worksheet, prayed about it and really took the time, let’s put it this way… I had to go back to the photocopier three additional times to make room for all the fears I actually do have.  And, just a note to those readers who know me personally, yes, I did write down “fear of bedsores” on the worksheet, it should be interesting discussing this fear with my sponsor this weekend when I do my fifth step!

So on this particular day, I am experiencing the Fear of the Unknown, the Fear of Disapproval, the Fear of Confrontation, just to name a few.  What is interesting about this exercise is that just by naming the fears I am having, they seem to lessen in intensity.  As I writing them down for all of you to see, they lessen some more.

So I guess there is something to this whole idea of writing down all the crap in your life… Stay tuned for the outcome of today’s “inauguration,” as well as the completion of the 4th step!

More Introspection: Step 4 is a Pain!

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. -Aristotle

Funny enough, the last time I wrote on this subject (Introspection), I ended with the admission that step 4 scares me.  Now I am writing about introspection because I am in the middle of step 4.

For those of you just tuning in and not involved in a 12-step program, Step 4 is “create a searching and fearless moral inventory.”  The way I am being taught to complete it involves 4 different worksheets: resentments inventory, fear inventory, sex inventory (that inventory might take all of 10 minutes for me to complete), and persons-I-have-harmed inventory (I will use the time I save on the sex inventory and channel it into this one).

I completed the first worksheet on resentments, I wrote a little bit about it last week.  This week I will complete the other 3, and this weekend I will officially do step 5, “admit to God, myself and another human being the exact nature of my wrongs.”  In other words, I will sit down with the person taking me through the steps and tell her, face-to-face, all the things I have written down on these different worksheets.

Here’s the bottom line for me, in the moment… this step is a big pain in the you-know-what.  It’s an interesting twist… after being told for years that I need to stop making things “all about me,” I now need to spend 2 weeks of my life obsessing about everything I’ve ever done, every feeling I’ve ever had, every time I’ve been afraid, and every person with whom I’ve ever encountered.  It’s tiring.  Maybe the point of this step is I will never want to think of myself again after I complete it?

Alright, enough complaining, I’m off to complete my fear inventory.  I promise I will be less whiny tomorrow!

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