Friday, January 20, 2012

Step 6 & 7

Step 6 “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”
Step 7 “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

Lying, manipulation, drama, greed, escaping responsibility, fear, playing the victim, defensiveness, blaming others and being self-absorbed…these are a few of my favorite things.

My sponsor always tells me that I can no more remove defects of character from my life than I could remove the alcoholism and he reminds me  that “why would self, remove self?” My sponsor also directs me again and again to page 62 of the big book where I read concepts such as, “…are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments or our self-pity?” and “Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles” and also “Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.”  These ideas rang true to me because I had tried many times throughout my life to be good, or be better. Church, self-help books, projects, big ideas and great intentions had no lasting impact on me whatsoever. I would start out with a big effort and focus on say “being positive” knowing that I would be happier, a better person and liked by others, because everyone loves to be around an upbeat person. I would make a commitment that from now on I would be a more positive and kinder person and I would begin to “white knuckle” having a positive attitude. However, that only worked as long as things were going my way and I was having a good day. Once I failed yet again to make any meaningful changes in my life I would simply give up, excuse and justify. After all, if you had the kind of problems I had in life you would understand how very difficult my life was and grant me a “pass” on my less than perfect performance in life.  What I didn’t realize was that my failure to have a positive attitude was not my defect of character, but only a symptom of the real issues/character defects. I was so utterly blind to my real defects of character that now the thought of me working on removing any of them is laughable to me. I could not even see, identify or take an honest look at my life so how could I begin to fix it? There is a saying I have heard many times in AA which states, “if you could have fixed yourself, you would have years ago.” So it appeared that in regards to my defects of character I was right back at the concept of Step One and I had to admit that not only was I powerless over alcohol but I also had a complete lack of power and manageability over my defects.

 There are only two short paragraphs written about Steps 6 and 7 in the Big Book, why they did not include more I have no idea. I always thought more direction would have been helpful but maybe in the long run it would only hinder. We alcoholics are great at taking a simple concept and making it as complex as hell. Steps 6 & 7 were and continue to be the most challenging of all the steps for me and I daily take actions which revolve around these two steps. I have made the 7th Step prayer a regular part of my life and it constantly reminds me that my main purpose in life no longer is myself but instead my main purpose is to serve god and god’s kids.

 Because they are so short it led me to think the steps would be easy, but as I got more aware and observed my actions I had to come face to face with some interesting challenges.  I had to ask myself, am I really ready to let god remove from me all the things which I have admitted are objectionable in my life? On the surface it sounds so easy and the quick response I had was “of course!” I mean seriously, who doesn’t want to have defects of any kind removed? Who doesn’t want to be perfect? I have found out that the answer would be…me. I’m not alone in feeling and thinking this way, I have met many others who either cannot see or admit to their character defects and who like me are simply too afraid to live life without the use of the defects of character, which have been our tools of survival for years.

 So how does this all work? If I can’t fix myself, by myself just how do I become entirely ready to have my Higher Power remove my defects of character? I have come to learn that everything requires action and willingness on my part. It does no good to say a quick prayer asking god to remove the defects and then continue to live my day entirely as I see fit. It is important to highlight one other suggestion that my sponsor gave me and when I follow that suggestion it has been one more source of tremendous freedom. He says in regards to defects, or other problems in life, that I should not focus on the defect or problem. The reason being is that if we focus on the problem, the problem gets bigger and if we focus on the solution well then the solution gets bigger. Sometimes I can’t see what the solution may be in a particular situation and if I let myself I can get completely bogged down by circumstances around me. However, I am finding that more and more, if I daily work my program, the solutions become easier to find.

 I would say that 99.99% of alcoholics who walk into AA have major problems in life and I’m talking about MAJOR. There are serious legal issues, spouses leaving or talking divorce, getting fired, losing a driver’s license, kids taken away and to top it all off people don’t want us to drink! We walk into AA having been beaten into a state of reasonableness and willingness and we want help. However, all we can see are our problems and we think, think, think, think about these problems nonstop. I am so grateful to my sponsor who asked me to trust him and told me to just put my problems up on a mental shelf, safe and sound where I could see them if I wanted to, but I was free to focus on other things. My question was; what other things were of any importance right now? I have MAJOR issues….help me!!! My sponsor told me what I now tell my sponsees when they feel overwhelmed by a problem. Regardless of the problem, the suggestion never changes. 1) Pause, 2) pray/invite Higher Power into the situation and then 3) go and be of service to others. The answer will come. Although none of us think those suggestions make any sense or are a smart way to spend our time whatsoever when we are going through problems I can say it has never failed for me or anyone else I know. I don’t know how or why it works, but the answer always comes and while we are waiting for that answer we are not spending hours in our own heads wasting energy stressing.  Instead of stressing, we are helping others; we grow in our program, gain experience and wisdom. I am personally practicing this very thing in my life today. On Dec 31st, I left my office for the last time because I had been replaced. My job was fairly prestigious, it was rewarding, I was good at it and of course it paid the bills. Being replaced was publicly humiliating, embarrassing and of course I now have no way to pay the bills. As such I have two choices in life. The first choice is what I would have done 3 years ago which is retaliate, be angry, full of fear and worry. I would then sink into resentment, self-pity, depression and I would spend my time drinking ending up who knows where, doing who knows what…I shudder to even think where all that would take me. The second choice I have is to “practice these principles in all my affairs.” I have chosen the latter. I pause and I invite my Higher Power into this situation. I have placed this very serious problem up on the mental shelf.  FYI, I no longer even consider the shelf to be mine but my Higher Power’s because I know my problems will be far safer than if I were in charge of the shelf. Although I do take action and spend at least 8 hours a day looking and applying for jobs but that is where my involvement ends on the issue. The rest of my days are spent throwing myself into service for others. I go to AA meetings even though it is the last place I want to be and I would rather hide from the world. When I am at the meetings I don’t discuss my job issue before, during or after the meeting, instead I attempt to carry the message to the next suffering alcoholic. I introduce myself to new women who are at the meeting and get their phone numbers. I am working on organizing an AA workshop for next month with out of town speakers who will present on the 12 Steps. I have just started a Big Book study in my home and after only the second meeting I am excited to be studying with this new group of people. I now set aside even more time with my sponsees and can now meet with them during the day. Plus I am writing on this blog again, which my job made all but impossible with the hours I had to work. I don’t write this list of AA work as a way to look good, but to explain that it works and that service saves our lives, it really does. I have not had to drink over this, I have not sunk into anger, and I’m not depressed or full of self-pity. When those emotions do crop up and they do (some days more than others), because I am still very selfish I take the steps and do the process over and over, multiple times a day. I pause, pray and get busy serving others. My sponsor has given me one additional step for this particular problem and that is to do a 4th Step on those who are “responsible” for my loss of employment and this weekend I will be doing the 5th Step with him. If I want to live completely free from resentment, bitterness and fear of the future I need to take these additional steps so that I get guidance to see this “problem” from an entirely different point of view and so that I can forgive and be free.   

 So, back to character defects and having them removed, the same process applies. We don’t focus on the character defect; instead we focus on whatever is the exact opposite of that defect.  When I observe a character defect in my life, which is objectionable, I need to consider what the exact opposite action of that defect would be. We don’t “work” on our anger, we don’t focus on ourselves to get rid of selfishness and we don’t dwell on those things that have controlled our lives. At least we don’t if we want to live a happy, joyous and free life.

Of course I have many character defeats; in fact the longer I am sober the more I see them. Two defects come to mind immediately. There is one with which there has been real progress and improvement in my life and one which I continue to hang on to…apparently not yet ready to let God remove it from my life.

 The first defect is how I seek attention from others. It can appear in the most subtle ways but I see it more and more as I grow. Sometimes it can appear when I play the victim or martyr because I need attention or I feel emotionally needy. In the past when I was asked by someone how I was doing, I would often say that I was tired or stressed or that I had so much to do or that I was overworked. Another way I would get sympathy or a little attention is to tell my friends about a bad situation I had that day at work or issues with my family and how unfairly I was treated (if I didn’t have anything the story could just as often be exaggerated or be an outright lie). Other times I might, in a very subtle way, highlight all the sacrifices I have made for others and how they didn’t appreciate it or took advantage of my kindness.  Of course my friends would buy into the story (or drama as I call it now) as I would buy into theirs, because we “supported” each other and were “good” friends. Before AA, I would have labeled this behavior as just sharing and being open, however I have come to see that this attitude or defect of character in me is the complete opposite of a life lived in a grateful manner and I find this objectionable to have in my life.

I learned what the exact opposite of this behavior was not by being told but by watching my sponsor. No matter what goes on in my sponsor’s life, what issues, what problems, no matter what his health, when asked how he is doing he always responses with “today…I’m excellent!” At first I did not understand this answer because I knew about various difficulties he had in life and could not understand how he could possibility be excellent. When I asked him about it he explained to me that if he stayed 100% present in the moment, exercised trust instead of living in the wreckage of the past or in fear of the future there was no reason not to be excellent. Even if he was in physical pain or facing some challenge, when he “acted as if” he was excellent it would be true. He had long ago given up control over his life and so he exercises acceptance of what is. I decided to try it for myself and found it very interesting at how hard it was at first. When someone asked me how I was it was incredibly tempting to give the same old answers and to focus on the problems in my life. I was very surprised at how ingrained I was at giving a negative answer, such as being busy, tired, stressed, etc. I also became very aware of how much of the time I was really seeking attention and affirmation. I began to see how very needy I was in my bind for sympathy. So, I dug in with greater commitment and carefully responded each and every time with “I’m excellent.” Before long the most amazing change took place in my life. Every time someone asked me how I was my mind would race through each and everything that could be wrong, but then when I opened my mouth and said that I was excellent my brain concluded that if I was truly present, “right here/right now” I was excellent. So from that day on, even though I didn’t want to, I would cheerfully say “excellent.” It seems as if it is a silly and simple idea, but the effect in my life has been dramatic so if you see me and ask how I’m doing my answer will be “excellent!” J

Concerning the second character defect that comes immediately to mind I have not seen as much growth.  Along similar lines I have to admit that I use men to feed my self-esteem and to feel better about myself. This can manifest in several different ways such as “innocent” flirting or hanging out and being one of the boys.  I have to admit that one of the reasons I own a Harley Davidson motorcycle is because, although I really do love to ride, it is also a way I get attention and impress the boys.  Perhaps where I see this character defect manifest the worse is when I use men’s egos to gain attention. I find this is easy to do by being overly compassionate, sympathetic and a listening ear to guys. It is always easy to agree with the guy’s point of view when they have difficulties in their relationships. So often “being a good friend” was simply a cover for getting a guy to wish that his partner was more like me. It is easy to make a man wish his wife/girlfriend would appreciate him, listen to him, understand him as well as I did. Little did these men know that if I was their partner and if they actually lived with me I am sure I would have been just as bad or worse to live and since my life was lived in a very selfish manner I am sure I would have made their life a living hell. In the past I never stopped to consider the truth of how I interacted with men, because I never stopped to take an honest look at my actions or life. In my interactions I would say anything and be anything simply so someone to give me attention, so that they would like me and make me feel better for a short time. However, if one of these men became too fond of me to where it would be demanding, overly time consuming, boring or cramp my style, I would simply stop paying attention to them.  In the Big Book it describes us as being tornados roaring through the lives of others, leaving a path of destruction behind us. How true this is in my life. I would take, grasp and use others to try to gain some relief to the emptiness inside of myself, to try to find happiness in life and to gain some self-worth. Keep in mind that I am not only talking about sexually, because although using men sexually is a part of my story, most of my actions with men were much more “innocence” and in the “friend” zone. I could justify my actions because after all I had not done anything wrong and I was just being a good friend, right? What I was to selfish to realize was that the men I would take, grasp and use were not my play toys and I caused harm to others as well as myself when I behaved in this way. I didn’t stop or change my actions as long as I felt better, sexy, desired, liked and as long as I got attention. However, I know see and can admit the truth which is I was harming others and deep down I hated myself.

So now that I know better, now that I am attempting to live my life in a spiritual manner, one would think that the behavior would stop. One would think that I would be very ready to have my Higher Power remove this character defect. I truly want be kind, loving and to be more compassionate to others and I truly wish that I would not need men’s attention to feel good about myself.  I am tired of being ruled by my feelings of not being enough and of course I do want to be free of it because seriously living like that is exhausting. When all is said and done, this behavior just ends up making me sick, feeling alone, empty and disgusting inside. However, despite how it makes me feel and try as I might I cannot completely get off the merry-go-round of using people to try to meet my own needs and to fill the void in my life. So where does that leave me? I have tried to “fix” this for years without success and as such I must admit that I cannot remove this defect from my life even though I find it very objectionable in my life. What I do know is that in every situation I have to pause, invite my higher power and go get busy serving others. I also know that I need to look for the exact opposite behavior from this character defect and I know I must continue to take action steps. I know that if I continue to work these steps, my Higher Power will remove what stands in my way of serving my Higher Power and those around me. I know that this character defect will be removed and I will be better able to serve others….plus I will get to experience even more freedom in my life!

7th Step Prayer – “My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength as I go out from here to do your binding.” Amen.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Step 4 & 5

Step Four - Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Step Five - Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

"When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically."

As I have been in the rooms of AA, I have seen many people stop working the steps at Four and sit at Step Two or some version of Step Three for years. Maybe they have not hit bottom, are to fearful to continue, maybe they are not desperate enough or are not willing to be honest with themselves; I don't know. But whatever the reason, eventually they either drink again or in some cases they do stay sober but live sick in a life filled with shame, resentment and unhappiness. Before AA I had never taken a searching, fearless and honest moral inventory of my life before, in fact I doubt I was aware enough about my life to even do so. However, once my sponsor got me to Step Four and Five and walked me through how to do them it made perfect sense that a honest moral inventory was vital in order for me to begin to view life and myself in a different, more healthy way. I was also desperate enough to continue working the steps and I wanted to live a happy, joyous and free life. I wanted to be free of the bondage of my past and gain a clean slate so I could live life to the fullest and learn how to be present. It was clear that I personally could not simply live life without alcohol without having some sort of relief and my sponsor told me that Steps Four and Five within the program of AA would bring me that relief.

Step Four consists of making lists of people, institutions and ideas that we have resentment towards, our fears and our sex conduct. It also uncovers the worst of our actions and the harm we have done to others. The Big Book lays out directions on how to do a Step four in great detail and I come from a line of sponsorship that takes those directions very literally. It works and has worked for many years so I don't feel a need to explain or add to the method that is written in the text.

Although every single step is vital and life changing as it is worked, I personally feel that Step Four and Five are especially life changing and therefore important to do carefully. My sponsor describes our lives before working the steps as being like a garbage full of toxic crap and waste. If all the crap in this garbage can is not emptied out, the can scrubbed clean, set back up and refilled (by our Higher Power) it will continue to fester, ferment and will keep us in bondage. Over the years my actions, dishonesty and selfishness continued to add more and more toxic garbage into my life until it almost completely blocked anything and everything good from my view. I would drink to feel but more often I drank to not feel, think or consider where my life was going.  As such I had to find things outside of myself that I could latch onto to give me any sense of meaning or happiness. Most of the time I would latch onto another person who seemed to have some sense of themselves and where they were going. Problem was I had nothing to offer in exchange, or so I thought, so I would be whatever I thought they liked or wanted. I would continue to use that person/relationship until I used it up, they moved on or I saw that the person was as lost and mixed up as I was. Then I was on to the next thing or person on my never ending search. The end result of my lifestyle was emptiness, loneliness, a dishonest fraudulent life and an incapacity to feel anything close to genuine affection for others. I was 100% convienced that I had nothing to offer, no one really liked me and if you knew what I was really like inside you for sure would not want to have anything to do with me. Yet I longed to connect and yearned to belong.

It is often said in AA that we are only as sick as our secrets. I never considered the fact that my secrets separated me from others, blocked me from having healthy relationships and made serenity or peace impossible. Many alcoholics feel somehow unique in life, like you don't quite fit in anywhere and most of the time never feel a "part of."  I didn't realize that I lived my life in the state of "terminal uniqueness" and I used my secrets and "uniqueness" to excuse my behaviour and my drinking.  It didn't matter what the topic, I had some reason or event that could be used to rationalize, justify or excuse my behaviour. In my mind, I had a "unique" childhood, inattentive, absent parents on one hand and highly religious, overly aggressive with discipline on the other hand. I was forced to move a great deal as a child, which always made me the new kid or "unique", rarely developing deep friendships or bonds that lasted through the next move. My education as a child was "unique" since I was always changing schools, which meant I was always behind in the material and had no parental push to apply myself. I had every excuse to not succeed in school. I was sexually abused by a person of authority at my boarding school when I was 15 years old, which made me carry tremendous secrets. I was married the first time at age 18, and later I grew to resent the fact that I had missed out on my teen years, college, partying, dating and adventure. In my first marriage I live on a farm and was fairly isolated from anything other than work and church. I felt that I had nothing but chores and church facing me day after day and I of course felt completely different from the other "farmwives" in the community. I was extremely discontent as I stood by watching my life pass me by without having really lived at all. So once I started drinking at age 28 I used those attitudes to excuse any excess I had with drinking. I would claim that I was only doing what everyone else had done in their teens and college years. That I was having to learn late in life how to drink responsiblely and that I was just inexperienced. Since I had spent my 20s on a farm working, I felt entitled to live it up to the fullest and my favorite montra was that "I'm only trying to have a little fun."

Once I discovered alcohol I felt for the first time that I could relate to others, I could relax and I could get relief from the discontent inside. Once again, I felt I had found people who "really knew" about living life, having fun and these people didn't judge me. When I found drinking friends I truely felt accepted, that they really cared about me, they encouraged me and never made me feel bad about myself. I was 100% sure my new lifestyle which included alcohol held the answer to my happiness and the key was right around the bend or in the next fun filled alcoholic night. However, my search for happiness did not end and as my drinking progressed the emptyness remained and only increased. The path of destruction I left in the wake of my search grew wider and included more and more innocent people. As frustration, guilt, despair grew and my merry-go-round search for happiness never ended, the only solution I had was to stay numb with alcohol. It worked, I did not care about anything or anyone, except where it benefited me. Alcohol made life possible, it allowed me to laugh, cry, dream, still the guilt and fear. Alcohol allowed me relax. Nothing bothered me and nothing much mattered after the fifth martini or into my third bottle of wine. When I was drinking I could also continue to excuse, rationalize and justify everything I did. Life was short and I was on a single minded quest for whatever would bring me the happiness I longed for and thought I deserved. I thought that if only I could find the right person, idea, experience or amount of attention and affection I would be happy in this life. I was always on the hunt for THE party, THE fun, THE relief, THE answer, THE relationship, THE attention, THE job. Problem was I simply was having a hell of a time finding it, so I kept running and searching. Step 4 and Step 5 brought me to a halt, dead in my tracks. Everything I thought about my life, about other people and what I thought would make me happy was turned up on its head. I got to see what was inside me and who I really was as a person. I was gently shown that I was an extreme case of "self will run riot."

I have come to believe, and have observed enough real life examples, that terminal uniqueness if not addressed can cause depression, a very dishonest, destructive life and in extreme cases lead to suicide. Although for me the writing required for Step 4 turned out to be insignificant in the overall scheme of things, what my sponsor did with my written list during Step Five had a tremendous impact. It was what my lists revealed about my life, under the direction of my sponsor, that enabled me to begin to look at everything from an entirely different perspective. As the Big Book points out, Step Four is a fact-finding and a fact-facing process in an effort to discover the truth, to disclose damaged or unsalable items and to get rid of them promptly and without regret.

One of the most important insights I had during these Steps is that I had been held in bondage by holding onto my past, by my resentments, anger, self pity and by my fear. Resentment is the number one offender and it destroys more alcoholics than anything else. A life that includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. I wasted years of my life, that might have been worth while, by living in anger, resentments and self pity.  One thing is clear, I never lived in the present and I was never in the moment regardless what I was doing. Instead, I was always living in the past, re-feeling (resentment) everything that had been done to me or I was in the future with some fantasy of how I would show everyone. I lived my entire life thinking that eventually I would find something or someone that would fulfill me and I lived with a "I will be happy when" attitude.  Problem with how I lived was that I was looking everywhere but at myself.  I fought against the reality that my past could not be changed or be any different than what it was and that I could not control the future regardless how hard I tried. Since I had never taken a honest moral inventory I thought what was wrong with my life was everyone and everything else. Although untrue, my mind told me that nothing ever worked out for me and that if only things would go in my favor I would be happy. In reality I had every opportunity and many successes. I was able to attend college in my late 20s, I got almost every job I applied for and have had several prestigious jobs, I earned a law degree and successfully practiced law, I have been able to travel abroad and extensively in the US and I have had many fun adventures along the way. However, because of my mind, secrets, shame, selfishness, resentments, etc., it was never enough and I never could enjoy the moment because I was always running from something or grasping for more.

With alcoholics our hope, of living a happy, joyous and free life, is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience. Living with resentment is infinitely grave, in fact the Big Book tells us it is fatal. When I harbor resentments, self pity and secrets I shut myself off from others, myself and my Higher Power. I had tried everything in life to be happy; I tried self help books, thinking positively, relationships, material things, alcohol and drugs nothing worked. As such I had to be prepared to look at it from an entirely different angle. I came to realize that people who wronged me in my life were spiritually sick, just like I was spiritually sick. I also came to realize that although there were some events in my life that harmed me, that I did not deserve and were not of my doing or choice how I continued to view or use those events throughout my life kept me in bondage even though years had passed. I came to realize that I had to put out of my mind the wrongs others had done to me and I resolutely looked for my own mistakes in how I used my past or how I acted in the present. I had to look at where I had been selfish, resentful, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? If I looked at my life, while completely disregarding the other person involved entirely how did my life honest look. I realized that just because I had the best of intentions at times that did not mean my actions matched up at all. I could not look at what I meant to do in life or how I meant to act, all the "could haves" "should haves" "going tos" and "if onlys" didn't count. I had to look at "I did" "I was" "I am."

I also came to realize that fear touched almost every aspect of my life. I would have told you I was a brave person and many people would have said the same about me simply because I did what I wanted. However, that was not being brave, it was being selfish. The truth was that I was completely afraid. I was afraid of not being loved, not being liked, not being smart enough, pretty enough, sexy enough, funny enough, being alone, looking stupid, of failing, of not being right, missing out, not being included, not "being" somebody, the list goes on and on. I was afraid of not getting what something I wanted or losing something I had. In the Big Book it says that fear is an evil and corroding thread and the fabric of our existence is shot through with it. In my life, fear set in motion trains of circumstances which brought me misfortune that I felt I didn't deserve but eventually I realized that I had set the ball rolling. In my past when "terrible" things happened to me, even in early sobriety, I could not or did not see that I myself had (I am going to say 99% of the time) set the ball rolling and brought the trouble into my life. Now there are some things such as being sexually molested at 15, that I did not deserve nor do I take blame how another human being harmed me. Unfortunately, when people's self will runs riot other people do get hurt. (I have to admit that I also have deeply hurt others, even people I love.) However, even in a situation such as being molested what I have to be concerned with and take a look at was what did I do with that event once it was over? How did I use that event in my life? I now see that I carried that event for years and used it to justify whatever I did in relationships. In my mind, no matter how unfeeling or selfish I was in a relationship, it was never as bad as what happened to me at 15 and so how could anyone be upset with me for hurting them. I was victimized so I was not to blame. 

One of the reasons I had, and still battle fear is that I do not feel that I am enough. I have never been "enough" and so I tried to fill that huge gaping hole inside of me with everything and everyone. I discovered that nothing I could fill it with was enough either. Not the sports cars, the Harleys, the money, the job, the men, the excitement, the clothes, the attention and not the alcohol. Through AA I have realized that I am god's kid and that is enough.
Another reason I was so fearful and resentful was that self-reliance failed me, I could not manage my life, my mind or my feelings. During the Third Step (and every day since) I gave my will and my life over to my Higher Power to do with and build with as my Higher Power saw fit. If that is the case and I wanted to be free (just how free do I want to be) I had to let go of all my resentments, all my fears and all my unforgiveness. I had to be released from the bondage of being controlled by everything and everyone, of my past and my future. I had to be willing to see that others are sick and I had to take action by spending time praying for each and everyone of those people I hated and resented (yes each one). By letting everything and everyone out of the mental jail I had placed them in, what really happened was that I found my own freedom from that prison. I could be 100% free of them, the harm that was done to me, my past, my shame, my secrets, my lies, my resentments and my fear. I could be an open book. I could talk about everything and I could admit I was also wrong. I could admit that I didn't know everything. I could be useful rather than right. I could feel that lightness in my heart and mind, instead of heavy depression and the wish to die which I had carried with me for over a decade. I could be still, have peace and a calmness. I don't have to push my agenda in every situation. I do not have to carry my "story" with me in life. I learned that I don't have to deny my past or wish to shut the door on it, but instead my past, in god's hands, has become the greatest asset I have in helping others. I had to forgive and be free of my resentments and fear in I wanted to stay sober and live happy, joyous and free.
The Fourth Step also deals with our sex/relationships. We are asked to review our own conduct over the years, not other people's conduct. Where had I been selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate? Whom had I hurt? Where had I unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion or bitterness? It does no good for me to review all that had been done to me, again that is all beyond my control. The good news is that I can do something about my own behaviour and that I have found has rearranged this whole area of my life (as long as I practice these principles). I was taught to ask god to mold my ideals with sex/relationships and to ask god help me to live up to them, then I must be willing to grow toward it.

As I mentioned before, Step Five seems to be the step where many of people stop working the AA program.  I know that my fear, abandonment, rejection issues and resentments, plus the walls I had built around my heart certainly made Step 5 a fearful proposition. However, a solitary self-appraisal is insufficient and our secrets keep us sick. To tell another person all of the issues that we have just written about is a fearful and humbling experience. But most alcoholics lead a double life when we are drinking so this is the time where I for the very first time became entirely honest with one other person, who was my sponsor. I have come to believe that getting all this crap out of our lives is a life and death errand with every twist of character being illuminated, every dark cranny of the past was looked at. It is my hope that anyone who does these Steps has a sponsor who works closely with them and who guides them carefully through it. It was the most terrifying thing I have ever done in my life. I was positive that my sponsor would reject me, judge me, "dump" me or at the very least, feel different about me. But none of that occurred. I found true acceptance, love and understanding for the first time in my life. My sponsor took time to interject and share some of his own story with me when it related to what I was sharing. By doing so he gave me assurance that I was not judged, others had done exactly the same thing or worse and above all he cured me of my terminal uniqueness (which was just ego in disguise). I have to admit it was difficult, scary, painful, emotional, draining and it upset everything I thought I knew for sure. It actually tipped my whole world upside I related to god, the world, ideas, to others and to myself all began to shift.

As my sponsor helped me through that time and the world stopped spinning, I found that this new way of life was awesome! I can say that I was free of so many things right away and have continued to get free of many others as I discover other areas of my life in which I have been in bondage. I can honestly say that now I can look the world in the eye. I can be alone at perfect peace and ease. I have learned to forgive because I so desperately want to be forgiven. My fears and resentments have subsided as I have learned to let my "story" go. I am able to live my life right here, right now and not in the wreckage of my past or in the fear of my future. I am able to be of service to others. I realize that it is none of my business what other people think or say about me and I don't have to bristle when I am criticised or ignored. I can promote others instead of myself and truly listen to what others have to say. I now try to daily to trust and rely upon god on a daily basis; an infinite god rather than my finite self. I am in the world to play the role god assigns. Every morning I take the action and give up my life for that day. Throughout the day I try to remember to do as I think my Higher Power would have me do and treat others as noble guests that are brought into my life, which does not leave any room for fear or resentments. I ask my Higher Power to remove my fear and resentment and to direct my attention to what I should do and be. When I take these action I at once commenced to outgrow fear and resentments.

Do I do any of this perfectly or all the time...absolutely not! However, it is a comfort for me to know that it is progress not perfection and that every day I get to get up with a clean slate and see how I get to serve god's kids in that day. I can also honestly say that because I have done the work required in Steps Four and Five and I continue to take the actions that I learned in those steps, I  have began to feel the nearness of my creator and I have had a spiritual experience (which has become daily spiritual growth). I have felt a new freedom and a new peace. I get to walk hand in hand with the spirit of the universe and it doesn't get any better than that!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Step 3 - Big Book selections made personal

"What is my basic problem...?"

As I continued to pray the 3rd Step prayer, work with my sponsor and attend meetings those things I read in the Big Book, but did not "get" or understand at the beginning, began to come alive and make more sense. Daily as I work the AA program, the text helps me to not only see the truth about myself (self knowledge, counseling, therapy, etc., alone never brought any lasting change for me), but it also taught me the actions I needed to do on a daily basis which would bring about the necessary changes in my life.  I think that whether someone is an alcoholic or not, the principles set forth in the Big Book will have a incredible impact on anyone who practiced it in all their affairs. In the writing below I have to give full credit to the Big Book text, because although I am not quoting word for word, and I am adding little personal additions, what follows are selections of the Big Book text which address Step Three.

I never realized it but I have always lived my life by self-propulsion. Now because of working the 12 Steps of AA I am now convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. In the past, I have lived under the delusion that I can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if only I manage it well. But I have learned (and continue to learn) that when I live on that basis I am almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though at time my motives are good. In fact sometimes I may be quite virtuous, kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing, while other times I can mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest, but what I am truly wanting is my way. What I have always wanted in life is for people, places and events be and act how I want them to act or be. Deep down I was convinced that if only people would do as I wished, life would be great. I'm educated, experienced and somewhat smart so I knew, or believed I knew, how life should be and how everyone else should act. But what usually happened? Things, circumstances or situations don't come off very well, people did not act how or do what I thought they should and I begin to think that life didn't treat me right, in fact it down right sucked most of the time. While there were times that I may have admitted I was somewhat at fault, I was sure that other people are more to blame (why didn't they admit I was right?), so I often was self righteous, angry, indignant and full of self pity.

What was/is my basic trouble? I am a self-seeker, even when I am being kind. Even in my best moments, I am a producer of confusion rather than harmony.  It's not's me. I am concerned with myself, my resentments and my self pity. Self-centeredness is the root of my troubles. I have been driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking and self-pity.  As such, I step on the toes of other and they retaliate. Yes, sometimes I have been hurt, seemingly without provocation, but I invariably find that at some time in the past I have made decisions based on self which later placed me in a position to be hurt. So my troubles are basically of my own making. They arise out of myself and as an alcoholic I am an extreme example of self-will run riot.

Now that I have learned this about myself, discovered the truth about how I operate in the world and what my basic problem is, what the hell do I do about it? Above everything, I must be rid of my selfishness; I must of it will kill me. But if I could fix myself I would have long ago, but I have clearly seen that my life is unmanageable, I am powerless. I had moral and philosophical conviction galore but I could never live up to them, even when I wanted to or even when I tried my hardest. Neither could I reduce my self-centeredness much by wishing it away or trying on my own power. The Big Book states that God makes it possible, since there is no way of entirely getting rid of self without his aid I had to have God's help.

(Side note, when I was at this point in my program I still hated God. I had sworn that I would never have a thing to do with God, the church, religion or anything that came close to it. I had not yet done a Fourth & Fifth Step, which would/did address my resentments, fear and anger. However, as addressed in my prior posting on Step Three, my sponsor had me begin to pray the 3rd Step prayer long before I could understand or believe. In fact because I hadn't done my 4th Step I didn't totally buy the idea that my basic problem was myself. However, I did have willingness and I did take the action suggested by my sponsor. Despite myself, something or someone began to change my heart and mind.)

As the Big Book points out, the first thing I had to do was stop playing God. It didn't work. Next I had to decide that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be my Director. He is the Principal; I am his agent. He is the father and I am his kid. This concept is the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which I passed to freedom. When I sincerely took such a position, all sorts of remarkable things began to happen in my life. I had an new Employer, who was all powerful. He provided what I needed...if I kept close to him I could clearly see that was true. When I stay established on a spiritual footing I become less and less interested in myself, my little plans and designs (well it is progress not perfection to be sure). More and more I become interested in seeing what I can contribute to life and service to others. I have gained a reason to live, get up every morning, go to work, live in a family and stay in a marriage. As I feel a new power flow in, as I enjoyed peace of mind, as I discovered that I could face life successfully, as I became conscious of God's presence, I began to lose my fear of today, tomorrow and the hereafter. 

Next I had to launch out on a course of vigorous action, the first step of which was a personal housecleaning, which I had never attempted ever let alone in an honest or meaningful way. What I had learned so far could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face and to be rid of the things in myself which were blocking me. My liquor was but a symptom. I had to get down to the causes and conditions and I had to take action towards a spiritual way of life.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Step 3

Step Three - Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

"I don't care what you think, I don't care how you it anyway."

That is a phrase I have heard many times from my sponsor, it is a phrase which I now use on the women I sponsor and it is a phrase that changed my life. I used to believe that what I thought/think and what I felt was vital in life. Doesn't it govern every aspect of our lives? We strive to think positive thoughts and have a positive attitude. We feel resentment, love, anger, valued, depressed, appreciated, fulfilled. When I got to Step Three I was so stuck in what I thought and how I felt that it was impossible for me to even consider doing it. Life was miserable with alcohol, but without alcohol life was still unbearable and sobriety was a nightmare most of the time. I needed the numbing, calming, soothing effects alcohol gave me in life.

What I thought was that I had done everything right but it didn't make any difference in life, that god let me down, that church was full of hypocrites and pathetic people who were intolerant, that the whole god thing didn't work and that I would never have anything to do with god again. I thought the problems, difficulties and drama in my life were because of others and that if I was not happy it had to be "him", my job, where I lived, my friends or my lack of money. I thought I was justified in doing what I wanted, when I wanted and how I wanted. I thought a person should eat, drink (massive amounts) and be happy because that was all there was folks. I had no evidence that god worked in people's lives because I saw only abuse, anger, disappointment and unhappiness around me. How I felt was bitter, resentful, angry and hate for the church, god, religion, the bible and people who pushed god. I wanted nothing to do with any of it and I completely rejected anything to do with my past religious life. I felt intolerant towards intolerant people. I felt no faith, love, hope, or forgiveness. I felt unhappy all of the time. I did not know it at the time because I was so out of touch with the truth, but I also felt fear, in fact my entire life was shot through with fear. I was afraid of not getting something I wanted or losing something I had. I felt restless, irritable and discontent. I felt dead inside. I thought and felt that there was no point in this life and that it was one big joke that only fools bought into.

So, when I came to Step 3, what I thought and how I felt presented some serious obstacles in turning my life and will over to the care of anyone, especially god.  I was not going to have anything to do with that type of action. To turn my life and will over to a god who let me down, who in my mind was the most evil concept I could imagine seemed to be utterly ridiculous. Forget it!  I had already held a "trial" in which god had been accused, tried, found guilty and condemned by me and which had been completely justified by the evidence. What I thought and how I felt, without a doubt, was 100 % true.

It was at that point my sponsor asked me a couple important questions. The first was "are you willing to go to any lengths to know peace, to be happy and joyous...just how free do you want to be?"  After I had finally admitted that I was an alcoholic, I had made a promise to myself that I would put as much time and effort into AA/not drinking as I had put into my drinking. When I was drinking there was nothing that would stop me from getting alcohol, not a husband, step kids, family, job, lack of money, a blizzard, having to drive drunk to get more alcohol, absolutely nothing. Not even love is enough to stop me. So I knew that for me to stay sober I had to be as committed to the program of AA as I was with my drinking. I knew I had to work the program and take the suggestions with the same kind of effort. I desperately wanted to be happy, although I doubted it was possible (joyous was so far beyond me that I wasn't striving for that lofty goal), I was desperate for some sort of peace and I wanted desperately to be free. I was going to give the program one year max to work and after that if it didn't work I planned to drink myself to death or worse.  Since I had no other ideas and I was all out of plans I knew I had to give 1000% or nothing.

The second question my sponsor asked was, "is it possible...just possible that, even though you feel and think the way you do about god, you could be wrong? That question really put me in a bind. I prided myself on my knowledge, training and experiences. If I didn't think I was right I wouldn't have thought the way I did. I had no idea, but I would eventually see, that being right had been as essential to me as breathing. I would rather be right than useful. I would rather be right than loving. I would rather be right than to feel happy. I was so right all the time that I was sick inside. Eventually I would discover that I lived with a self righteous rage boiling just under the surface that was covered from public view by sweetness, kindness, control and manipulation.
So when my sponsor asked me if I could be wrong, I had to admit it was possible...slim but possible. Plus, could I really be that arrogant to think that there was no possibility that I could be wrong.

So, having been backed into a cornor by my sponsor, I was given the following instructions. Every morning I was to get down on my knees and pray out loud the 3rd Step Prayer for two solid weeks without fail. If I missed a morning I had to start the two weeks over. I can not even begin to describe the rage that exploded in my head and chest...I have no words. I managed to keep my composure, but I did inform my sponsor that I thought that was the most asinine, idiotic plan I had ever heard and that there was no way that saying a stupid prayer was going to make any difference in my life. I didn't believe in god, I hated god and had no intention of giving god anything least of all my life or will. If I said this prayer I would be the biggest hypocrite of all because I wouldn't mean it and I didn't feel it.  My sponsor calmly said, "If you want what I have, than do what I do. Besides I don't care what you think or how you it anyway."

The next morning it was the first thing on my mind when I woke up and as I got ready for work my mind was full of chatter. All the reasons why I shouldn't pray where spinning around and around, it just wasn't logical to do something that you didn't believe in, agree with or feel right about. The only reason to do as I was instructed was my agreement to be willing to go to any lengths. So, I was completely dressed and ready to walk out the door to work when I finally gave in, groaned and went to my bed. I was embarrassed and angry. Although I lived alone, I looked around behind me to make sure no one was watching my humiliation and slowly sank to my knees. Through gritted teeth and a heart full of rage I choked out the words.
"God, I offer myself to Thee.
To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do thy will.
Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of thy power, thy love and thy way of life. 
May I do thy will always."
I got up off my knees. Nothing was changed, I felt exactly the same way as I had felt before, except for now a little added fear was on top of it all. Fear that maybe I was right after all and that this wasn't going to work for me. That somehow everyone else got it and felt it, but that I would not or could not. The next morning I did it again, no change. The morning after I did it again and so on with only one day in which I forgot and so had to start over from day one. Every morning I got down on my knees and prayed for one reason and one reason only, because my sponsor had told me to take the action. There was no seeking god, no faith, no belief and no hope on my part. My thoughts and my feelings were at 100 percent odds with what I was doing on a daily basis. However, what I had was one small tiny speck of willingness and a whole vast tonnage of desperation and that appears to have been enough.

We are told in the Big Book that Bill W had a dramatic, white light spiritual experience when he finally gave in and cried out to god, but I think many of us have the more gradual, educational variety of spiritual awakening that the book also describes. I don't know when that super tiny speck of willingness began to grow but after the two weeks were up I kept praying that little prayer every morning on my knees. I don't know what day it was when my teeth were not clenched together as I spoke the words out loud. I don't know when I stepped out from the shadow where I had been shivering for decades into sunlight of the spirit. I don't know when the mile thick, cold ice around my heart began to slowly melt. My spiritual awakening was gradual, but it did happen. By the time one month had passed I was not only saying this prayer in the morning but about 50 times a day, all throughout the day. I clung to it like a life preserver. Giving up control of my life has given me the relief I was so desperate for in life. The kind of relief I could start to feel after 3 glasses of wine or 4 shots of whiskey when I felt like I could breathe, exhale that deep breath and finally relax. It relieves me of fear by keeping me out of the past or future and by staying in the present...right here, right now. I no longer live as management of my life, as my sponsor says management is above my pay grade. I no longer say that I am having a bad" day; I do have difficult days, but if I label a day or event as bad it simply means I am not getting my way and things are not going how I want them to go. It means that I am taking back control and I'm saying that god doesn't know what the hell is going on. The prayer reminds me that everyone god brings across my path are noble guests in my life, that they are god's kids and so I treat them as such. The prayer also shows me that I have been in the bondage of self...self will run riot, but that I can be relieved of that bondage. My life is no longer about me. Even having my difficulties in life removed is for one reason and that is to bear witness of a power, a love and a way of life that is beyond our expectations. It also assures me that I will be granted strength to make it through the day. I have found peace and a new freedom.

Today I still say the prayer every morning like I did it that very first day, out loud, on my knees and only very rarely do I forget. There have been a few small changes to my morning prayer. Once I got to Step 7, I added the 7th Step prayer and sometimes I will add two phrases at the end which are "teach me to love and serve your kids" and since I did my 9th Step amends "help me treasure my husband."  I am not saying that the 3rd Step prayer is somehow magic or that there is something special about saying it out loud for two weeks or on your knees, although I do think that for me being willing, taking the action regardless how I felt or what I thought and the exercise in humility did me world's of good. What I am saying is that the prayer gave me the words to talk to god when I could not form any of my own. My higher power (creator, god) took my willingness and action in saying a little prayer and before I was half way through the steps god saved my life.

There is a joke in AA that my best thinking is what got me a seat in these rooms. It is no longer important what I think, nor is it important how I feel (I offer both my thoughts and feelings to god to build with and to do with). What is of vital importance today is what I DO.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

And now a word about our sponsors

"Don't thank me...I get to love you"

I'm not sure how many times I have heard my sponsor say those words to me when I have tried to thank him for the wisdom, caring, love, support and time he has given to me. It is no exaggeration to say that my sponsor has saved me which he would again say "it's not me." Of course I know that it is god through him but it is also his willingness to serve others, a little action on my part and becoming somewhat teachable. However, I do not know where I would be today had it not been for a strong, loving, giving, brutally honest sponsor. A sponsor who doesn't let me take myself to seriously, who calls me on my self pity, makes me laugh at myself, who helps me work through my resentments and who guides me in making my amends. I have sponsor who has an active, strong, daily program, which is worth passing on to the next suffering alcoholic. My sponsor is also the most spiritual person I have ever met in my life and when I grow up I want to have a program just like him. 

So far during my sobriety, I have been blessed with three sponsors, two women both of whom ended up "going back out" as they say and currently my third one is a man.

The very first terrifying night when I walked into an AA meeting I met a woman who offered to be my sponsor. I had no idea what she meant by a sponsor or what a sponsor did, nor was I very teachable at that moment but I mumbled something like "ok." I didn't give a crap at that point; I was beat, tired, sick and needing a drink. Quite frankly I was somewhat scared of the "types" of people who must go to AA and once in the room listening to the sharing I thought everyone in there was a freak. Why would people willingly be discussing things that really should be kept to themselves, weren't they worried about what we all thought of them? I don't know if it was my unteachable attitude or my new sponsor's program but there was not much interaction between the two of us on a day to day basis other than seeing each other at meetings. My "program" consisted of going to meetings and sponsorship to me meant saying hi to my sponsor before the meeting or having a smoke with her afterwards. The biggest impact my first sponsor made on my life was around my second month (in her eighth month of sobriety) when she "went back out." I didn't see her again. Although, thankfully I did not, in my thinking her actions gave me a perfect excuse to drink. The cunning and baffling sickness of alcoholism kicked into high gear in my mind. If it didn't work for a sponsor type person then did it work for anyone? Were they all lying to me? Was it all talk? Was I being a fool? I should just quit, this whole AA thing was so embarrassing anyway and I felt completely ridiculous. I wondered if I had over reacted a tad bit by going to AA. Maybe I could do this on my own?  Now that I hadn't drank for two months maybe I had learned a valuable lesson and would be more responsible from now on.

I have no idea why, but at that point somewhere deep inside I knew that I was been living on very, very thin ice and there were cracks running through it all around me. As much as I needed the relief of a drink, I was more terrified of having that ice completely break through and plunging into the cold hell below. As bad as life was I knew it could even get worse and I didn't even have the strength to live life the way it was. So I just kept going back to meetings. I went to a meeting every single night without fail, I was terrified not to...I was terrified to change anything about my routine of work, meeting, bed and repeat. I often felt that if one single thing changed in my life it would be to much and I would literally snap into pieces. It often was not easy since on some nights only myself and some bran new, shaking person would show up to a locked and dark building (it was a fairly small town and not a large AA group). So after that happened the first time or two I got a key to the building. Within two months by default I ended up chairing meetings, when no one else would show up, and Twelved Stepped new people who showed up for their first meeting. I didn't have a clue of what I was doing and I shudder to think of what I shared in my ignorance. I went to meetings, didn't drink between meetings and did "service work" by talking to new people and leading a few meetings. It wasn't the best of programs to say the least but I didn't know any better and I didn't have anyone to tell me differently. I now strongly believe that this service work saved my life during that time. It got me out of self and when I carried the message to another suffering alcoholic the benefits I received through doing that were exactly what I needed to get through the next day. It was the AA program at the most alcoholic helping another alcoholic and by doing so I was staying sober.

When I was about 8 months sober, through a series of events and my past catching up with me my job came to an less than desirable end. I was completely lost, was sure that my career was over, no one would ever hire me again and I had no where to go. I was completely convinced that this was one of the worse single events in my life, from which I would have a hard time recovering. During my short sobriety I had gone to visit my friend who had introduced to AA and while visiting I went to meetings at his home AA group. I was blown away by what I had experienced in those meetings and from the message of recovery I heard from the people sharing. I had never before seen in another person the joy, strength, hope and peace I saw in those AA people. So, although I could have gone anywhere in the country to look for work, I knew that I needed to get on solid ground in my sobriety or nothing else would matter and I chose to move to that city for little other reason than the AA group. Within one week I moved, found employment, a place to live and I was adopted into a whole new AA world and family. I don't know why but that particular city has a very strong AA program, sponsorship, social life, conferences and meetings unlike any I have ever seen else where around the country. I felt I had gone to AA heaven compared to what I had just left. Immediately I met a woman who was in the same profession as I was and so I asked her to be my sponsor. She was my sponsor for about 5 months and is the person who helped me get through the 3rd step. Unfortunately, like my first sponsor she ended up also going out sometime around her second year. However, my program continued without a bump because other people in the program where also my mentors and were sharing my journey with me.  I am very happy to say that my second sponsor has come back to AA and from what I hear is working hard at the program. I still get to talk to her once in a while and love her as a fellow sister on this road of happy destiny.

Right before my second sponsor went out, due to the changes I saw in her program, I knew that I needed to make a change and find a different sponsor who had what I wanted. This search brought me to my third sponsor who was a man. I am so incredibly thankful that he was willing to be of service to me because in doing so he helped changed my life, heart and program. Not only has my life been completely changed as a result of working the Steps with my sponsor, but I get to participate in the ripple effect and legacy that continues through me to my sponsees. I feel so blessed to be a part of the legacy/sponsorship line and I am so privileged to know my sponsor's sponsor and my sponsor's sponsor's sponsor. The women I sponsor also know the line of sponsorship and that is a truly remarkable thing. I am proud to say that I sponsor like I was sponsored (or do my best to do so) and I am so privileged to be able to pass the AA message on to other women. Without those who went before me and the example they have set for me none of this would have been possible. I am also truly blessed to have a sponsor who knows absolutely everything about me, what I have done and my character defects but yet still loves me. That in and of it's self is a miracle. So now when one of my sponsees thank me I get to say to them the very words I heard my sponsor say over and over. "Don't thank me...I get to love you"

Side note: there is an unwritten rule in AA that women sponsor women and men sponsor men and there are obviously good reasons for that suggestion. It is a fact that the level of intimacy that you have with a sponsor is often deeper and more meaningful than any you have experienced before in your life. If you have good sponsorship, this intimacy happens regardless if the sponsor is a man or a woman. Often for many of us the relationship with our sponsor is the first safe, open, honest and genuine relationship we have ever had in our lives. In many cases sponsorships continue until one of the two die, through all of life's major ups and downs, relationships, successes, failures, joys and sorrows. However, the very real danger is that if your sponsor is of the opposite sex you can mistake those feelings as "falling in love" or that the person must be your "soul mate" and as such be tempted to take the relationship to an unhealthy or inappropriate direction. Again I am so very thankful for my sponsor and my sponsor's sponsor because of the manner in which they conducted themselves regarding my sponsorship. Both men spent a great deal of time in prayer concerning me and if sponsoring me was indeed the correct direction to take. There was/is a high level of accountability between my sponsor and his sponsor concerning all areas of my sponsor's life. Any time I met with my sponsor or we worked one on one for Step/program work my sponsor would inform his sponsor and they would spend time in prayer. My sponsor would also not ever go or do things socially with me alone and he took the time to build a relationship with my 2nd husband. Having a sponsor of the opposite sex wasn't successful because of me, in fact quite the opposite is true. I was a damaged, hurting woman who would have been easy prey at that time in my life. In fact there were many times I would have married the short, bald Yoda (my sponsor), whom I admit I love dearly. It was only successful because I was brought into a very strong and spiritual line of sponsorship and these men saw me as nothing else but one of god's kids who desperately needed help.

I recently moved to another state (due to a Step 9 amends I made to my 2nd husband), and so right now I talk to my sponsor by calls and texts. His guidance in my life has been so essential during what has been a fairly difficult move, introduction to a different AA group, job change and rebuilding of a marriage. Right now he is also being fairly patient with me as I drag my feet a little with my current assignment. Big sponsor is requiring that I look for a local woman to sponsor me as I continue this journey. Although I am not happy about it (at all!) I continue to be willing and follow his suggestions. So like it or not I am looking for a woman who carries the AA message, who not only has some sobriety time but who also has a great program TODAY (because I have been taught that it is not length of time but quality of program that matters) and lastly who practices the AA principles in all her affairs. So yes, I am currently looking for a new female sponsor and once I find her I will continue to be willing, I will take the action, do the deal and walk this journey with her.  However, all I can say is that whoever she is, wow...she sure has some big shoes to fill.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Step 2

Step Two "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."

I would have told you I was sane, I would have told you I was honest, I would have told you I was a kind and giving person. I would have told you that I had it mostly all figured out, but that I just had difficult, stubborn, unenlightened people surrounding me and because of that, my life sucked. If there was any insanity in my life it was only due to those people surrounding me, who didn't take my advice and who dragged me into an insane way of life. In fact you could have strapped me to a lie detector and asked me those questions with the result being that I was telling the truth because I really believed those things about myself.  While I wasn't completely baffled by Step 2, I didn't get how it applied to me and so I simply dismissed it. Insane?....I wasn't insane! So if I wasn't insane I certainly didn't need to be restored to sanity and it appeared that I could move right on to Step 3.  However, I had a slight problem. I hated god and certainly wasn't on speaking terms with god so Step 3 presented a whole new dilemma. I was beginning to have serious doubts about this whole Step thing and I could clearly see that I was going to have to rework the Steps if they were going to work for me. I could pretty much tell right from the beginning that a strict AA program was not the way to go. There would definitely need to be some adjustment involved but until I figured out how I was going to work it all out I kept going to meetings. It was my only option since I was all out of ideas, plans and schemes of how to handle the drinking. I went to meeting every day because I simply didn't know what else to do to find relief.

During those first two months I listened to people "share" who had 5 years, 7 years, 10 years or more of being sober. I was baffled. I thought "you have got to be kidding...why are they still here?!?"  Ok, so this is who Step 2 must be for, those types of people who didn't have the intelligence necessary to get their life sorted out and back on track. Maybe they were insane, or just really dim, and didn't have what it took mentally to get this "drinking thing" under control. One thing was for sure, there was no way in hell I was going to be sitting in AA a year from now. Seriously? What losers! If people couldn't get this figured out after a years time max, or less than that, they were truly pathetic. Trust me, once I got the secret ingredient to this whole thing, whatever that was, I was out of there. I just wanted to be normal, to be able to drink "properly." All in all, I figured it might take me about 6 months to learn whatever it was I needed to learn and to get fixed. That was my plan but what happened was during those six months I realized just how much I needed my mind restored to sanity.

I looked up a few definitions of "sanity" and I began to gain a better understanding of just what it was that I was needing to be restored to. Apparently sanity is the "structural fit or lack of it between our reactions to the world and what is actually going on in the world." As I thought about that definition, it began to make sense to me.There seemed to be a huge lack in my ability to fit how I reacted to what was going on around me in the world. Despite what the evidence clearly showed there was a structural lack in how I reacted to life. Another definition of sanity that I found was "soundness of judgement." Once again the definition hit home as I saw a complete lack in soundness of judgement in all areas of my life. I could not argue one iota with the fact that I did not have soundness of judgement. I did not have sound judgement in regards to alcohol, where completely sober my mind could convince me that "this time it would be different" or that "I will just have one drink").  What was even more important for me to realize was that I also did not have sound judgement in every other area of my life; including but not limited to all my relationships, finances, family, activities, my motives, attitudes and even my past. I was lacking/insanity and I need to be made whole/sanity in all areas.

The one problem was that I could not change my thinking or restore myself to sanity. If I could have changed myself I would have years before. Trust me I tried for years. I use to think that if I just tried hard enough and set my mind to changing that presto I would have soundness of judgement and there would be a structural fit between my reactions to what was actually going on in the world. Over the years I read numerous self help books addressing various issues that were unmanageable in my life and that I knew needed changing. I would try to follow their directions, search to find myself, or focus on positive thinking, but nothing helped or changed in my life long term. Once in a while I determined ok this is it, I need to change, to get my life together and to "be good." I would focus on making changes in my life with all my might. I would intend to be really good, in fact I would be so good I would be better than good and I really meant it. I could never make any change what so ever last past for any significant time and often the end result was "screw it I can't do this anyway" and more rebellion, destruction, bad choices and chaos would follow. Towards the last five years of my drinking I think I even gave up on any effort to change. I knew I could not change because I had tried and failed time and time again. So I adjusted my efforts, values and life to match my mind and thinking. There was a complete disconnect between truth and my thinking and I could not even recognize what reality was, only my perceptions. 

So as I listened to other people share in the meetings I begun to see how much I needed to understand the 2nd Step, that it did relate to me. There was hope, I could be restored to sanity but it was not up to me, my efforts or abilities. I began to see how I was in deep trouble if there was not some power greater than me because I desperately needed a solution. At that time all I had was a little willingness but that was enough to complete Step Two.

On a lighter note here are examples of my thinking without a Higher Power (I have talked about this with normal people so clearly realize now that this is not normal thinking ;)
Is it sane....
To ever leave a glass of alcohol half full? No.
To ever say no thanks, I'm good or I've had enough? No.
To stop by the bar for one drink after work and have just one drink? No.
To ever really need a wine stopper, other than for looks? No.
To consider a bottle of wine more than 3 drinks? No
To drink every evening? Yes
To always either be thinking of the next drink or thinking "I'm not going to drink today" Yes.
To watch how other people are drinking in order to gauge how soon I can order another? Yes.
To take alcohol in your bags on visits to family, but not tell anyone because you certainly are not going to share or there will not be enough and you don't want to have to go to the store to buy more and have them question the amounts you buy (As such you drink what they have first and then continue with what you brought)? Yes.
For entertainment do shots of tequila (dozens, hey if a little is good, more has got to be better) and since you don't have limes you use brownies as chasers. Which turn makes you sicker than you think is humanly possible, puking with such a headache that you are fairly sure you are bleeding out of your ears. You end up "sleeping" on the bathroom floor for about 12 hours and by about 4pm when you are only just beginning to feel as though you will live you think, "that was a blast! Next time I just won't eat brownies." Yes.
To drink time after time to the point of puking and not be fazed in the slightest? Yes.
To drink regularly until blackout, having conversations, going places and doing things which you have no memory of at all? Yes (inconvenient and at times scary, but it is what it is and just part of life).
To stop hanging out with friends because they don't want to have any fun and are so boring (aka, they don't drink like I do, as much or as often)? Yes.
To every morning wake up to the mental demons of, what did I do last night, what did I say, who did I call, how much did I spend, how did I get home, did I drive, where am I, why did I do this again when I promised myself I wouldn't? Yes.
To wake up in the morning feeling sick, disgusted, defeated and determined not to drink for a while but by 5pm you head to find a drink and have completely rationalized it in your mind? Yes.
To wish for death but to be too scared to do anything about it? Yes.
To live every day sick and tired? Yes.
To know that how you are living is killing you but completely unable to do anything to change? Yes.
To choose alcohol over two marriages, both to very good and loving men, all the while thinking that they are the problem and that they are the reason you aren't happy? Yes.
To not be able to be sober when three little step kids would show up to visit? Yes.
To reject family, friends and faith simply because they no longer fit into your life. Yes
To be completely ruled by fear in life and controlled by resentments and not have a clue? Yes.
The list goes on and on and on and on......

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Step 1

Step 1. "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable."

Yup, I have hard days...when I forget that a lack of power is my dilemma.

People sometime ask me if I have hard days being sober and by "hard" I assume they are referring to the overwhelming desire to drink and those white knuckle moments that an alcoholic goes through at times. I certainly had those types of "hard" moments, more so during the early months of sobriety where it feels like I can't breathe, my insides are twisted into knots and I want to crawl out of my skin. I still have brief moments at times though they come less often, ended quicker and are less intense. However, Step One doesn't just address my alcohol use; it addresses my entire life. The simple fact of the matter is that not one of us can control life, other people or events. Life is unmanageable and I am powerless over it and you. Add alcoholism a person's life and it is like throwing a match onto gasoline.

I will never forget my very first sober week and it still amazes me that I lived through it. I was detoxing, going to work where I fought to stay focused and counted the hours till quiting time. My former party friend, who introduced me to AA over the weekend, kept in touch with me by text and phone. Leaving work at 5pm, I would drive home by the liquor stores I had frequented on a daily basis and fight not to pull into the parking lots. For years I would go to a different liquor store each night because I was embarrassed to go to the same store and feel the need to make up some lame story of pending guests to explain the large amounts of alcohol I bought on a daily basis. During the last year of my drinking I simply didn't care anymore what they thought and went to the store closest to my home. Six months after I was sober the liquor store went out of business which I tried not to feel responsible for. Every day I wanted to say "screw this!" on an hourly basis, why was I putting myself through this, especially when it was unnecessary. I knew I didn't have a drinking problem, I just needed to learn to control my drinking and my life a little more successfully. I hated life, I hated feeling the way I felt and I hated going to AA. The chaos and voices in my head and the continual mental arguments with myself left me mentally and emotionally exhausted.

As exhausted as I felt, I could not go home or hide away from the world because I had to attend legislative functions every evening. My job involved working during a legislative session and that meant every evening after 5pm there were several socials to attend and alcohol was everywhere. It was all around me....and it was free. I couldn't keep my eyes off the drinks at my table, at the bar, in people's hands. I was afraid that I would pick up a drink and then I wasn't sure if I would ever try AA again. For some reason I knew in my bones that I to try AA, at least until I figured out what was wrong and how to fix it. During those evenings I could tell you what everyone was drinking, how much and how fast. There were times when the smell of wine, whiskey and whatever else clouded my mind and made conversation almost impossible. I held onto my diet cokes and drank one after another like it was my life line. I was sure everyone could tell what was going on with me, that they could somehow sense my thoughts. There were frequent offers from people who wanted to buy me a drink and there were often questions of why I wasn't drinking. For me to not have a drink in my hand was something new. I am the type who once starts ends up being one of the four or five people that always shut down the bar at closing time. "Ok just one more" was my most common phrase. So, when those who knew me and questioned me as to why I wasn't drinking my lies came fast and furiously. I claimed I had to work super early the next day, that I was on antibiotics and couldn't drink "damn it" or that I was on a crash diet trying to get in shape for a trip. It didn't occur to me to say something like "I don't feel like it tonight." In my mind that would be a such stupid thing to say, plus it would be a dead giveaway because who the hell doesn't feel like a drink ever?

At that time I had no idea what the "program of AA" was, and I had no idea what was going on in my body and mind as they adjusted through those first days without alcohol. I was not prepared for the physical, mental and emotional upheaval that removing alcohol from my system was going to have on me. I had never attempted to stop drinking before...why should I? I never thought I had a problem. Sure my 2nd husband would mention more and more often during our marriage that he thought I had a drinking problem, but I just resented his comments. I didn't know what happened, but somewhere along the line he had turned into a such kill joy and was so controlling. In my mind I was just having a little fun or trying to relax and deal with life.

(Actually I do remember one time when I had said I was going to stop. It was the last Christmas I lived with my 2nd husband, before we separated. I was drinking daily at that point and both of our lives had turned into a living hell, although I thought the problem was his attitude. On Christmas Eve it was obvious that I wasn't going to have a present for him, since I didn't actually bother to go shopping that year, so I told him that for his present I wasn't going to drink for one week, starting that day! In my self-absorbed fog, I convinced myself that I was being overly generous. He was, much to my relief, actually pleased with my announcement. However, by that evening I was drinking...because it was after all Christmas Eve, which is a very bad time to start a week of not drinking. So I told him I would start the next day....that day never came.)

So now that I was actually not drinking for 2, 3, 4 days in a row, my body and my mind did not know how to cope and I felt as if I was crawling out of my skin. Nothing helped, so I would white knuckle it until 7:45pm and then sneak out of whatever work function I was attending. I would race to the 8pm AA meeting like there were hounds at my heels and slide into a seat, safe for one more day. Only then could I stop holding my breath and unclench my jaw for one hour.

During that first week in AA I introduced myself, by my first name only. I would not say anything other than my name. I would not finish the typical AA introduction of, hi I'm so and so, with the phrase "...and I'm an alcoholic." I knew that if I actually said those words there would be no turning back for me. Either I would have to do what the AA people did, whatever that was, and never drink again which was not a thought I could cope with or even comprehend. Or...I would pick up a drink and continue with my lifestyle. However, if I admitted that I was an alcoholic and drank I knew I would be doing so with the knowledge that it was a choice I made. I knew I would end up dead or trying to die.  Fortunately as I sat in that smoked filled room night after night I could not escape what I was hearing in the meetings. I could not escape the fact that these people had a peace, a calmness, they laughed and had joy. I so desperately wanted to have what I saw they had, but I was so full of doubt. The problem was I was convinced that the reason they were full of peace was because they didn't have my problems. Inside I was sure that my problems were unique, I was broken and I had deep shameful secrets that I was sure no one would ever understand (how little I knew). However, I also heard a level of gut wrenching honesty being shared and it started sinking in through the fog. I had never ever experienced people being that open, vulnerable, honest in front of total strangers before in my life. I heard people share about their experiences, which were every bit as bad as mine, sometimes worse. I heard them tell my story like they had lived and felt it. I heard about lives that had changed and I heard about having hope. Since, I no longer had any other options or ideas of what to do anymore, I finally faced the fact that I was powerless over alcohol and I admitted that my life was unmanageable. At my 5th AA meeting I introduced myself with "hi I'm _____________ and I am an alcoholic."

Such a difficult, simple, terrifying, liberating sentence.