Mid-Week Share: Step 11 – Spirituality

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Spirituality: Making Contact

The purpose of Step 11 is to discover the plan God as you understand Him has for your life.

spir·i·tu·al·i·ty  (spr-chl-t)

n. pl. spir·i·tu·al·i·ties

1. The state, quality, manner, or fact of being spiritual.
2. The clergy.
3. Something, such as property or revenue, that belongs to the church or to a cleric. Often used in the plural.

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

For me, Step 11 is the daily practice step. I practice the others at different times and in different situations, but I have to do Step 11 on a daily if not hourly basis. This program of recovery that I follow is a spiritual practice. It may mean a lot of things to a lot of different people who don’t know any differently, but the twelve steps are about building character and establishing a relationship with a god of your own understanding. That can be the group. That can be Jesus. That can be Mohammed. That can be your dog. It can be whatever you grow to understand as the Higher Power that has more wisdom, courage, power and everything else than you have. I am Christian. I have my own unique view of Christ and who He is in my life. I haven’t been to many churches who see Jesus as I do. And, that’s okay.

The point is that whenever I stay in conscious contact with my Higher Power, I change. If I’m willing to submit myself to His will and not mine, I change. I learn humility. I feel grace. I have serenity. And, for me, that’s where the rubber meets the road. Now that I’ve had a taste of serenity, I really don’t like to have it taken away. Sometimes it is, but I strive to stay in that place of surrender which is so serene. Prayer is a daily habit…at least daily. I read my meditation books whenever I need them and at least once a day. One thing I haven’t been doing as frequently as I should is meditate. That definitely settles me down and allows me time and space to listen to God. It quiets my psyche so I can listen to my heartbeat. A beating heart is a miracle in my book. I don’t know how it happens, but it does. And, the fact that we don’t know which beat will be our last is humbling. So, listening to my heartbeat is showing gratitude and reverence for this great gift I’ve been given which is life.

Some psychologists have a theory that all addictions are caused by anxiety. We seek out comfort for an anxious core – that empty hole – that we continue to try to satisfy. I believe that’s the case with me. When I feel anxious, it is almost unbearable. I want to do something that makes me feel calmer, more in control or happier. I want to feel peaceful again. Prayer and meditation actually make me feel it. I’ve learned to talk to God about how anxious I feel. Talking about it helps. Meditation is a proven cure for anxiety. Once we are settled and can become connected to our physical bodies, we forget about the past, the future, the reasons people are mad at us, our resentments, our fears and everything else. We are only focused on our breath and our heartbeat. Think of formal meditation as a “training” of our mind. Once I practice it frequently, I can come back to that space and that feeling regardless of how chaotic my circumstances are. It teaches me to deal with the anxiety in a healthy way.

And, as far as God’s will, I don’t always know what that is. But, I have to quit striving, forcing solutions and determining what needs to happen to hear God’s will. It always comes to me in a quiet moment in a quiet voice. If I’m too busy, I’ll miss it. Sometimes it just comes to me in what happens in my life. If it’s a fight to make something work out, it’s probably not God’s will or not at that time. When I find myself fighting against an outcome, it’s time to pray and meditate and ask God to direct me in what I should do. The path always appears. And, to be honest, it’s usually NOT what I had in mind.

 

Spirituality is a practice. It’s hard for me to continue practicing it when I don’t feel like I’m getting results. But, the longer that I work this program, the more I see that results come when they need to come. They are on God’s timetable, not mine. The Twelve Steps help keep me out of ego and in a place of humility. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want me to be special or realize results. He created me for a purpose. I sort of owe it to Him to stay still long enough for Him to guide me. My heartbeat won’t last forever. Listening to it is just one way to say thank you for giving breath to my life.

Mid-Week Share: Step 12 – Principle of Service

This is a painting that has come to symbolize "sharing the message" in recovery. See the story here. http://www.barefootsworld.net/aabilld-aa3.html

This is a painting that has come to symbolize “sharing the message” in recovery. See the story here.

Step 12: Service

 For those of us in recovery, this is simply “how it works”.

 My sister-in-law Laura posted some blog fodder on my Facebook wall yesterday. Young, beautiful Cameron Russell did an interview where she admitted her privilege because of  “winning the genetic lottery” and fitting our society’s marketable image of beauty. She realizes this is a gift and would like to use her platform for good. She’s young to already get this, and I can’t wait to hear whatever message she decides to deliver.

I’m actually supposed to write about Step 11 this week, but I’m preempting it because my brain has decided to write about Step 12. I’m going to trust that instinct. Step 12 is the step that tells us we need to carry the message to other sufferers and to practice these principles in all our affairs. That is not a small order, but all of these steps ask me to step beyond what I feel is comfortable.

The most obvious way to practice Step 12 is to answer the call when another addict, co-dependent, or suffering person reaches out for help. But, there are so many ways that the message is carried that it is impossible and crazy to limit it to one avenue. Just showing up for meetings is another way to practice Step 12. Yes, I get something out of it for me. But, I never know when what I share or just my presence may impact someone in some way. I was struggling with a decision early on in my recovery, and I remember asking God to help me find the answer. I went to a meeting, and the meeting was on a totally unrelated topic. No answer there.  A young man whom I had nothing in common with except our journey through recovery started sharing.  It was totally off topic. He said at the end that he knew that his share had nothing to do with the topic, and he didn’t know why he shared it. But, I did. It was exactly the information I needed to hear to feel some hope in the painful dilemma I was in. That’s the way God speaks to me most frequently – through others.

I have suffered with codependency, and I have to be painfully aware that I don’t always know the answers to someone else’s problems. I can turn myself inside out to try to help someone. And, although it might be nice in my intentions, I may be compromising someone’s growth by making it about me being helpful. Sometimes the answers to their issues may come from someone else, from sitting in the dilemma of their problem, or from watching someone doing it wrong. I have to trust that whatever they need to know will come to them without my having to force it down their throat. If they ask, then I am free to give.

And, if I really believe that, that means I have to show up and be myself. And, this is where I think Ms. Russell’s dilemma comes in to my share on Step 12. If she shares from her own experience, strength and hope and doesn’t try to be someone else, she will touch whomever God needs her to reach. No matter her choice of message, if she follows her soul’s lead, someone will get the right message from her behavior, her history or some other facet of her being. For me, it really does JUST mean showing up and being who I am. God created me with talents that are unique. If I try to be someone else or be perfect, I may mess those up. Being present in the moment, interacting with people in a way that allows them to be themselves and trusting in the process is what works for me.

Me....Living the dream at Sun Studio...I don't even look like a singer.

Me….Living the dream at Sun Studio…I don’t even look like a singer.

I have issues with the saying If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. We can’t all be part of every solution. Some people are uniquely gifted for ministry. Others are gifted as parents…. and ALL parents are the messengers to their children. Some are gifted in keeping people healthy physically. Others are gifted in teaching life skills. Some are even gifted in making money that can be spread around to others. There is no talent or gift that is wasted in this world if you allow yourself to accept the gift you have and give it lovingly.  And, to put demands on myself that I have to help with everything will paralyze me and make me ineffective in what I do well. At times in my life, I felt worthless because I wasn’t doing anything big to help. I hadn’t started a non-profit or written a book or become a minister. But, I’ve learned that big is not necessarily what everyone is called to do. I’ve learned to be grateful that I can be a small, normal person and make an impact in my little corner of the world.

As a little girl, I daydreamed of being a singing superstar. I would belt out songs and sing them to my “audience” which populated the empty pasture next to my house. The applause was deafening, and my fans loved me.  In my fantasies, I was a great big shining musical star. One day my sister hit me over the head with a stick to get me to stop singing. That may be why I don’t’ like to sing and don’t think I sing well to this day.  But, I know this. I wasn’t given the vocal chords of a great singer. My college roommate Cristal has that gift, and that’s one of the ways she spreads the beautiful messages of love that she shares with the world. By accepting I wasn’t equipped to be a star singer, it opened up other avenues for me like writing, reading and playing sports. Those things are my talents. Sometimes we have to be hit over the head to be re-directed. And, my sister gave me that message early on.

As my friend Jessica was driving me to the airport this morning, we started discussing prescription medication addiction and its impact on the life expectancy of white females. It is rampant, and it’s a killer. Jessica has a blossoming desire for using health and fitness for healing people recovering from addiction. She’s exploring that idea in her mind and heart. I wonder how she ended up running across me?  I’ll never believe any meeting or attraction is coincidence. That topic led us to talk about other problems in the world (our economy, the death of the American Dream, poverty)  and I started to feel quite overwhelmed inside. The world’s problems are immense and very, very complicated and difficult to resolve.

I reminded myself that I only impact what is directly in front of me. I may not be a singing star or a Victoria’s Secret model with a huge platform like Russell, but I can write, I can go to 12 Step meetings, and I can be who I am with every person, in every interaction that I have. If one person is influenced for the positive, it will be worth it. One of the most powerful, loving things that ever happened to me was a very small thing. I was reeling in grief after my first marriage failed, and I was visiting with my friend Lorna who died last year. I started to cry. She said, “Come here.” She sat me down on the sofa by her and held me in her arms and just let me cry. It was the first time since being a small child that I was allowed to just be with my feelings and not have to plug them up or wipe my tears up with a tissue. I felt supported….loved…safe. And, I remember it still – over 20 years later. I try to give that gift to my friends and acquaintances because I remember how powerful that moment was for me. It was a small thing in the moment….but it spoke to me in a very big way.

 Me and Lorna at the Pike Place Market in Seattle

Me and Lorna at the Pike Place Market in Seattle around the time she gave me a great gift

Mid-week Share: Step 10 – Principle of Maintenance

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Step 10: Maintenance

Nobody likes to admit to being wrong.

But it is absolutely necessary to maintain spiritual progress in recovery.

main·te·nance

/ˈmānt(ə)nəns/
Noun
  1. The process of maintaining or preserving someone or something, or the state of being maintained: “the maintenance of democratic government”.
  2. The process of keeping something in good condition: “car maintenance”; “essential maintenance work”.

They call Step 10 the “maintenance” step. Steps 1-9 have led you up a path that begins with realizing something is wrong, offers some hope that it can be corrected, digs deep to find the root cause, cleans out unneeded garbage, and  cleans up the mess. But, like a wrecked car, once it’s fixed, that’s not the end of the road. It is used on a daily basis, runs out of gas, gets clogged up and dirty and may get wrecked. So, you have to have a maintenance plan. And, it’s always better to keep up with it than to wait until it gets all junked up again.

A friend of mine hated to go to the dentist. She feared dentists, so she didn’t go for about 10 years. As part of her recovery from alcoholism, she decided to start taking better care of her body, and, in particular, her teeth. She knew it would be bad. But, she was committed to doing it. She went to the dentist, and, sure enough, the work required was going to be painful, expensive and time-consuming to complete. But, she made the time, saved the money and faced her fears. Once it was done, though, she still had to go back on a regular basis to keep her oral health. She now knows that it is much harder to ignore ongoing wear and tear and be faced with a massive overhaul than it is to prevent problems from happening. That is the plan for Step 10.

It is suggested that at night, we look at our day, do a quick Step 4 and see if there was anything we need to clean up. Check to see if we harmed anyone, didn’t follow our program or didn’t take care of ourselves. If there was, we are to set about immediately to process it, or , if we have to make an amends, go ahead and do it. It feels good to stay clean like that. I now have such a low tolerance for guilt and shame that I can’t wait to clean up my messes. And, I still make them frequently. I’m human. I can be messy at times.

On the flip side, it’s a great time to consider what we did well. I know that I called my sponsor today and went to a meeting when I got in enough pain. That took care of it quite nicely. I have tools now that I can use to make my life better, and, when I use them, that’s progress. It’s so much easier to bury my head in the sand and just go with the flow. But, then I have to clean it up, and that’s not so easy. Often, my biggest messes are with myself. I don’t take care of my health, I don’t stand up for myself and my needs or I procrastinate on something important. I’ve been in a friendship lately where I’ve really backslid on my program. I let myself get involved with someone who is unavailable for even a friendship, and I tried to be needless to avoid stepping on their toes. That’s a familiar pattern with me. I find people who are in so much chaos and crisis that they have no energy for me, and I try to transform into some kind of needless, spineless jellyfish, thinking that will keep them in my life. Then, one day, I can’t take it anymore, and I get mad because my needs aren’t being met. I’m the problem. I was in denial about what I was doing. That’s the current mess I need to clean up. It may take me a day or two to get back on my feet from this one, but at least I caught it before I got in too deep.

That’s the beauty of maintenance. You catch it before it becomes an insurmountable problem. It gets caught and a spiritual solution is applied before people get badly hurt. Instead of having to do major dental work, we can get a cleaning and be done with it. This program is simple. It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Who wants to say, “I was wrong”? I don’t. But, I do it anyway. And, that’s the beauty of this program. We know how hard it is to clean up a major mess, so we do things we don’t want to do because it’s the right thing to do. It’s called building character.

 

 

Mid-Week Share: Step 9 – Principle of Forgiveness

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Step 9: Forgiveness

Making amends may seem like a bitter pill to swallow, but for those serious about recovery it can be great medicine for the spirit and soul.

for·give  (fr-gv, fôr-)

v. for·gave (-gv), for·giv·en (-gvn), for·giv·ing, for·gives
v.tr.
1. To excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon.
2. To renounce anger or resentment against.
3. To absolve from payment of (a debt, for example).

I remember when I first started reading the steps – Step 9 stood out like a sore thumb….”Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Oh, how I hoped that in ALL cases it would injure them or others so I wouldn’t have to do it. Really?? Apologize to people for things I’m mortified that I did? I just wanted to sweep it all under the rug and move on. Of course, that was long before I had “become willing” in Step 8. By the time I got to Step 8, I was becoming less afraid.

Forgiving is releasing a debt. Step 9 requires admitting that I have a debt to be released. In essence, it’s about taking responsibility for my actions. After Steps 4, 5 and 8, I’ve pretty much determined what I’ve done wrong, who I’ve done it to and why I did it. That’s the beauty of these steps. Everything comes out in the open. It’s no longer dancing around in my mind haunting me, or buried in my heart where it eats me alive. It’s right there on paper. And, the magic is this – when something gets written on paper and is exposed to the light of day, the power goes away. Poof.….it’s like magic. It becomes an act. It’s no longer a soul-eating monster.

My sponsor had me write out my amends in the form of letters to the people I had harmed. I took the information from my Step 4 inventory and the knowledge I had about my character defects and wrote letters and letters and letters. I know this about taking action. When I put my intention out there and state it, whatever needs to happen begins to percolate in the universe. I’m sure as soon as I wrote each of those letters, God began to move mountains to make the appropriate amends happen. I didn’t have any financial amends or legal amends or anything pressing. My amends were mostly with damaged relationships. My sponsor said I didn’t need to run out and make direct amends immediately. I should pray about them, and, when I need to make them, the opportunity will present itself.

There were a few I did pretty quickly because I needed to get them off my chest, and they were with close friends and relatives. I made them to my parents. I made them to my husband. I didn’t go into a huge amount of detail unless it was absolutely necessary. I tried to keep it simple but communicate that I knew I had made mistakes with them, and I wanted them to know that I wanted to do better and be a better person. In all cases, it eased some of the tension between us. It felt like cleaning the slate – it felt like a debt had been paid.

For others, I just let them sit. It’s funny. I haven’t opened the letters up since I wrote them. They are cataloged in a file on my computer, and there they stay. But, every now and then, I’ll run into one of those secret pen pals on Facebook, at a party, or they will call me for some reason. I’ll get butterflies in my stomach because I know this may be the opportunity presenting itself, and I may need to take responsibility for my past actions. EVERY TIME, if the moment comes, I just know it. There is a sense of peace that comes over me, and I just say what I need to say. The most beautiful one was with my first husband. It happened just that way. He went on to make some amends to me. We talked about how we would do things a bit differently now, and I think we both felt forgiven.

There are other amends that I will never offer directly because I know that bringing it up will hurt them or others. So, I offer them a living amends. It’s an amends that says I will treat them well in the future. I will do what I need to do to make sure I don’t harm or hurt anyone else like that again. I will honor them by wishing them happiness and peace. Sometimes those are the hardest to do, truthfully. There’s one person that is receiving a living amends, and they are a very difficult person. But, when something happens that drives me crazy, I remember that I owe them the respect to make their own mistakes just like I made mine. That is my amends to them…..to offer them forgiveness.

I thought Step 9 would be a bitter pill to swallow, and, to be honest, it is difficult and humbling at times. But, the gift of Step 9 is that my load is lightened. I’ve had relationships mended and experienced closure on some that had to end. It has taught me the art of owning my actions and, surprisingly, it’s taught me that it feels good to own them, even if I regret them. It is empowering to take ownership of all of me, good and bad. It makes me feel human, and it usually connects me more deeply to the other person. After all, we’re all human. We all make mistakes. And, when I own up to mine, I feel forgiven by others and God, but I also begin to forgive myself for being a fallible human being. And, the biggest gift of all – it motivates me to be a better person. When I think of saying something mean, doing something hurtful or holding a grudge….I remember…..if I do that, I’ll have to make an amends. It’s usually not worth it……….I never said it was fun!!

Mid-Week Share: Step 8 – Principle of Willingness

One of the beautiful statues in the garden at Hale Kai

Step 8: Willingness

Making a list of those harmed before coming into recovery may sound simple.

Becoming willing to actually make those amends is the difficult part.

will·ing

adjective

1. disposed or consenting; inclined: willing to go along.
2. cheerfully consenting or ready: a willing worker.
3. done, given, borne, used, etc., with cheerful readiness.
Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Notice that this step does not say we have to make any amends. There’s a reason that it doesn’t say that. The reason, in my opinion, is that it’s hard enough to become willing to make amends to have that be a single step. Who wants to be willing to make amends to people who may have hurt us or didn’t do what we wanted them to do? It’s one thing to realize my part in the mess of my life. It’s another thing entirely to be willing to walk up to another person and own the mess that I made – particularly if I know they might be angry, hurt or never want to see my face again. That takes a whole different level of willingness.
When I got to this step, my sponsor wisely reinforced the fact that I don’t have to make any amends to take this step. I just have to become willing to make them and make a list of the people I harmed. I already had this list written in my fourth step, so the task of making the list was easy. It took a little while, though, to really feel I was willing to prostrate myself and own up to my own contribution to the broken relationships in my life. For quite a few of those relationships, they had harmed me, too. But, that was not my mess to clean up – that was theirs.
I love the definition above for willingcheerfully consenting or ready. Haha…I don’t know if cheerfully would describe my feelings toward making amends, but I needed to be consenting. This is actually a biblical command. God tells us that “if our brother holds something against us” go make it right before we come to Him. That’s a paraphrase, but that’s what this step is all about. How often do people actually do this? Not very often, I’m afraid. So, why do people in recovery who have a difficult time with relationships in general have to be willing to do this?
I’ll tell you why. All of this stuff was eating me alive. Things I’d done to harm others and areas where I failed to live with integrity caused me to feel a great deal of shame. Shame is different than guilt. Shame says I’m not a good person. I’m a failure. Guilt says I did something wrong. It’s not a judgment on me because we all do things wrong. In order for me to get the shame monkey off my back, I had to deal with my actions the way I would deal with something I did wrong and merely felt guilty about. I’d fix it; I’d apologize; I’d change my ways; I’d make things right. Shame keeps me stuck and unwilling because it all seems way too insurmountable for somebody so bad to be a person of integrity.
This particular step really taught me how to let shame go and see my shortcomings as things I could clean up. What a relief! To just find the strength of character to become willing began to awaken my soul to the possibility that I could clean this thing up, and I could live differently. Talk about a gift. It was like lifting a dark shroud off me and letting the sun start to trickle in to my heart. You know how it feels when you feel overwhelmed with things that you have to do, and you finally make a list of what needs to be done? It always seems a lot less daunting when you see it written in a list. That’s what happened in Step 8. I started to see that I could do this!
That’s why people in recovery have to be willing to make amends. The task of rebuilding our lives seems a bit more manageable, one step at a time. Otherwise, we stay in a heap of shame and debris and are paralyzed by the sheer weight of it all. Whatever addictive substance or action we’ve used to keep us in the dark starts to seem inviting again, and it will kill us. That’s why Step 8 is important. That’s why it is important to be in a state of willingness. Willingness is the key to taking the next right action – in this case, making amends.

Mid-Week Share: Step 7 – Principle of Humility

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Step 7: Humility

The spiritual focus of Step 7 is humility, asking a higher power

to do something that cannot be done by self-will or mere determination.

I worked Step 7 long before I actually realized that I couldn’t fix myself. You see, I’m very motivated. If I see a problem that really bothers me, I can usually study enough materials, come up with a plan and execute on it. I trained for a marathon, for heaven’s sake, in the middle of moving and buying a house. If I really want something, I can figure it out and make myself do it. So, it was hard for me to realize in my heart that I couldn’t fix my codependency, my shortcomings or my addictive behaviors. I just wanted to figure it out, and, I knew if I figured it out, I could change it.

According to the website www.12step.org, Step 7’s “humility” is important for three reasons:

  1. So that we can recognize the severity of our character defects. One aspect of our addictions is that we tend to deny and minimize the pain they inflict. Therefore as we try to assess our character defects, we may, unless we take a very humble approach, underestimate their severity.
  2. So that we can acknowledge the limits of human power in addressing these character defects. We cannot do it on our own. We cannot do it by sheer willpower. We cannot do it by our own intellect and reasoning.
  3. So that we can appreciate the enormity of God’s power to transform lives.

This step is very similar to Step 3 except now we really know what we need to let God handle. We just did the inventory. It’s all there in black and white. It just got real specific on what I couldn’t control. The thing is, there are books on how to stop doing all this stuff. I bought them all. A friend of mine walked into my house during my early recovery, and laughed, “My God, this place looks like a self-help library, a very comprehensive one!” Yeah…haha…

I felt a sense of urgency with some of this stuff because my marriage was falling apart and some of it, of course, was because of my issues. I didn’t want to lose the marriage, so I felt like I had to do it NOW, and I kept hearing I had to do it NOW. I felt scared and helpless. I also felt like a failure because I kept trying to fix what I really couldn’t fix. Lifelong patterns engrave themselves in your brain, and it takes time and practice for patterns to change. It also takes a change of heart and soul that begs you to sit in the puddle of what you’ve done and who you are and just be with it. I really believe that once I started loving myself the way I was, and it took some time, my heart and soul began to change. I believe that was God teaching me to love the one person I had harmed more than anyone else on the planet. And, in learning to love myself, I learned to love Him. I could not love unconditionally if I didn’t love myself unconditionally.

I let go of the books. I let go of the need for therapy to have a certain outcome. I let go of the retreats and their promises of healing. I let myself be scared to death that I would never get better, and followed instructions. I grabbed on to building relationships with God and others. I grabbed on to listening to someone else’s heart and just letting myself feel my feelings. I grabbed on to letting my life swirl around me with the consequences of my former actions. I let it all settle. And, once the dust cleared, I felt humbled…not humiliated…but humbled by the power of God and his plan for me. My heart began to shift, and the desires to control, to change things, to make something happen fell away. I didn’t have to make them disappear….I just didn’t need them or want them anymore. I had connection, support, love and serenity. Why would I need that other stuff? And, if the desires do surface from time to time, I know there is a better way. I just have to Let Go and Let God.

Midweek Share: Step 6 – Principle of Acceptance

Letting Go is easier when you trust that you will be safe.

Letting Go is easier when you trust that you will be safe.

Step 6: Acceptance

The key to Step 6 is acceptance — accepting character defects exactly as they are and becoming

entirely willing to let them go.

ac·cept·ance

[ak-sep-tuh ns]

noun

1. the act of taking or receiving something offered.
2. favorable reception; approval; favor.
3. the act of assenting or believing: acceptance of a theory.
4. the fact or state of being accepted or acceptable.
5. acceptation (  def 1 ) .

Some web searches also define the Step 6 principle as Willingness. But, if I really think about it, I can never be truly willing to let it go unless I accept that I have it and accept it as it is, in all its wretched glory. I’ve seen people in recovery who accept that they have a certain character defect but they use that as an excuse for their continuing to do it. “One of my character defects is dishonesty, so I can’t be honest.” they’ll say. Well, that’s just an excuse for bad behavior. If I really accept my character defect as it is, then, to me, it means that I accept that it hurts people or it hurts me. If I know that, how can I, with the help of Step 3 which says that I am not doing my own will, continue to hold onto it. Of course, I could always say I accept whatever consequences come with that behavior, and I would be accepting it as it is. I guess that’s another valid way to work it.

Some of my character defects have payoffs for me. For instance, controlling behavior did enable me to feel a little peace when I was able to control a circumstance or a person. It always ended up backfiring, but I got a payoff when I felt in control of a situation and a little less afraid. And, often, I felt a little superior to the person or circumstance that I was trying to control. For someone with insecurity issues, that makes me feel better…..for the moment anyway. I used uncontrolled anger to control. That was a really hard one to drop. I accepted it with all its issues LONG before I became willing to let it go.

It finally got to the point that I hated my anger and its consequences. But, it was such an ingrained reaction that I had a hard time changing the behavior. I remember a therapist telling me once that “Anger is a good and natural feeling. When something makes you angry, step away, take a minute and ask yourself what it is about.” I remember laughing when she said that. I asked incredulously, “Oh, you mean I don’t just squash whatever person or thing is in front of me?” That just seemed impossible…..desirable, yes …but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. It got the best of me every time I got scared. Because, you see, my anger covered up my fear. I felt big and powerful and unable to feel my terror when I was yelling or giving the silent treatment. My anger said, “I won’t let you hurt me,” but my fear said, “you already have, and I am terrified to feel pain.”

When I really became willing to let it go and started focusing on getting in better relationships, setting boundaries in place that would protect me and processing my anger in other ways, it dissipated. I still get angry, of course, but I can take a step back and handle it the way I need to…..most of the time. And, after I took some time to clean out the crappy relationships in my life, I had less to fear, and, as a result, be angry about. You see, in the long run, my character defect of out of control anger was kept me from healthier, safer relationships. I had to take care of myself before I was entirely willing to let go of that protective barrier. It was a process that took a couple of years.

Part of the acceptance of this particular issue is that I have to realize that I don’t handle anger very well, and I can’t indulge myself in “I have a right to be mad” situations. I have to let them go and just remove myself from the situation. I have to let people be who they are going to be and not try to interfere even if I don’t like what they are doing. I also have to make hard decisions about whether or not I can handle having contact with certain people. If I tend to have a high level of anxiety when I’m around them, I know eventually that relationship is going to become too much for me. I need to let it go no matter how much I care for them. It’s best for the both of us.

There are several steps in this program that are about accepting reality. Step 1 is about accepting the reality that I have an addiction or an unmanageable problem. Step 4 is about accepting and writing down who and what I am. Step 6 just takes it another step and asks us to be willing to be changed. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when there are payoffs to certain behaviors. But, bitter taste is nothing compared to spiritually dying.

 

Mid-Week Share: Step 5 – Principle of Integrity

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Step 5: Integrity

Probably the most difficult of all the steps to face,

Step 5 is also the one that provides the greatest opportunity for growth.

integrity

noun
1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire.
3. a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship’s hull.

Integrity for me is all about admitting exactly who I am, what I’ve done and living with the consequences. I struggle with integrity when when I don’t want to admit that I’ve failed at something, when I fall short of expectations that I have for myself, or I’ve done something with motives that are not pure. I always have to tell myself that my integrity is more important than my pride. And, if I’m not honest, I may have to make amends to someone or to myself. That keeps me in integrity. It is a brutally honest way to live. Am I perfect? I wouldn’t be in integrity if I said yes. But, I do walk the line better than I did in the past.

Secrets make you sick. I’ve heard that so often in recovery. Every time I hear it, it makes me think of Step 5 and the ever so significant change that happened inside of me once it was done. The Big Book tells you to take an hour and reflect on what you’ve done after you work Step 5. I thought it was sort of silly when my sponsor said to do it. I mean, what’s an hour going to do? But, it was pretty miraculous. I don’t know who first tried it, but it was a great idea. When I hear friends share about their experience with Step 5, many of them felt a similar relief, peace, calm and transformation that I experienced.

Step 5 is where you take the inventory that you created in Step 4 and share it with another person and God. I really wasn’t so scared to share my stuff with my sponsor, Irene, because I knew she was very kind and I knew lots about her. I was more afraid of the conclusions we’d make about my character defects. I didn’t know if I had it in me to change them or be willing to let them go. You know me. I couldn’t wait to do Steps 6 and 7 in their own time. I wanted to wrap it all up in a bundle. “One at a time,” Irene said.

I went to her house in her quiet room and read the reams of paper that comprised my Step 4. I read the list and explained about the people, places and things I resented, what parts of me were impacted and my part in the whole drama. Often, I needed her help in figuring out my part. I talked about my fears. I told her about the people I had harmed, and I shared my sex inventory. Ugh…yuk. I didn’t want to do that, but I did. We took that inventory and came up with some objective conclusions about my big issues. And, we left it at that. We didn’t try to fix it. I liked that.

I went home, and I felt like I had this HUGE weight lifted off my shoulders. Talk about the incredible lightness of being! It was definitely a relief. Before I unloaded all this stuff, I would feel this wash of remorse and shame come over me when I thought of any of those things I regretted. It would always be immediate. The wash was like a very familiar cloak that made me feel very, very small and unworthy. When I got back from doing Step 5, and after I had completed my meditation, I decided to test it out. Well, I couldn’t just trust the process, could I? I thought of those things I regretted, and I felt….nothing….nada…I couldn’t make myself feel ashamed. Shame had become the Wicked Witch of the West when the water was thrown on her. It melted into a puddle of nothing. I knew I still had to do some things to make amends, and I still felt regret over doing that stuff, but the shame had no power to bring me down. It was rendered impotent against the power of transparency.

In the presence of love, acceptance and forgiveness, shame has no power. That is what I experienced in doing my Step 5. For the first time, by bringing the reality of myself to the light of day, I got loved in return. I got hugged. I got praise for being in integrity. I still had to take responsibility for my actions, but I learned that being in integrity with myself was so much more promising than hiding in shame. It was hard, but it was worth every ounce of sweat. My body remembers that. That’s the beauty of practicing Step 5. Once you do it, your body has memory, and it remembers that being in integrity feels good…it feels powerful…it feels like love. And, it wants to STAY in integrity.

Secrets do make me sick. And, I can’t afford that kind of sickness anymore. Integrity is the cure and the vaccine. But, it’s not an easy pill to swallow. It sometimes goes down with a gag. Sometimes I spit it out. But, I’m like the little girl whose Daddy makes her take castor oil for her cough. I know if I do it, I will feel better, and I will get a big hug just for being a big girl.

Mid-Week Share: Step 4 – Soul Searching

Step 4: Soul Searching

There is a saying in the 12-step programs that recovery is a process, not an event.

The same can be said for this step — more will surely be revealed.

This is the booger bear, the big one, the step that every new recovering addict is scared to death to tackle. I know people that waited years and years before they eventually folded from the guilt, remorse and emotional pain and took this step. In fact, I was one of them. I had to relapse after a LONG dry time before I was motivated to look inside myself and see the hand I’d been dealt in this lifetime. The underlying growth that I did in Step 4 was to face my fear. You write down your fears in this step, but I faced an even bigger fear by facing myself. The act of starting Step 4 was a huge act in facing my biggest fear – looking at what I’d done and been over the past 40 something years.

I finally realized that Step 4 was just a formality. All of this stuff that was inside me was there, eating my lunch, whether I chose to acknowledge it was there or not. I was like the cat who hides her head behind the table leg thinking he’s hiding. So, 16 or 17 years after I first got into recovery, I was eager to take this step. I was dying. And, I was told that this was the answer to heal.

For those of you not in recovery, Step 4 is the fearless and moral inventory. You write down all of the resentments you have. Comcast Cable was one of mine. I resented Fundamentalist Christians. I hated their judgment of others. I had resentments against a lot of people who had hurt me, disrespected me and otherwise trampled all over me. But, the kicker is that I also had to look for my part. My part was often that I had motives that were pretty self-serving. My part was often that I expected them to be different than who they are. I often had to get help figuring out my part on those because I truly was ignorant as to my part. Now, that I have some recovery behind me and I know my patterns, it’s easy for me to pick out my part. But, this first time around was truly a learning experience.

I chose to write mine on the computer because that’s the way I think best. I know some sponsors don’t like that, but mine didn’t mind. I ended up with 33 typed pages of fears, resentments and shortcomings. It was ugly. But, it was me. It was the me I’d lived with all my life. It was the me that had acted on my own impulses to try to make myself happy. It was the me that was a baby inside but wanted so desperately to grow up and be whole. I just didn’t know how to get there. What I didn’t know was that there were some wonderful things hidden in there that my sponsor would help me mine during the next step. What I didn’t know was that Step 4 was the ticket to getting out of the hell I’d been living in. Step 4 is the one that separates the chaff from the grain.

“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.”

Lamentations 3:40 

All spiritual paths that have any merit encourage soul searching. The ones that don’t really don’t offer any healing or growth. You can’t grow if you don’t know where you need to grow. You can’t forgive if you don’t know what to forgive. You can’t begin to set boundaries if you don’t know what’s yours and what belongs to others. I always hear that our secrets keep us sick. This step is the one that is designed to get all those secrets out on paper. And I know that writing is the catalyst that gets something out of my head so that it quits jerking around with my brain and my heart. It’s the act that frees me.

In reality, Step 4 is the preparation for an even scarier Step 5. It made me write down and search through my own heart for what I needed to share in Step 5. But, I could only take Step 4 without looking forward to Step 5. If I thought about the fact that I would have to share this with another person, I might censor my inventory. “Don’t worry about Step 5 yet,” my sponsor said. “Just concentrate on doing the most thorough Step 4 that you can.” I did……because I realized …..finally….. that I didn’t know it all. All that crap I was writing down was evidence that I needed some additional input. And…I wanted….longed for….craved…what she had. And this is how she got there.

Mid-Week Share: Step 3 – Principle of Surrender

Step 3: Surrender

A lifetime of self-will run riot can come to a screeching halt, and change forever,

by making a simple decision to turn it all over to a higher power.

The principle of Surrender for me was a tough pill to swallow. I’m a get it done sort of woman. I figure out what the problem is, find a solution and fix it. It’s just the way I’ve always been. I don’t have time to let problems hang around and muck up my life. It’s probably one of the reasons I sought help early in my life for my drinking problem. However, I didn’t even realize I had a problem with codependency because that was the root of my issue ….trying to fix, control and manipulate situations. So, that’s really where the principle of Surrender hit me hard.

Definition of SURRENDER

transitive verb
1
a : to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand <;surrenderedthe fort>;
b : to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another
2
a :to give (oneself) up into the power of another especially as a prisoner
b : to give (oneself) over to something (as an influence)
intransitive verb
: to give oneself up into the power of another : yield

I did not want to surrender to another person, place or thing. For one thing, I had learned that I would not be safe. I had been placed in situations where others hurt me, abused me and generally were very self-absorbed. My needs and safety were not considered. So, I learned that I had to fend for myself. By the time I came into recovery, I was in a very emotionally and verbally abusive marriage. I was at the point of exhaustion trying to keep myself safe. My body was even starting to shut down because of the sheer exhaustion and fear of being in that marriage with an unsafe person.

Letting Go is easier when you trust that you will be safe.

So, Surrender was really hard for me. I remember when I really “got it” that I could Surrender to my God, and He would keep me safe. I had it in my mind that saving my marriage and fixing my husband’s problems was the answer. It was the ONLY answer. But, as I got better, my husband tried to push me back into old behavior by escalating the chaos. I finally said NO and left him. I finally SURRENDERED to the possibility that I couldn’t fix this, and there might be another answer. I SURRENDERED to a power greater than myself and prayed that whatever should happen will happen. I let go of control. I remember being terrified of the outcome.

Over time and with many small surrenders, I began to realize that the very solution that I was forcing was not the solution at all. The solution was to take care of myself and SURRENDER to a God that loved me. My ex’s problems escalated. His life fell apart. My life got better. I got better. I learned to trust that I didn’t have all the answers. I learned to let go of the outcome of situations. I learned to let go.
On my Women’s Quest last week, we went zip-lining. When you zip-line, you have to trust the people that are assisting you and the harness that they use to hold you up. When you trust that, you just have to let go and “jump.” Afterwards, Mary read a poem about letting go. I’ll leave you with that beautiful piece of writing.

She Let Go

by Rev. Safire Rose

She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.

She let go of the fear. She let go of the judgments. She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head. She let go of the committee of indecision within her. She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.

She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go. She didn’t search the scriptures. She just let go. She let go of all of the memories that held her back. She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward. She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.

She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go.

She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter. She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.

No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was, and it is just that.

In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.

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