Cracks in my foundation

Step 6

 

Steps 6 and 7 of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous say:

“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

Yesterday I met with my sponsor to go over my 6th and 7th step.  This isn’t my first go around with the steps, or even my second.  I believe that true recovery and spiritual fitness only comes when we continually work on ourselves, so I will keep working the steps for as long as I’m around.  I know that doing step work is one of the things that helps keep me from picking up a drink and from becoming the out of control, self-loathing lunatic that I once was.

Step six is all about identifying our character defects and becoming willing to let them go.  When I first got into Alcoholics Anonymous and learned about the steps, I thought that this step was a no-brainer.  I wasn’t even sure why this thought warranted its own step.  Of course I wanted to get rid of my shortcomings!  Why wouldn’t I?  It was like step three in which we decide to turn our will over to God – I wanted that too!  My will had gotten me no where, and fast.  I knew that it was time to let someone else run the show.  Sometime later though, just like with step 3, I realized that letting go wasn’t as easy as I thought it was.  No matter how negative and detrimental some of my defects are, there’s a reason that I hold on to them.  They are serving some purpose for me, even if it’s hard to tell what that is.  Take for example, avoidance, which I think is one of my biggest defects.  I am a champion avoider!  I do not like unpleasant things (I know, who does?) and I will stick my head in the sand and hide for as long as I can to avoid dealing with difficult situations.  So what’s the payoff?  I can list the problems that avoiding situations has caused, but understanding what I am getting out of holding onto the behavior is harder.  In this case, I think that the payoff for my avoidance is not having to face my fears.  If I don’t talk to someone who might say something negative, I avoid the fear of hearing what they might say.  If I don’t get the mail, I avoid seeing the bills I’m afraid I can’t pay.  If I don’t make a dentist appointment, I avoid my fear of the drill. The list could go on, but it all comes down to fear.

I won’t bore you with a list of my other defects (oh my, that would be a LONG post), but suffice it to say, they nearly all lead back to fear of some sort.  I think that the realization that the root of my defects is fear and that I am really doing myself a disservice by holding onto them, is what the sixth step is about.  Knowing those two things is what has helped me to be ready to let my defects go.

Step seven is about letting them go, and doing so humbly.  It is an action step, it requires prayer:

Seventh Step Prayer

My Creator,
I am now willing that you should have all of me, good & bad.
I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character
Which stands in the way of my usefulness to you & my fellows.
Grant me strength, as I go out from here to do your bidding
.

 My problem with step seven is, again, like my problem with step three.  I ask for God’s help, I turn things over to Him, and then at some point, I pick those things right back up again!  I know that I am not alone in doing this, I hear people talk about it in the rooms all the time.  We are creatures of habit, and to some extent, regression.  Many times, I feel like I take three steps forward and two steps back.  It’s usually just as I think that I have finally let go of something for good, that I realize I am reaching back out for it.  I do this dance all the time and I need constant reminders that I don’t have to pick that stuff back up.  Saying the 3rd step prayer (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 & Thy way of life.  May I do Thy will always.) has long since been one of the prayers I say daily.  I’ve realized that it will help me to start praying the 7th step prayer as well.

Working the steps is like owning a home, isn’t it?  The upgrading and repairing and maintenance never stop.  There is a need to continually work on the home, or it will fall apart.  But if we regularly repair what’s broken and maintain what’s working, we can prevent bigger, more costly problems.  That’s why I keep working the steps and going to meetings; that’s my maintenance plan, what keeps me from falling apart.  Before I started working the steps, I had cracks in my foundation, a homeowners worst nightmare.  I had to tear everything down and start over.  These days I mostly just need a little upkeep.  A fresh coat of paint, clean gutters, and a new roof every now and again.

Knowing myself

Step 4

Step Four of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says:

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

I am working my way through the steps again with my sponsor, and I just finished all of the writing for my 4th step.  Somehow, I thought that doing a 4th step at this point in my recovery would be easier than it has in the past.  I mean, I work the maintenance steps (10,11,and 12) most days, so it seems like I shouldn’t really have a lot of stuff to work on.  Riiiiiiiiiight…  I also thought that I wouldn’t suffer from procrastination and avoidance this time.  Riiiiiight….again.  I have had a rough time of it lately, which is why I thought I was being lazy about finishing my 4th step.  But now, looking back, I am convinced that I was having the same feeling about doing it this time that I had when I sat down to write the first couple of times around.  Fear.  Yep, that’s it, plain and simple.  I was fearful about looking at myself as closely as one must for a thorough 4th step.  No matter how much sobriety I have under my belt, or how self-aware I am, I still have resentments, liabilities and fears.

As I listed my resentments and my part in them, I noticed a pattern that wasn’t there before.  In past lists, my part was always clear.  It usually had to do with me being selfish or afraid of losing something that I wanted.  This time around, it became clear that I still have a problem with forgiveness and acceptance; my part, it seems, is continuing to hang onto old stuff.  Many of the resentments on my list were old ones that I just can’t seem to let go of.  Some are the same that were on my very first 4th step, and I am still clinging to them!  The absence (for the most part) of new resentments shows me that I have gotten better about dealing with issues as they come up now, but clearly I still have work to do on the issues that sent me out drinking in the first place.  I know now that I have to return to the work I have done on acceptance and forgiveness and dig deeper if I want to be able to let these resentments go.

Doing this 4th step, really taking a hard look at myself, wasn’t all bad.  I found that in taking my inventory, being searching if not fearless, I have taken many steps in the right direction. One thing that my sponsor has me do is list my assets and liabilities.  After I finished my writing for this step, I looked back at my old ones to see the differences.  It turns out that my list of liabilities is much shorter, and my list of assets is much longer.  I remember that when I first began this journey of recovery, it was extremely difficult for me to see anything positive in myself.  When I went to treatment the first time the intake therapist asked me to tell her three things that I liked about myself.  I could only come up with one.  In looking at my list now, I can see the evidence that I am liking myself more, and that my self-worth and self-esteem are improving.  I am flawed and broken, but I have value.  I am always going to be a work in progress, but I get healthier every day.

As always, there is a sense of relief that has come with finishing my 4th step.  I have heard many times in the rooms that the 4th and the 9th step are the ones that send alcoholics back to the bottle the most.  I understand that.  Fortunately, that hasn’t happened to me, but that is only by God’s grace.  It’s hard to look at oneself objectively and without excuses.  But it can be done.  🙂

************************************************************************************

Note:  In addition to the Big Book, my sponsor has me use The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous: Interpreted by the Hazelden Foundation for working my steps.  It’s a great book that delves deeper into each step.  I highly recommend it.

 

Turning over my will

let-go

 

Step Three of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says:

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.”

This week I am working on step three as I go through the steps with my sponsor.  I think that of all of the steps, this one is the hardest.  At least it is the one that requires the most effort on my part.  That’s because it’s really about giving up living in self-will, and instead, learning to live in God’s will.  For those of us that have struggled to always remain in control of everything, this is no easy task.

I lived a long time (40 years) before I ever heard about step three, and I spent most of that time trying really hard to be in control of things.  I spent a lot of energy trying to keep everything (including myself) together.  I thought at the time, that if I didn’t do that, then everything was going to fall apart.  So I worked, and struggled, and held on by my fingertips, trying to keep everything balanced and everyone happy.  The funny thing is, the harder I tried, the less I succeeded.  The more I tried to manipulate situations, relationships, and reality into what I wanted, the less control I had.  And all of that was when I was sober.  Once I started drinking alcoholically, I tried to control that too.  And we all know how that turned out!

The thing about living like that, in self-will, is that you can never make it work the way you want it to.  There is just way too much stuff that is out of our control.  There is a story in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous about the third step that talks about an actor who is trying to run the whole show.  If only everyone would do as he wants, then the show would be perfect.  He tries to control every aspect of the show – the lighting, the scenery, the other actors, the direction; and he does so with the best of intentions, he just wants the show to be perfect.  Well, the show doesn’t come off perfect as he wants it to, no matter how good his intentions are.  He is not in control…he’s just an actor in the show.  At the top of the page, in my own Big Book, I have written, “It is not the Jami show.”  I wrote that there to remind myself that I don’t get to run the show.  My show has a Director, one who has a perfect plan….even if it doesn’t match mine.  That’s where the rub is; when I know that there is a perfect plan, but it’s not the same thing that I had in mind.  That’s when it gets hard, and I have to remind myself repeatedly to let go, and trust God’s will.

So, as I think about the third step, as I have to do every single day, it’s not the fear of turning things over to God that gets me, it’s remembering to do it, because I pick up the same things that I have turned over time and time again.  I wrote a post last year about laying down my rock, giving up trying to control those things that are completely out of my control.  I wrote in that post that sometimes it helps me to go through the physical act of getting rid of something heavy and uncomfortable to tote around, in order to really understand the act of letting go.  I have to remember to lay down my rock, to let go, every single day.  I think that it’s human nature (or maybe it’s just my nature, I don’t know), to want to control situations.  When I remember to turn them over it really does make life easier.

These days, I am accepting of the fact that it’s not the Jami show.  I am accepting of the fact that God’s plan is better for me than my own.  I am accepting of the fact that I have to turn my will and my life over to the care of God.  And I am accepting of the fact that I will probably have to keep letting go of the same things over and over because I keep picking them up again.  I am okay with all of that because I know that I’m making progress.  And the name of the game is progress, not perfection.

 

One step at a time…again.

Steps

I talked to my sponsor this weekend and we agreed that now seems like a good time for me to go back through the 12 steps of AA.  The decision is not based on anything bad happening or any negative thoughts (at least no more than usual) on my part.  It’s just because a lot has changed since I went through the steps last year, and while I continue to do the maintenance steps (10, 11, and 12) each day, I don’t ever want to take it for granted that “I’ve done” the steps of the program.  In my experience, it’s when I think that I have something figured out and that I no longer need to work on it, that trouble appears.  And these days, I really try not to invite disaster into my life.

The first time that I began the steps of AA, I was terrified.  I was in treatment and I was told that we had to complete steps one, two, and three before we left.  That seemed very daunting when I read the steps, and that was only the first three!  I wasn’t even close to ready to entertain four through twelve.

The first step talks about admitting powerlessness and unmanageability.  I knew that things in my life had become unmanageable, but was I really powerless?  I was weak, for sure, but wasn’t I just lacking self-control and willpower?  And couldn’t they just teach me those things?  The step seemed almost contradictory to what I thought it should be.  Shouldn’t the first step build us up?  Teach us to be strong?  It seemed like strength is what we needed.  But no, instead the first step forced us to look at just how weak we really were.

Then there’s step two, “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  So that meant that I was currently insane and that I had to trust someone else to fix me.  Obviously, I knew that I had issues, I was in rehab after all.  But isn’t the word “insanity” a little bit strong?  Also, at the time, I didn’t think that there was anyone that I could trust.  There wasn’t really anyone in my life who hadn’t hurt me or let me down.  So, I didn’t know how in the world I was going to get past this step.

Step three was the killer though:  Made a decision to turn our lives and our will over to the care of God as we understood Him. Ugh.  I didn’t even know where to begin with this one.  Again, I was not even sure what I believed, and I sure didn’t want to turn my will over, to anyone.  It felt, at the time, like that was what I had been doing for the previous 39 years of my life, turning my will over to someone else.  I wanted to be in control of my own will, the maker of my own destiny.  That sounds a little (a lot) cliché and silly, but that’s really what I wanted.  I still thought that I could handle things on my own, if only someone would teach me not to drink so much.

It’s so crazy to remember how I felt back then.  I thought that I was willing because I knew I needed some help, but really I fought every step of the way.  I realize now that my therapist was an angel with an extraordinary amount of patience.  Thank God she was a recovering alcoholic too, and she knew what to expect from drunks like me!

This time, I am looking forward to going through the steps.  What a difference a couple of years makes!  I understand the program more now and I am much more honest and open with my feelings.  I also have a little bit of sobriety under my belt and am thinking clearly.  I thought that as I go through the steps this time, I would blog about it.  I won’t bore everyone with all of the gory details of each step, but I think it will be good for me to write about how I feel, and how things are different this time, as I go through them.

I will meet with my sponsor this week, so Step One starts soon…