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.  🙂

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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.

 

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240 Days

Today I made 8 months sober. I posted this morning on my Facebook page that these past 8 months have been the best I’ve had in a long, long time, and that they have, by far, been my best months of sobriety. This isn’t the first time that I have had this many days, but it’s the first time it’s felt like real physical, emotional, and spiritual sobriety. The longest stretch of sobriety that I had since I started trying was was nine months, I drank on the day after getting my 9 month chip.  So I have been asking myself why this time feels so different.

The difference certainly isn’t because these last eight months have been uneventful.  I have gone through more stress, anxiety, grief, and the like, since last November than I went through in the year prior.  I have had to deal with some really difficult feelings and situations.   Things that, not too long ago, would’ve sent me right back out boozing.  But I haven’t had a drink.  In fact, there was only one exceedingly crappy day in the whole eight months that I even wanted to.  I wrote about that day in an earlier post.  But even on that horrible day, I didn’t pick up.  Why is that?

As I’ve thought about it, there seem to be three major changes I have made that are helping me stay sober.  Number one, I finally got honest.  I practiced varying degrees of selective honesty for 40 of my 41 years.  When I was drinking I lied to everyone about everything, it didn’t matter who it was.   As I got into recovery, I think I really tried to be more honest, but I omitted a great many things.  If it was something that was going to cause me feelings of guilt or shame, or if it was uncomfortable or unpleasant in any way, I would almost always leave it out.  It wasn’t until my second trip to treatment that I was able to be honest about the ugly stuff, all of the ugly stuff.  It was the first time that I told the whole truth to a therapist, to my fellow addicts, to myself.  I had the gift of desperation, and I was finally willing to go to any lengths to get sober, and to not die.  For me that meant being honest.

Number two, I learned to forgive.  I struggled with resentments for so long.  I’ve realized that while I could (and did) act like I forgave people that I thought had wronged me in some way, deep down I held on to those resentments like a security blanket.  I wrapped myself up in them and they actually gave me comfort.  They gave me a reason for my drinking, I had someone other than myself to blame for it.  If I hadn’t been so heinously wronged by others, I wouldn’t have to self-medicate all the time.  Once I came to the realization that not only was I holding these grudges, but I was reveling in them, I knew that something had to be done.  I talked a lot about how to forgive with my husband (he’s a pastor after all), and I talked about it with a therapist, with my sponsor and with other alcoholics.  I read books about forgiveness, I read the Bible, I prayed, I journaled about it.  I can’t tell you when the switch was flipped, it was a gradual thing.  I started off by praying just for the willingness to forgive, the actual forgiving seemed a long way off.  Somewhere along the line, I started to let go of my security blanket, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, I did have the capacity to forgive.  I kept praying, and writing, and talking, and something happened.  My anger lessened.  I learned that to forgive doesn’t mean to forget, and it doesn’t require reconciliation. I started to let go, to truly forgive.  Some transgressions were easier to let go of than others, and some I am still working on, but I have much more peace now.

The last biggie was acceptance.  Oh, have I fought with acceptance.  I have always loved the story in the Big Book called Acceptance is the Answer.  And I knew that accepting that things were what they were, would make life easier.  I just didn’t know how to do it.  So I got the words ‘It is what it is” tattooed on my wrist as a reminder.  I tried to just intellectually accept things, just tell myself that I had no choice but to accept it, and that would work for a while, but it never lasted.  I said the Serenity Prayer over and over.  But true acceptance only came to me when I was able to turn over whatever seemed unacceptable to me, to God.  I have written about laying down my rock, surrendering my problems to God, and how, for me, it often involved the literal laying down of a stone.  I don’t usually carry rocks in my pockets these days, but when something that I can’t change is bothering me, I write it down on a piece of paper, and I put it in my God box.  I give it up, and become willing to accept it as it is.

There are a number of other things that I do differently to stay sober now.  I journal like crazy, I chair meetings, I reach out to others in and out of the program when I need help, I take care of myself whether it means a nap or a good cry or a hot bath, I know my strengths and I know my liabilities and I plan accordingly, I call my sponsor almost every day.  My recipe for sobriety has changed, there are a lot more ingredients.  But the main ones are honesty, forgiveness, and acceptance.  And they make life pretty delicious.