When I was newly sober, having a list of amends to make was like having a big pile of bills to pay. And I hate that feeling: a stack of checks to write and a list of people and places I owe. It’s just always on my mind, lingering in the back row like somebody murmuring behind you at the movies. When I stopped drinking my conscious woke up and I start hearing the voices of remorse.
And then there was that one time when I was in high school that I stole a whole bunch of books from the public library. It was way back when shoplifting was easy. Go in with a nearly empty backpack, load it up with Hobbit adventures, and walk out. Just be careful and it was really that easy. I didn’t feel any guilt at the time because for whatever reason in my head, the world owed me.
Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. — Step 8 of Alcoholics Anonymous
When I got to the Eighth Step I was kind of disappointed that they use the word “harmed.” I didn’t like it because I didn’t like the thought of me actually hurting people. We get a taste of peace after working the previous steps and then Step Eight comes crashing in like a bowling ball. Announcing we’d done harm.
Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. — Step 2 of Alcoholics Anonymous
The drug and alcohol treatment center I went to in the early 90s was 12-step based. Their treatment plan was to have patients complete the first five steps in order to graduate. When working Step Two, we spent a good chunk of time making lists of how and why we were insane. Those lists were easy to make but in the here-and-now I kinda think they missed the point.
Well into my way of twelve step recovery I confused the word “practice” with “perfected” somehow.
Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and had perfected practiced these principles in all our affairs. — Step 12 of Alcoholics Anonymous
I thought that because I’d worked all the other steps and had arrived at number 12 that I should be over some hump. Passed the bump. Made the jump. Maybe even overflowing with love while walking with spiritual principles or whatever.
I’m overly fond of how they worded all of AA’s Twelve Steps.Case in point: the 11th Step.
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. — Step 11 of Alcoholics Anonymous
It doesn’t say that we pray in the morning and meditate in the afternoon or whatever. It says that we continued to seek, it doesn’t say when or where or how. The reason they didn’t put it on a schedule is because some people might work the third shift.
If you’re not familiar with AA’s Twelve Steps, don’t worry none. Just follow along and you’ll get the gist.
When I worked Step One I was in horrible, emotional pain. Nightmarish pain that’d wake me up at night. Day in and day out pain unlike anything I’d felt in my life.
And that pain was with me up until after I’d worked my Fifth Step. Then after Step Seven I started to really feel that peace, that everything was gonna be okay. That overwhelming and underlying good feeling that comes from walking a spiritual path.
People always say that the 12 steps are in order for a reason. I guess I never really paid that much attention to that statement until after I was in recovery for a year or so. Looking back on my experience with Step 4 I know there’s no way in hell that I would’ve been able to write a searching and fearless moral inventory if I didn’t have a concept of God that I believed in. I just wouldn’t have.
Writing them was hard (I’ve done two) and I felt all kinds of feelings with the second one. Anger, shame, guilt, regret. Horror. Felt all the things that drinking kept me from feeling. I had burning resentments and sexual traumas. Had broken friendships and ruined relationships. And more.
Back when I was drinking I wasn’t enough. Inside. I wanted something, anything to tell me that I was. And one of those things I wanted, probably the biggest was “more.”
Not just more drinking but more “doing”, too. Constantly feeling on the go, I got this to do and that to do. Doing more, wanting more. More, more, more.
And then when I would actually do something, I never felt like I could commit to it because everything else I had to do was on my mind as well.
Looking back now I can see that underneath all of that “more”, I felt that if I could just get all these things done, then I’d be happy. That you’d be happy with me. I’d feel like that I was enough. That I’d accomplished something with my life. That I’d be a complete person like everybody else. It’s the textbook example of a “human doing” instead of a “human being.” As it were.
What’s more is that when people would ask me to do something, I’d be like “sure, okay” even if I didn’t want to, even if I felt like they were just out for themselves. I’d already be juggling too many balls but hey, what’s one more up in the air? More is good, right?
It’s no wonder I felt overwhelmed for most of my life.
So getting sober, being sober I had to learn how many balls I could actually juggle. I had to learn how and when to say “no.” And learning how to say “no” to myself came a lot easier than learning how to say “no” to other people.
By working the 12 steps, going to meetings, hanging out and talking with other people in recovery and my sponsor, I learned how to live sober. I learned how to be assertive and accept what I can do and what I can’t do.
We learn our lessons, we learn our skills one day at a time, one conversation at a time. We’re not going to master life in an hour. It takes time to absorb new concepts and then practice them in our daily lives. Even more so when you’re like me and have a whole slew of unhealthy behaviors to let go of first.
I can’t say enough for setting boundaries either. There’s plenty of people that also want “more.” And they will try to take their “more” from us, too. And we’ll have to learn how to deal with them if we want to be at peace with ourselves.
Step 10 from Alcoholics Anonymous reminds me to continually look at my inventory, see what’s going on and how I feel. And then Step 11 reminds me that I need to look for God’s will and the power to carry that out.
Similar to before, it’s easier for me to see when my will differs from God’s. But then it’s a little trickier to figure out where someone else’s will and God’s will differ. Like when someone would ask me to do something and then I thought that was God’s will, God wanting me to step up and do whatever.
And sometimes it is. But then also sometimes it isn’t. There’s plenty of people in the world that will take advantage of us, that will try to use and manipulate us. When they ask something of us that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s God‘s will and that we have to do it.
I think that it could be God‘s will that a lesson just came into my life through those people. And that lesson very well could be learning how to and continuing to practice saying “no.”
We were talking about the Serenity Prayer last night in a meeting, accepting the things that we cannot change and so on. Sometimes I have a whole list of things I need to do. Chores and groceries and errands and bills and laundries. Being responsible is something that I can’t really change. So I prioritize, do what I can each day, and let that be good enough. If I’m in a good spiritual place that will come relatively easy.
It’s important to remember there’s more to the Serenity Prayer than just acceptance.
I sometimes forget that. The prayer isn’t about me blindly accepting whatever comes along as God’s will. There’s also the “courage to change the things I can.” And sometimes that’s me telling another person “no.” That I’m not going to cosign their bullshit. As it were. I’m not letting you have any more of my stuff.
Jimi told me once not to do something I didn’t really want to do. Yeah, sometimes I’m being lazy and don’t want to do whatever but there’s also times when I don’t feel comfortable with what someone is asking. In those situations I need to find the wisdom to know the difference between a- if I’m being self-centered and b- if me doing whatever will only end up hurting me.
I find that wisdom by pausing. If someone asks me to do something and I’m not completely on board with it then me saying, “let me get back to you on that” is the best thing that I can do. I don’t work well under the spotlight, I need time to inventory and seek God’s will before I agree to something. And God will show me the path because “god could and would if sought.”
Jimi also reminds me often that we’re entitled to serenity, that it’s our divine right to peace and happiness. If I look at the first three words of the Serenity Prayer, “God grant me”, they support that entitlement.
To wrap this up, I’m not trying to juggle more balls these days. I don’t want that quest. I want inner peace.
Having “more”, doing “more” doesn’t make me feel good or complete. Being right with God, being right with me, and being right with you guys, that does.
When I was drinking I would hurt people, because that’s what I did when I was drinking, and then I would feel bad and avoid them. Sometimes go out of my way not to see them. And then when the day came around that I did, I would hang my head in shame and hope that they had forgotten.
After I’d been sober for a number of years I relapsed. It wasn’t something that I thought was gonna happen. And also, it didn’t “just happen” either.
So with that being said I feel qualified, I feel confident, I feel like I’m able to talk about relapse overall. I have experience with it.
I didn’t have any deep, dark, dank secrets. I didn’t hold anything back when writing my Fourth Step and I didn’t hold anything back when sharing my Fifth Step. I made all of the amends on my Eighth Step list. I was more spiritual than I’d ever been my whole life.