Without Fear

The Fourth Step of recovery asks us to take a ‘fearless and thorough moral inventory’ of ourselves. I didn’t really want to do a Fourth Step for two main reasons. First, I had never done anything like that  before and second, I was kind of afraid of what I might find if I looked to deep into myself. After all, I had spent so many years and a lot of my resources doing my best to avoid finding out who I really was and where I was in life. Knowing who I was and how I functioned, that place deep down inside me was not a place I wanted to go. 

And I knew I had to.

I had seen the results of the program in other people. I had been to a good number of speaker meetings so I heard the stories of what it was like, what happened and how things were now. There were a couple of men in particular, one of whom was my first sponsor, and it seemed impossible to relate who he was before to who he is in recovery. And it was by working the program that he achieved this impressive change in who he was.

And I wanted that change in me too.

One of the things that happens in early recovery, when your main pursuit is no longer to escape, is that you have to face life as it comes. And you relate to it pretty much in the same way you used to but now without the cushion of a drink or a pill that helped to soften the sharp edges of challenges in life. And just like the acronym, S.O.B.E.R., Son Of a Bitch, Everything’s Real, I was discovering that my skills here were sorely lacking. Along with this I was discovering that my interpersonal skill in relating to others were also falling short: I could really be a jerk.

I needed to follow the program and that included the “Fearless moral inventory”.

I often say that it took me six months and two days to complete my Fourth Step. Six months for hemming and stewing and worrying, and two days of actually sitting down and writing it out. I thought of ‘fearless’ as being like a soldier of the Light Brigade. I had to put out my chest and valiantly face my past, come what may. However, when I read it in Spanish, it translates to simply, ‘without fear’.  There was no great nobility infused into what I was about to do. I was just to do it honestly and calmly without letting my fears stop me.

It wasn’t so much ‘fearless’ as it was ‘without fear’.

There was no great feat of prowess in my Fourth Step. The change in translation removed it and took it back to what it was. Just like the shop keeper doing an inventory of goods, I was finally taking a deep look at myself and seeing what was there. Who was I? What was I really like? What are my assets and my liabilities? In my attempts to understand the program I had forgotten the simple truth: trust this simple program for complicated minds. I just had to put my fear aside when doing the Fourth Step, and I would be fine.

 

H.O.W. to Recover

How does one recover from addiction and alcoholism? This is the H.O.W. of recovery:  Honesty, Open-mindedness, Willingness. These attitudes go a long way toward a life that is happy, joyous and free. Without any of them, my chances at recovery are slim.

Honesty is an attitude of no more secrets. Revealing who I am, at least to myself, my Higher Power and another person is a necessary part of my recovery. I need to be accepting and true to who I am. Honesty is standing tall without pretending or pretense. It is humility: this is ‘me’, this is who I really am. I need not tell everyone everything about who I am, but if I want to live with integrity, I can no longer hide behind a curtain of half truths and false impressions.

Open-mindedness is that which allow me to seek answers and to step away from my comfort zone. It is a realization that I don’t know everything and that what I do know may not be correct or in need of a change or two. When I am open-minded I am asking questions and seeking answers. I am convinced that seeking the answers to new questions in life today is far more important to my personal growth than hanging onto the answers that solved yesterday’s question.

Willingness is the desire to move forward, do the work and put forth some elbow grease. It’s often easy to rest on yesterday’s laurels and take my comfort. But if I am to grow I have to be willing to move, to change and to expend the energy necessary to make changes in my life. It’s doing the work even when I don’t see the results right away. It’s following the recipe of recovery even when I don’t understand it or why I am doing it at the time. It is trusting the process and moving on.

Honesty, Open-mindedness and Willingness are H.O.W. I got sober and they are the attitude that keeps me that way. If I am lacking any of these attitudes I am taking steps away from my recovery. They form the foundation of a recovery that will allow me to grow and change and evolve. Who I was yesterday is not who I am today. I cannot cling to the self I started with in the program if I want to change. Believing that I’ve ‘got it’ leads to stagnation and decline. I have to keep it fresh.

I think these attitudes are absolutely necessary for people in recovery and I am quite sure they are absolutely necessary for people who aren’t. Honesty, open-mindedness and willingness are attitudes that allow for a life that is constantly growing, changing and evolving into a newness every day.

I am grateful to my sponsor Bob who reminded me of this acronym last week. ¡Gracias amigo!

Secrets of the Soul

A former sponsor of mine used to say, “I’m as sick as my secrets.” It took me a long time to really understand what he meant and after a few years in recovery, I think I have a better handle on it. We all have some secrets and they have the power to lead us deeper into darkness.

The secret of my sexuality kept me from living a full and healthy life before I emerged from my closet. ‘What if they find out? What will they think? I have to be careful so that no one will find out.’ These thoughts were constantly with me. It lead to a distrust of others. It kept me isolated, alone and lonely. The only time I felt that I could be released from my secret, earlier on, was when I was high. The rules and norms of society be damned. When I was high I didn’t care what anyone really thought.

Of course, the next morning arrived and along with the spitting headache I had the moral hangover of regret. Over the years, my secrets changed and varied, but they were always there, guarded and hidden. I wouldn’t say I was dishonest and openly lying, only that I wouldn’t disclose my real truth about what I felt or thought about situations. I rationalized that what I really wanted and how I really felt were best left unsaid. I didn’t want to cause pain in others but was unable to see the pain I was causing in myself because I wouldn’t open up. I felt it was better to keep that inside.

I kept my secrets bottled up so that everyone would like me and so that they wouldn’t feel hurt. I wasn’t able to see that they were making me sink deeper and deeper into addiction. My thinking was inverted: I didn’t want to cause you any pain, but it was okay to cause my own and for me to suffer in silence. And my ‘suffering’ was always a good reason to self medicate.

Through the program of recovery I am able to see that my ‘suffering in silence’ was an ego trip, as if my suffering would save the rest of the world. It was all about me and all about my justification for loading up. In the process of Step Five, sharing my past and the ‘exact nature’ of my character with another person, I was sharing my secrets. And a funny thing about a secret: once it is told to another person, it’s no longer a secret.

I didn’t realize how much energy I was using to keep my past thoughts, feelings and actions hidden until I stopped. Going through Step Five, sharing with another person helped me to open up to another person and prepared me for Step Nine where I made amends to those I had harmed. My program of recovery helps me to recognize when I am falling into the same patterns creating little secrets by hiding my feelings and thoughts and to know when I need to talk to my sponsor again about these things. I know that keeping things bottled up inside will lead to resentment, anger, fear and a relapse. The sooner I disclose my secrets, the sooner I return to health.

Thank you Marshall.