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.

Truth and Courage

“Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the making of action in spite of fear, the moving out against the resistance engendered by fear into the unknown and into the future.” M. Scott Peck

Step Four asks us to make a thorough and fearless moral inventory. I took more time with this step than any other step in my recovery program. I kept telling myself I was preparing my thoughts, waiting for the right time and hoping to be inspired. What I was really doing was working on a character trait that still dogs me: procrastination. Why do today what I can put off until tomorrow? And I was afraid of what I would find. I was afraid I might find the truth of who I was. There were a lot of dark corners of my past that I had shut the door on and I was quite sure I would be opening Pandora’s Box if I looked too closely.

I had my own deadline for completing this step. I wanted to have it down and talk about it with my sponsor before I moved. As the period of time got shorter and shorter, my anxiety about the step increased. And then I started thinking that perhaps I didn’t need to do it before I moved. It could always be done later, right?

About this time I went to a meeting where the topic arose. A fellow shared that it took him two years and three days to complete his Fourth Step: two years of procrastination and three days to do the work. He talked about how his fear of what he might find froze him. When he finally sat down to write, he broke through that fear and faced himself with honesty, discovering that the task wasn’t as arduous as he thought it would be. This was the push I needed.

I got out the guide for the step that a friend suggested. I wasn’t sure what I would find but I knew that if I wanted to recover I had to trust the process. I knew it worked because I could see the results in others.  I also had examples of what happened to those who skipped this step. All it took was a couple of days of effort to work through the 59 questions  in the guide. In the end, the experience I heard at that step meeting bore true for me as well. My fear was a phantom. I knew my past. A few things I hadn’t thought about in years came up, but I realized that I never had anything to fear.

Like making that first phone call to ask for help, or walking into a meeting room for the first time, my fear diminished once I got down to doing Step Four. It wasn’t a Pandora’s Box of frightful things. Everything that was there I had placed inside. Step Four allowed me to open the box and see exactly what was in there. Now I had a better idea of who I was and what I needed to work on a better future for myself.

Sharing Solutions

I was talking to a friend yesterday who is in recovery. She mentioned that she goes to very few meetings. Why? Because her home group meetings tend to focus on the using stories, you know, the war stories, the drunk-a-logs, the remember whens. It’s often a negative experience for her. Unfortunately there aren’t many options for her in her town and not having a vehicle, it’s difficult to get to other places where meetings aren’t always looking at the problem.

I am grateful that my home group has good recovery. We read that we don’t need to regret the past or shut the door on it, but rather, learn from it and apply it to our lives today. And yes, there are days when there seems to be a table full of members complaining about their problems with relationships, neighbours or finances, but the sharing somehow always comes back to living in the solution.

How does the group achieve this? I believe that it is taught by continued good sponsorship. When I was young in the program, I think I had maybe three or four months of being clean and sober, I became very aware. Now that substances weren’t clouding my judgement, I could see my defects and deficiencies. As they say, a horse thief who isn’t drinking is still a horse thief. I was beginning to see who I really was. I used a meeting to complain about the program, the pace of my recovery, my fears and worries. I can see now that I was focusing in on my problems at the meeting.

Fortunately for me, after the meeting, an old-timer asked me, “Do you have a sponsor?” I was rather taken aback by his directness, but replied that I did. “Then I suggest you use him,” he advised. Fortunately I was willing to listen to this advice and learned a valuable lesson: Bring your problems to your sponsor and your solutions to the meetings.

Yes, it’s important that meetings are places where one can go and vent about what is going on in ones life, but I don’t think my friend is wrong in her assessment of her local meeting. We need to hear solutions. We all know the problems but we often have difficulty, especially in early recovery, in using our program and applying solutions to those problems. That’s what I need to hear. I don’t want to hear about your problems at home, I need to hear about how I can apply the program in creating solutions. We all have an irritating coworker or someone who cuts us off on the road, but tell me how you are finding serenity in the midst of it all. I don’t need sympathy and compassion, I need to know how you managed a similar situation. My sponsor or the person beside me might share a new perspective or idea from their experience, strength and hope.

I get those solutions from working my twelve step program with my sponsor and by having these same people sharing around the table. I get the solutions because we have a policy of no cross-talk: no giving direct advice to a person. Rather than commiserating with the person or telling them what they should do, we share how we dealt with people, places, things and events that happened in our lives. I get the program because sponsorship is encouraged and promoted. That for me is the program in action, and in action in a very positive way. If you’re not hearing solutions at meetings, perhaps it’s time to look for another home group. There’s a lid for every pot; find look for one that fits you well.