Friday, May 28, 2010

A Breakthrough for Gary and His Family

We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

“Don't be so naive and self-confident. You're not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it's useless. Cultivate God-confidence.”

- 1 Corinthians 10:12, The Message

"The power to honor the truth – to speak it and be it – is at the heart of true masculinity."

- Leanne Payne

I began my personal Twelve Step recovery program about 3 years ago as a way to get a grip on my workaholism. For years my wife had been bugging me about not being home enough. She also complained that when I was at home, I was “not really there.” It wasn’t until I was in my early fifties and facing divorce and the loss of my family that I started to take her seriously. So, my wife and I went to see our local pastor and he suggested that I had a problem with my attitude and priorities about my work. (I thought he was full of BS.) He also suggested that I meet with a professional counselor who told me flat-out that he thought I was addicted to my work. (Bummer, I thought. I love my work.)

Fearing that my wife would leave and take the kids, I joined the men’s recovery group at my church and slowly I began to see that I really was addicted to work. I realized this not because of the ridiculously long hours I put in but because I was doing my work for all the wrong reasons. I was more than passionate about my work. It was how I defined myself. The only way I thought of myself was in relationship to work. If work was good, I was good. If work was bad, I would feel like everything in life was bad. No matter how I sliced and diced it I knew that I was a workaholic.

Following the guidance I got from the recovery group, I enlisted the help of a man who had been a longtime participant in the group. He is a recovering alcoholic and seemed to know what recovery was all about. I asked him to help me do the Twelve Steps and he agreed. We become close friends as he helped me work the steps for myself. While I was doing my recovery program, I continued to see the same counselor about once a month.

When I got to Step Ten, my sponsor suggested that I spend a month keeping an ongoing journal of my days, noting my schedule, my activities, my thoughts and my feelings. This seemed like a strange thing to do but I knew that my sponsor had done it for himself years before, and when I discussed it with my counselor he thought it was a good idea too. So, not being quite sure of what this was all about, I began to keep an ongoing journal that inventoried my life in real time. It was like recording my life while my life was taking place.

Much of my work responsibility has to do with travel. I am all over the country, spending 10-15 days a month away from home. Occasionally, but not very often, I will succumb to the temptation to look at an adult movie at the hotels I stay in. I know it’s not the right thing to do but sometimes I just get overwhelmed with temptation and I do it anyway. One of these situations happened during the period of time that I was doing my Step Ten daily journal. I had an unexpected delay in my travel due to weather and I ended up spending the night in a hotel instead of flying home like I had planned. You guessed it, I ordered a pay-per-view porno movie from the privacy of my hotel room and I viewed it for about 20 minutes while entertaining myself, if you know what I mean. Of course I felt bad about it. I knew it wasn’t right. But I don’t believe in beating myself up so I just wrote it down in my journal and then I tried to put it behind me.

I got up bright and early the next morning to catch my flight home. When I got home that afternoon I was happy to see my wife, but I was also tired and felt somewhat uncomfortable being with her. My daughter, who was 13 at the time, got home later that evening and immediately she came running up to me to give me a hug and a kiss. I felt uncomfortable about seeing her, too. My daughter seemed to be more aware of the discomfort between us than I was. She said to me, “Daddy, why don’t you want to be with me? Is there something wrong with me?” This shocked me, but I quickly regained my wits and I assured her that everything was okay. She didn’t question me but I could tell that she didn’t believe me either. She went off to her room and I made note of this exchange in my journal. Late that evening, as my wife and I were preparing to go to bed, she said, “Gary, what’s wrong? You seem distant like you used to be.” I assured her that everything was good, we crawled into bed and I tried to go to sleep.

Two hours later I was still awake and my mind had started to race. I got up, went into the kitchen and began to make some notes in my inventory journal. Then, clear as day, some of the events of the last couple of days jumped right off the pages of my journal at me. I realized that my careless actions of looking at the porn movie had impacted me much like my workaholism had affected me in the past. In the past I had used my work like a drug addict uses drugs. I worked to escape the challenges of life -- especially the challenges of intimacy -- and now I realized that I had also used the porn movie in much the same way, and it was affecting me negatively just like my workaholism had done. As these things came clear to me, I was writing them down in my journal. The more I wrote down, the more clear-headed I became about the diabolical subtleties of my addictions. I could see that my attempts to “escape” were triggered by the simplest of things like being too tired, feeling lonely or sorry for myself, or being upset about something that I could not control. I also realized that my escapes, i.e. workaholism and porn, had a terrible effect on the people who I loved the most. My workaholism and porn use had been like an invisible poison that was slowly killing me and my family. Even though my family didn’t know about the porn movie, its negative impact on me created a negative impact on them. It kept us from having a close relationship with one another. Finally, I realized that the opportunities God was giving me to recover would never exist if I lived indiscriminately. There is too much at stake for me not to dig deep and identify the weak points in my character and my life. Not only too much at stake for me but also too much at stake for my family.

My wife is a very early riser and so early the next morning - it was a Saturday - I sat down with her before the kids got up. I apologized to her for being distant. I acknowledged that I did feel very self-conscious when she tried to be close to me the day before. I told her that I had looked at a porn movie at the hotel and I explained to her what I had learned through my journaling. Amazingly, she didn’t shoot me. Now, she wasn’t happy at all about me looking at porn, but I think she was very relieved to hear me acknowledge how I get diverted and distracted by things. Interestingly and much to my surprise, she seemed to recognize that I had made a breakthrough in my growth; I’d had an experience that would make my heart more accessible to her.

Later that day I spoke to my daughter. I apologized to her for being distant. I acknowledged that she deserved better from me and I told her of my desire to interact with her in a more relaxed, honest and faithful way. I told her that she was my greatest delight and that I was aware how my past actions had not always conveyed my true love for her. I told her of my commitment to do a better job of being her Dad. I didn’t tell her about my use of porn because, as my wife and I had discussed, I knew it would hurt her; she was just too young and she didn’t need to know. I may tell her more about my struggles when she is older, but I’ll wait until then to decide.

Looking back, I don’t think things would have turned out this way had I not been continuously taking my inventory. The things I notice about myself now are different than when I first began the Twelve Steps, but they are no less important for me to deal with. My relationships with my wife and children are much better now. I never dreamed we would laugh so much. My wife will occasionally point out that I am being distant or aloof but I really don’t mind her telling me this anymore. It doesn’t feel like nagging the way it used to. My kids and I are now better at expressing ourselves to one another. I think they feel better with me and with each other because I am better able to express my love and delight in them.

I am thankful for my sponsor and my counselor who have helped guide me in this experience. Even more, I thank God for being there for me and I thank my family for not giving up on me. I still keep a journal because I am still working Step Ten.

Insights and Inspirations for Christian Twelve Step Recovery
By David Zailer and The Men and Women of Operation Integrity
Chapter Ten Segment Three
Copyright David Zailer, 2008
Operation Integrity
24040 Camino del Avion #A115
Monarch Beach CA 92629

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