Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
“Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.” -James 5:16 The Message
"By getting real and being honest with others, we make ourselves available to be loved by them." -an anonymous recovering addict
I began my 12-Step experience hoping to deal with my extreme worry over my two adult sons and their use of alcohol. I also have a grown daughter, but she has never done drugs and she doesn’t drink. I drank and did a lot of drugs myself, when I was in high school and early college. I went to a large Catholic university, where I met my husband in my junior year. My partying slowed down when I met him and it stopped once we graduated and got married. My husband drinks occasionally, but he never gets drunk. In fact, he doesn’t like the “buzzed” feeling. I think my sons got the alcoholic gene from my side of the family. My dad and mom were both functional alcoholics and I think I would have become an alcoholic too, if I hadn’t quit drinking when I did.
My addiction is the way that I try to control the lives of my children, mainly my two boys. I am a control freak. For as long back as I can remember I have feared the worst for myself, my husband and my children. I have feared that they would lose control of themselves and get hurt. I have feared that my family would suffer calamity and shame. I have feared that my two boys would grow up to be like my dad and my mom were with their drinking.
My recovery started when I joined a women’s support group at my church. The lady who ran this group was married to a recovering alcoholic. Her husband had been sober for years and she had been involved with Al-Anon for years herself. I loved her attitude and her cheerful strength. All of us in the group were attracted to her transparency and her confidence. Through her encouragement I began working the 12 Steps and attending Al-Anon meetings with her. I worked the 12 Steps dutifully and I enjoyed the Al-Anon meetings very much, even though I felt embarrassed at the thought of others finding out about me going to Al-Anon. I’ve always feared that people would find out just how dysfunctional my family and I really were. I guess I should only speak this way about myself. My husband is a wonderful man, after all. I love him dearly and I so enjoy the time we spend together. My daughter is smart, lovely and strong-willed. My two sons, while I do worry about their drinking, are grown with successful careers and nice families. They both maintain their lives with dignity and responsibility. I guess I can say that I am proud of them, even though they are not all that I wanted them to be.
As I worked though my Step Four inventory, I realized that I had unknowingly been more committed to maintaining my own reputation within my community and my church than I was to benefiting my family. I learned that where I thought I was being a good mother and wife, I was actually being manipulative and selfish. Without realizing it, I was dominating my family, mainly my two sons, all in an attempt to get them to act and live the way I thought they should. Instead of helping them, I was hurting them. Instead of being a loving mother, like I thought I was, I was being a tyrant. Instead of letting them live their own lives I was trying to get them to live the life that I was not able to live. I admit that most of my attempts to control the lives of my children had really never helped them, in fact it hurt them. I admit that the anxiety I have felt for so long has been the result of me trying to control things that are beyond my ability to control, my two sons. I admit that I have dumped my anxiety onto my family. It hurts to admit these things.
When it came time to talk it over with another person, I sat down with my sponsor, the lady who ran the support group at church, and I read to her all that I had learned about myself while doing my Step Four inventory. It took a couple of hours and she was very patient. We sat at an outdoor café in the afternoon. We had lunch and then we drank tea. We took breaks when we felt the need. When I had finally finished reading to her all that I had written down in my Step Four, she looked at me and she said, “Is that all?” Before I could say yes to her question, my mind jumped back to something that happened 30 years before when I was a sophomore in college, something I had forgotten about. Immediately I felt a hot flush come to my face. I felt embarrassed and afraid because I had just remembered a secret that I knew that I needed to get off my chest. After a moment’s pause, I spilled my guts. I told her about having a sexual experience with a female friend in my dorm. I knew that I was not a lesbian and I had never really been promiscuous. Other than my husband I had only had sex with two other people, a boy I dated as a freshman and this other girl in my dorm. I don’t know why I had forgotten about this for so many years, but I had. I don’t know why I remembered it when I did, but once I remembered it I knew that I needed to tell someone about it.
After I told my sponsor about this memory, she sat back in her chair, took a sip of her tea and then, looking me straight in the eye, told me that she had a similar experience that she kept secret until she did her Step Five with her sponsor. Hearing her tell me this made me feel like someone had just thrown cold water in my face. I was stunned. I know I imagined this but I thought I heard the sound of glass breaking in the distance, as if someone had just broken through. It had never occurred to me that someone else may have done the same thing that I had done. I don’t mean to imply that I am judgmental about other people’s lives, but because I have always had deep moral convictions, I felt guilty about having this experience with this other girl. Having my sponsor share her experience helped me to better understand that we all make mistakes and that our past mistakes do not necessarily dictate who we are today. Health and happiness have less to do with our past than they have to do with letting go of our secrets. In my case, it was not the past that was troubling me, it was my secrets. They were my problem all along. In order for me to have the kind of life that I had always wanted, it was necessary for me to recognize and admit that I could not control my life by controlling the lives of others. And I needed to recognize and admit that my failures could be accepted by others if I would be willing to get honest about them. Admitting my shortcomings to myself and another person has released me from a burden that was silently killing me and hurting those who I loved.
Getting honest has freed me in other areas of my life, too. I have come to understand that my co-dependency is selfish and that it works against my faith in God. I now see that my “sinfulness” is the result of me not trusting in God’s power and love. My lack of faith has hurt me and it has hurt others. By learning to trust God in a more personal way, I can admit that my greatest fear was that I would be embarrassed and ashamed. Not because my family was bad, because they aren’t, but because, co-dependently, I wanted everyone to think that I was so good. This is what was really hurting me all along.
My Step Five experience has done more for me than I ever anticipated it would. It’s helped me to let go of my need to look perfect. I can be real now. My life is more relaxed because I am more relaxed. The little struggles I have don’t get me down so much anymore. Before, while I didn’t drink or smoke like I did in college, I always missed the drinking and smoking, and on occasion I would slip up. Mostly, I had stayed away from these things by willpower alone, but I missed them at the same time. Now that I have become more honest about who I really am on the inside, I hardly think about drinking and smoking at all. And when I do, they just don’t appeal to me like they once did. I feel as though I have shed fifty pounds of excess baggage that I have been carrying around for as long as I can remember.
I am learning to be content with who I am. I am at peace. I thank God for my Step Five experience, for my wonderful sponsor and for my imperfectly delightful family.
Insights and Inspirations for Christian Twelve Step Recovery
By David Zailer and The Men and Women of Operation Integrity
Chapter Five Segment Four
Copyright David Zailer, 2008
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