Archive for the 6th Step Category
Being in an intimate relationship in sobriety is difficult to say the least. Relationships are like steroids for my character defects; they cause them to grow more powerful than I imagined possible. From jealousy to control issues, my need to be right to my need to know everything, my character defects really come to light in relationships. However, being in a relationship has taught me a lot, and my growth has been great.
Keys to My Healthy Relationship
With my character defects glaring me in the face in this relationship, I have found several important keys to keeping the relationship strong and healthy. As with the rest of my recovery, I must remain vigilante with myself in order to sustain this healthy relationship.
The first, and most important, tool in my healthy relationship is communication. Communication is an absolutely indispensable tool in my relationship. Obviously, this applies in the sense of not lying, straightforward nor by omission. However, communicating goes much further than telling the truth.
In order to maintain a healthy relationship, communication must go both ways. I must walk through my (often irrational) fears, and be able to communicate how I feel. Remaining considerate of her feelings, I tell her how I feel, whether I am upset (with her or not), happy, anxious, or dealing with something. She is not my sponsor, nor is she my Higher Power. However, she is an integral part of my support network. Furthermore, when I hold things in too much, it closes off my heart to her. As my heart fills with fear and resentment, my capacity to love is diminished. As I become able to tell her how I feel and what is going on with me, it frees my heart up to be filled with love. It is not always easy, as fears of being judged, not being enough, and driving her away do arise. However, I consistently walk through these fears, and each time the fears are easier to overcome.
Also, I must be open to communication from her end. As important as talking is to communication, so is listening. When she speaks to me, whether it is a casual conversation or something more serious, I make a diligent effort to listen mindfully. My reactions are not always compassionate and loving, and it is something I am consciously working on. I find that as I listen with more mindfulness, I am able to respond with more compassion rather than reacting with fear. When I react with fear, I am not encouraging a safe, open environment. Just as I go through fears sharing my feelings, so does she. It is not within my control whether or not she will be open and honest with me, but it is within my control to encourage a safe space to nurture the love rather than the fear.
Step Ten of Alcoholics Anonymous reminds us to promptly admit when we are wrong. This is a huge part of a healthy relationship for me. I make mistakes, I hurt myself, and I hurt her. Never once have I done so on purpose, but it simply happens. When it does happen, regardless of my intentions, I absolutely must promptly make amends. If I am not able to admit when I am wrong, the behavior is not likely to change, and I will continue to hurt her. Selfishness is at the root of our disease, and I must be vigilante with my character defects.
This is something that we hear a lot in regards to relationships in sobriety. My loved one and I must keep our sobriety number one in our own lives, independently of each other. I cannot make her my Higher Power, my sponsor, nor put her above my sobriety and my program. This being said, I don’t have to ignore her in order to work my program. I find time to meet with my sponsor, sponsees, friends, and go to meetings on my own. I have a different perception of a Higher Power than her, I have a sponsor that works differently than hers, and I don’t enjoy all the same meetings as she.
Keeping our programs separate, we are able to grow together. Something different works for everyone, and I must constantly remind myself that. We go to meetings together, we meditate together constantly, and we have many talks about our spiritual work. However, there are certain things that are different, and we recognize these things. It is one of the most beautiful things about both Twelve Step programs and Buddhism: to be able to have our own experiences and find our own truths. As we work on ourselves, we are becoming more and more human each day. Capable of loving, compassionate, insightful, and accepting, we are able to grow closer together.
These are just three big things that come to mind when I think of my first healthy relationship I have ever had in my life. With all the defects popping up of mine, it can be overwhelming at times. However, we always have a support network to get us through things, give us advice, and share experiences with us.
Willingness is one of the keys to my sobriety. In early recovery as much as today, I must maintain an open mind and a willingness to learn something new. Whether it is accepting a Higher Power into my life, letting character defects go, getting a sponsor, or listening to the experience of others, willingness is an essential quality of my spiritual growth.
When I was newly sober, willingness was one of the qualities that saved my life. Although I did not immediately want quality sobriety at first, I was willing to go to treatment. I did not see it as willingness at the time, but I had enough of an openness to consider an alternative to the way I was living. Unfortunately, the only reason I had this amount of willingness was because of where I was emotionally; I had become emotionally exhausted, confused, and completely afraid of life.
Attending twelve-step meetings, I had the slightest amount of willingness, and was able to listen to speakers and fellows share their experiences. With the little amount of willingness I did have, I heard enough to help me grow. I did not have the most open mind, nor the most willingness in the room, but I was reminded that I only needed a little to begin.
I heard repeatedly to get a sponsor, even if it was a temporary sponsor. I heard I needed to work the steps, help others, get commitments, and go to a meeting every day. All the cliche pieces of advice for newcomers, I took in. I had enough willingness to get a sponsor on my fourth day of sobriety. He told me he would be my sponsor one day at a time until I found a new one, and that I should call him the next day so we could start working together. With over 30 years of sobriety, I had enough willingness to believe in what this man was telling me. He is still my sponsor today, and we have grown extremely close over the past several years.
Being a newcomer, willingness is not an easy quality to come in contact with always. My ego was in the way, telling me that I could do it differently. Spending my whole life “knowing everything, always,” it was a dramatic shift to have it brought to my attention that I needed help. However, my sponsor asked me in my first 30 days one simple question, “Are you willing to just entertain the idea that maybe there is a different way for you to interact with life?” My answer was that I was, and this was and still is a great reminder to remain open-minded and willing.
Willingness also takes a crucial role in the development of my relationship with my Higher Power. When my perception of a Higher Power first began to develop, I had to have willingness to even consider the possibility of it. Raised in a Jewish family, I attended a Catholic high school before moving to rural Costa Rica, where Roman Catholicism was by far the most popular religion amongst the community. My religious views were cloudy at best, and I bashed any form of a “god” as weak, ignorant, and irresponsible. Not truly an atheist, I acted like one as a defense mechanism.
When I began attending meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, I was completely put off by the talk of a Higher Power or of God. However, I had the willingness to stay, and ignore what I did not need. As time went on, my willingness spread to this aspect of my recovery, and I considered the presence of a power greater than myself in my life. As many people getting sober, the rooms and meetings were my first sense of a Higher Power. I thought of love, the energy in the room, or of compassion as my god. It took a growth in willingness for me to even accept any of these into my life.
As my growth continued, I began praying and meditating as suggested by the program and my sponsor. Willingness was one of the most frequent things I prayed for (and continue to pray for). My relationship with the world grows with my willingness. As I have maintained an open mind with my faith, my sense of a power greater than myself has greatly changed. With willingness, I become open to change and do not get attached to one idea of a god that I have set in my mind.
As the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions says on page 34, ”There is only one key, and it is called willingness.”
The Seventh Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states: “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.” I have noticed this step is often passed over quickly by many who are working the steps for their first time (myself included).
As time passed on in my recovery, and I progressed, I found this to be an extremely important step that I absolutely do not take lightly. Step Seven works hand-in-hand with the 10th Step.
When I constructively review my behaviors and resentments I always strive to find what defect of character is the driving force. Whether it be ego, fear, pride, or any other defect, I consistently find that my poor behavior and resentments center around flaws in my character.
If I stopped here at recognizing my defects, nothing would get solved. I know I must actively work on letting my character attributes take place of my defects if I am to progress. The simplest way for me to do this is to get the list of my character defects from my daily inventory, and to literally sit down and say a prayer that each individual one be removed. Sometimes my list is longer than others, but I take the time to sit down and go over each one.
My prayer usually goes along the lines of, “Please take away my pride, so that it may increase my usefulness to others…if it is your will.” Simple, quick, and meaningful, I do this every night, and often throughout the day. The Sixth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous declares that we must be willing to have our defects removed. Through my prayer, and doing my best to steer clear of acting on my defects, I practice willingness every day.
“Since most of us are born with an abundance of natural desires, it isn’t strange that we often let these far exceed their intended purpose. When they drive us blindly, or we willfully demand that they supply us with more satisfactions or pleasures than are possible or due us, that is the point at which we depart from the degree of perfection that God wishes for us here on earth. That is the measure of our character defects, or, if you wish, our sins”
I often hear people quote the line in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous where it says, “Resentments are our #1 Offender.” I have taken this line as gospel, and done everything possible to purge myself of resentments. Furthermore, I try to prevent from acquiring resentments in the first place. However, after having a discussion with one of the most special people in my life, I have come to a somewhat contradictory conclusion.
When I took the fourth and fifth step with my sponsor, I felt relieved almost immediately. Compiling a list of my character defects, I felt completely willing to have them removed by my Higher Power. I prayed that they be removed, as to increase my effectiveness to others. After a year went by, I realized in meditation that I must work harder to truly be willing to let them go.
No power can remove my shortcomings if I am still acting upon them. Pride, ego, attachment, entitlement, jealousy, etc. were all present in my life. As my discontent with my defects grew, I became more and more willing to let them go. Today, I work these steps by filling a box with small pieces of paper that each contain a defect on it. In the morning, I grab one piece of paper and focus on that defect throughout the day. In addition, I use my tenth step to take inventory and see what defects are causing my discontent.
My Buddhist practices help me with my sixth and seventh step as well. I first practice Right Mindfulness, so that I can better be aware of where my defects are coming into play. I then practice Right Effort and Right Intention, really putting forth the effort needed to look at myself and try to correct my shortcomings. When I pray for their removal, I make sure to remember the intention of asking this is to increase my usefulness to others. It is my personal belief that my Higher Power did not get me sober so I could sit in a mansion on a hill with all the goodies I want. I was given this blessing so that I can turn around and help other people. It is a true opportunity for happiness, the most pure one I have received. When I remember that this is my primary purpose and the most rewarding thing I can do, I am able to better myself with the true Right Intention of helping others.