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.
One year ago at this moment, I was driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I was to stay at my parents’ house for a night, then drive with my mom from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon. The plan upon arriving to Oregon was to turn myself in to the Washington County Sheriff’s Department for a federal warrant that had been issued in my name. I had spoken with a lawyer, and was walking blindly into the situation, without a real knowledge of what would happen.
With my mom at my side, I walked up to the clerk’s desk at the Sheriff’s station at 6am and let them know I was turning myself in for a warrant. They took my ID and ran my name. An officer came out, handcuffed me, and walked me from the station over to the county jail, with my mom at my side. My mom cried as the officer told her she could not hug me, and he led me into the jail.
I got arraigned that day, and released on bail. I spent the next week and a half in a motel in Portland and bouncing around friends’ houses. On my court date, the judge heard the situation, and sentenced me to 30 days in county jail. Expecting less time, my heart immediately started racing. I asked my lawyer if there was anything we could do, but there was not. My mom gave me a serious hug, the kind only moms can give, and away I went.
I spent the next 30 days in the violent criminal cell pod. Not being “hard” or very much of a thug at all, I had no choice but to keep to myself. Thirty days goes by awfully slow all alone in jail. I had expectations of a lesser sentence, and the first few days of processing before getting into general population were extremely painful. I found myself reaching for a Higher Power of some sort, only to find that my conscious contact was almost non-existant. The faith that I had been professing and felt for the past few years suddenly eluded me. My first few days were full of an intense struggle to make sense of my situation.
Here I was, a 21 year old young man, raised in an upper-middle class family with all the opportunities in the world. I had been through my troubled times, but felt I had come out the other side. I was almost two years sober, had active service commitments in Alcoholics Anonymous, had panels with Hospitals and Institutions, had started new meetings in my community, had a sponsor, had sponsees, tried to practice the principles in all of my affairs, and had been meditating on and off. Where had I gone wrong?
I quickly realized that it was only up to me to decide how the 30 days in jail went. I wrote A LOT. I meditated more in those thirty days than the rest of my life combined. I prayed like it was life or death. And it was for me. My own behavior had ended me up here, and it was about time I find a better way to behave. Rather than look at the symptoms (my behavior), I took a look at the causes for the first time. I dove deeper than before.
There are a few things that stick out to this day as great spiritual experiences I had there. First, I reached for a Higher Power with complete surrender and total desperation. Where I had tried other solutions in the past, this conscious contact was really my only option. The key to this was for me to learn to accept without necessarily understanding. As I prayed and meditated, hoping to find some lessons to be learned in this situation, I found that the lesson was to accept, and have faith that each moment can be a teacher if I let it be. I truly turned my will and my life over to my Higher Power, which was meditation at the moment.
The next thing I came across was a feeling of truly living. It seems strange at first to think of experiencing true living in jail. However, when I awoke each morning, I had no agenda. The only thing I had to do was eat, drink, and live. I didn’t have work, school, relationships, meetings, or anything else on my mind. There was nothing I needed to do. What I learned from this was a very simple yet powerful idea: staying present. I was able to pray, meditate, eat, read, and live fully in the moment, without worrying about what I had to do later. Waiting for my time to be up, there was no action I could take to improve my situation except stay present.
Finally, as I began to dive into the cause of my behavior, I found out a lot. I found that my behavior was caused by fear, not by loving-kindness. I found my fears were controlling me at times, with my permission. I let my fears build and build until I had “no mental defense against the first” unskillful behavior. As I uncovered the fears, I made a conscious effort to begin addressing my fears before they were powerful enough to control my actions.
After being released from jail, this last lesson grew into a regular way of life for me. I began meditating far more frequently, and with far less expectations. I eventually found that although the 11th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggested prayer and meditation, my meditation practice was closely associated with my Tenth Step. As I began to meditate more often, my mindfulness and the Dharma began to permeate my everyday life. My personal inventory has become far easier, and at some times involuntary.
An example of this is this story of me taking a test at UCLA last week. I filled out the first page of the test without a problem. I knew every answer right off the top of my head. Flipping to the second page, I read the first three questions, and I had absolutely no idea how to answer them. My heart rate immediately increased, my hands shook, and my head raced. Within just a few seconds, I found myself taking a seriously deep breath. Just as the increase in heart rate was an involuntary reaction, so was the deep breath. I didn’t do the normal, “Take a deep breath. It will help.” The thought did not even enter my consciousness. I simply responded by taking a deep breath.
This is just a simple example of how the meditation practice I acquired in jail works in my life today. With this meditation practice and mindfulness, I am able to notice when something doesn’t feel right within me. Rather than wait until it is controlling me completely, I catch it earlier and earlier. I’m not perfect, but I have come a long way.
A year ago today I was on my way to jail. Terrified, confused, and close-minded I entered. I came out with a gift that I cannot truly describe in words, but I feel it. I feel it in my relationships with myself, with the world around me, and with my Higher Power. My relationship with my family has greatly improved over the last year, my intimate relationships have improved, I respond far better to emotions I deem negative, and I make conscious contact daily.
A year ago today I could have never even imagined the gifts that would come from my journey. I feel I have made more spiritual progress in this past year than any other year of my life, including my first year sober. Thank you to everyone who helped me get from there to here, and I look forward to sharing the journey with you all.
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.
Recently, I have not been following through with my commitment to my sobriety. Yes, I have abstained from the use of any and every mind altering substance, but I lost some fire for the program. I had a legal matter come up that requires me to go to jail for a few weeks, and then have a hearing to decide if I will have to spend more time behind bars. I shut down emotionally and spiritually, and my connection to my Higher Power and the program quickly dwindled.
All that being said, I am back! I have gotten back to taking a daily inventory, to my prayer and meditation, to contacting my fellows around me, and to suiting up and showing up. I am preparing myself to head out-of-state to turn myself in within the next couple weeks. What really helped get me back on track more than anything has been doing my inventory every night.
I was finding that my resentments were largely directed toward me. More appropriately, they were directed toward my behaviors. I was putting off what needed to be done, and trying to skate by undetected. The reality, however, is that I can never truly escape my own radar. Although I was acting as if everything was good, I was not progressing in any healthy way. Rather than face my challenges, I turned away and ignored them.
Upon seeing where my resentments were, I knew I had to promptly admit I was wrong, which meant taking action. We all have ups and downs of different calibers whether we are sober or not. What I know now is that I do not have to wait until I am miserable to make a change. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, “The bottom is wherever you choose to stop digging.” I notice that the only way for me to stop digging is to start climbing.
Starting climbing is often a seemingly impossible task. When I am down, not active, and not in communication, the last thing I want to do is reach out, go to a meeting, or take an inventory. However, it is the most helpful thing to do.
Basically, the point I would like to get across is that taking an honest look at myself through my daily inventory and 10th step is what is pulling me out of the rut I am in. I have experienced it before, and as I am experiencing it now, I am absolutely in awe of how Step Ten is working in my life to help me grow closer to my Higher Power.
“Having so considered our day, not omitting to take due note of things well done, and having searched our hearts with neither fear nor favor, we can truly thank God for the blessings we have received and sleep in good conscience.”
“Being still inexperienced and having just made conscious contact with God, it is not probable that we are going to be inspired at all times. We might pay for this presumption in all sorts of absurd actions and ideas. Nevertheless, we find that our thinking will, as time passes, be more and more on the plane of inspiration.
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.
I have found in my recovery that I must continue to take personal inventory ON PAPER. Simply trying to do it in my head does not work, and I fall behind. Furthermore, when I am doing a written inventory, I must also take the action to make amends where they are due.
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.