Full Circle Moment

I'm writing this blog post from the Lacey House, an extended care facility for women with addictions. Crazy thing is, I work here. A few short years ago I had a bed upstairs and very little hope in a future like this.

I started working here part-time last month. It was such a full circle moment to come here for my first shift. It felt surreal. I'm slowly getting comfortable but I still have a lot to learn. Being a recovering addict/alcoholic doesn't necessarily make you a good addiction worker. I know it will help though. Being here fills me with joy.

I also want to share, for those who still read this blog, I celebrated 3 years in recovery on St. Valentines's Day this year. How awesome is that? Very.


Step Ten

"Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it." 

Every day my Higher Power's voice, that still small voice within, leads me in a process of self-reflection and I am stretched to new places, courageous places, honest places and humble places. I am learning how to honor myself and how to honor others. I am establishing boundaries and when something isn't working I am moving that boundary. I am trying new things, exploring different ways of doing things and learning who I really am.

And I am making mistakes, sometimes big mistakes, as I navigate through this new life of mine.

Profound and subtle changes have occured since I started the 12 steps. Some changes are obvious but most are internal and personal. If I am willing to be honest with myself I will see lots of opportunities for continual growth and spiritual development. Sometimes I simply need to recognize a shortcoming and have the willingness to bring it to God, other times I need to make amends to someone I have hurt. I used to think recognizing a shortcoming was enough but I've found great value in humbling myself enough to admit when I was wrong -even if the other person/people involved didn't express any concern or have knowledge of my wrongdoing. For example, one time I lied and said I was late for work because my car wouldn't start when the truth of the matter was that I had overslept. That "Little Voice" encouraged me to admit my wrong and tell the truth on myself -so I did. That act of confession has provided me with a degree of insurance against making the same mistake again. Humbling ourselves enough to admit our wrongs changes us in ways that simply recognizing them never could.

Brutal honesty is not necessary; we can be gentle with ourselves and stay just as honest! And let's not always focus on the negative. What are we doing well? Where are we shining? How much closer are we to being our true, loving selves? Focusing on all our wrongs will never make us right. We need to build ourselves up not pick ourselves apart. We are beautiful, living, works of art in progress.


Step Nine

"Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."

The deep healing and profound freedom that accompanied this step made it one of the most transformative experiences of my life. It was sometimes challenging but never impossible; humbling but never humiliating. I made a few amends that simply required a sincere apology while others needed carefully chosen words shared in a letter or financial restitution.

I had lied, stolen, commited adultery, drove drunk, damaged property and been physically abusive. I cheated on exams, went to work drunk, manipulated, ignored and used people. Basically, I was a train wreck.

I made my easiest amends first which built confidence. Many of my amends were made by email but a few had to be made face-to-face. There were amends I was willing to make which proved to be inappropriate. I was willing, but I was advised that my apology would probably cause more harm than good. We don't have the right to clean up our conscience at anyone else's expense! In these cases I wrote letters that never got mailed. The process of writing out my apology, and praying to God about it, was surprisingly effective in dealing with the shame and strengthening my conviction to never repeat the same mistakes.

When I first leaned about this part of the 12 step process I wondered what kinds of amends people were making. We often hear about the sensational and comical stuff but rarely hear the deeply intimate and shameful actions for which amends are made. Let me share some of my own: 
  • I made anonymous donations to institutions from which I had stolen. My sponsor and I agreed that given my personal situation this (anonymity) was the best approach. 
  • I wrote an email to someone I hadn't spoken to in years explaining that something I had told him was a lie. This was a very big, very harmful lie that would have forever damaged a reputation. 
  • I wrote to a teacher admitting that the award I had won at graduation was earned by cheating. 
  • I made amends to my ex-husband for my part in the breakdown of the marriage and gave him money I felt I owed him.
  • I appologied to several ex-boyfriends for everything from manipulation to cheating and physical violence.
  • I wrote, but never mailed, a letter to the woman whose life I forever changed when I chose to pursue her husband which led to the end of their marriage and home together.
Then there was the complicated issue of making amends to my parents. I use the word complicated because most people who did the things I did would have amends to make for their behaviour but I was raised in a dysfunctional, abusive, alcoholic home and my actions/addictions never registered. In fact, if acknowledged at all, they were minimized. Do we owe amends to people who neglected or abused us? I had stolen some small bills, lied, not come home at night, had parties that trashed our home, etc. but nobody seemed to notice. (And that all seemed like small potatoes compared to what was going on between my parents -not to mention their failure to guide and protect me.) Nevertheless I knew I needed to work through the mess for my own benefit, so I started writing. 
  • First, I realized I was still hanging onto a lot of resentment so I wrote two very detailed letters-one for each parent-expressing just how much their actions had affected me. I knew I would never send these letters so I was blunt and painfully honest. 
  • Second, I wrote letters offering forgiveness. I acknowledged their hurt and brokenness-the sad experiences that made them into the addicts and abusers they were-and released them from my anger. I also admitted to the areas in which I was still having difficulty forgiving. 
  • Third, I appologized for my part, however small. I admited my wrongs and said I was sorry.
  • Finally, I wrote down my commitments to each of them. For example, I promised to be healthy enough to set boundaries and speak the truth lovingly rather than protecting their emotions or enabling their addictions.
None of these letters, not even the letters of apology, were given to my parents. These amends were between me and God. Some may disagree with me, but my sponsor and I agreed that it is usually not necessary to make amends to those who have abused or neglected us. My living amends will be putting the commitments I wrote down into action.

When I first started the process of making my amends I didn't know what sort of reactions to expect from people. In the end, a few people didn't respond at all (they are still refusing to acknowledge my existence), but amazingly not one person reacted angrily. Some people told me that my actions were forgiven long ago while others listened tearfully and reciprocated. I've been on the receiving end of a whole lot of grace and it's been a truly beautiful experience.

The last amends I made were to my husband, my children and myself. I set aside an evening to spend with my husband in which we could talk without distraction and work toward reconciliation.
"We must take the lead. A remorseful mumbling that we are sorry won't fill the bill at all. We ought to sit down with the family and frankly analyze the past as we now see it, being very careful not to criticize them. Their defects may be glaring, but the chances are that our own actions are partly responsible. So we clean house with the family, asking each morning in meditation that our Creator show us the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness and love. The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it." (The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous)
My amends to my children, being as young as they are, took the form of a prayer, journaling and an age-appropriate conversation. Saying I'm sorry is important but actually living differently by not making the same mistakes is how I really make my amends.

I also wanted to make amends to myself and to God. I took some time to write and pray and rest. I humbled myself before Him and acknowledge how much harm I had caused myself and others by turning my back on God and living a self-centered life. After all the grace I had received from others I had to ask myself if I was truly willing to forgive myself for these transgressions. Can I accept God's love and forgiveness? Am I willing to surrender my past? The promises on pages 83-84 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous come to mind:  
"We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend theword serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves."
These are the spiritual gifts, the fruits, promised to those who have been "painstaking" about this phase in the recovery process. I can testify firsthand that these promises are manifesting in my life. Take heart; there is hope and miracles abound! The heavy weight of many burdens has been removed and I am no longer a slave to my past. I've learned that both my shame and temptations are lessened when I bring my sins out of their hiding places and expose them to the light. Darkness cannot exist where God's light is shining!


Step Eight

"Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all."

I knew the first part of this step would be fairly simple. After all, I had already written down all my resentments and the harm I had caused others when I did my fourth step inventory. However, when listing these people in the context of making amends to them -well, I sort of lost my footing. My initial reactions went something like this: well, he treated me worse than I treated him or that was so long ago I'll just look like a fool for bringing it up; it's all water under the bridge or she never even knew what I did so I never really harmed her. That sort of thing. They were mostly rationalizations of course. I was avoiding the serious work ahead of me. And my procrastination lasted several months. Time passed but I wasn't moving forward spiritually. Eventually I saw through the denial. The truth was simple: I was not yet willing.

How does one become willing? I wanted to be willing but I wasn't. Should I have made the amends anyway? Personally, I think our heart has to be in the right place or the words are empty. To find the willingness I had to overcome my pride, confront some lingering resentments and practice humility. I don't think this is a time to be hasty. There were a few amends I became willing to make that eventually, through prayer and talk with my sponsor, proved to be inappropriate. That was a good lesson for me: just because I am willing to make the amends (and would prefer to do so in hope of receiving some healing and easing my guilt), doesn't mean it is in the receiver's best interest. I like to think that the healing could be a two-way street -that my amends would bring relief to the person I had harmed -but that isn't necessarily true. For my amends to be a true act of reconciliation I must hold the other person's welfare above my own. Perhaps, at this time, the most loving thing I can do is leave that person alone. But my willingness is still to be acknowledged and perhaps in Step Nine I can find another way to offer some restitution for my wrongs.


Rehab, Halfway House, Slippery Place

The following entries are part of a flashback series I'll be posting occasionally. They formed a blog titled, "A Detox on the Rocks" that I kept from 2005-2007. I have copied the entries and declined editing a single letter. These words teach me more about my addiction now than they ever could at the time.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

i'm in rehab

wow, it's been so long since i've posted. i have been a busy bee. i am in a woman's rehab program. i really didn't want to go, but i didn't have much choice. i have to admit that i am enjoying it for the most part. i am half-way through a four week program. it's pretty emotional and tiring -i live in the centre monday to friday and spend weekends in a half-way house for women. i miss my boyfriend. i miss my bed. i miss my internet access. but it's worth it -as much as i complain, i know that i am in the right place.

posted by Jane at 11:25 AM 7 comments

Sunday, June 12, 2005

the lacey house

so, i'm done of rehab and am in a half-way house for women called the Lacey House... the minimum stay here is 6 weeks, and some residents stay up to a year. it's been a very interesting week getting used to living in a house full of women in early recovery... holy hormones! lol. i don't think i'm alone in saying that a lot of women have problems connecting to other women... i think it has something to do with the fact that society pits women against one another... in my opinion we become jealous easily and are all too quick to use the words "bitch" or "slut". it's disgusting. anyway, i've gotta go. i'll update more sometime soon!

posted by Jane at 8:40 PM 3 comments

Sunday, June 19, 2005

slippery places

so i'm on my first overnite pass from the lacey house. a few "friends" are getting together for drinks before they hit the bars... stupid me, i think that i can pop in and be social. i seriously didn't think it would bother me.

i feel uncomfortable from the moment i walk in the door. i grab a glass of ice water and chat to a few people. the conversation is about a local band, some "awesome" party at so-and-so's place last weekend, narcotics, some chick puking in somebody's car... blah blah blah. god, everthing just seems so shallow. i don't know what to say... do i pretend to care about this bullshit? i don't even know these people.... who the hell are they?.... what the hell am i doing here? i start to feel really uncomfortable. if only i could have a few drinks, i know it would relax me real quick. no. no drinking. damn. after about an hour i tell my boyfriend i want to leave, but he's enjoying himself and wants me to stay. i wait another ten minutes. i am craving pretty bad. fuck it. why don't i just drink? am i just kidding myself with this recovery crap?... i'm 25... i'm supposed to be drunk! no. don't do it. i know i'll only regret it. i have to get out of here NOW. i tell my boyfriend again that i want to leave. i can't seem to admit that i'm craving. i don't want to seem weak, so i just complain about the people.... "i'm really uncomfortable... i don't want to hang out with these people, they're retards" or something like that. i am getting more and more frustrated and cranky by the minute. i need something. a hoot. a drink. a little blue pill. something! my boyfriend isn't willing to leave. he's got a pint into him and wants to keep drinking.... so i left and walked home alone. now i'm here at his place. spending my overnite pass alone. this sucks. i'm pissed off at myself for going down there.... i'm pissed off at him for not leaving with me... i wish he would have respected that i was uncomfortable and left quietly with me. instead i had to make an ass of myself in front of everyone and repeatedly ask him to leave, only to leave alone. this is stupid. why am i even here waiting for him? if i had any sense i'd just grab my stuff and go back to the lacey house.

posted by Jane at 12:10 AM 7 comments


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