Time did not heal my wounds

The ingeniousness of the 12 Steps is mind blowing to me. Life is complicated. There is no way that I could have ever been able to navigate through the fragmented pieces of my life and come out whole without the help of the 12 Steps and my recovery programs. The 12 Steps are in a specific order for a specific reason – maximum results. I am not saying that there are not other alternatives to find healing and recovery because there are. But since this is my blog I am just sharing what worked for me.

I kept waiting for something or someone to saved me so that I would feel whole. But as long as I waited nothing changed. There is a saying that time heals our wounds and I am here to tell you, in my case, that was a lie. As long as I walked around wounded and miserable I stayed wounded and miserable. My resentments grew and I was hurt and angry. All of these emotions became distorted over time because I nursed and fed my hurts. My negative feelings grew to epic proportions.

The poison from those negative feelings spread over into how I felt about myself and how I looked at life. Trust was out the window. No way could I ever trust anyone to say or do what they told me they were going to do. And when they did follow through, I kept looking for an ulterior motive. I could never trust the real me to anyone so I “dressed the part” of how I wanted others to see me or how I thought they wanted to see me. But no matter who I pretended to be on the outside on the inside I was still fighting my demons of insecurity and self-doubt on the inside.

Over time ignoring or pretending that I was not hurt, pretending that I was not disappointed, pretending that I was not angry and resentful did not make the pain or the vandalism to my self-confidence and self-esteem go away. Time did not heal my wounds because I was only masking the hurts and disappointments in my life. And because my wounds were not healing I would either shut down and not allow anyone to get close to me, or I would gravitate towards the same type of unhealthy people. You see, I had done nothing to change me over time.

My sponsor helped me to see that healing the brokenness inside me was the only way that I was going to stop the depressing loneliness and the revolving door of unhealthy relationships. In order for me to do that, it was necessary for me to write down, in black and white, a fearless moral inventory of my relationships and events in my life; in other words a 4th Step – a fearless moral inventory. Even then I struggled with understanding where I was going wrong. I could not be objective. I felt raw when it was completed.

Thank God the steps did not stop at the 4th Step. It was in the 5th Step, “Admitting to God, to myself and another human being the exact nature of my wrongs,” that it all started to make sense. “Admitting to God” – If I had not taken the 3rd Step of turning my will and my life over to the care of God I would have been afraid of the 5th Step. You see, before I took that 3rd Step I saw God as a punishing God just waiting to catch me in a wrong. I could not take that third step until I knew that I could trust that God only wanted the best for me. I knew that God was not out to harm me or to make me feel bad. I knew that He would not use my hurts to make feel bad; but, He would use my hurts to help me rise above them.

When I chose my sponsor I chose her through the eyes of the 3rd Step. I looked for someone that had the peace and serenity that I wanted. I trusted this woman to be God’s voice to help me evaluate my inventory objectively – almost clinically. It was through this process that I begin to understand the source of my wounds, how they happened and how they affected me. Talking it over with my sponsor was like taking the scab off and flushing out the poison so that real healing could begin. But understanding the wounds, understanding how and why I thought and felt the things that I did was not enough. I had to progress through the remaining steps to find that peace I was looking for. Like I said the 12 Steps are in a specific order for a reason. Each step prepared me for the next step.

How bad do you want peace and happiness in your life?

I am a firm believer that the only reason I got out of the dark hole, that was my life, was because I crawled, clawed, walked and at times ran towards a better life. No one sprinkled fairy dust over my life, and after the dust settled, I was now a princess who lived with prince charming in a castle. No my friend. It was deliberate, and at times difficult and challenging, to turn my life around.  I am also a firm believer that the only reason it became a reality is because I surrendered and became willing to do whatever I had to do to make the pain go away.

For a long time I resented going to meetings but I went anyway. I made a pack with myself to go to at least one meeting a week. Then things got worse. I hurt so bad, and was so desperate, that sometimes I went to a meeting every day of the week.  I had no pride left. Every crisis, every anxiety or panic attack over fear of the unknown, every bout of depression, I called and talked it out with someone in my program.  Even though I was depressed and despondent there was something in me that would give up.  Fortunately for me I had a great home group talked me off the ledge many times, challenged my stinking thinking, and comforted me without pity. They guided me through the steps and taught me how to use the slogans. There was no way, no way what-so-ever, I could have navigated through the land mines in my life without my sponsor.

The healing and recovery that I have benefited from so far would never have happened without my surrender. I had to go to meetings. I had to pick up the phone and call someone when I was in need. Some times the person I called was unavailable and I had to call several people before I could get the help I needed.  That was a huge step for me because normally if I called someone and they weren’t available I would feel rejected or foolish and not call anyone else. But if you hurt bad enough you will do what ever it takes to make the pain, fear and anger go away.

People ask me all the time why I still go to meetings.  The answer is simple.  My recovery programs help me to keep balance in my life.  To put it simple it is a way of life for me that is as natural to me as breathing.  I thank God everyday that I reached that point of desperation, because without it I would still be on the treadmill of misery. I had to go to this program. It did not come to me. The question is how bad do you want it. It works if you work it.

My recovery program empowered me

The first of the 12 Steps addresses our powerlessness over alcohol. In the Serenity Prayer we are asking God to help us accept things we cannot change and we are asking to know the difference between what we can and cannot change. In theory these concepts are spot on. In reality they are often difficult to accept and apply.

Accepting that I was powerless over alcohol was a struggle for me. I believed that if he loved me enough he would stop. I took his inability to control his drinking personal. In reality it had nothing to do with me. He was an alcoholic and he did what alcoholic’s do; he drank. His choice to drink or not drink was his to make and it had nothing to do with me. If he wanted to drink there was not any thing I could do to make him not drink. At the same time if he did not want to drink there was not anything I could do to make him drink. His sobriety was his personal decision to make.

I am not saying that he never blamed me for his drinking, because many times he blamed me because he got drunk. For a long time he could guilt tripped into doing whatever he wanted. Probably one of the worse things that happened to his drinking was me attending recovery meetings and making a commitment to work the 12 Step program. Once I accepted that I was powerless over his drinking, I no longer felt guilty for his drinking. It was right about the same time that I also realized that even though I was powerless over alcohol and his drinking, I was not powerless over my life and my choices. I was responsible for the choices that I made and I could no longer blame him for my bad choices just like he could not blame me for his.

My recovery program actually empowered me. I was the only person that could break the dangerous malignant cycle of brokenness in my life. I could allow self-pity, anger and resentment to rob me of my life or I could choose to be happy regardless of the choices he made for his life. In the end I decided that I had too much life in front of me, and too much living left to live, to allow his choices to rob me of my joy and my serenity. The only way that I could do that was to let go of trying to control his drinking and detaching with love.

This realization did not come over night. It was the entire recovery process that released me from past hurts and helped me define my own self-worth. Every time I write this blog I try to share my experience, strength and hope by sharing the raw feelings I have had to work through. Next, I try to share the solution that has worked for me; My recovery program and the 12 Steps. My life has ups and downs just like anyone else’s life. Every once in a while I am blindsided by stinking thinking. There are times when I question myself and times when other people hurt my feelings. In other words I am still human and I still live in the real world. The difference in my life today, than it was before I began my recovery journey, is that now I know what to do when these things happen. I hold the problem up to the 12 Steps, I call my sponsor, I pray and ask for God’s guidance. I could write pages about all the ways I have had to challenge myself to grow. Thanks to these steps and a good sponsor I learned how to take responsibility for my own life.

I can focus on the problem or I can focus on the solution.

My recovery journey has made me look at myself and my motives more than I wanted too and more than what was comfortable some times. My emotions have been all over the place and have been bewildering. Their has been times when I have been needy and suffocating to those around me. Other times I stiff armed people and kept them at arms length so that I would not be vulnerable. But regardless of how I treated or acted towards other people, on the inside I was always afraid of not being good enough and of being rejected.

Poor poor me. I was not blessed with a loving healthy childhood; and I married an alcoholic when I was only 18 years old. Basically I was jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. In reality I was running away from home. Emotionally I was broken. I was needy, fearful, angry and defeated for a long time. I was, and still am to a degree, a people pleaser; I have sacrificed my needs for someone else’s wants. I have tried to squelch the real me and become someone I didn’t even recognize desperately tying to be accepted. I have even been overbearing trying to prove to someone else that I have my act together, when inside I felt insecure. I have “acted” confident and strong while inside I did not even feel average. I was a sham; a counterfeit. So much so that I did not even know who the real me was anymore.

The funny thing is that all of my grand performances did not fool anybody. They could see right through me. They knew I was a fraud, I knew I was a fraud and I knew that they knew. But I couldn’t seem to stop myself. You would think that I would quit the role playing but I couldn’t. I would rather be a fraud than for them to see the real hurt and insecurities inside of me.

Fourth and fifth step inventories have provided great insight into why I do the things I do and feel the things I feel. I have learned that understanding “why” is not enough to make the hurt, insecurities and pain go away. For me it takes all 12 Steps to deal with my reality.

For example, probably one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced is to like and accept myself when someone else rejects me. My knee jerk reaction is that there is something wrong with me. It is my fault. That I am not likable or lovable. This self debasement has built layers of protection around my heart. As a consequence I let very few people into the real me. For me it was much less painful to be aloof and lonely than it was to be rejected.

These steps and this program has pushed me to evaluate those types of situations and to see if there is anything in that rejection that I needed to make an amend for? If I needed to make amend, then I needed to make an amend in order for me to know peace. BUT!!!! If there was nothing that I needed to make an amend for then it had to be their problem. Did the rejection hurt? Of course it did. But the difference before and after recovery is that I do not stay hurt for long and I do not take on responsibility for other people’s inadequacies. I have a choice to forgive them and let the slight go or I can continue to hurt myself and hang onto the hurt.

This amazing program constantly pushes me to know the truth, to take responsibility for my own “stuff,” and to make right, where possible, without hurting others and it has taught me about forgive. The choices always put the ball in my court. I can focus and the problem or I can focus on the solution.

I used anger as a shield

At one of my high school reunions a guy that I grew up with, and had not seen since high school, told me that he was glad to see me not angry any more. I was stunned. I ask him what he meant by that and he told me he always felt he had to be careful around me because I seemed angry all the time. Later when we were back in our hotel I thought about what he said. He was right, I was an angry person growing up.

I was never allowed to express my feeling at home. Even when I was being punished I was not allowed to cry or the punishment would be more severe. I wasn’t allowed to show displeasure or disappointment. But just because I wasn’t allowed to express my feelings did not mean that I did not feel them. They were there alright boiling and ready to over flow. The hurt, sadness, disappointment and fear I felt was rolled up into to one big ball, and over time it turned into anger and resentment.

My anger prevented me from ever forming close and trusting relationships. I either walked away from, or pushed people away that got to close to me. In this way, I rejected them before they rejected and hurt me. You see that emotional domination that controlled my childhood had also help to rob me of my self-esteem. I was convinced I was unloveable. I was convinced that there must be something really bad wrong with me. There was no way I was going to allow myself to let someone else get that close to me to hurt me again so I used anger as a shield.

At the same time that I was pushing people away I had this desperate, aching longing need to be loved, accepted and to be important and special to someone. At first my alcoholic seemed to be that person. He wanted to protect and save me from my childhood. He definitely made me fee like he thought I was pretty special. Immediately I made him my knight in shinning armor and I married him when I was only 18. We were two broken people looking for someone to make us feel whole. Neither one of us had enough emotional maturity to help the other. If anything we only exacerbated and inflamed each of our fears and insecurities.

In the end each of us took different paths to search for answers. He thought alcohol was the solution. For a long time I continued to stew in my own misery. Each one of our problems continued to deteriorate at lightening speed. For a long time false pride would not let me face the truth about the hurts inside of me, or the hurts that I lived with in my marriage with his drinking.

Alcohol helped destroy my marriage and alcohol pushed me to seek help for the problems in my life and the wounds in my soul. My recovery pilgrimage has been a work in progress towards helping me to accept myself and find peace. Self-defeating self-talk and attitudes has been a life long challenge; In the beginning I had to learn how to recognize how I hurt myself as much as anyone else did. After that it has been tackling stinking thinking every time it popped its ugly head up.

Thanks to my program I have learned to keep things as simple as possible. Reducing things down to a manageable size has helped me to overcome and let go of hurt and fear. I do this one day at a time; one thought, one hurt, one challenge, one stumbling block, and one insecurity at a time. I am better than I have ever been, but every once in a while, I still have moments in time when all of my insecurities threaten my peace of mind. Going to meetings and calling people on the phone helps me keep things in perspective. I do have a life outside of recovery, but most of the time, the one place where I feel safe to be the real me is with my recovery people. It is the one place, even with my imperfections, that I feel unconditional love and acceptance. Just knowing they are there when ever I need them is comforting.

Learn from it or repeat it

There is a saying that God never waste a hurt. I have learned the hard way that I can not afford to waste a hurt either. Twenty-twenty hind site has taught me that if I do not learn from the hurts and mistakes in my life I will repeat or revisit them again and again until I do. Logically, it would seem that the natural response to pain would be to do whatever it takes not to experience that pain again. But history has taught me that I have not only revisited a hurt or a mistake over and over again but I have even set myself up to repeat it.

Why? Why would anyone do such a thing? I don’t know the answer for anyone else, but I can tell you why I did it. Many times I was in denial. If I refused to acknowledge it then it wasn’t true. Other times I had some strange belief that everything that went wrong in my life was my fault or I believed that I didn’t deserve any better. And of course there were other times when I was trapped in the past by my victim mentality. I was still waiting for other people in my life to fix my world and make it right so that I could be happy. Pain and misery was a way of life for me. It was my normal.

As long as I felt that way I had many opportunities to hurt again and again and there were many opportunities to repeat my mistakes while blaming others. I was so focused on the problem that it never occurred to me that I could or should do anything about it, or that the solution was staring at me in the mirror. Until it hurt me more to live that way than it did for me to change, I was just like that little mouse walking on the wheel in the cage. I could walk slowly or I could run but the scenery never changed. I was as sick as my alcoholic. I needed emotional sobriety as much as he need sobriety from drinking.

There was no way I could rewrite the past but that did not mean that I had to be stuck in the past or allow it to define me. In order for me to stop recycling my hurts and mistakes I had to be willing to change. Changing my attitude was no easy feat I can assure you. Sometimes I did not understand how to extract myself from a problem. Sometimes I understood but was to afraid too do what I needed to do. Sometimes it was two steps forward and one step back. As they say in my program I did not get this way over night and healing and recovery was not going to happen over night either.

Reducing things down to a manageable size is the only way I could get courage to change the things I could.

My recovery pilgrimage has been a journey to learn how to love, accept and be true to myself.

If you do what you have always done……

Our program has a lot of little cliches to help us put things into prospective. But, if they didn’t, I have plenty of my own. My family calls them Sharon-isms. One little phrase that comes to mind this morning is, “if you do what you have always done, you will get what you always got and you will feel what you always felt.” No that is not one of mine, but I like it. Albert Einstein said that, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.”

Well, I am here to tell you that I definitely ran on the insanity treadmill for a long time. I was so focused on what I thought I had to have to be happy, and to be okay, that it never occurred to me that I could be wrong. It never occurred to me that there could be another and better way. So many times I bemoaned that this or that was unfair, that I didn’t deserve my unhappy circumstances. Looking back I can see that I was wrong. I did the same thing over and over again and suffered the same consequences. Each time I felt hurt and dejected. It was true I did not deserve those things; but, after doing the same thing over and over again the responsibly rested on my shoulders.

When I complained about this to my sponsor she reminded me of those phrases above. She told me that only when we surrender and allow ourselves to become teachable will we learn not to do it again. I thought that I had surrendered, that I was teachable. Obviously I was not. I had not surrendered my self will. I had not turned my will and my life over to God’s care (the 3rd Step). I was so convinced that I knew exactly what other people needed to do so that I would feel whole and complete.

The third step was a stumbling block for me for a long time. I had no doubts about the 2nd Step. I knew that it was going to take miracle and a power greater than me to turn my life around. But I was still convinced that I knew exactly how to fix the problems in my life and I was waiting for that Greater Power to do it my way. But that is not what the 3rd Step is about. The third step is me trusting Him to do what was is best for me even if I don’t understand it at the time. And it meant knowing and believing that He had my best interest at heart.

There was a huge gap between believing in a Higher Power, who is God to me, and trusting Him with my life. I did believe that God existed but I wasn’t so sure about trusting him with my life. Looking back I can see that the reason I struggled with this for so long, was that I saw God through human eyes. He was no greater than anyone else in my life that I depended on and who had power over me. The problem is that many of those people in my past had hurt me and let me down. So it was a big mistake on my part to reduce God to a human level. A power greater than myself means just that. He did not have our human weaknesses or our limited power. It was pretty scary to “let go and let God” guide me through my life experiences.

Recovery for me did not come from moving, changing jobs, changing friends, getting a raise, or divorcing my alcoholic. Recovery for me came through a change in my heart. When I surrendered my heart into God’s care I became teachable.

Sheer will power could not save me from the pain that I was in

It is interesting to me how “working” through the 12 Steps has transformed how I think. It was impossible for me to “work” the steps and not be transformed. My first husband is the reason that I attended my first meeting. When I married my second, and now present, husband he asked me why I still wanted to go to meetings. I told him that everything he loved, liked and respected about me was a direct result of “working” those 12 Steps and going to those meetings. He did not even blink. He just smiled and said okay.

My family history and my relationships with dysfunctional people were, and still are at times, challenging at best. I am the only one in my birth family that has experienced any type of recovery. Any time I am around my birth family I am pushed to the limit to “work my program.” I have learned that in order for me to have even a shred of a possibility of having a relationship with my birth family, I have had to be selfish enough to protect my serenity and my sanity by not allowing myself to get sucked into their drama and chaos. Being with them also shows me how much I have grown and changed and it gives me an attitude of gratitude toward my alcoholic first husband. Without him I would never have gone to a meeting to begin with.

It is sad to say, but when I am with my birth family or other type of dysfunctional person I have to be vigilant at all times to prevent myself from getting sucked into their drama and to prevent myself from defending or justifying my way of life to them. I learned a long time ago they do not want what I have and therefore it is fruitless to offer. They think I am in some kind of cult. That I am a fanatic. I don’t even try to defend my recovery program to them. They are still angry, biter and miserable. They still see the glass as half empty. They are still burdened down with overwhelming emotional pain. They still paint everything in their everyday life with the hurt from their past.

For me, sheer will power could not save me from the pain that I was in. I could not dismiss my past hurts, nor could I disconnect myself from those hurts without shutting myself off from life. I could dress and act the part of being whole, competent and confident, but no matter what I looked like or sounded like on the outside, on the inside I was still fighting my personal demons. It was not possible to rewrite the past, so in order for me to be free of past hurts I had to face those hurts head on.

Lancing those wounds exposed the distorted way that I saw life. For the first time I could see how, at times, I had placed impossible expectations on people in my life. No one could be that perfect. At other times I was in complete denial over grievous transgressions from others in my life. Without  God’s help and my 12 Steps I would not have known how to separate what was useful and what was worthless; or what was real from what was a hope or dream that was unrealistic. I would never have been able to step back and be honest with myself enough to see the part I played in my own misery. Without these steps I would have focused on all of my character defects and ignored my good qualities. They also helped me to set boundaries, forgive and make amends.

That is only a small sample of how these steps have helped to transform my life in a good way. I am not asking anyone else to drink the cook-aid that has tasted so good to me. It is there, free of charge, for anyone that wants it.

Unrealistic expectations

Without realizing it I put all my eggs in one basket. My husband was the center of my world. If he was fine I was fine. If he was happy I was happy….well kind of sort of happy. You see it never occurred to me that my wants and needs were as important as his. I was nauseatingly dependent on someone else to make me happy, someone else to define my self-wroth, someone else to fix what was broken in me.

I was confused and I put unrealistic expectations on my husband. My husband suffered from the selfish disease, alcoholism. I wanted my husband to put me first and I resented him when he did not. We could not win. I was in my recovery program for a long while before I accepted that my survival and my well being depended on my me. Other people could add to my happiness but they were not the source of that kind of happiness that brings peace to your soul. The only way I could have that type of peace and happiness would be if I learn to accept and be at peace with myself, but it seemed selfish to put my needs and wants first.

I have found through personal experience that other people can encourage and mentor me through my life. I have also learned that it is very important to select those people with care. As they say in our program you don’t go to the hardware store to buy bread. Every time I expected my husband, my alcoholic, to meet my needs I was going to the hardware store to buy bread. He was not capable of giving me the support that I needed and demanding that of him would not make him capable.

In the end I looked for people that had that peace beyond all understanding, people comfortable in their own skin, people who did not need to make someone else look small in order to feel good about themselves, people who knew how to set healthy boundaries in their own life and people who did not want to run mine.

It was my first sponsor in my recovery program that taught me how to live and be at peace with myself. I watched how she conducted her own life, the way she interacted with others and the joy that seemed to permeate in every aspect of her life. I wanted what she had in the worse way. She told me to just be me. She said I was good enough. She taught me to seek out my good qualities and to work to correct my character defects.

But the bottom line is that I had to make a decision to choose recovery over misery. I had to be willing to change me. Then I had to do the work. I am the only person that is with me twenty-four seven, 365 days of the year. I was responsible for my own well being and if I wanted better then I was going to have to do what ever I had to do to be better.

Accepting powerlessness did not mean I did not want a solution

Letting go of a problem and admitting that I was powerless did not mean that I did not want a solution.  It meant that I was not going to drive myself crazy trying to do something that I could not do.  It took me a long time to get to a point where I could recognize what I had power and control over and what I did not.  Accepting powerlessness did not come easy for me becasue self-will reared its ugly head and demanded that life be fair, that the good guys in white hats would always win, and that I deserved to have what I thought I wanted.

There is an old saying to be careful what you wish for becasue you might get it.  I had to learn this lesson the hard way.  So many times when I tried to force a solution that I wanted and it came back to bite me every time.  Why? Why? Why did life seem so complicated? I don’t know why for others but I believe the reason it was so complicated for me is that I was too wrapped up into myself.  I had to learn how to live in a healthy way.  Putting a band-aid on my broken and distorted view of life would never give me that peace and acceptance in my soul that I so desperately wanted.

I can’t count the times I won a small battle and at the same time the real problem continued to hang over my head.  Not until I totally surrenderd to trusting God with my will and my life did I ever begin to learn how to live and let live.  Surrendering was the beginning of the transformation of how I thought about things and how I did things.  It was not an instant transformation.  But each time I stepped out of being self-absorbed I experienced more peace in my life.

My recovery journey through the years as been a class room of learning opportunities that has allowed me to be at peace with myself. Not trying to controll and run other people’s life as freed me to work on me.  It is an amazing jounrey that is constantly redefining and refining my life to a life of gratitude, peace and joy.