Saturday, 28 November 2015

Step Four

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."

Maya Angelou, 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings'

The pain when we bear an untold story within us, as Maya Angelou so famously remarked, is the greatest agony.
My stories are rarely untold. Whether written in blogs, journals, poems and scrap books, I've always found ways to tell my story. For most of my life, I've openly shared those stories. I can't deny I didn't do it for myself. There is great catharsis in writing for myself, and when the days feel smothering, words level that burden. Words make the unseemly and endlessly painful days somewhat easier to carry. They provide the metaphorical rubber ring stopping me drowning in the sea. I remain in the chaos of the rampant waves out at sea, but the ring gives me something to keep my head above water. Words have done this for me from a young age. As soon as I learned to read and write at three, I always had my words.
For many years, I didn't use them. Instead I told my story through tainting my skin or shrinking my body. Words lost me. Or maybe, I lost words because I was sabotaging them for something for more destructive, neglecting the huge power even just voicing one word could have. I couldn't find a vocabulary for how I felt.
Since getting sober, sane and safe, I have used words more than I ever have before. In reeling out my thoughts and feelings in a daily writing practice, I find myself with little else to share. By the time all the chaos in my head has hit my notebook, followed by scrutiny of what bears any resemblance to sense, to then be crafted, at least to the best of my ability, into a poem, I find myself tying up loose ends and putting all that chaos in a neat (neater!) and more ordered stream of thought.
If words fail me, or if I fail words because words could never fail me with all their beauty and expensiveness, I scrap book images each telling their own stories. I name the images, I tell stories through the images, I delve straight into my imagination and words pour from me. 

The untold story I bear in myself today isn't one as grave or deep. I still don't fully know why 'sharing' in a meeting is somewhat of a rarity for me. I prefer to listen, absorb, ponder. I am not uncomfortable in the silence, in fact I feel most comfortable in the silence. Each share values a moment or two of silence. To think over what another has said. To honour the words. To give space to the words each person shares. Of course, this is something personal to me, and isn't something I would say is what 'should/could/would' be how others engage in each meeting and with each share.
I do know, in the early days, it was essential for me, to share in meetings. My trust issues were one of my biggest challenges. Maybe being in a room with strangers, made it easy to put myself 'out there.' It saved judgement, at least for me. I felt more comfortable in a room of strangers. I could start my story wherever the hell I wanted. No one knew anything about me or my history. There was great freedom in being anonymous, but also in being the person I was there and then. Not the woman with a thousand stories. Not the woman who still had shame, fear and embarrassment about her past. I didn't even need to use my real name. There was an awful lot in starting something new. I found it easier to open up, and discuss those stories I felt comfortable with. 

Nowadays, I take time with the things I struggle with. I don't always open my mouth and share. I don't even necessarily pick up the phone or message someone. But when I hit enough despair of living alone with something, I do ultimately reach out. It isn't easy for me. It truly isn't. And I think one of the things that triggered me re-opening this blog, is the difficulty I find in being open. Sometimes I have a story inside me. Sometimes my poetry doesn't provide enough for me in telling that story. We all make our own ways with how we choose to share.

Step Four calls on us to make; "a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." 

This is the first action step we will now take. It is where living the program, or living the AA way, is put into practice. In the last three steps, I made a decision, and now I must take the actions necessary to fulfill those decisions. 

To look at our fears, our resentments, sexual conduct and harm to others, isn't something at first glance anyone would want to do. It is however, an essential part of the program and Step Four has to be completed as honestly as possible. And it means digging deep. It means peeling back years of pain and hardship. 

Beginning step four, was the first time in a long time, I had to not only be fully honest with myself, but with another. By Step Five, I would be sharing some of my deepest and darkest secrets. One I had yet to even uncover, let alone accept the ones I knew of. Personally, I chose maybe a different way of doing Step Four. I know from hearing others stories, having completed Step Three, their sponsor asks them to take away the forms - there is a significant amount of literature available in assisting step four, and it is down to each individual which was they choose to complete this. For me, I remained at my sponsors house, with blank pieces of paper, a pencil and with a deep breath, I began, with significant help. I remember little of what was said or written, and recount far more, the feelings that accompanied the process of the step. Sat on the floor, being served ginger tea, with a huge amount of emotion within me. I was scared, sure, but I also felt so incredibly safe, I didn't scare easily in completing this. 

Sitting with another is where I gain insight and objectivity. I didn't sit and do my step four and tear myself apart, with a sponsor who did the same. For each 'defect,' there was a positive. I don't even really like the word defect. I find a little, I am not sure. If I use it on myself, I am more likely to feel like crap and throw the whole lot in. I need to look at aspects of myself, with a positive and negative. Where has each defect served me, but also hurt me or another. This is where engaging with another is to prove helpful and healing. If I can grasp the aspects of myself which only serve to pain myself and others, with honestly, openness and willingness, I am at least at the start of being able to work on myself and grow. And how much I have grown in these past 18 months thanks to this program and these steps. 

Discovering my character defects (we find in an honest step four) has highlighted the paradox existing in me, and I am assured I am not alone in that. I am incredibly stubborn, impulsive, determined, bossy, demanding. I have high expectations or myself and others, I love fearlessly, I trust easily, and self preservation isn't something that comes easily to me. I also care, empathise, love, give, and push with great passion for the people, things and experiences I so adore. On the flip side, I trust no one, my perfectionism has caused nervous breakdowns, I can be so afraid of the power of love, I run from it at the first opportunity. Caring and empathy have hurt me incredibly. An inability to let go, to fight another's battle, and to feel their suffering to such depths I deteriorate myself. Lack of self preservation means I fight to the death for others, especially in relationships. I become determined I can fix this person and the next and then berate and punish myself for not being able to. I forget myself, and focus on the other. But my demands, perfectionism, impulsiveness, have also served me tremendously. I never do a half measured job. I either do it or don't. I rarely start something without finishing it. I can remain strong in the face of adversity, even if I break down behind the scenes. I don't give up on myself and others when it comes to recovery. I have faith, belief and trust. Even if often, this makes me appear to be a walking contradiction; which I also am in great measure.


Coming to AA, I didn't think I feared much. Quite the opposite, I thought I was fearless. I thought all the things I had done, many wouldn't. I thought about the events in my life where I stood fully confident. I had understood, well thought I had, the distinction between the fears I experienced in illness. For example, fear or self, fear of food, fear of weight gain, fear of socialising, fear of not completing x, y and z, before doing something. All traits and behaviours attached to the various mental health struggles I had. With regards to the everyday fears many had; heights, spiders, swimming in deep water, driving to new places, meeting new people, giving a presentation to a lecture theatre, being a gymnast... I could go on I am sure. Nothing phased me, it truly didn't. Whenever I felt fear or got scared, I would quickly correct myself with how ridiculous I was being. In hindsight, I had little if any tolerance or patience with myself. It felt so childish to fear such things. I would say; you have done the biggest bungee jump in the world! This was a favourite of mine. And to be honest, it still is. Doing such a challenge remains one of my proudest moments. And I say that because it engaged so much of me. I had to face fear of the unknown (having never done it before), I had to trust those who were arranging the jump, I had to have faith I would be okay. (I am not advocating that you must also go to these lengths to prove your fearlessness!) I stood on the edge of the bridge thinking, nah, I don't need this in my life. The other part, and ultimately biggest part, rationalised it and jumped. My attitude of fuck it! has served me my whole life. For the most part, pressing the fuck it button has harmed me in unimaginable ways, but it also has helped. My ability to jump, literally and figuratively, without any guarantee of where I will fall and my capacity to do something for the first time without letting fear hold me back. For example, coming to my first meeting, and in fact the many meetings after. Even attending a new meeting this far down the line sits uncomfortably with me. It is anxiety provoking to say the least, but I do it. And how glad I am as soon as I sit down in the room and talk with others. I quite literally, feel the fear and do it anyway! I show myself little tolerance for such a fear, and walk into the building of the meeting. I say fuck it. I say Rache, you have done harder things. This time however, it is for my benefit. I know the outcome is healing.

"Fear... this short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. (p. 67 BB)"

Prayer for when we are afraid:

"We ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to what He would have us be."
(p. 68 BB)

"God, relieve me of this fear and direct my attention to what you would have me be. Amen."
(see above)

Prayers taken from - Page of Prayer

Since completing Step Four, and by a daily meditation practice and inventory (which I will talk about in step ten and eleven), I have come to understand that although I believed I was fearless at the start of this journey, I actually was terrified. I came to AA scared. A little girl in comparison to the woman I am today, less than two years later. I had to grow up. A lot. An awful lot. Although there were many outer aspects I didn't have fear towards, I was scared inside, and I was predominately scared of myself, or perhaps more, the person I could be if I gave myself a chance. Since getting sober I am incredibly different than I once was. I no longer wear various masks. I no longer change myself according the the situation I am in, or the people I am around. From an outside perspective, I probably look like I fit in more than I ever did. I wonder if the standing out was designed to separate myself further from others because in a way I felt safer at a distance. How I dress has changed, how I carry myself has changed, even the confidence I have is changed. And it is an interesting parallel. To come to the rooms as someone rather outspoken, impulsive, outwardly confident, with a history of being the person who more often than not talk more than others around me, I became someone far more docile. I am not sure if that is the correct word... it is incredibly difficult to articulate. I am not as reactive, not as verbal. I am not the bull in the China shop I was so described as growing up. I have learnt to stop. To listen. I have learnt how to simply be. That doesn't make me submissive, a door mat, or any other term of phrase used to describe a person who doesn't always raise a voice, or demand an answer. It has made me someone who responds instead of react. Someone who listens rather than interrupts. By identifying the fears I had of who I truly was, I had to risk the unknown of letting go of the old façades and becoming who I am today. I feel confident to say I have experienced what the Big Book calls an "entire psychic change."
How I think has come to change. This impacts how I feel; my feelings a result of the dialogue in my head. And ultimately this changes how I react; to myself and others. By changing all of those aspects of myself and who I am, the person I present to the world has changed. I therefore live far differently than I did 18 months ago. I live with uncertainty and challenges of course, but I am at peace. I have serenity. I am content as opposed to being at war with myself. I live, rather than exist.


When I needed to discuss who I had harmed, I cowered. I knew damn well I had hurt everyone around me.I saw clearly the conflict and chaos I had left behind me from years of sickness and addiction. I had to put it down on paper and that was painful. I made sure to keep those pieces of paper. A reminder of the behaviours and ways of dealing and talking to others I used in the past. It is important I see the ways I was, and the ways I choose to be now. 

When I am aware of my own defects and seeking God's help to change:

"We asked God to mold our ideals and help us to live up to them. . . we ask God what we should do about each specific matter."
(p. 69 BB)

"God mold my ideals in this particular area of my life and help me to live up to them. What should I do in each specific matter? Guide me God and give me strength to do right. Amen"
(see above)


When I started to list my resentments, it is something I had never looked at before, or even thought about. I had heard the word resentment many times in the rooms of AA, and had come to understand its meaning. The word resentment stems from the Latin, sentire, which means to feel. So if we are re-feeling, we are feeling over and over, and we are therefore resentful. So to be resentful, simply means we are thinking and feeling the same thing repeatedly. Who or what or why you are resentful is where step four comes into play. For the first time I was able to sit down and write what my resentments were. I listed the people, places and things. Some were more obvious than others, and some on closer inspection didn't seem to carry as much power as I thought they did. It was essential I did this as honestly and openly as possible, no matter how hard it would be. 

The Big Book states; "resentment is the number one offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically."

Part of the process of getting resentments down on paper, is to note the causes of my resentments and the aspects of myself affected. I would then do something called "The Work" by Byron Katie

Byron Katie's job is;" to teach people how to end their own suffering. As she guides people through the powerful process of inquiry she calls The Work, they find that their stressful beliefs—about life, other people, or themselves—radically shift and their lives are changed forever. Based on Byron Katie's direct experience of how suffering is created and ended, The Work is an astonishingly simple process, accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, and requires nothing more than a pen, paper, and an open mind." 

The Work is something I would advice anyone to do. It is not about helping only addiction, but teachings on how to live life on happier terms, being more at peace than you were before the work. And it works. So much so, my sponsor knew  how to facilitate me doing the work on those who I had listed as being resentful towards. The idea being this; 

The Work is meditation. It’s about opening to your heart, not about trying to change your thoughts. Ask the questions, then go inside and wait for the deeper answers to surface.

1) Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
2) Can you absolutely know that it's true? (Yes or no.)
3) How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4) Who would you be without the thought?

All this and more can be found on Byron Katie's webpage, as shown above.

The Work is life changing. I have had some of the most painful relationships turned on their heads. It has been invaluable to me as I continue my journey through recovery.
By being able to identify my role in where I had built resentments, I have been able to free myself of said resentment. I have been able to take an objective look, in the presence of another, where I need to grow, change and amend, my behaviour. Those listed as resentments and those harmed, would then becomes those I made an amends to. Now I have this out on paper, I can now move forward to the next step; to talk openly and honestly with another, not just myself.

Prayers for when I am disturbed by the conduct (symptoms) of others:

"This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done."
(p. 67 BB)

"God help me to show this person the same tolerance, pity and patience that I would Cheerfully grant a sick friend. This is a sick person, how can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done."
(see above and p. 141 of 12&12)


Breaking up what is me, what is my addict head, and which is when I am in the depths of mental illness, isn't easy and even now, I find it in a lot of ways impossible to unravel. I have had to learn the difference. I have had to be honest with myself. I have had to ask those close to me who have seen me in sickness and in health. I have had to give time, time. Not jump to conclusions. Not assume. Not race ahead.
I didn't delve into some of my past. About ten years before getting sober, I spent many years working with a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. During this time, I would open up about the trauma I had endured in my life. namely sexual assault, as well as physical and emotional abuse at times in my life. For me, much of my dis-ease, had stemmed from these roots. The development of an eating disorder had come from these experiences, and the co-occurrence of PTSD and mood disorders, only worsened my behaviours. For this reason, as part of my step work, I chose to leave these experiences behind. I felt, and still do, those experiences no longer haunted me or impacted my day to day life. I feel so grateful I had taken the time to do this work. It gave me a great deal of strength, and whilst it wasn't enough to change the fact I still battled bipolar, it did give me great strength to face changing my behaviours and how I lived my life. Namely, without constantly destroying me and those around me. However, despite this work, I had yet to deal with my addictions. 

I knew from a young age I had a problem with alcohol. I think I knew I had a problem with myself, but it was easily masked by drink or medication. I never knew the pain I was in, because I always had a way to make it go away. As soon as I sensed or felt it, I did whatever it took to be rid of it. I did this for so many years. An eating disorder, self harm, and other behaviours masked the route of the problem. The route of the problem being me, and my inability to live with myself and with life on life's terms. To then find myself 18 months ago, with nothing and no way out, I had to learn for the first time, how to just deal. How to sit with whatever the hell I was feeling. I had no way out, and only one way forward, if I was to continue living. My way forward was a solution to my addictions which I was promised would transpire if I worked the program. I would also be given an extensive tool box to help me manage my mental health difficulties. I also must remember to not becomes complacent like I have many times before. This is a program that needs practising every single day for the rest of my life.
So far, I have not relapsed with my disorder. Every day I am grateful for my health and wellbeing. I do not know if this will always be the way, but for now, as I take my medication as prescribed and do my best to live a sober life, I know I can deal with anything that comes my way, even if that includes a repeated episode, as is taught to me the joys and successes of living; one day at a time.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Step Three

I came through the doors of AA with little, if any, knowledge of a Higher Power, or God, or Spirit or anything remotely similar to those. I came through the doors filled with fear. Fear was the only emotion I knew. I was filled with fear. Clearly if one is filled with fear, no thought, decision, or choice, is going to be a particularly enlightening one. The whole way I acted, and therefore thought, would have to change.

“First of all we would have to quit playing God.”

I didn’t even know what God was. I didn't know what act I was ‘playing.’ I would have to learn all of this, or in my case, re-learn. I would have to re-learn how to live. I would be slowly shown how to live life on life’s terms.

But before any of that could be done, I would first have to surrender. Surrender would be my passage to freedom;

“We began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow, & hereafter. We were re-born.”

Here’s what I understood of getting to Step Three. I first took my step three only weeks into sobriety. On my knees, I held the hand of my sponsor and read the following prayer;

“God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!”

I don’t even think at that point I understood half of what it was saying. The idea was, by kneeling with another, holding the hand of another, and repeating the prayer with another, I would find empowerment. I think more than anything I was humbled. I was in a place I never had been. I felt embarrassed, stupid, and incredibly uncomfortable. But I did it. I did it because I was doing what was ‘suggested.’ I followed the words of others and my sponsor. I was willing. The key word, willing.

Someone who wasn’t raised with religion or with a church, the use of, Thou, Thy, Thee, God… was alien to me. But I saw them as I saw the word God (Good Orderly Direction), I saw them as just words. Language used to say prayer with. I didn’t over think or work it. I just allowed.

When I first started to grasp a concept of something bigger than me, it wasn’t so much I did or didn’t believe, it was more, I had no connection to it, whatever it was. Sure, I had prayed. We did it in assembly at school. I had found myself on my knees when deeply pained. Not prayer, pleas to this apparent entity who was clearly punishing me for whatever the hell I was supposed to be doing wrong. But, despite those memories of prayer, I figured I could try again. I needed to figure out how I wanted to pray. If I could figure out how I felt comfortable praying (again, just another word!) I could surely try to connect with something bigger than myself. So, I took the following steps – steps I would later learn could translate to ‘doing the next best thing’, or ‘right thing,’ or later, ‘next indicated action' - this being the trust we can always take one small step to help move us in the right direction.

I overheard in a meeting, discussion of Silkworth Net. I noted it down, realised how Silkworth connected to AA (he wrote the Doctors Opinion) and I looked. I saw page of prayer, clicked on it, and printed all twelve or whatever pages. Serenity Prayer, prayers for step 1-12, morning prayers, night prayers and so much more. I printed them, and every morning and night, I sat in the silence and read them. I still have the battered pages. Read thousands of times over, like an old bible of sorts. I have to say, I am not religious in the slightest, nor am I now. So it may seem odd to you I did this, but I did. Again, I was willing.

This willingness would eventually lead me to a decision.

In some weird way, the prayers made sense. I didn’t need to kneel in church or beside my bed. I could lie in the bath if I wanted. I could sit with headphones in and read them on the way to university. I could light a candle and blow the candle out when I had read them. It didn’t matter how or where I did it, the important part is, I did. I did this well up until my first year’s sobriety. I clung to those prayers and I believed in them. I had faith in what I was doing, in the actions and willingness I was taking and showing.

I didn’t ‘sit and talk to God.’ I did sit in the silence. I did attend, at least weekly, meditation. I explored spirituality. I practiced twice daily meditation. I took time out in nature. I made time for myself. I sought to trust and believe in something greater than myself, and I did this with whatever remainder of faith I had when I first came to AA.

And I did have faith before AA. I had a lot of faith. I knew how blessed I was to have survived this far given the mental health history I had. I had not surrendered, but I had compromised.

Ah, “half measures availed us nothing!” Clearly where I was going wrong.

All I did through recovery was compromise. Agree, to a certain point. Let go, to a certain point. Backed into a corner I would do as others wished. But, I was filled with belief (belief is only gathered from a group of thoughts we so much trust in!), only I could do this. With enough effort, fight, will, determination, I could get myself better. And don’t get me wrong, the degree of recovery I had by that point was huge. I’d done nothing short of committing myself to recovery. Be that, making the choice to finally start eating, gain weight, and accept my body as it is naturally. Or, stopping self-harming. Or by agreeing to certain medications. There were many times I knew what was good for me, and I did it. In AA they call in “the gift of despair.” I had reached that rock bottom thousands of times, and almost all of those triggered me forwards in recovery. But, it could only ever get me so far because I cannot control what happens to me and others. I cannot be in control of everything.

But I believed I could.

I believed I could control my recovery, my mental health, my addictions. This time, I knew I had lost control yet again, and the most important step for me now, was to not only surrender as I had done in the past, but I had to stay surrendered. I had made a choice to surrender, give in, realise I was fighting the wrong fight in the past. Catatonic at home, realising the only hope to get out of such a depression was taking the medication prescribed, and believe me, taking Lithium was not easy. But I did because I was so knocked down, I had nothing left in, but faith in others, or a thing, or medication, to help get me well. I have the most amazing family, they always gave me hope. As did my friends. I had re-built myself a life, and in ways, re-built myself. I had achieved dreams I had before getting sick with my mental illness. I had travelled parts of the world, got myself back to university, fallen in love, and I had lived a recovered life. One free from an Eating Disorder and other illnesses. But…

But, I only got so far. And then in frustration when things got bad again, I would sit in self-blame, self-pity, despair. I couldn’t understand any of it. I could accept, again, to an extent, I had an illness. What I couldn’t do was accept this is how my life was. In recovery, I became complacent, every single time. I would bounce back, get on with life, and then fall. More often than not, there was a trigger, or at least perhaps a number of events preceding getting sick again. But as I recovered from other struggles and behaviours, thinking if I stopped, x, y and, z, I would be in the clear, and despite all my knowledge and acceptance, it still threw me each time, and often lower. Like with drinking, each time I stopped and re-started, I went deeper. Every time I fell apart, I fell apart worse. 
However, as early sobriety showed, sometimes shit happens and there is absolutely no reason, other than I have a disease. Or in my case, two. Until AA, an untreated addiction, and a mental illness And as I spoke of in step one, thank God I had this program, even just a couple of months in. That alone gave me such a huge amount of peace, which without, I would have just fought and gotten sicker and without a doubt, ultimately relapsed. This program saved my ass, even two months in when I was hospitalised. It saved my life, even then.
All the recovery I had this far; the therapy, which over the years, had tremendously healed me, the right mix of medications, the continuity with my health and wellbeing, I still wasn’t fixed. And this fact, infuriated me. It didn’t mean I would confess to powerlessness or surrender. For both those things, I had to also accept the situations I repeatedly found myself in. I do however, feel eternally grateful for the recovery I had when I got to the rooms. I hadn’t hit rock bottom, per se. I hit another bottom, but with the knowledge and experience I did have, I knew I needed help then, and not later. I always fell to the bare rock bottom in the past. Everything with my mental illness and past addictions took me to depths of hell I never knew existed. This time, I didn’t go as far. I was in a bad way, my addiction was messing up my personal life, impacting everyone around me, and destroying me a little more each day, but I knew it could be worse, and I didn't want that. I knew I deserved more than that. And oddly, it didn’t make surrender harder. It made it easier. I had knowledge, faith, a degree of objectivity, and an inner strength which had been built through years of sickness.

Maybe I was ready.
And maybe that has made all of the difference.

I was still feared up for many months. Despite any denial or questions in my head, fear kept me in the rooms. Fear brought me to AA, and fear kept me there. I had made a decision, I was willing to surrender, and I was also willing to do whatever it took to get well. I was willing to go to 'any lengths.'

"If you want what we have AND are willing to go to any length to get it."

I was. For the first time in my life, I would do absolutely anything to get well. 

Armed with passion, determination and willingness, I went to my sponsor and for one long afternoon and night, took my first nine steps.
Again I found myself on my sponsors floor, hand in hand, reading the Step Three prayer.

Having made this decision, I now had to act.

And here is how I identified acting;

"Three frogs were sitting on a log and one of them made a decision to jump into the pond. How many frogs were left on the log? Somebody will almost always shout, 'two!' My friend will say, 'nope. There were still three. He just made the decision to jump. He didn't do anything yet."

-Joe McQ "The Steps We Took."

I jumped. A jump which felt like a total free fall with no net in sight. Little did I know, that as I took that leap, my wings would open and take me to new land.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Step Two

My experiences of surrender in step 1, had led me to a point of acceptance, and acceptance opened the gate to the following 11 Steps. My time in hospital, despite being sober and not picking up for over six weeks, made it clear to me sanity was not something I would easily achieve. I had been in enough meetings to know of the steps, even if I didn't fully understand. I had been to step meetings, Big Book studies, Step 11 meetings... I was getting familiar with the steps and the accompanying literature. I was seeing others recover, others smiling and living joyously and freely. I was starting to believe in something. Even if at that point of my recovery, it was simply G.O.D - Good Orderly Direction. Step 11 was giving me a connection with something greater than myself, even though I had no concept of what. I began to feel I was working the steps backwards. Doing service; part of Step 12, prayer and meditation; Step 11. Even elements of Step 10; reviewing my day, keeping a journal. Not all of what these steps comprise, but elements.

When I stopped drinking, I also vowed to take my medication as prescribed. The over medicating, abuse of and incorrect us of prescription medication was not something I could continue if my sobriety was to be 'taken seriously.' Taking my recovery seriously, meant I had to take all aspects of my addictive and destructive behaviour seriously. Even the first 24 hours of my sobriety, I was fully aware of this fact. It didn't mean I was willing to accept this fact, but it was within me. By that point, all my addictive behaviours related to medication and alcohol would need to change. I could not simply put down one thing, and pick up or keep using, another.

In all my years of mental illness and the co-occurrence of behaviours, a repeated pattern of switching and changing addictions had become in itself, a game. If one behaviour either stopped working, or gained too much attention, I would stop, and move to the next. I have written many times about those other behaviours and in my early days of AA, I found it near impossible to separate them. Every addictive behaviour I had ever used, had be used to its death. Each had hit rock bottom. Drugs and alcohol had not been taken as far. I had hit rock bottom in hospital, from there, there was no turning back. But I didn't go to the depths of despair I had in the past with, say for example, Anorexia. I got off earlier. The slogan says; "Active alcoholism is like an elevator; you can get off at any floor." I got off sooner than some in the rooms, later than others. So, although I gained an incredibly amount of identification in the meetings, something wasn't clicking. Maybe it was what stop I got off at, or maybe those thoughts and feelings were a purposeful attempt to re-affirm the voice in my head saying I was fine, I didn't have a problem. I was just having a bad week, month, year. I had come through it before and I would again. However, the knowledge I gained even in the first week of sobriety, terrified me. I heard repeatedly that even if AA didn't stop you from drinking, or using, it sure as hell fucked it up. You don't get to a meeting, listen as those in the room 'share for the newcomer' and leave without a dint being made in your addictive behaviours. When I relapsed, only once, in my sobriety, I honestly believe two things had happened. A terrifying paradox existed within me. 

The first, I had 17 days sobriety. In the time from my first meeting I had attended at least a meeting a day. Someday's two. There is no way, in that time, I didn't learn more than I ever thought I would about addiction. I could not accept I was an addict. I couldn't accept it because I didn't want to believe yet another thing was wrong with me. Knowledge triggered a degree of rebellion. I would show I am not an addict and can drink normally. Stay in control. Be okay and just carry on. 17 days was clear evidence I can stop. In the past I had worked with addicts, damn, I even knew from the early days of my struggles, I had an 'addictive personality.' The terminology I used, I believe, is what kept me in addiction. I wasn't an addict I said, I just have an addictive personality. Lots of people do. It just means I am 'prone' to being obsessed or fixate on things. I fixated on food, or lack of, exercise, purging, laxatives, self-injury, over dosing, drinking... I can stop drinking, or stop any number of other addictions. I am in control. My issue is purely a mental illness and my behaviours are a result of being ill. If I get better, I will be cured from anything remotely bad for me. And I think for a long time, this belief system served me. I believed I was in control, and with enough will power, I could fix myself. I had recovered from an eating disorder and self harm alone, I could do this. But even with that recovery, I was far from in control of my drinking, and I sure as hell wasn't in control of my life and mental health.

Number two, deep down within me, I knew this was a problem. Not a little problem, but a huge problem. One way beyond my control. No one walks through the doors of an AA meeting, or NA, or any other fellowship, without at least a part of them acknowledging their problem. As to whether they accept that and move forward is down to the individual. This fear, made me want to hide. I wanted life to just go back to normal. Attending meetings, accepting I was an addict, was too much. I wanted to just 'carry on regardless.' Again, I began convincing myself I was over reacting. By 17 days sober, I had knowledge, but I did not have a program. I had numbers to call, meetings, and even a Big Book to read. But I didn't have the toolbox which would follow me working a program. I had no way of coping with the amount of noise and conflict in my head. So I drank. I did not want this to be my reality. I needed a way out. 
I was caught in a catch 22 situation. A living, walking paradox. I knew I had a problem but couldn't accept it. I was in denial. On the flip side, I could accept this was a problem but I had no way to cope. I felt incredibly trapped and whenever I sat with uncomfortable feelings in the past, I acted out. I did anything to give release to those feelings. I didn't know what else to do, so I drank.

I don't remember the following morning, but I did go to a meeting that day. I went back. I did what was suggested. For the next 90 days or so, I continued as a started. At least a meeting a day. 

Before getting sober, not only was my addiction out of control, and my life out of control, my mental health also was. I wonder if the endless cycles of my mood was a breaking point which steered me in the direction of AA. Pain brought on by mental illness and addiction, isn't something easily to separate. Even today I see them as and of the same thing. They will run in parallel because sobriety will not take my mental illness away, in the same way drinking never did. Drinking only worsened those struggles, for all the obvious reasons, I of course chose to ignore. But, sobriety, can only ever help and improve my mental illness. If I drink, my mental state deteriorates, and being sober, I give myself chance at stabilising myself. But this does not, and certainly didn't change for me over night.

The moment of surrender truly came for me after six weeks sobriety. Even sober, I was still out of control and unstable. My mental health has deteriorated to such levels in the months my drinking worsened. Double edged sword. I began drinking more heavily when my moods began to swing up and down and all the symptoms of Bipolar came back. I used that as an excuse for a long time. I believed I drank because I was so unhappy, or crazy, or out of control. Little did I realise, I was only making everything a thousand times worse. I drank whether I was happy, sad, high, low, or anywhere in between. I didn't need a reason or excuse to drink. I just drank. I just used. No matter how I was feeling, I did those things. With or without a mental illness, I was also an addict. Although they ran in parallel and still do, I could be one without another. Just as others in addiction have mental health problems, so are there many out there with a mental illness who do not have a co-occurring addiction problem.

Putting the drink, drug, or whatever down, was of course a massive step in the right direction for me. But it wasn't the solution. Stopping using isn't the solution to a far greater problem. The program, the fellowship, meetings, and staying sober are the solution. At six weeks, I had meetings, I was sober, I was actively involved in the fellowship of AA, but without a program, I had no solution, to either my addiction or my mental health. The mind set of both illnesses was still as rampant as ever, if not worse. Worse because I had awareness. Worse because a huge dint had been made in my using. And so, I reacted. I exploded. I burst with all the feelings and thoughts. I was still vulnerable as hell, more so than before coming to AA. I was raw. I was stripped bare. I was being seen for who and what I was. And I sure as hell didn't like it. And it meant, with vulnerability, came risk. Too fragile to stand on my own two feet. No higher power to believe in. I felt utterly alone. One bad day and a bad fight was enough to tip the scales. So I almost jumped off that bridge. I had given up. I couldn't do this any more. My answer was a way out.  

In the days following, I surrendered to all the chaos I had brought on myself. Deciding I wanted to kill myself was most probably an old pattern of behaviour. Chemicals gone awry in my head. I don't know to this day why this happened. As with being manic or catatonically depressed. It just happened. I had no control. No matter how far I advance in my recovery from mental illness, I cannot assure it will always stay in remission, or stable. Sometimes a switch goes. Even today I am powerless over that. I can however do all I can, and use the program both for my addiction and mental health. I can apply the program to a far greater problem. Me! I am the problem and today I have been given a solution. At least, a solution which has given me a quality of life I never would have been given without AA.

Once I had surrendered to all that brought me too AA and as I began to accept the predicament I was in, I was finally in a place to consider the next step. Step 2.

Step 2 asserts:

"Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
The moment they read Step Two, most AA newcomers are confronted with a dilemma, sometimes a serious one. 'Look what you people have done to us! You have convinced us that we are alcoholics and our lives are unmanageable. Having reduced us to a state of absolute helplessness, you now declare that none but a Higher Power can remove our obsession.'"

Maybe this so succinctly describes my predicament. Having accepted Step 1 - powerlessness and unmanageablity, I now needed to begin the journey of not only believing in a power 'greater than myself,' I too, needed to believe I would be restored to sanity.

I didn't have a lightening bolt moment. This came slowly. I certainly researched enough. All the different 'Gods' out there. Different religions, predominately spirituality. I named 'my God' numerous things. For a long time, even now, I consider God as the acronym (Good Orderly Direction) It stopped me from freaking out each time I saw the word, which is AA is a lot of places. That doesn't mean you have to believe in 'God' in the traditional sense. It just helped me with the word itself. Some don't struggle with it, others do. The Big Book perfectly explains different elements to that, and the book "Came to Believe" helped me tremendously also.

I wasn't raised with religion. I didn't have negative connotations, and although I wasn't all positive about it, I was maybe ambivalent. This worked exceptionally well for me. I had a blank slate and whilst I didn't necessarily believe I would be 'restored to sanity' (my head saying, good luck with that one!) and I didn't completely believe in something greater than myself, my time in hospital came at a crucial time. I needed that chaos to show that when I hold the reins, it ends in disaster, or at worst, fatally. I had to hand it over. Quite literally. I had to let go. With honesty, willingness and an open heart, I slowly began to trust in Step 2. 

I opened doors for myself to which gave me options for what I could begin to believe in. My access was spirituality. A firm belief in compassion, in love, in peace, in serenity. I saw all of those things in AA. I especially saw them in Step 11 meetings, where I had rather blissfully, attached myself to who I still consider my 'spiritual guides.' I came to believe in something greater than myself. In my case, nature and the Universe, both offered something far beyond my control. Each day the sun rises and sets at night. The sky fills with stars and the moon illuminates my office where I work at night. That was enough for me. I had faith. I had belief. I had willingness. I was seeing right before my eyes miracles. Me still being alive, one of them. 

Opening those doors has given me peace of mind, serenity, silence. My mind slowed down, I questioned my thoughts, I moved forward. I was being 'restored to sanity,' with each step I was taking, literally and figuratively. I took faith and hope with me, and I let go of all I had trusted and believed before that moment. Sitting in the hospital and surviving my insane plan, was the first door. Something far bigger was at work. Now I needed to start to trust and listen to that part of myself. I was incapable of controlling my life. Each time it ended in a worse place than the last. I surrendered and asked for the deeper self, my higher self, my valued and moral self, to guide me. 

I whispered to myself; "Be still, and know that I am God." 

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Step One

June 25th 2014

It's a Wednesday afternoon. I'm over six weeks sober. I cry all the way through a meeting and have I have a fight after with the person I love.

It's Wednesday night. Warm water dribbles on my skin. I want the water hotter. I want the water to burn my skin. I want to wash the day off me. Every inch of it. Every last memory. It's not working. I'm pressing shampoo out of a sachet. I'm trying to wash my body with it. I'm naked and the bathroom door is open. I close my eyes and tell myself it's a bad dream. Each time I open them I'm in the same place. I close and open my eyes. Nothing changes.

At some point during that afternoon I brought to the hospital under police escort. Minutes earlier two police men had been on top of me. Pinned to the floor I'm screaming at the top of my lungs. They won't move and as they drag me to the side of the road I dig my Docs into the ground as firmly as possibly. They scrape all the way to the car. I'm fighting with all that's in me and I'm being yelled at. They want me to just surrender. To just stop fighting. I don't know how to.

Some time passes, I'm determined to walk away from this little incident  unscaved and although nothing ever happened. A regular Wednesday argument with the woman you are in love with, it's perfectly normal to be so distressed and want to throw yourself under a train. I've convinced myself that. I apologise for over reacting and tell them can we just all forgot about this and carry on with our day.

I want to leave. I'm not allowed. Each time I wriggle from the grip of the policeman I am abruptly forced back down. I hear the other police man "call it in!" I'm on a psychiatric hold. I still try to convince them I'm fine. They keep asking me if I'm drunk. No I keep screaming. I hope by telling them I'm sober they'll magically tell me I'm perfectly sane and can go off and meet whichever friend I was due to have coffee with. They still won't let me leave. It would seem, whichever way you look at it, I'm not getting myself out of this predicament I so skilfully have gotten myself in. Jesus I'm saying to myself. What the fuck have you done.

I'm being driven to the hospital. I'm given the choice of the cage in the back of police van or an ambulance. I surrender. 'I'll go in the ambulance!'

There's people outside the hospital. They're all watching me. My black tights are ripped to shreds. My dress is half off me. I'm so hot my hair has formed an Afro and all my make-up is in tear tracks down my face. I'm just saying to myself, it's okay just don't look at anyone! There's a door immediately as you walk in the main doors. I'm hustled in. Then another room. 'She'll be assessed in there.'
'Can you tell me anything about you, is it Rachel?'
I don't say anything.
'History of mental health issues?'
I share a few words reluctantly.
Another door opens and I'm led into another room. I would stay in that room for the rest of the afternoon. The heat in the room exhausts me but my body keeps me moving.

Hours later I'm still pacing up and down the room. I sit on the floor and have conversations with the wall. I discuss how idiotic I've been and yet how justified I am in needing to do what I did this afternoon. But it's all okay now.
That lovely woman with the baby and the school boy were over reacting. Everyone is just panicking over nothing. I'm fine. I'm just fine.

I am demanding. Demanding I want to leave. I use the softness sweetest most sane voice. I am repeating myself. I am bored out of my mind. I need to pee. I ask if I can pee. Someone comes into the room, making sure the door shuts behind him, or her. I can't remember who. The toilet door opens. There is a plastic toilet. Nothing else. No loo roll. Nothing. The toilet is this strange design, which is apparently so I cannot attempt to drown myself by putting my head in it. I pee with no privacy. I am led out, and again I am alone in the room.
I keep knocking on the door, I keep talking to, or should I say, at, the policeman. I am allowed some tea. Not great but in a paper cup, some warm tea. Each time I get a cup, I rip the cardboard. I decide to be creative. I make a picture on the floor using the cardboard. I form faces, animals, scenery. It distracts me.

I don't know the time, or how much passes. I have no belongings, nothing. Thankfully my only commitment that afternoon was meeting someone for a coffee. My family know how busy I am. The world will assume all is well.

I speak to a social worker and a psychiatrist. I just keep telling them 'there's a meeting, an AA one, just round the corner. If you let me go it will probably be enough and I will be fine. I can then go home, see my cat, and sleep in my bed without worrying about sleeping all the next day. I'm just over tired,' I say. 'I'm just tired.'
I remember some of their questions. I know from endless assessments in the past, lying is a way out of this. Even not disclosing the full truth, I am not getting anywhere. This is all being taken too seriously.
'You could have died, Rachel. You know that, right.'
'Oh, I was just having a moment. It happens. It's fine.'
I must use the word 'fine' in such excessive amounts, it is no wonder they see I am clearly not 'fine.'

I am being told where I was found. Middle of a bridge, legs hanging over the tracks. Even a slip and I could have hit the tracks and been killed. 'How long were you there? Did you have a plan to do this? Could anything have stopped you?'
The kind boy, and mother with a baby, they helped. They talked to me.
I couldn't say how long I'd been there.
Here's what I know. I am pressed for this information and what I answered is what informed whether I'd be kept there at the hospital.
It isn't, 'I would do it again!' At that moment I had absolutely no desire to kill myself. I just wanted to go home and hug my cat and sleep.
'The cat won't keep you from attempting suicide again!'
'Oh he will. I will be just, yep, just fine.'
It wasn't because I was depressed. I wasn't depressed or manic. I was just sad. Isn't this what people do when they are sad?
It was because of numbers. Yep. That is how quickly, not the psychiatrist, but the social worker, figured me out.
At the count of seeing 5 people I was going to jump.

Sat on that bridge, I watched the world go past me. The road, someone driving round the corner. Someone walking down the road. Maybe say another car. I told myself that the 5th person who 'walked past' would show me, no one actually gave a shit. I had convinced myself that much in the short time I had been sat there. Terrified and yet pumped with adrenalin at how this 'could' happen, if I only 'allowed' it. I still to this day don't know what would have happened. A switch had gone in my brain. Any ounce of sanity had lost me. For months after this I lived in fear. I wanted to carry a rape alarm with me. Not in case I got raped. But in case I was again a danger to myself. The idea being, there is a milliesecond of control. I always say that day, was like boom. And then I did what I did. If I had something that screamed a noise, and in that moment I had the 'sense' to press the button, others would come running. At least, the hope is they would. And magically I would be safe. I needed to have this on that day in June.

Before the lady with the baby approached me I was convinced of this. I know there was a voice of my family in my head. I know that saved the impulse of what at one time would have killed me. The boy and the lady. I was distracted. Distressed. But it did something. Before I could even look down, I was dragged off the bridge.

When the social worker heard the insanity of my logic, she knew.
I didn't know then. I wasn't sure why that number. Why a switch had gone off in my head. Maybe she didn't. But she knew. She knew I was so unpredictable and vulnerable, I might barely last outside the hospital. Even if I didn't go home alone, there was no guarantee of anything. I just wanted to leave. I didn't want to have to tell anyone this or explain anything. I am being told at least a 72 hour hold. I am trying to convince everyone I am okay. No one is listening. What the hell do I do now? How the hell do I explain a sudden absence and disappearance? I know I should be grateful I would be 'missed,' but damn right now I wish I didn't know anyone. I have gotten myself in such shit. How will I ever explain this and even convince anyone ever again of my sanity?

In the time I was given between being assessed, I kept thinking about AA, what I had learnt so far. I was thinking about surrender and acceptance. I had enough meditation experience behind me to use it, and to admit to myself this was a pretty fucked up idea. Even though I was calm now, when would the next storm come? I didn't have an answer. I didn't have an ounce of energy left in me.

'So, we're going to admit you Rachel.'
I cry. No no please just let me go home. I'd rather not stay here.
Then choice is taken from me. There is no way out that door other than when I am escorted to the ward.
'It will be at least a week, and then you will be re-assessed.'
I don't even know what to say. In all my years of being totally fucked up, and the hospitalisations, I had never been arrested and never been sectioned. I could die right there. After all this time, all this recovery, all this balance and stability, I do one stupid thing, and I am deeper in the ground than I ever have been in my life. I am not underweight and malnourished. I am not covered in cuts and burns. I have showered today. I have dressed. I have been a functional human being. I am 'normal.' I wear nice clothes, and make-up. I smile. I am well. I am sane.

In a number of minutes that sanity slipped from me. Even today writing this I don't know what happened or why. Even on discharge there is no understanding. No reasoning. Talking to my psychiatrist who has known me over 5 years. Nothing. Not endless talks with family. It never made sense and I don't think it ever will.

What I know is that, the moment I surrendered, agreed to go without a fuss with the social worker, I broke. I felt surrendering was the weakness. Hospital was the weakness. In all truth, in that moment I was stronger than I ever have been. I got to the ward, used a pay phone to call my parents, and did what ever the hell I was told. I am terrified, but relieved. I don't need to do anything. I am wrapped in a bubble, literally. The ward is locked, I am constantly with a nurse, and I am safe.

I would never choose this. I would never choose the single bed, with a blanket, and caged windows which let no light in. I was stripped of everything, and given what were essentially scrubs from the hospital as it is all they had. I am medicated. I sleep.
I slept more that week than I ever had. I didn't get dressed, as I wasn't even allowed outside. Save there being a tiny space surrounded by windows to catch some of the sun. I did not fight one single person. I did exactly as I was told. For a week, I was directed and controlled by a ward and I did everything.
The release that gave me. The sanity it restored in me in a week was epic.
Surrendering to a situation where I had no choice anyway, was courage. It was acceptance. It was acknowledgement. It was furthest opposite from being strong.
I spent my days writing, colouring, in silence. I played on a Wii with a staff member because I was the only one not too depressed, medicated or manic, to be able to. I made cards. I watched crappy television, and at a push ate shitty food. I drank tea from polystyrene cups. I talked to others who at one moment were themselves and the next their mothers. I was nursed by patients too sick to know where they were and yet with enough empathy to hold me when the world hurt too much. I made friends. I hung out and hugged and I allowed.

I was contained within four walls, under constant observation, each move watched, with no choice, and yet, I was freer than I ever had been in my life. I was free. I had given up fighting. I surrendered. I accepted.

Step One asserts: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol— that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Who cares to admit complete defeat? Practically no one, of course. Every natural instinct cries out against the idea of personal powerlessness...

I admitted defeat. I stopped fighting all those instincts screaming at me to kick doors down and demand to be released. I was powerless. I had no control over my life; certainly for the next however many days, and I clearly was powerless over my life if this is the outcome of me being in charge.

I surrendered.