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." 

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