Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Step Eight

“Forgiving is not forgetting; its actually remembering--
remembering and not using your right to hit back. 
Its a second chance for a new beginning. 
And the remembering part is particularly important. 
Especially if you don't want to repeat what happened.” 

Desmond Tutu

Step Eight is where my 'work' finished for the night. It was a late night, having worked for hours with who has only ever been a mentor and spiritual guide. I took a massive sigh of relief and was left to go and figure the rest out myself; my own time and in my own way. It was time to go and take responsibility and make my amends to all those I had hurt in the midst of struggle, illness and addiction. This was Step Nine. Where the AA Promises were about to be realised. So here I will discuss Step Eight and in the next post my experiences around making amends.

"We attempt to sweep away the debris which has accumulated out of our effort to live on self-will and run the show ourselves. If we haven’t the will to do this, we ask until it comes.

God help me to become willing to sweep away the debris of self will and self reliant living. Thy will be done for this person as well as for me. Amen."
(p. 76 BB)

As I spoke of earlier, I had a large degree of recovery by the November 2014 I did my Step work. I had a long history of mental health struggles and various addictions, and I was very well aware of the damage I had caused. Step Eight is about finding, even at this point, just the willingness to make amends. I think for me it was very easy to quickly dive into self defeating thoughts. Torn between justifying harm, anger or resentments I held, or blaming myself and sinking in self pity. 
What helped me here was doing it all in one go. Sitting having completed the first Seven Steps with someone beside me, having experienced a range of emotions and not suffering alone with them, a willingness and honesty from me was easier to find. Maybe I was inescapable from myself or unable to procrastinate? Kept on track by another being beside me?
By this point I knew if my recovery was to endure on any level, I had to be living the program. This simply meant, at least to me, that I was practising all I was learning - to the best of my ability. I had to change my life, if I stood any chance of changing myself. 

In Step One, Two and Three we had prepared ourselves for more. Accepted powerlessness, sought help from something bigger than us, and found willingness to surrender. Steps Four and Five, I delved into myself and learnt about all I had been harbouring that was keeping me ill, and followed this by sharing it with another, therefore releasing myself. Step Six and Seven, again willingness to let go, and then allow myself to begin transformation, change and growth. And now, in Step Eight and Nine conclude the action Steps. (Though of course working the program is all action, when we get to Ten, Eleven and Twelve, these are considered maintenance Steps and ones we need to practice, daily, to stay in healthy sobriety.)

Taking my Step Four inventory, I assessed the damage I had caused; 

"Every A.A. has found that he can make little headway in this new adventure of living until he first backtracks and really makes an accurate and unsparing survey of the human wreckage he has left in his wake." (p. 77 12&12)

I needed to, here, think about if there was anything else I needed to include. Had I missed anything or neglected to be honest, with myself and another? This wasn't about berating myself, or knocking myself down, it was about owning what I'd done, taking responsibility for it and finding a way to communicate that effectively with those I had hurt. I needed to make sure I was doing these amends for the right reasons too, so I needed to think about who I needed to make them with immediately, or as soon as the timing was right, and those that perhaps needed deeper reflection. Reflection not avoidance.

In her book "Sane" Marya Hornbacher suggests, that for those of us with mental health problems, to devise two lists for those we have harmed; one for our mental health/brain disorder and the other for our addiction. Whilst I didn't do this, which now I would advice another to, I did work very hard to identify those differences. I had people on my list who had been impacted by both. With my illness and addictions being so entwined I had certainly hurt my close family in many ways. What I needed to figure out, was where were my struggles which were beyond my control, which whilst hurting and causing pain to my family, were not me actively harming them, and where I behaved in unacceptable ways and caused chaos and suffering to those around me.
Even today this is hard. It is almost two years down the line, and the clarity can be difficult. It devastates me to know how much I have harmed my parents. They are the ones who lived with me through the majority of my destruction and to the day, are my greatest source of support. But there is a distinction, in what I had control of and that I was utterly powerless over.

In my head I took to owning where I had directly caused harm. Actively drinking despite my mother's concerns. Lying to her. Denying any problems. Reacting to her defiantly, aggressively and disrespectfully. Over medicating. Showing no responsibility for myself mentally, emotionally, physically and financially. How not taking care of myself in any way, shape or form, I not only let my mental health run out of control, my behaviours did too. Before getting sober I let it all fall away. I lost complete control. I was manic and angry and blamed every around me. I spoke to my family in ways I would never normally dream of. Even if my mental health was making me very sick, this wasn't an excuse, and it never will be. It meant that in the midst of it all, illness and addiction, I lost any control over how I behaved. I walked through the doors of AA not only broken myself, but having made a pretty good job of destroying the relationships close to me. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was tired of how I treated myself, and I despised myself for how I was treating others. Misery was feeding misery, and I had to take action. My first meeting was that action.

I won't list those I made my amends to, what I will say is that I did most face-to-face but I followed them all up with a letter. That was personal to me. I also did some of those amends via a letter. There was one person I was not able to see. It was not appropriate for me to ask to see this person and it also may have caused harm to us both. I made the decision, eventually, to write to her. This amends was one of the hardest I had to do. Why? Lets see...

This amends was the clearest example I had of hurting and harming someone very dear to me, who I cared deeply for, had huge amounts of respect for, and who when we finally cut contact, I had behaved in ways I carried shame for. I also carried the pain and resentment of how the relationship ended. She had worked closely with me for many years. Helped me through some of the most painful times in my life. When the relationship fell apart, I was a person I barely recognised then, let alone now. I know a huge reason for my behaviours was the state of my mental health at the time, but... but I wrecked havoc and for that, not only did said person deserve an amends for that, I needed to forgive her for the pain she caused me, and forgive myself for my behaviour, therefore moving on. I was owning my behaviours and irresponsibility, but also accepting and acknowledging, I was suffering from severe mental health at the time. This was a huge learning curve for me. Identifying what I am able to control and contain. Learning to respond and not react. That's the biggest. This Step helped me see what I was capable of. What tools I had and could apply in the future. How I could have saved myself and others a lot of pain. I looked at what I could have done differently, and what was within my power at the time, and how in the future I could avoid this happening again.
By the time I had been through all of this, I had no issues making the amends. In fact, I was desperate to own what I did. It was an ah ha moment for sure. An, oh my God, this didn't need to happen and even though it did, it doesn't have to happen again.
From feeling such anger towards this person, and blaming her for hurting me so much, I found myself wanting to race ahead and own all I did. For years I stood firmly, only blaming her and denying my role in what went on. And if I did own any of it, I was in self pity and self blame. Packed full of anger and resentment either way. I no longer felt ashamed or like I needed to avoid her or a conversation about it. I was no longer resentful. I was free.

I can't predict what's ahead, or control others behaviour, such as in this instance. Perhaps nothing would be different, but it could have been. Or if not that, I could have not lived for years after carrying a resentment that was stopping me getting well, and keeping me in active addiction.

This amends has been the one freeing me the most. I had carried the pain, anger and disappointment for so long. And as painful as digging up this part of my past, how grateful I am for it. It allowed me to also, make an amends to myself. I was able to let that experience go. Release myself from self hatred and blame. With more clarity, I had a period of time I could learn from and move forward with, without it forming repeated destructive patterns in my future. 

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Step Seven

"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful 
than the risk it took to blossom."

Anaïs Nin

Before sobriety and AA, how I had been living had been causing not just me, but those around me, great pain and suffering. And yet, I stayed within that pain and suffering. I existed within my suffering. I kept myself locked in that suffering. And it didn't seem to matter the depth of my pain, I stayed there. It was comfortable, in its own screwed up way, and I was too scared to step outside the imagined safety and comfort of my illnesses and try another way, or trust another way. I think knowing how I was living wasn't even living, and knowing there was more, even if I had no faith that more was available for me, only intensified the suffering. I had experienced periods and of stability and recovery and tasted those times, days and moments. I had edged out of the old and into the new. I had taken those risks. And it was why I had healed so much in Eating Disorder recovery. I knew what was there. And yet I fell back, time and time again. Not into old eating behaviours, but old self-defeating behaviours, and most notably, old ways of thinking. Each time I hit that pain, I surrendered. But each surrender was never enough. It kept happening. Over and over. Remaining tight in the bud would bite and burn, and the risk to blossom would seem inviting because I was desperate for something other than what I was feeling. But maybe I never surrendered enough! I don't quite know. It is hard to untangle the past and especially because before AA I did have a significant chunk of recovery behind me. But the fact it never left me, and instead hovered around me, told me an awful lot about what I was holding onto, and as said above, even if I was behavioural free, my thoughts were the issue. The thoughts sent me back to behaviours and the one I never let go of was self-medicating (drink and medication). I held on to them. Tightly. Until I couldn't any longer.

Having completed Step Six: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character, we now: Humbly asked Him to remove our short-comings.

To fully understand the meaning behind Step Seven it seems necessary to consider what the Step primarily concerns - humility. The word is mentioned within the literature and the rooms an awful lot. I had never really used the word myself... I know others write of feeling humbled but that was new vocabulary for me. And that wasn't because I was filled with arrogance or applause for myself, quite the opposite, I just didn't know what to be humbled meant.
The writer Bill Dinker writes: The quality of humility referred to a “reasonable perspective of oneself.” Bill Wilson expanded this definition when he wrote that humility was, “the clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to be what we can be.
(For more, please reference Discovery Place)
Other ideas concerning humility offer the following insights, and these reflections seem to encompass what we are being taught in AA:

It is not for me to judge another man's life. I must judge, I must choose, I must spurn, purely for myself. For myself, alone.
Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

On the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.
Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays

Even Albert Einstein wrote: A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.

And maybe that is the key to working this 12 Step Program with the outcome it so promises us if we work it - realising, admitting and then accepting, we know nothing of how to live, and from now on, guidance from others and something greater than us is that which will give us something bigger and better; a life beyond your wildest dreams. If I am able to get to the rooms, stay sober, take my medication correctly and as prescribed, seek direction and guidance (and then take it not just appeasingly nod my head)  and if I stay with this, if I keep doing what I am doing, then maybe, just maybe, I stand a chance!

Even before getting to the point of working the Steps, I didn't honestly need much convincing this could work. I believe, in fact have come to know, to this day, the very act of walking into my first meeting, was the humbling experience. That didn't mean I remained humble from that day onwards at all times, it means I was defeated. I accepted powerlessness over drink and myself and how unmanageable my life had become. Again! I was humbled by the experience because it had taken a real blow to get me to that point. To accept I needed help and to reach out. It wasn't a weakness, it was a necessity.

Humility has therefore meant, essentially for me, to accept another way of being/living, that there may be a better way than my way, and accepting guidance and advice, and not rebelling against it or refusing it. It has meant dropping the barriers and defences that made me so unbearable and my life so unbearable.

Up until that point, I was using only maladaptive coping mechanisms to keep me going. Namely, avoidance and denial. Both of which of course had served some purpose! I was running on survival instincts and whilst they kept me alive, they were keeping me from living, and inevitably they backfired, putting me on a downward spiral - one that would either result in my accidentally killing myself or being so desperate I did it myself. I was doing what in AA they call the definition of insanity - doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I was changing nothing, and expecting a magical change from no where. Change seemed daunting and overwhelming and far to much work, especially when I was already exhausted. 

Walking through the doors of AA, I felt the mass of that weight, that exhaustion, fall from me. I didn't know why at that point, I just knew I was in the right place. For those moments, the weight of unbearable living, was lifted from me. That alone, humbled me.

And I didn't have to stick around long to see the benefits. Within my first months of sobriety I stabilised in ways I had not in many many years. Daily meetings (two if I could), reaching out when I was struggling alone at home, literature to read, love to be surrounded by and the establishment of routine (I had been the polar opposite of sociable hours for many months - medicating to sleep in the day and awake through the night drinking) all began to ease me, slow me down, settle me. I was given direction and purpose again. It felt worthwhile, it felt like I was doing something that could and would make a difference. The days didn't seem wasted. They felt structured and I began to feel like I had a place in the world. What helped with that was service - making tea/coffee, washing up, setting up, helping close, welcoming others, sharing my story - which without, meetings cannot and will not run. We all have a role in keeping meetings going, and I was taking on some of those roles. As time passed I was given greater freedom and responsibility. As I have said many times, being given the keys and responsibility of opening up and setting up one of the meetings, gave me purpose. I felt needed, I felt worth something, I felt trusted, I felt honoured and I felt humbled by that gift. By late June I had been accepted on the MA course at the Writing School, and doors were opening all around me. I knew the difference sobriety was having on me. I could see the growth. I could see the changes. I could see I was in the process of becoming; spiritually evolving and transforming. I was becoming the person I am without dis-ease and without addiction. Not just a walking tornado or someone so broken I stood no chance of greater things. I was becoming me.

In Step Seven, we move out from ourselves and toward God. We are asked to repeat the Seventh Step Prayer:

My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.

Further reflection on Step Seven:

I humbly offered myself to God, as I then understood Him, to do with me as He would. I placed myself unreservedly under His care and direction. I admitted for the first time that of myself I was nothing; that without Him I was lost. I ruthlessly faced my sins and became willing to have my new-found Friend take them away, root and branch.

(See a list of all prayers and reflections here at Silkworth.net

I want to say, that with all the prayers and the use of words such as God, Lord, Him or He, it is important to see those as just words. If your concept of a Higher Power, like mine, is not in connection to God, you need see these prayers as spiritual lessons and teachings. Interpret them as ways of learning to live in a way that gives you a life and a sense of self, so open to you in recovery.)


AA is one of the greatest gifts ever given to me. And as time has passed, I see over and over how lucky I am to be alive. By admitting I was utterly lost and rampantly out of control, I have found peace and serenity I never knew existed and would never have found if it was not for this program.

For that, I am truly grateful and blessed.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Step Six

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” 

Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life

Step Six, for me, is all about accepting and allowing change. Having identified the aspects of myself holding me back, not only from something greater than myself, but also others and the potential life I could begin living if only I followed this program, I was asked to open the Big Book again:

Are we now ready to let God remove from us all the things which we have admitted are objectionable? Can He now take them all - every one? If we still cling to something we will not let go, we ask God to help us be willing. (BB p.76)

I had worked through Steps Four and Five, I now sat with Six and Seven. Six being willingness to let go of those things which no longer serve me;

God help me become willing to let go of all the things to which I still cling. Help me to be ready to let You remove all of these defects, that Your will and purpose may take their place. Amen
(BB p.76)

And Seven, asking for God (a higher aspect of myself - the "best" me I can and could be) to remove those parts of me;

"My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen."
( BB p.76)

In order to practice a new way of being, to develop new ways of livings and to change the way I am in the world, I needed to uncover who I was; this was Step Four, and to then make it objectionable; this was Step Five. Objectionable is about perspective. It is about seeing your whole self through fresh eyes. At least, that is my understanding of it. To pause, slow down, and look at the work I have done so far. I saw with honesty and compassion where I wanted to change and grow. I saw where I needed to change. To let go and let God.
At that point, I ask, am I now entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character? I was. I was ready to let of what no longer served me and drop my attachments to those things.


Over the years I knew I had developed destructive and counter productive behaviours, but even when these had been eradicated or were in remission, I was still trapped in old ways of thinking, believing and acting. Those ways stopped serving me a long long time ago. They no longer gave me anything. I could change and amend the behaviours - drinking, eating disorders, self-medicating, self-harming, BUT I also had to completely shift how I saw and thought about myself and the world. It is the Big Book which offers a solution to the spiritual malady we suffer from. As recovering addicts, we can be free from our old obsessions contingent on following the AA 12 Step Program of recovery. One of the Promises of the program is; our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. The Big Book continues; Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them. (p.27)

Instead, of hurting others and myself repeatedly, I wanted to heal. Heal myself, make myself whole, and with some hope, allow others the same. Stepping into Step Six, I had to have faith. Faith, I was going to be okay no matter what. Faith, I could and would be a stronger, better person if I followed this path. 

Early in sobriety I remember seeing the following quoted in some of the literature recommended to me; I face death every day. (1 Corinthians 15:31, The New Testament) I thought immediately of the St Francis Prayer, which is adapted and used as the step eleven prayer in AA, and the last lines which read; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. Each day, I would surrender myself, and offer myself to the new day. I would let go of yesterday, not race ahead into tomorrow, and live in the now. Moment by moment. A day at a time.

I am forever grateful that my first AA meeting was a Step Eleven meeting, and from day one, I was made aware of the beautiful prayer of St Francis. So when it came to working my steps, I already had a grounding in the spiritual living the program asks of us to practice. From early on, I could see why Step Six was an incredibly essential part of the process. This was letting faith in through the door. This was the first time I would be truly tested in the connection I had to my higher power. I was letting go of my old self. And I was terrified. As fucked up as my thoughts and behaviours had been up until this point, in some backwards way, they had got me so far. What had started as dysfunctional maladjusted coping mechanisms to help get me through life. To help me cope with a life I had no idea how to live without those coping mechanisms, I was about to let go and learn a whole new way of being. What incredible terror that evoked in me, and yet what incredible freedom I knew lay ahead in that.


For many years of sickness, I had lost any concept of myself. Even answering to my name had become something in the past. I didn't know who I was. Before sobriety, I had learnt an awful lot about myself. Recovering from a deadly and crippling Eating Disorder gave me gifts I have carried with me through the years prior to getting to AA. Trauma therapy, significant amounts of psychotherapy, creative therapies, pharmaceutical intervention and endless hospitalisations, surely had taught me something. But even with that, it wasn't enough. As addiction took over yet again, all I had worked for began to slide again. This was my pattern of recovery... learning new ways or living and being, and as soon as I picked up and my recovery strengthened, I became complacent. And if it wasn't complacency, I know, I struggled with believing I was even worth recovery.

The work began here for me. Having suffered severely at the hands of various mental health struggles, most recently diagnosed as Bipolar after years of misdiagnoses, I was still lost as to knowing and understanding who I was - what was me? what was sickness? what could be changed? what couldn't be changed? If I was to find willingness to let go, and then ask for something greater than me to remove such parts of myself, I needed to figure this out.The depth of that, is still something I am working on. I still don't have, and most probably never will, have a clear cut idea of what what's, as it were. However, what is evident now, almost 20 months into sobriety, is I have experienced the psychic change, so promised in AA. Being given a toolbox of resources, magical, spiritual and healing people to surround myself with, and a daily meditation practice, I am a far cry from the lost scared girl who walked into her first meeting.

Here is what I do know. Where I once was clouded with resentments and anger, I have replaced (to the best of my ability, and I am certainly a work in progress!) with love. I always loved; deeply, intensely, and yet it was to fill a void. I always saw, and still do, the best in others, but now I try to drop the conditions. I knew unconditional love, I gave it to others, asking for nothing back, but I didn't know how to love myself. As long as I didn't love myself, I held myself to different standards, and when I couldn't meet my own standards I looked to others and expected them to meet them. I was in a constant battle of exhausting myself with giving to others; love, time, affection, and giving it in all the places and all the people who could never give that back. I got angry, resentful, and lived in fear of never ever feeling full or complete. So, I was taught to practice principles of the program; patience, tolerance, kindliness and love. Even before completing my steps, I could see how I was living aspects of each one as I went along. I carried a prayer sheet with me everywhere when I first got sober. I still have it! But as time passed I began to know each prayer off by heart. This is one I always kept close, even though at that point I didn't fully understand it or what I was doing, I still read them over and over:

"God give me the strength and direction to do the right thing no matter what the consequences may be. Help me to consider others and not harm them in any way. Help me to consult with others before I take any actions that would cause me to be sorry. Help me to not repeat such behaviors. Show me the way of Patience, Tolerance, Kindliness, and Love and help me live the spiritual life. Amen.
(p. 78-80 BB)

Doing the right thing, not what I want or think is right, but the thing which will hurt myself and others the least I can. To go through my days mindfully with care and compassion towards, again, myself AND others. If I am not sure what the next best thing is, I can always take the next indicated action - one being reaching out to others. Taking time to respond and not react. Discuss, share, gain objectivity. This is another tool and gift from AA... a selection of ways to live life on life's terms. The next, to learn from my experiences, reactions, behaviours. Where have I repeatedly fucked up? How can I change that? Essentially living your amends and owning your part on situations, conflict or people you clash with. This can be done with a nightly inventory, or spot check inventory. I am not saying by this point in the steps you are necessarily aware of aspects of the following steps. What happened for me, was I felt I was doing the Steps from Twelve to One and not One to Twelve. I was in the early stages of an intense period of learning. I was at daily meetings, talking to others, learning about the steps (in Step Meetings), learning about the contents of the Big Book (at Book Studies), learning what it was to share, recover and gain strength in the program. I was also under spiritual guidance from day one. I was learning, learning so much and very quickly. I couldn't put all the pieces together, ie. have full awareness of how the program came together, I was however picking up jigsaw pieces each day, and those pieces would then all come together when I completed my Step work.

If I practised daily; patience, tolerance, kindliness and love, would my life change? Yep! And that has been the biggest change for me and in me. Repeating the prayers. Not just one, but all of them. Day in day out I learnt those prayers. They didn't mean what they mean to me now, because as said, the jigsaw had not been pulled together, but the lines themselves began to shape the person I am today. With practice, I have slowly let go of my old thoughts and behaviours. I have learnt to recognise my old thought patterns and change or amend them accordingly. Through pain and pain and pain, I have been able to see where although it hurts to let go of old coping mechanisms, in time, after weeks or months in unknown land, I have found the new. Where I was filled with fear, is filled with courage. Each day, I grow spiritually.

Simone Weil wrote; Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself, which makes this void.

And in that space, has come the development of who I truly am. Not who I am masked in despair, addiction and fear. Not the reactive, resentful, scared and angry person I once was. 

I am by NO means perfect. My stage of recovery is fairly new, and I have an awful lot to learn. But my life has changed, and it has changed because I changed it. I am becoming. I am growing. I am evolving. I can finally see, with clear eyes, who and what I can become if I keep doing what I need to do; work this program and listen to others suggestions.


As well as addiction, I do suffer with Bipolar. I cannot change how I feel on waking. I cannot predict what is ahead, or when I might slip with my mood or struggles. What I do now know, is I can change my reaction to these things. I may still suffer at the hands of mental illness, but that suffering can be managed, made more bearable, knowing I have a program. It might not always change what is happening, I may have a really shitty day and it lasts for the rest of the week, but I have a life jacket, I have something helping me stay above water, even if at times during that, I sink under. I am powerless over what is ahead and what may happen to me with my mental illness, but I have faith. A huge fucking heap of it, because, because, I have this journey to look back on and forward with. There is hope. There is trust. I will be okay, I will. No matter what. I have to trust in that itself.I am learning to live, and live that life on life's terms.