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.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Step Five

"Having made our personal inventory, what shall we do about it?..
We must be entirely honest with somebody if we expect to live long or happily in this world."

"Into Action," Big Book

In Step Four, defects, fears, harms and resentments had been listed. Whilst I wasn't alone when I did Step Four, I was alone in the sense I had to sit and be with the blank pages in front of me. Starting with fears, my sponsor made me divide my blank pages into columns. I did the same for harms done to others and resentments. I took one page at a time and completed the paper work for Step Four. Some of it I struggled with because I didn't understand it. I was grateful I was in the same room as my sponsor because as I went along doing the work, I could ask for help where I was confused and struggling. I did want to be as honest as possible, and for me, I also have to understand something completely, because only when I understand what is being asked of me, can I know where to start in digging deep to find those answers.

Although that part of Step Four was done alone, when I did the Byron Katie Work, as discussed in the last post, it was a joint effort. I was answering as we went along. The Work involves being facilitated when answering the questions. But this part of the process was one I completed quiet and alone, and after finishing discussed with my sponsor.

Once I had completed the forms, and my blank pages were filled with pencil scribbles trying to get beneath all that was in me to achieve full honesty, I was to then share. It was hard. I am not going to sit here and say that, "admitting to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs," is easy, it did however, lift a huge weight. For so long I had kept everything to myself. In the past, I had engaged in honest and raw therapy, where I would give a voice to past traumas, sitting in a room with a therapist. But since then, it had been a good number of years since I had done anything remotely like share my inner self.

At first, I think I thought, or in fact, full of fervour believed, I wasn't really holding anything back. What else could there be in my past to uncover or delve into? I had years of therapy behind me, what could not have been said in that time? I believed I was always honest with those treating me, my psychiatrist and anyone else. And at times I had been. At times of dark and deep despair, the truth about how I felt always came out. Suffering brought me desperation and said desperation made me voice my pain. At rock bottom, I would eventually ask for help.

There was a big difference for me, in being in a room with my psychiatrist discussing my mood, especially when I was in absolute depressive pain, and what can he do to help me move forward, and the everyday facade I would wear to get me through my day-to-day life. Hiding from others sure, but from myself too. Drinking and over medicating, were also masks. They masked my suffering. They also worsened it, but they gave me some room to breath. They offered a way out of my head. They allowed me to escape from the reality of daily life. They served as coping mechanisms to keep my head somewhat above water so I didn't have to show others just how much pain I was in.

I think my honesty, up until this point, had therefore relied on what I was saying, not what I did not say. I wasn't lying, I was just withholding the truth. I was just not saying everything. And I thought that was okay. And what was clearly evident, was that which I wasn't saying, is that which kept me ill. I had to get honest, and not just my version of honest. I couldn't just be 90% honest and think that was enough, I had to reach into what I wasn't saying, and most essentially why was I not saying it. And I think the why was shame. I didn't want to admit to certain pains and struggles. I didn't want to be honest with myself, let alone another person, when it came to who I had hurt, or what I was scared of. I also didn't want to look at who had hurt me and caused me resentments. What I knew of this program is that at some point I would be making an amends. I didn't even know what that meant! Saying sorry? Why would I have to say sorry and why in hell would I say sorry to someone who hurt me. I had no understanding or concept of this. As evolved as I thought I was at this point, I had a hell of a lot of growing up to do, and for me, honesty with another person was humbling. I wasn't berating myself and I wasn't rising up in defence at the slightest criticism. Someone was sat by me, with a clear objective eye, helping me assess my past behaviours and guide me towards what I can do next.

After completing Step Five, my sponsor had me sit quietly, as advised in the book, and read the following:

Returning home we find a place where we can be quiet for an hour, carefully reviewing what we have done. We thank God from the bottom of our hearts that we know Him better. Taking this book down from our shelf we turn to the page which contains the twelve steps. Carefully reading the first five proposals we ask if we have omitted anything, for we are building an arch through which we shall walk a free man at last. Is our work solid so far? Are the stones properly in place? Have we skimped on the cement put into the foundation? Have we tried to make mortar without sand? If we can answer to our satisfaction, we then look at Step Six.

I sat in the silence, mulled over the Steps we had taken, and was satisfied I was ready for the next part of the program, Step Six.


I saw the benefit of sharing things I'd kept to myself almost immediately. I was learning so much more about myself because by answering the questions in Step Four, I was in a place to discuss what I had unearthed. And that was Step Five, a discussion. It was carried out with kindness and compassion on the behalf of my sponsor, and it took honesty and humility for me to share, and that bonds you with someone. It forms a caring and nurturing attachment based on true selves. Not masked selves. But true selves.

My true self is one who I had hidden all this time. I didn't know who I was and I didn't want to know. I just knew being me didn't feel right and whenever I didn't feel right, I masked it with drink or drugs, or anything else available. When I shared my Step Four, in Step Five with another, I also learnt about the other person too. Realising I had more in common with those around me than I thought, I began to see the overwhelming advantages of honesty. If I was opening myself up, the next person was opening themselves up. The more I shared about myself, the more others shared about themselves. It was like a chain reaction. 

From being isolated, alienated and alone, I suddenly found myself among those who understood me. By hearing others stories and experiences, I could take more objective viewpoints on those aspects of my life. I may hear others struggle with mental illness as myself, and I gain greater compassion for myself. The advice I offer them, in turn becomes the advice I am giving myself. I am not caging secrets within me. With such honesty, connection and compassion, I have found stability in managing my mental health, and degrees of serenity in recovery, I could never have dreamed of before getting sober.

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 Silkworth.net - 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.