Over the last couple of weeks I have been on my own truth seeking mission. A short while ago it was ‘suggested’ that an annual inventory might be a good gift to offer myself as I approached another year of sobriety. For those of you in the in, we all know when suggestions are made to us in the program, they are hardly suggestions, but rather vital musts. As Mary Poppins best said it, a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down, especially for the obstinate alcoholic, recovered or not.
I committed to the practice immediately, with little resistance, because I truly thought I hadn’t been harbouring more than a handful of what I would classify as minor resentments. I thought I was more or less resentment free, except for maybe a couple subtle irritants that typical get under my skin. These usually look like family members, friends/co-workers, and of course the police for trying to tell me how to live my life by enforcing traffic laws against me. Don’t you dare sit there and patronize me thinking it was my fault for talking on my phone while driving and ignoring speed limits in the first place. That would be far too logical and would force me take responsibility for my own actions. I like to perceive the situation from a vastly different vantage point, of blaming the officers for wasting tax payers dollars pulling over innocent people instead of trying to fight real crime. As I share some of these trivial resentments that seem to be on every set of steps, I’m now at the point where I can laugh at just how petty or absurd my thinking is. Let me assure you that it hasn’t always been this way. My ability to wrongly perceive the people and world around me is remarkable. My entitlement is shocking at times.
You might be quite as shocked as I was to find out just how high the resentment tally would finally reach as I sat down one afternoon to start my inventory. It turns out few minor resentments gathered some steam and quickly turned into 47. As I sat up and put down my pen to review the list, my jaw dropped and nearly hit the floor. “How could I possibly be carrying this many resentments unknowingly?”, I whispered to myself.
Spiritual pride, as my teacher calls, keeps this dis-ease alive and well in the lives of millions and cause many to relapse annually. After many sets of steps. After this many years. After this much work. After this many books read. This list goes on ad-infinitum. It all comes back to that place of wanting to be finished with steps, crossing the finish line so to speak – cured! As the years start adding up in recovery, it becomes quite common for people to start building up certain false confidences their inner workings and mental blind-spots. This is often delusional. The problem is that as you grow, the world tends to provide you with more opportunities and responsibilities, and with these new gifts come a whole new can of worms to deconstruct and respond to.
Visualize if you will a beautiful garden that you just spent the summer months meticulously grooming away all of the unwanted weeds and plants. By the time summer is coming to a close you are amazed at just how beautiful your garden looks. As Fall makes its way in, you find yourself wanting to spend less and less time tending to those weeds, and by Christmas time you wouldn’t dare be caught outside gardening away, due to unfriendly skies. By the time spring rolls around you start spending more time outside and realize that once perfectly manicured plot isn’t quite as bright and cheery as it once was. Weeds seem to have completely taken over by this time. This is precisely what happens with the mind of an alcoholic, recovered or not. If you aren’t tending to your mental garden regularly, your twists in thinking will most certainly rise and attempt take root again. The scary fact of the matter is that most people don’t even realize their toxic thoughts have started to creep in. Their perceptions and resentments don’t generally result from an out of the ordinary experience either, it is always these little thoughts seeds that are planted and ever so gradually start taking form into serious problems. By the time you are tasked with completing a fact finding and fact facing inventory, you are blown away by the amount of filth that has been taking up space – rent free – in your head.
Just as a bird regurgitates its food to feed its young, this step four helped me regurgitate some of the events of my past that hadn’t been fully broken down well enough to be fully emotionally digested. I just unknowingly carried these feelings in my solar plexus, until I worked on them and could physically feel them release from my body as I worked through each mini trauma.
Experience has proved just how deeply beneficial past inventories have been for me, so I now have little hesitation to start digging deep. Beginning with the end in mind still didn’t make the experience any easier. This inventory highlighted for me just how sensitive I still am to the world around me. Whoever wrote “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” probably never took the time for introspection in their life, because words have influenced us all along the way. After reviewing my step four again it was obvious that words still continued to ravage my self-worth since my last inventory.
We alcoholics are sensitive people. It takes some of us a long time to outgrow that serious handicap. Big Book p.125
When I originally read this passage, there was a part of me that found it laughable that the writers would dare to compare sensitivity with the likes of such a serious thing like a handicap. But years later, I think their strong choice in wording was deadly accurate. If you type “define handicap” into Google, one of the first definitions of the word that pops up is “a circumstance that makes progress or success difficult”. That is precisely what sensitivity has caused for the typical alcoholic or addict, like I mentioned earlier, recovered or not.
When you have lived the majority of your life viewing the world through a slightly jaded lens, that slowly morphs into a daily perceived battlefield you will have to defend yourself from day in and day out. Around every corner there is someone that might scar you just as it has happened in the past, so you rarely feel safe in your own skin. I once again had no real awareness that I held such deep contempt for the world around me, instead of choosing to view things with more peace and optimism. The self-protection mission in which I didn’t really know I had in a choice to accept or not, is terribly exhausting. For a couple decades of my life I had subconsciously viewed the world as attacking me. This of course had been initially triggered by childhood trauma I never addressed, so it’s no wonder I escaped with alcohol. I was medicating myself from pain I didn’t even know was there – forget about figuring out how to uncover it. The heightened degree of hyper-vigilance through which I operated daily life from, would drive the most peaceful man insane, and sadly for many alcoholics it does just that.
The problem found through my own personal journey is that this unhealthy adversarial perception I carry towards the world – doesn’t rewire itself overnight, apart from divine intervention. The spiritual awakenings that the majority of us encounter, which is of the educational variety, takes sometimes months or years to ignite. The beautiful thing is we are given a promise for those who persist in Step 12 that “a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps” is something we can activate over and over again. The opportunities and growth that come from thoroughly working a fully functioning tool that crosses all cultural, language, race, gender, or age boundaries is a Godsend. And that is precisely why it works. It’s from God.