Just for today: The measure of my maturity is the extent to which I take responsibility for the maintenance of my spiritual condition. Today, this will be my highest priority.
On Wednesday night this week I truly felt my higher power work in me and through me. That feeling stayed with me all day Thursday and is largely still with me now. It is almost overwhelming. Truly I am in shock and awe over the whole experience, especially when I think that the catalyst for this began on Tuesday night with an email that signalled a really shocking and painful blast from the past. This was connected to the same situation that brought me to my knees and my world crashing down pre-recovery. It initiated the agonising beginning of the end of my drinking days and played a leading role in my final rock bottom. Consequently, whenever it is put back in my head I am always partly terrified of it, as I know it really does have the power to make me very sick, although such is the hold it can have over me, there is usually a masochistic longing to run towards it as well. Yet the fact that it came to the fore again on Tuesday evening and I am sat here two days later, feeling completely elated and literally glowing with the effects of what I believe was the first time I’ve had real intimacy with my higher power, just makes this whole experience all the more miraculous.
Six months before my last drink, a person who was important to me beyond words was cut out of my life very abruptly and painfully. What we had was incredible and overwhelming but, on a not so positive note, such was the state my illness had wrought me into by now, I relied on them heavily to make me feel good and help me deal with life on life’s terms. Despite the complicated ways in which alcoholism manipulates our mind, I maintain that what I felt for them was very real, yet it was also a result of situation I shouldn’t have been part of in the first place. As a result, the total agony I felt when they were gone had to be buried and once it became a secret, it’s damaging effect on me was amplified further still. For an alcoholic, dishonesty is the source of most pain and secrets can kill. It isolated me from anyone still close to me at this time (and those people weren’t exactly queuing down the street to begin with) and to avoid paragraphs of hyperbole about how this affected me, simply speaking after years of steadily accumulating pain, losing them was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It knocked the life out of me and with it, any interest of participating in all those things my life was made up of at that time. It was the reason my illness needed to convince me that I just was not strong enough to cope any more…and so I drank….for the first time I officially and openly drank because I knew the pain I was in was too much for me. I gave up.
There were a few sporadic encounters with this person in those last few months of drinking, none of which provided any comfort (probably because they were alcohol initiated on my part) or resolution. All were defect driven. I had no regard for the harm I was causing them or myself by trying to force a happy ending of my own alcoholic design. The final one, I realise retrospectively, came right before my last, all consuming binge. Hardly a coincidence but still, this is something only I can take ownership for; not that I did at the time. In any case, I know now that I am grateful for how these things came to pass. This car crash of events definitely expedited the rock bottom I needed to shatter the final strands of my self-will and force me into the surrender and acceptance us alcoholics need before we can be opened up to the power of the fellowship and the twelve steps. If this hadn’t happened in the way that it did, who knows how long I would have blindly stumbled on for, just about functioning under the mental and physical burden of being an active alcoholic.
Once I was fully immersed in early recovery I was fortunate that my head seemed to put all of this in a box in my mind that was almost on complete lock down. Whatever forces were working in me and through me, subconsciously initiated self-preservation mode as far as all of this was concerned and I was blessed that it did not enter my mind during those first two months. I began to get well.
Then came a few instances whereby due to the intervention of others (not at my end, I should add) it was brought back into my mind. The pain was just as raw as it had ever been and so I knew I had to bring my sponsor up to speed ahead of my now imminent step 4, which I had earmarked as the time I would begin to deal with all of this again. On opening up to her, it became apparent she had been through an almost identical situation herself. The relief I experienced from finally being able to talk about this to someone and more importantly someone who completely understood the complicated effects it had on me, both as a person and an alcoholic, was incredible. Being gifted with a sponsor who had such a like for like experience was a true higher power intervention as far as I’m concerned. Needless to say when I then came to do step 4 and 5, this featured very heavily in both, although despite it being an incredibly cathartic and insightful experience, it was not a quick win as far as the complex web of resentments, harms and fears involved in this situation was concerned.
Gradually I was able to let go of the resentment, having seen quite clearly my part in all of this and also how I had wrongly transferred how I believe I would have acted in these circumstances onto the other person. I shouldn’t have had those expectations of them; I learnt that they had every right to exercise their own choices and to act how they saw fit at the time. More importantly, the longer I was in recovery, the more I realised that I had absolutely no idea what was best for me, nor did I know what was best for them. Certainly it became clear that things couldn’t have continued the way that they were, not while I was so ill anyway. I began to grow in faith that even though I hated the way things had ended, it was most likely an unfortunate necessity and at least it had allowed me to get into recovery and begin to fix myself. Until I had worked on myself, everything else was a moot point. Sadly though, even as the resentment fades, it does not take away the pain of simply missing someone or the grief of having someone suddenly and forcibly taken from you as though they had died. I don’t think even our programmes have a miracle cure for that.
When I came to do my step 8, this person was at the top of my “to do now” list. Fortunately, both my sponsor and simple geography have meant I wasn’t able to rush headlong into acting on this and over time I have had to be honest with myself about why I’m apparently so keen to make my amends to them. Was it purely because I genuinely wanted to put things right and give both them and myself some peace around it all in the process; or did I just want a reason to make contact with them again, to have my many questions answered and for them to see how I was in a much better place now than when we last spoke, perhaps prompting them to declare that we had to be in each other’s lives again? I knew it was a lot of all of the above and so I stayed away, praying that if ever the time was right for both them and me, we’d find ourselves in a situation where we could have that contact and I would get the opportunity to make a true amend and then close that door for good if that’s what needed to happen.
I have to say though, that throughout the past few months, my ability to stand by that has been constantly tested. Sometimes the desire to speak to them again and the ardent need for a resolution to this, one way or another, has been on me like the urge to drink used to be on me pre-recovery. Most days I would swing between steps 1 & 2 around this person; between feeling insane and powerless over the need to call them and talking myself into handing it all over again, to do the right thing by them and also to protect my sobriety. It has been exhausting.
So that’s the context behind the events that happened this week…practically a whole post in its own right and something I knew I was going to have to write at some point, although I thought that would be at a time when I simply wanted to talk about my grief. Therefore, although I am apologetic that this has now turned into a rather onerous word count for anyone who reads this, I am grateful for that fact that today I don’t have to just write about my sadness. What transpired this week has miraculously turned that around. If you are still reading this then I implore you to please persist! The sober miracle I am trying very inarticulately to relay is something I am dying to pass on the message about.
On Tuesday evening this week I had just returned from a great meeting, full of the usual post-meeting joys of fellowship, the message and our collective higher power. Just before bed, I did a final sift through my emails (an unhealthy habit, I know) and nearly went into cardiac arrest when I read one that had been sent to me by an unknown third party, regarding the person I have just told you about. I tried to process it…it seemed half based on what I knew to be true but half filled with information that was new and unwelcome to me, as well as some claims that I simply knew to be untrue and couldn’t make sense of why they were included. The third party had requested we speak to talk through this further; a prospect that seemed both very attractive and abhorrent to me at the same time. Thankfully my correct instincts kicked in and before I could even digest the email fully, I called my sponsor. She talked me down from my panicky ledge as I knew she would. I told her that although this email shocked me, maybe it was the opportunity to resolve my lack of closure on this matter that I had been so desperate for. Maybe it was higher power intervention! She reminded me that before I acted, I needed to map out the potential ripple effect that would occur from the several options available to me here. Only when I understood and was prepared for the possible consequences of each of these, could I decide how to act; but whatever I did, she would support me. We’ve discussed on many occasions, “if in doubt, do ‘nowt,” and so we agreed to both sleep on it and then talk through it properly the next day before I did anything.
I was sure I wouldn’t sleep that night. The soothing effects of both my evening meeting and late night herbal teas had been eradicated and whenever this person is in my head, it usually consumes my peace of mind for some time. I said a prayer. I asked my higher power for the strength to get through this and for at least enough peace and serenity to sleep that night. Amazingly, I felt noticeably better, drifted off straight away and enjoyed a restless sleep until morning.
The next day was spent predictably in typical alcoholic over-analytical hell. My brain was full of the old questions I’d been trying to let go of for the last year as well as what felt like thousands of new ones. I swung from one potential course of action to the next, torn between the desire to keep myself safe and to finally know what was going one, lamenting the fact that these seemed to be distinctly mutually exclusive. Through all of this though I could feel a lurking notion that this email was not what it seemed. Something about it didn’t feel right, despite the niceties it was dressed up under, probably not helped by the fact I couldn’t fathom why things that were outrightly false had been included. It just didn’t add up. Moreover, I was beginning to notice a gut feeling that simply told me that the only person I should be talking to about this, was the person it concerned directly. The only person I knew in all of this was them. They were someone I had been incredibly close to and irrespective of everything that had happened, I still cared for them. To respond to this email and therefore discuss things with another, that would not be respecting the one person I cared about in all of this, would it? The assurances of the third party who sent the email shouldn’t matter; they were nothing to do with me. Then I would begin again to question the facts and the motives of all involved once more and go back around in circles. I hate my brain sometimes.
I should probably point out though that there have been several occasions both in and out of recovery when this person has been put back in my mind again, usually after finding out something that diminishes the hope I have that things will ever turn out well between us. Every time this has happened, I have usually been desolate for days. This time it was certainly causing my mind to go into overdrive…but I was noticeably not desolate. In fact, aside from my productivity at work being impeded from said overactive brain, I actually had a good day. I could only thank my higher power for this; it was not strength I had ever been able to demonstrate in the past.
Finally evening came and I was able to reconvene with my sponsor. She had come armed with quotes from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, as she obviously expected to have a battle of wills on her hands! They were so relevant though.
…we must be sure to remember that we cannot buy our own peace of mind at the expense of others.
This certainly rung true for me in this situation. I couldn’t let my desperation to have my questions answered, to find out what was going on with this person or to move closer to a resolution, allow me to risk hurting them or others any more in the process.
That will arise in the occasional situation where to make a full revelation would seriously harm the one to whom we are making amends. Or – quite as important – other people…
…And even in those cases where such a matter must be discussed, let’s try to avoid harming third parties, whoever they may be. It does not lighten our burden when we recklessly make the crosses of others heavier.
This reaffirmed the gut feeling that had been creeping up on me all day; to talk to anyone other than the one person I knew in all of this, was not in keeping with the amend I had promised myself around them, even if I hadn’t had chance to make it to them in person yet – that I was not going to cause them any more problems. It was also risking harming others. Talking to any third parties just wasn’t doing the next right thing. Not for anyone involved.
I agreed with my sponsor (and Bill W) on both of these points and told her that the more I thought about it, the whole thing just felt “bad”. It reminded me of the analogy in the Big Book where an alcoholic exhibiting insane behaviour is likened to someone repeatedly touching a hot stove, just to keep checking if it burns them. Well now that I’d gathered my thoughts on this email and wasn’t caught up in the heat of the moment, driven by my basic instincts of self that are still alcoholically out of kilter, this felt like a hot stove to me and on this occasion I was repelled by it. She also pointed out this email was absolutely written with damaging motives towards the person I was involved with and that things like this are more often than not found out. She said, “This email will probably come to light one way or another. If you respond to it, they will know that you have and if things are damaged between you now, they will be damaged even more so then. However, if you don’t, then they will then realise that you received it yet didn’t act on it and they will be really grateful for that. If you do get to see them again, this will have already gone some way to repairing the harms of the past.” I knew that I had an opportunity here that was more important than persisting after my own supposed peace of mind; I had an opportunity to not just say that I love this person but to actual act in a way that demonstrated my love. I had an opportunity to put them first, which would be one step towards putting right all those times I put myself and my pain first instead.
I did tell her that a large part of me wanted to make contact with this person off the back of this. I’d been leaning towards doing just that for some time now; maybe this was a sign or reason to do so? My sponsor understood that, having been in a similar situation herself in the past. She did say though that if what I was looking for was a conversation with them that would set the wheels in motion towards making things right between us, or at the very least giving me an opportunity to make a genuine amend, neither of those things were likely to come from something as spiritually off key as this. It was hardly a healthy situation to attempt to build bridges from. Again, I had to agree with her. I told her it was really hard to let up this opportunity but that I believed I had to keep the faith that if we were ever meant to speak again it would be in the right way and for the right reasons; not off the back of an email that was laced with pain, dishonesty, problems and insanity. Turning my back on this email was not missing out on the chance for the right thing to happen; it was actually allowing the right thing to take its course. God was it difficult to do so though, all parts of my self-will were pulling in the opposite direction. Doing the right thing never felt easy to an alcoholic I suppose, especially in early recovery. If it doesn’t feel quite natural to me, that is probably because it’s the right thing to do.
Moreover, it could well have been a sign. Not a sign to steam in there and make contact again like I initially wanted it to be; but a sign to reign in the plans I’d been forming prior to this, to reach out and look to make my direct amends. If I took anything from this email, it’s that things did not seem not great at their end and now was not the time for me to either create more upheaval for them or similarly let any of their apparent upheaval into my recovery.
So I left it. We talked about replying to the email to tell the third party not to contact me again but decided that it wasn’t really worth lowering myself to acknowledge it and that silence often spoke volumes. So I left it. I can’t believe that I did. That is definitely not old behaviour for me. It is new and it is testament to positive changes. I said to my sponsor that it was hard trying to keep faith that this could still all work out ok and she said, “Don’t you see! Just by talking through this in the way that you are and deciding what we’ve decided, you are showing you have faith! You wouldn’t have done any of this a year ago.” I realise she is right and that feels really good. Sometimes faith is so intangible it’s hard to know if we have it or not, so it’s comforting when someone shows you what you can’t always see for yourself; that you’re living in faith, not just thinking about whether you have it or not.
I went to bed shortly afterwards and I made sure I said a thank you prayer to express the genuine gratitude I felt at the moment. Gratitude for having eventually heard and felt the right thing to do. Gratitude for having got through that day without letting this blast from the past destroy me. Gratitude for actually feeling really OK about it all. It was as I was on my knees praying, that was when it happened. I actually felt something going in me and through me. It was something actually physical. I felt a buzzing in me and it wasn’t just in my head, it was in my whole body. It felt amazing. It’s hard to describe exactly what it was like but I knew it was my higher power. If it hadn’t felt so right and so good, I would have been stunned by the whole thing. Instead, I went to bed and lay there feeling glowing. Without sounding crass (although that never bothers me really), it was comparable to a truly epic post-coital afterglow. I slept all night in total peace.
There are two camps in recovery regarding how we develop a relationship with our higher powers: those who have sudden and dramatic spiritual experiences; and those who have gradual spiritual awakenings. I’ve always been on the latter side of the fence but I definitely feel I had a spiritual experience that night.
The next day that glow stayed with me. That is without doubt the best I have ever felt in my whole recovery and miraculously, the best I have felt about the situation between me and this person ever since it all happened. Isn’t that miraculous!? The insanity around it all had been building for months. I knew there was going to be a crescendo at some point and I thought that would result in me phoning them, which was a great risk. Then I get an email, which was probably the biggest mental minefield I’ve experienced since everything kicked off all that time ago…and this had the capability to ruin my serenity and potentially even my whole recovery…but what was the net result instead? Twenty four hours later and I feel more serene about it than I ever have! By doing what? Nothing! Well, no, not nothing actually; by doing the next right thing. If there had been any lurking doubt or any residual self-will murmurings after the agreement I reached with my sponsor, what happened to me as I prayed in gratitude decimated those completely. It was like I did the right thing and because of that I opened up the capacity for my higher power to come inside to me and say clearly, “you’ve done what’s right…and whatever happens because of it, I’ve got your back and it will be ok.”