Posted by: innerpilgrimage | August 20, 2010

The Hope of Twelve Steps

      Okay, confession here: the book I recently read that threw me was Dr. Patrick Carnes’s Out of the Shadows.

      Dr. Carnes is very supportive of the 12-Step programs and how they apply to sex (and love/emotional) addiction. From picking up overeating as a defense mechanism to understanding how my childhood affects my adult life, this book addressed a lot of what drives me. I was very sad reading most of it until I got to the part where the 12 Steps works to alleviate and even change the core messages that drive my food addiction and that social/emotional anorexia.
      Changing my core beliefs (as represented in his chapter entitled “12 Steps to Recovery” and Figure 7.3 in the book), I found heart that the changes I have already found active in my life are taking root in my active mind and definitely in my soul. So, when I speak of my addict mind and of my recovery mind, it seems that it has everything to do with what core beliefs I am working with at the time.
      On pages 180-183 is a table of the core beliefs and their replacement beliefs when one works the program. Even if one’s addiction is not sexual acting out, directly, this book does help if there are relationship issues which have led to addiction in order to numb one from the pain of feeling undeserving or abnormal.
      As an Adult Child, I also completely relate to these beliefs–they are addressed in the boo I have on going through the 12 Steps as a child of a dysfunctional/addicted family.

The Core Beliefs and their 12 Step Corollaries

      The first core belief is that I believe I am imperfect (and therefore “bad”) and do not deserve actual love, affection, and attention. To gain those things, I would need to be perfect in body and mind. Through the process of illuminating the truth–admitting I am an addict and accepting I cannot do this alone–I step out of the shadows of addiction and the secret life I built.
      I am not a person straddling two worlds any longer. I don’t slip from light to shadow, trying to be perfect in the light while living in darkness by indulging in the desire to numb myself of the pain of being imperfect and worthless.
      When I tell the truth, I am taking that shadow world and saying, “I am part of the dark and the light at the same time.” In other words, I am human. When I don’t deny that darker side, I am given the freedom of choice. With choice comes the integrity of making clear decisions. I can choose the addictive behavior, understanding that it harms me and others. I can, in essence, find a sense of self-worth in knowing that I am not hiding from reality. I am an addict, period. I express that in overconsumption of food and the use of intrigue to step outside of reality into a world of fantasy of my own making in order to “feel alive”.
      Instead of indulging in the chemical thrill of trying to find acknowledgement or overeating to hide from potential predators behind an obese body, I am open to actually feeling alive. To really feel alive means to acknowledge pain, love, happiness, and even reasonable anger. To feel really alive means to live in today, to deal with the real things which enter my life and take decisive action. And by taking decisive action, I can find a sense of integrity. And a person of integrity, even imperfect, is a worthwhile and good person. How do I know? Because when I go to meetings, I meet imperfect people of integrity, worthwhile and good people who are trying to recover from addiction. I admire them and I consider none of them bad or unworthy. If I am like them (which I am), then I must be worthwhile and good.
      My second core belief is that no one could love me if they really knew me. Denial is part of this, because if I knew myself, I could never love myself. When I expose my imperfection first to myself then to others, and when I learn to forgive others and ask forgiveness of them (whether or not they forgive me), I am acting with honesty and humility.
      The biggest gift that comes from it is an unexpected surprise resulting from doing Steps Four, Five, Eight and Nine. The first thing I have to do is stop denying that I have resentments and faults. The first person who needs to see me as I am is me. Then, I share that with my Higher Power (which, by definition, “knows” anyway–being as it’s the Universe–and still loves me because it has infinite love and brought an unending source of willpower needed this loving self-knowledge). Then I share it with another person. I already have shared my resentments with another member of OA, and this person not only still talks to me, this person is kind and friendly toward me. In other words, I was completely accepted by someone who knows the source of my self-loathing and resentful behavior. That acceptance basically turned this wooden puppet into a real person with faults, needs, and desires.
      In Step Eight, I have to discern who hurt me and who I hurt to understand who deserves amends, who deserves forgiveness plus amends, and who deserves forgiveness without amends. In Step Nine, I go out and humbly ask for forgiveness, accepting that I may not be forgiven. It’s okay, though, because acknowledging my faulty behavior then asking forgiveness is the work of Step Nine.
      This is where the magic of those steps come in. The person who hurt me the most is me. By forgiving others, I practice being a forgiving person. By making amends, I practice asking forgiveness from others. That means . . . I can ask myself for forgiveness and actually forgive myself in the process for the harm I did to myself when I was deep in the addiction and unable to think straight. The amends I make to myself are expressed simply in that I work the 12 Steps.
      Living a life of personal responsibility is a side effect of living the 12 Steps. I can make mistakes and be accepted despite them. I can forgive and be forgiven. That means that people can, indeed, love and accept me as I am. People already do.
      My third core belief is that I cannot rely on others to fulfill my needs. This is a curiously odd counterintuitive behavior, since I actively hunt for it only while I believe that I cannot rely on others to fulfill my needs. Since the only people who would be open to this abnormal behavior would be an addict who is acting out, and I know that there is no love to be had from a person just like me–unwilling to rely on others to fulfill their basic needs.
      Well, when I share at a meeting, I am asking others to fulfill my needs. I need empathy, and they deliver. I need acceptance, and they deliver. I need understanding and a sense that I am not alone in my addiction, and they deliver. I need to feel worthy of trust, and when they share with me and rely on me to keep the 12th Tradition, they deliver. In other words, attending meetings has shown me that my needs not only can be met, they are being met. This reinforcement has allowed me to trust that my needs can be met by those closest to me–my family has lived with the unpleasantness that is my addiction and they actively appreciate my effort to live a life of recovery. Truth breeds trust; when I trust others with my weakness and they come through for me, I am encouraged to rely on them more. And even when they don’t, it’s okay. I extended myself, and they tried.
      The fourth core concept is that the addiction is my most important need. The search for intrigue and “passion” became my most important need because I wanted to be, well, wanted. To be accepted. To be worthy of someone’s time. Actually, to be worthy of their obsession. Ick. That’s creepy to admit, that I actively searched for someone to become obsessed about me. And that’s probably why I isolated and why I ate to hide from that behavior. Somewhere inside me, I knew it was disturbing. While I used an addiction to solve an addiction, there was something inside me which knew it was ultimately broken. And the denial of seeking someone to obsess over me and the denial that I was eating to be unattractive to dangerous people was how I maintained two addictions at once. Great. Now all I have to do is figure out what’s motivating the spiritual aspect of my addiction to cigarettes. I have quit for extended periods of time, picking them up when I travel. Maybe I used them like I used the food–to make myself less attractive? No idea. When I finally get stable in my other two groups, I’ll be joining yet another one. Well, unless the smoking goes to the wayside like alcohol did when I started my abstinence. I have not drunk anything in months, and I haven’t had a desire to drink. Same thing goes for the compulsive need to buy something. I know it won’t fix what ails me, so I just walk away with a resolved (though disappointed) sigh. Of course, what I want to buy usually is junk food, so that is managed by my acceptance that food doesn’t fix the problem.
      Well, my nourishment needs are met by eating abstinently. My need for love, romance, and sex are met by my spouse. I nurture myself by eating sanely, and I express my need and care for my spouse by giving and receiving his love and affection with honest love and affection. My need for love is nurtured and grows within this relationship every day, and I am so happy that–through recovery–I can express healthy love and affection with someone who expresses it toward me.
      The reward of having my needs met and my core beliefs changed is the greatest motivating factor of my recovery. I see my old core beliefs transitioning to these new core beliefs. The promises that daily recovery is attainable for the rest of my life (if I work the 12 Steps each day) gives me hope. I want that recovery, enough to commit my life to a spiritual journey for the rest of my Just for Todays.
      My name is Jess, and I am a food addict and love addict, anorexic. It is said that hope springs eternal, and I believe it. As long as I am willing to work toward a life of recovery and accept that there is no “graduation” from the 12-Step program, I can live an honest life free from active addiction.

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