Posted by: innerpilgrimage | October 25, 2010

Fear Itself: Releasing the Shackles on My Spiritual Self

      Today, I read my For Today and my Voices of Recovery, and both seemed completely aligned on one very important block, one very important tool of self-will which keeps me in addiction: fear.

      Fear tells me there is no Higher Power but myself to turn to. Fear tells me, also, that I can’t do it alone–therefore, I might as well give up and hide in the food. Fear is darkness, shadow, the nighttime which holds the horrible figments of my vivid imagination. Fear keeps my inner child desperate to control the situation by harboring resentments, acting out (shutting down my emotions so I can go into public and act like an ass), acting in (isolating and hiding from the world), and feeling guilty that I’m not and never can be perfect.
      Fear eats at my mind and traps me in insanity. I try again and again to control things I have no business controlling–like others’ lives and minds. Fear grants me the delusional superpower of reading others’ minds (I’m generally wrong), of controlling others’ will (I’m not controlling their will, I’m encouraging them to avoid me), and of promising me that everyone in the world will love me if I’m just perfect (I know, as an imperfect being, I would resent and be jealous of and find no love for a person who was perfect). Fear is one of the pantheon of my addiction. It is a Higher Power along with myself and food.
      The in-depth Big Book study I’m doing with my OA sponsor is showing me that I have a sword and a shield to combat fear. My Higher Power is my shield; rigorous honesty is my sword. When I am overwhelmed, I turn to my Higher Power to protect me from the constant onslaught of addiction’s piercing to my heart and its slashes against my recovery. With rigorous honesty, I can do the steps. The steps are like sword practice; I learn both how to attack and defend against fear and the addiction, and I practice daily so I am more prepared to combat fear when it rises. On the days I don’t practice, I find that when fear jumps me in a blind alley, I am less able to fight it off with program. I rely on my shield more on those days, and I am vigorously recommitted to practicing with my sword.
      In For Today, it discusses the power of doing a Fourth Step–even imperfectly. Through meetings, I have learned that Fourth Steps are done over the lifetime of a recovering person. We are rigorously honest in layers. We initially pluck the low-hanging fruit because it is easier to get to. Once those have been harvested and processed, we return to the tree for what we can see now that the obvious fruit is gone. Eventually, we use a ladder and climb high and in between the branches to get what was obscured. We also grab the low-hanging fruit which we were too afraid to grab–perhaps because it was not ripe to be plucked quite yet. The point is that we are not expected to harvest it all in one try. We cannot. It takes time to get everything. It takes multiple trips to get everything. But we owe it to ourselves to keep going back until the last of what we can reach is harvested.
      I am preparing to do a Step Four Inventory out of the Big Book with my OA sponsor. This brings up fear, of course. Do I only go after what is related to food? Do I go after everything–including the SLAA stuff? Will I simply re-do that Fourth Step for my SLAA sponsor, or will I do a new one? I think I ought to do a new one, especially since each Fourth Step I take clears more resentments and gives me a chance to return to resentments I did not release in the Fifth Step.
      That Step Four Inventory, this time, is a better-guided one than the first one I did on my own in OA. My sponsor has asked me to merely list people I feel resentment toward. That’s all. What I resent them for comes later. All I am asked to do is feel around my life to find the people who cause those feelings of anger, frustration, and anxiety. We’ll go through and find what I resent about them later.
      Like the first part of the Eighth Step, the gathering of names before doing the footwork of writing it down is very helpful. Also, this Fourth Step beginning helps me collect most of my Eighth Step names. I know myself enough to know that I have lashed out and caused harm to the people I resent in my Fourth Step. My anger at feeling powerless against them has made my coping mechanisms through childhood resurface. The things which I used to defend myself from losing my mind completely have caused harm. I have caused harm–both intentional and unintentional–because of resentment, and those actions must be addressed with the same rigorous honesty. Just not quite yet.
      Rigorous honesty, however, requires compassion. I have some actions I took which would cause harm in the revelation. Before I choose to reveal anything, I turn to the acronym THINK. I as myself if what I am about to share is True, Helpful, Important/Inspirational, Necessary, and Kind. Not or. And. Wow. I’m seeing right now that it’s definitely important to share at meeting in that way, too, especially the part about inspiring. That’s how I do service to newcomers. And to do the best service, I really ought to know my own recovery. It does get distilled down to True, Necessary, and Kind in a quote by 20th century yogi Sri Sathya Sai Baba (it is sometimes attributed to the yogi Sai Baba of Shirdi, who was supposedly reincarnated into Sri Sathya Sai Baba; from a reincarnationist’s POV, theoretically attribution belongs to both, seeing as they’re the same soul–just in different bodies):

      “Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence?”

      Truth, necessity, and kindness are part of program. We’re not here to unburden ourselves and cause more harm. There are things we must carry with the help of our Higher Powers (Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. Italics mine.) rather than cause bondage of self-will to others by creating resentments. In other words, I don’t get to avoid an amend to save my bacon . . . I accept that the cruelty of the revelation would harm someone who does not deserve to be burdened with a truth that they will feel and re-feel as they churn their resentment toward me for telling them a painful truth. In other words, why would I purposefully place someone in the Hell that I am working toward extricating myself in recovery–just so I don’t have that burden to carry any more? If I need to relieve myself of that burden, I need to do the Resentment Prayer from the Big Book story, “Freedom from Bondage” (in this link, it’s on page 561 of the Second Edition of the Big Book, near the end of the page; in the Fourth Edition Big Book, it’s on the last page of the story on Page 552). I expect it would require the prayer for the person I resent for triggering me and for myself because I was living as an addict instead of seeking recovery. I knew my life was unmanageable then; I knew the choices were self-serving then. I just wanted what I wanted when I wanted it and did not care how it hurt others or myself. Now that I care enough about others and myself, I am facing it in recovery. And, of course, the related questions–Do I need to reveal this? Would revealing this cause harm to others or just me? Am I wanting to avoid the revelation to save my ego or to save someone else unnecessary pain?–bring fear. I don’t want to chance losing what I have. But I have to be willing to lose it, and I have to be ready to reveal it. Only after-the-fact of unearthing this harm do I determine if it’s harm to others or to my ego. My ego doesn’t get away scot-free; it’s gotten away with this crap for years. The humility comes in being ready to reveal it and seeking the spiritual guidance to determine if the kindness is in the revelation or the keeping of the truth to be revealed.
      The Big Book asks those seeking real and lasting recovery to be fearless and honest when we do this. These are two things we, as addicts, do the opposite of on a daily basis. When I feel fear and try to hide the truth from myself or others, I know I am choosing my ego over recovery; I am acting in addiction–even if my food plan is stable for today. I know that the more I practice relapse, the closer I come to it; addiction and recovery are both progressive states of being. I don’t get a balance in this life. I get relief from addiction through recovery or I live in the addiction. I will never be “normal”. I can learn to act normal, and I can even feel normal feelings. That’s part of the gift of recovery. The closest I can come to normal is “recovering”.
      Now, some people say “recovered” when they talk about the effect working the program has on them. That’s fine, because for them it can mean that they are enjoying the promises of a life of action rather than reaction in their current recovery. To me, however, “recovered” sounds like I, personally, have achieved a goal and can rest on my laurels. Not so for me. That may change, but I consider at this point in recovery, the minute I say I am “recovered”, it’s as if I am saying “I’m cured” or “I crossed the finish line”. There is no cure; there is no finish line. For me, either I live in recovery or I live in addiction. Both require daily practice to adhere to their specific principles. How I live that day determines if I am in recovery or merely food sober (a “dry” addict, aka on a diet).

      As a child, I lived in a state of unrelenting and permanent fear. Adulthood was a lifetime or two or three away . . . depending on how old I was at the time. By the time I was an adolescent, the years had taken their toll, and I was already resigned to the addicted life. I had no God but me. My avatars were food and the illusion of control over the uncontrollable. Coincidences would reinforce that sense of superhuman control–sometimes random events would make me think I had actually had an effect on others’ will.
      As an adult in recovery, I see that’s not true. As an adult in recovery, I have learned that “normal” people use fear as a tool. They see it as a challenge and they overcome it in a healthy manner. In recovery, I have the tools to see fear as a challenge and overcome it in a recovered manner. I turn to my Higher Power and use the program to make it happen. However, my inner child (or, my adult addict) is at odds with it. I will never be able to change the past, never be able to change how I grew up believing that I was able to affect the world by either deluding myself into thinking I had superhuman mind-reading powers or superhuman will which could bring a person around to my way of thinking. My past has no history of normalcy within its recesses. I was not taught healthy thoughts or boundaries as a child; only in my adulthood can I learn normalcy enough to emulate it. Like that “act as if” Big Book recommendation that I have a Higher Power helped me actually find one, I will always “act as if” I am normal. I mean, how normal can I ever be if I have a book to learn what normal is? I fundamentally do not understand normal people. I honestly think I will always be on the outside looking in. However, that’s what meetings are for. I walk into a meeting, and I find people who fundamentally do not understand what normal is. In meetings, I find people who are on the outside looking in. Some have accepted it and have purpose-driven and useful lives anyway (those in recovery); some are struggling with it and suffer because they cannot accept they can never be cured into becoming “normal” (those in relapse/addiction).
      Personally, I prefer recovered life to a normal life. I survived something that breaks people. It almost broke me several times. The suffering in my mind, body, and spirit drove me to the edge more than once. I am loath to admit that I spent a long time considering ending my life to end the pain. Then, I entered a time in my life when I had the pain but I was unwilling to consider suicide. Now, I have hope. I honestly believe that I have a useful life today. I can, simply by existing and being willing to go out into the public, offer the option of recovery to others who feel desperately alone and who are suffering in mind, body, and spirit like I was (and sometimes still do). Simply by letting people know that OA is out there makes a difference. I want people to research it, to see if it’s right for them. I want people to decide if a spiritual solution is what they need. Not everyone does need it. But making it an option is the service I render when I go out into the world.
      If the person is more interested, I can share my story. They, not I, should decide if my story is close enough to theirs to warrant walking into a meeting. Of course, it took me figuratively crawling through the door–having been battered into submission by my addiction–to keep coming back. I am an addict, period. Therapy and pills did not help me. I am one of the people of the Big Book who suffered “from grave emotional and mental disorders” (Chapter 5, “How It Works”, p. 58). And I am also among the “many of them [who] do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.” (ibid.) I have done my time on couches and medicated. I have done my time dealing with the psychological ills, poring through my childhood to find understanding–and honestly trying to change that past while concurrently creating more resentments and harm. In addiction, I was a danger to myself and others. I drew people into my eating disorder. I pushed them using my character defects. I have a lot of guilt over that now I have walked away. That’s why I consider myself deserving of being put on the lists for Step Four and Step Eight–I harmed myself more, sometimes, than others. And I have to learn to recognize with rigorous honesty that I did the harm then I have to learn to ask myself for forgiveness then give it to myself. The hardest part will be forgiving myself. But, I am willing and ready to change, and I have always believed that an honest desire to change to as harmless a life as I can live–the act of being forgiven for my “sins” which was instilled in me when I first found my Higher Power in the brightly-lit Sunday School rooms of my youth–is worthy of forgiveness. That’s one thing I can list in my Fourth Step as a gentle reminder that I was not thoroughly self-motivated.
      As I progress through recovery, I am learning so much. If fear immobilizes me, I am approaching it wrong. If fear inspires me to act, I am approaching it right. My inner child was immobilized by it because sometimes holding still until the danger passed was the only way to survive. I can visualize myself as a child standing perfectly still, barely breathing to avoid being a target. I’ve avoided attacks simply by not being there. Isolation–the act of not being seen or heard–was rewarded with not being attacked emotionally, physically, or spiritually. I was imprisoned in my childhood. I learned behaviors which kept the harm done to me to a minimum. The price was my spontaneity, my self-confidence, and a normal adulthood. However, I understand, now that my inner child was just trying to survive to adulthood. I always believed that I would emerge into the sunlight able to stand and able to be normal. I had true faith that, on the day I was an adult, I would be free to be normal and I would magically know how to be normal. Reality doesn’t work like that, and it took me decades longer to realize that I was still that little child . . . only this time I was the abusive authority figure to myself. And, as I fought to reconcile my relationships, I caused harm when I acted out the only way I knew how and when I modeled the only adult behavior I understood.
      The hardest reality is that I parented my own children both as the terrified and desperate inner child and as my own parents. My most heartfelt amends, ones which I know will bring tears, will be toward my own children. I did not know any better, but that’s addict rationalization trying to excuse the pain of reality away. I’m in recovery, now. To honor my children, I will go to them and humble myself and ask forgiveness–not expect or demand it because I am their mother. There is nothing I can say or do which will change reality. I did the harm, and it is a disservice to the pain they endured if I try to excuse my behavior. I am to state reality, ask forgiveness, then live today with the sincere intent not to harm people and the sincere actions to avoid harming others. By honoring the truth, by humbly admitting I acted horribly and asking their forgiveness, and by living today in recovery, I believe I can forgive myself.
      In turn, if I can learn to forgive myself, I can forgive others–even my parents–who come to me with the same attitude. I would want their forgiveness, after all. Giving forgiveness freely and releasing resentments (instead of demanding to know “Why?” while concurrently knowing the answer is often, “I don’t know”) is part of my release from addiction. If I can be vulnerable enough to accept an apology–even if the person still struggles and causes unintentional harm, as I still do sometimes–then I am still on the path of progress in recovery.
      I think on that sweet relief of really letting go–of releasing the anger and vitriol which poisons me as well as the people I am dealing with–and I have hope. The less which binds me to my addiction, the easier my recovery is to practice. Less temptation to revert to that desperate child and the desperate measures necessary to “survive to adulthood” means that the addiction’s grip on my life is loosened. I will be able to live in today, not yesterday. I will be able to let tomorrow stay there, as opposed to devising plots and plans to change others to suit my need to feel safe around them. I will have boundaries and I will be safe in them. I will have the safety of living in reality. I will not need to move and organize a wall around me to keep the invaders at bay.
      That said, I’m not going to delude myself. In and out of the rooms, I know that it will take decades to even catch up to the darkest pains . . . the ones which will shudder the foundations of my recovery when they’re revealed even to me. Getting the light debris out of the way is necessary if I plan to dig for the worst of the worst in the future. Since it’s in the future, however, I am granted a reprieve from seeking them out now. They’re released to my Higher Power, and when they’re revealed, I can release them again if they’re too much for me at that moment. I have faith that the problem will be returned to me with a solution and the strength and will to handle it. That’s another thing that I consider is positive which I brought forward from childhood–the belief that my Higher Power (at the time the Christian God and the Christ) will not give me anything in my life I cannot handle. Sometimes simply having awareness is the purpose of the revelation. It is merely to let me know that I will have the strength in the future to process it through the steps, grieve it in a healthy manner, then learn to live after it.
      Wow. I did not intend this post to be this long, but I guess I had a lot to process today. From accepting fear as both a deterrent from and a motivator toward action to realizing what is coming is not insurmountable as long as I keep making progress in recovery, I’m pretty pleased with this morning’s efforts.
      This is the face of MY recovery in THE program. I am not working my program because my program put me deep into addiction. I’m not working anyone else’s program because I’ve tried other programs and they don’t work. Plus, I internally rebel against authority even if I am looking like I am toeing the line. I have learned the art of sabotage over my years of addiction, and I will be the exception to any rule set down for me. The program, however, is so simple that I can apply it to me and the results have been miraculous (again, I define miraculous as coincidences combined with action, as opposed to an external authority coming down and just making it happen). The stepwork I have done so far with the rigorous honesty required has already made some changes. I am far from living out of addiction (Oh, those character defects! Food addiction was just a symptom), but I am making progress toward recovery. I think I am accepting that recovery isn’t a place but a journey . . . an inner pilgrimage to a life I can look back and say, “I started my journey on September 23, 2009, by crawling; today, as I reach the end of my life and entry into whatever mecca comes after, I have walked toward it this whole time.”
      Okay, I don’t mean to sound grim, that the goal is death. But death is part of reality. My goal is to keep walking a recovered path so that I reach my last day on earth knowing that despite the challenges of the journey, I am not afraid of what comes next. My desire is to have lived half of my life–or more!–on the path of a life well-lived. I want to be useful and help people along the way instead of wander lost in the woods forever. I want to accept help from others along the way, as well.
      On Friday, someone said that they appreciated having a disease for which the cure is love. While I do not believe I will ever be cured, I acknowledge and accept that I appreciate that I have a disease for which the protocol is love. It’s certainly better than the drug of food (and romantic intrigue), which has side effects that have consistently been worse than the disease, itself.
      To know (perhaps even to remember and revisit) real love in my lifetime . . . that’s a pretty awesome gift to get on the journey. All I have to do is keep walking forward.
      My name is Jess, and I am a loquacious food addict in abstinence and working recovery. It’s a good day in recovery, even if I have triggered behavior later on today. I’m facing fear today, and it’s triggering a familiar, addict-based reaction. I have the choice to be immobilized and slide backwards toward addiction or be challenged and walk toward recovery. Whatever the outcome, however, I will have learned something about me and my addiction. It’s nice to know that even through the worst of it, I can still find a nugget of recovery in the brambles of a triggered reaction.

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