Posted by: innerpilgrimage | January 21, 2011

Simplify

      Keep it simple.

      This basic tenet of 12 Step programs, a classic slogan of AA, has been something I have struggled with since the beginning. But life has been simplified around me, and I am finding that distilling my life really has ended up causing more good in the end.
      I have isolated for a week. This hasn’t been really good, in retrospect, but I understand now how it is going to keep me sane over the next week, and possibly keep me sane over the next month. I have challenges coming up, things which really make me aware of how much I will throw tasks in the way in order to distract myself from the simple, yet difficult, work of real recovery.
      I have simplified my life to three basic things: Recovery, Family, Business/Work. Anything that does not advance those three things in my life get set aside.
      Number one is my recovery. This is rooted in my desire to have the strength to change what I can. This trickles down to family and business. How? Well, if I am stabilizing my internal life, I will act in a stable manner. And my actions do affect my family and they do affect my business and they do affect the rest of the world around me. If I feel stronger and more capable, I can come up to a level of performance and take healthy risks which will net positive results in my life. My abstinence in OA and withdrawal in SLAA are sourced from my recovery. As much as I want to say, “My abstinence is the most important thing,” I cannot. My recovery is. Abstinence is important; it is how I was able to start my recovery. But once I kick-started the recovery by getting the food out of the way, I realized that my recovery is what will keep my abstinence going.
      My SLAA sponsor and I backed off our sponsor-sponsee relationship. She seemed worried that I would be offended. Not at all. I had been told by literature and people in program to do one recovery at a time. I thought it would be easier to streamline both together, but I struggled with them together. So, the food stuff gets managed, even as it will have some of the approval stuff connected to it when I get into my amends in later steps. But I don’t see putting that sponsor-sponsee relationship into a holding pattern as a bad thing. Her concern for my recovery and my ability to focus on the 12 Steps as applies to SLAA–a much more rigorous stepwork, even than the Big Book–needs its own special focus.
      Besides, if I know I have another Step Four coming up soon, I won’t feel like I have to get everything all-at-once. I have revelations which will come because of completing this Step Four Inventory. I will have resentments which have yet deeper source resentments which I do not recall at this moment. I read recently that forgetting, sleep, and death are interconnected by how we end up letting go of life when we do those things. Our memories are not perfect from birth to now; sleeping takes away time from actively living; death is, well, death–the ultimate “letting go”. And please don’t consider I am getting obsessed with all things death. It’s going to happen in my HP’s time, and I am neither seeking it out nor fighting my mortality. It is part of the human condition. Hopefully, it’s part of the condition 50 or so years from now. But I am pretty sure it’s not happening today, so it’s not part of my life at this moment. But death is what it is, and I have a sense that this isn’t all there is. So, when we let go, we also open ourselves to things returning. We can be reminded by others of things passed; sometimes just having it shared with us supplants a story in our life and places a text signpost where there is no actual memory. “I did this back then” is a fact without the intense emotional memory that got locked in my head once upon a time. Sometimes the memory is jogged; sometimes not. Either way, it is what it is. We surrender to sleep in the same way, letting go of time in order to refresh the physical form we use to traverse this world. A third of our lives, decades in most people’s cases–is spent in quiet repose. A third of our lives is missing. We don’t fret about it, however. Why fret, when sleep is necessary for the other two-thirds of our lives? We began our existences dreaming; it’s so much a part of us that we cannot imagine not doing it–even if we fight it for short periods of time.
      Anyway, recovery has intense value because it changes the internal landscape. Upon changing the internal landscape, the external one must change simply because I am putting different things into the world than before when I interact with people–primarily my family.
      My family is a laboratory where I can practice recovered life. It is where love is fostered. It is the source of people who live so close with me that they have more stake in me being a serene and sane person. After all, when I am acting insane and chaotic, their lives are directly affected. Their lives are thrown into complete upheaval when I am not working toward positive outcomes. Changes are felt immediately, though others’ trust of it takes time. After all, no one in addiction is acting out all of the time. Life isn’t in black-and-white, good-and-bad. Life is an indescribably rich kaleidoscope of events and memories which culminate in relationships and situations between ourselves and others. And the people who are with me in the little rubber boat? They benefit first from any positive changes from within me, and they are hurt first by any negative changes. They are the first line of accepting the things I cannot change. Even as I live so close to them, I cannot force them to surrender their wills to me. Sure, I can get them to do what I want, but I cannot get them to like it. So, instead of forcing my will on others for the illusion of control? I sit back and enjoy life, let go of the grip and work side-by-side with them toward a mutually beneficial situation.
      So, why business as #3? Well, this is what I have spent most of my time hiding from. Laziness in me is actually fear. Paralyzing fear of the unknown, of not being perfect from second one, of failing and getting nastybunnies from people I don’t know or don’t connect to any more . . . yet I give them authority over me. My work is an extension of walking through that fear, of courage-building. Sure, a business may fail, but the dream does not have to. I can get up and keep trying, making course corrections. If I am strong in my recovery, and I am strong in my family, I can rely on knowing that I not only have determination to contribute something to the world, I will have hands lifting me upward. My family will support me as I support it. And if I fall, I have hands up to bring me back on my feet.
      As an extension of my core family, my recovery family is doing the same thing. I appreciate having a place I can go to with the truth of my addiction and be accepted for brutal self-honesty. When I share, I am speaking aloud the secrets of my addiction. When they are released to others, I am doing mini Fifth Steps all of the time. These people accept me because they empathize with my situation in some way. I have a safe place to grow, hands to hold me up, and possibly even people who I know would support my business–not that I’m going to network it there. If my Higher Power decides they and I will cross paths outside of the rooms, then we will. My purpose in the rooms is simply to make progress, any progress. Shuffling forward a millimeter or leaping forward a meter doesn’t matter. Progress is progress, and even a perceived setback can be turned into a win for progress if I take it and apply the principles of recovery to it. There is no failure as long as I am learning.
     
      There is no failure as long as I am learning.
     
      Last night, I had a struggle with the trip I am about to take. I am going through two physical places where my life was the soul of pure and unadulterated addicted life. My worst acting out with the food and the sex-and-love addiction were in those venues. Yes, it was over a decade ago, but the pain still lingers. It was four years. Only four. Less than ten percent of my life. Yet those four years were intensely devastating as I used coping mechanisms and kept falling into deeper and deeper despair. Somewhere within, that little kid who said, “Okay, we’re an adult. Time to have that perfect life, now!” was able to keep me alive with coping mechanisms when I kept falling into the same molasses traps of childhood. And I puttered along after that, knowing that it was not working. Yes, it took almost 15 more years to make it here. And I certainly was deep in addiction when I walked in the door of my first OA meeting that September evening in 2009. Then, on October 13, 2009, I dared to work twenty-four hours of abstinence.
      And boy, did I screw that up, autopilot eating cake scraps and breaking abstinence as if I wasn’t even on a food plan.
      But I learned. I learned while I was bingeing. I tasted recovery even as I ate cake. And I learned my first lesson–this was not going to be an easy path, even if I did plan to walk it one day at a time. The lesson that recovery is for life was planted then, even though it was more than a year later when I heard the OA graduation ceremony shared at a speaker meeting:
      “Welcome to McDonald’s. May I take your order?”
      “Yeah, I’ll have two of those and three of those.”
      “Super-sized?”
      “Of course. And a couple of apple pies.”

     
      It’s been a long road since the days when I ate five Whoppers at the local BK, eating the fries while sharing a few with the begging birds, and drinking refill after refill of giant-sized diet soda. I could chug gallons of the stuff. Hell, I used to be one of those people who had a half-gallon container which I refilled at the local convenience store on a regular basis. Binge binge binge. Excess to the extreme. Trying to feel alive by feeling something, even if it was pain. Trying to numb that pain, in turn. Back and forth, back and forth. A pendulum swinging from extreme to extreme while praying for it to stop in the middle finally.
      On October 14? I made it to bedtime. And I white-knuckled it for months, gripping colored AA and OA chips like they were life preservers. Funny thing is? They were. As I held to them, a new habit emerged, and I was relieved of the need to eat to the extreme. I am still an addict, and I often eat in sloppy ways within my food plan. And I know when that happens? Something in my recovery needs to be addressed. Therefore my abstinence is but a tool in the process of learning to live and let live, of letting go the need to manipulate the world around me and create resentments because people honestly don’t like it when I act like a jerk. They will sometimes let me get away with what I want just to keep the peace. It’s a dishonest way to live, deciding what I want then wiggling around until I get what I want by using their desire for peace against them.
      The best, and only, and simplest path for me is to be honest and accept others’ desire not to help or to help. And in the honesty, I find people are more supportive of giving me the help I want and need. Mutual respect to and from imperfect people–part of the recovery work I am doing now.
      Humility is hard. I have lived a life of being told I need to be better than everyone else yet obey authority. I have been encouraged to grandiosity and I have been encouraged to martyrdom. I slip into those character defects so easily. And I see the pattern in my life, that true and real humility is the only way I can find strength and hope and the ability to let go of my ego’s need to control the world in order to set it up like a chess board so I can play then have a tantrum when I don’t win because I just can’t think far enough ahead.
      To quote the computer from the 1983 movie, War Games: “The only winning move is not to play.”
     
      So, I was able to get through the potential stress of the trip by remembering the purpose of my time on this trip, of the decisions I made to stay dozens of miles from where the person I am there to visit is staying. I am there to visit the one person there who is related to me by blood. Everyone else is, well, everyone else. I am staying where there are OA meetings and where I can retreat in order to get time alone to pray and meditate before I go deal with at least one person who was part of my addict life and who triggers my addictions, still. And I am going there to grow my business, by looking for stock for the future brick-and-mortar store I hope to have once the economy rebounds enough that I can shift my finances toward it instead of paying off a mortgage in a house that isn’t worth it and paying down debt accrued trying to live the addict life (and pay the lifestyle necessary to keep that upside-down mortgaged house going). In my HP’s time will those debts be managed. Through slow and steady effort, I am changing my financial outlook. And sometimes it hurts because I want results now. I want to jump in now.
      This, of course, is happening in my HP’s time because I need the time to recover and learn how to be an entrepreneur, a secret dream I have longed for but never had the strength to pursue in fear it would fail (and in turn, would mean I was a failure). Slow growth. Sometimes shuffling forward, sometimes taking large leaps forward. I am starting to have faith and hope that I will be ready right at the time things get freed up so I can pursue that entrepreneurship. That I will be ready to commit my time and effort to it instead of run away and manipulate others into doing for me. I’m not ready for a store. I am not ready to take it on yet. But I am growing into it, learning about how to be an entrepreneur by trial-and-error and reading entrepreneurial literature. When I am ready, I think my HP will have it there, waiting. And then I can walk into it, not jump. I will be ready to pick up the new burden with a strength I simply don’t possess at this point. But I will. And that is a good thing to know, that my Higher Power is walking me through this and keeping the dream alive within me.
      So, with all that handled? I can have fun this coming week. I can enjoy myself and work the family relationship with the person I want to build a stronger tomorrow with. I can turn to meetings in another city and know that I’m having an OA family reunion, in a way, with people who know what it’s like to obsess over food and who know that it just doesn’t work. And I can keep my eyes open for opportunities to grow my business and to expand my own personal writing career.
      After a week of stress and fear about things I cannot predict, control, or change, I have broken through a wall of willingness and I have learned a lot about what is truly important. I have been faced with the reality that I will overburden myself in order to distract myself and “feel busy”. Simplifying life has changed things. I am obligated to release responsibilities in a conscientious way, not simply dumping stuff and feeling like crap for not bringing things to a resolution. And it will take time, as much as I want to dump all this fast and get on with it, already.
      But that’s not how it goes in recovery, in family, or in business for me. And that’s all right.
     
      My name is Jess, and I am a binge eater and food restrictor, an approval addict and a social anorexic.

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