Posted by: innerpilgrimage | March 13, 2014

Right into the Danger Zone: The Twelve Steps of Relapse

      It’s been four years and five months, today, since I started abstinence and relapsed before the first twenty-four hours were over. I thought today would be fitting to look over what I found yesterday, “The AA Danger Signs”, and try to apply them to my current recovery.

Recovering Skeptic, Compulsive Cynic

      Before I get to that, I’ve got a lot on my mind today already. There’s a book I picked up from the library (along with a ton of crochet and a couple of toymaking books with crochet patterns for toys, as usual . . . I think I’m a Crochetheist, according to my library) which had a paragraph which really spoke to me, in terms of encouraging my “inner child” to evolve into a freethinker instead of dig in as a neo-atheist:

      “Skepticism–the simple request for reasoning or evidence before accepting a proposition–is a virtue to treasure and cultivate in our kids. But cynicism is something quite different. A cynical position makes negative assumptions as a matter of course, not as a result of the evidence, so a cynic is as uncritical as a dewy-eyed believer. One accepts without thinking; the other rejects without thinking. Both postures are obstacles to critical thinking, and both should be actively avoided.” (p. 7, Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief)

      In this book, I appreciate that one of the authors writes about not feeling fear over his four-year-old child considering the Christian religion conscientiously. He didn’t feel a need to get anxious over his child speaking about God or Jesus, because freethinking is about mindfully choosing what one believes. It was actually quite sweet; the little girl developed an idea about how God was for adults and Jesus was for the kids based on what she’d learned. After consideration, the child had decided (though I’m very liberally paraphrasing) that God had made adult challenges which evoked fear and Jesus made the world safe and good for kids. Therefore, in time, she surmised that God was for adults and Jesus was for kids. To have that kind of open-mindedness . . . and to appreciate that I think that little girl described my childhood indoctrination into Christianity is pretty-much right on.
In Sunday School, I learned about Jesus as the loving-kind man who healed and made the world a spiritually safe place to be a kid. Yes, he had a temper, but that was because a deeply sacred place was being used for mundane purposes (the moneylenders in the temple). In church, while bored out of my mind, I started reading the Old Testament. I still remember how traumatized I was that after Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt, his daughters got him drunk so they could have an incestuous relationship with their dad, in order to get pregnant by their dad so he could have sons or something. That freaked me out completely, that the literal truth of God is littered with violence and pornography.
      In other words, I came to Jesus as a kid and left because of God. I still like the parables, and I still think the parables from the Gospel of Luke are spiritually inspiring, like spiritual Aesop’s Fables. Not a big fan of the Gospel of John, for its heavy-handedness and threatening verses. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark . . . I’m still neutral. I can’t, however, deny the rest of the books of the New Testament and just settle on the Gospel of Luke for its feel-good message. And, well, it’s all confusing to me because if it’s all literal truth? God’s a schizophrenic or at least a manic depressive as the chroniclers wrote God to be. And that’s just the New Testament.
      So, anyway, that’s my experience with it, and I will admit wholeheartedly that I am a cynic and not a skeptic when it comes to the Abrahamic religions. I especially mistrust Billy Graham-style Christians, because I believe that any sign of vulnerability I show will bring out that Christian’s aggressive attempts to convert me to their church. The Oxford Group 12-Step God appears to me the same way.
      So, I’m on a journey to become a freethinker who trusts in my journey instead of an angry atheist with walls instead of boundaries. It’s frustrating, because I’ve met a good group of conscientious Christians in the 12-Step rooms. Those open-hearted and open-minded program Christians were the kind of people who I would go to church with to respect and celebrate the power of their spiritual journey. I just worry I can’t take me anywhere when the proselytizers show up with zeal in their eyes, as if getting me in a chair every Sunday means they get one step closer to the top of the Amway-style Salvation Pyramid I perceive they believe when I deal with them.
So, I’m a cynic and not a skeptic. It’s something to work on as I make progress in program. Well, if I even stay in program.

Right into The Danger Zone (Nuh nuh . . . nuh-nuh-nuh!)

      The Danger Signs aren’t an indictment of these people, though my inner cynic is pointing fingers. The recovery journey is a personal journey using the program as a set of guidelines (not rules) which can lead to a second chance at life. And that’s what I’m working toward, that second chance. Recovery won’t make my life pristine and perfect, but it can keep me from destroying my life and dying earlier than I have to because my compulsions drive me to act out risk factors. I’ve talked about them before, but I guess I can again.
      Compulsive overeating and anorexia kills my physical body because I choose to be malnourished–obese or underweight. Sex-and-love addiction opens me to STDs and physical abuse and loss of the good relationship I have if I act out on it. Codependency is depressing, drives me toward a self-loathing that makes me question the point of even living. Recovery is that solution for me so far. Having a food plan and an action plan keeps me more physically healthy than not. The complexity of Sex-and-Love addiction (played out as Romantic Obsession–bingeing on “love” chemicals–or choosing to socially isolate to avoid losing everything) and the complexity of codependency (played out as either the controlling know-it-all or the helpless damsel wanting a savior) are sinister in that they fuel the thoughts which drive me toward a self-destruction I don’t want. The thoughts . . . well, they worry me more because they’re pervasive and constant. Taking action would appear to come out of nowhere, sourced from nothing. My compulsive actions don’t come from nowhere. They come from the longing to stop feeling so hurt and angry all of the time, to have a vacation from a near-relentless flow of exhausting self-criticism.

The Twelve Steps of Relapse (AA Danger Signs, modified)

1. Start missing meetings for any reason, real or imaginary.

      Yeah, I do that already. I forget, or I have family stuff, or I worry I’ll be a jerk in group because I’m still feeling vulnerable and I hate feeling vulnerable around people whose spiritual journeys have a Christian framework.

2. Become critical of the methods used by other members who may not agree with you in everything.

      Well, I get frustrated when the answer is, “Pray.” I can’t pray. It’s, as I said before, like making a telephone call to a number no longer in service. I’m critical of people getting prayed at to relapse because they aren’t religious. I’m critical of the God bits. I’m definitely critical of the no-white-foods diet (I worry someone will force it on me, so I shove back). I have been frustrated that, as an anorexic, very little in program has to do with anorexia. I’ve been frustrated that I judge people looking at me as I am, that when I say “I’m a compulsive eater and anorexic,” they look at me and decide I’m not thin enough to be an anorexic. I don’t know. I get critical and paranoid, wondering who’s judging me. It’s probably because I’m judging others, especially on the atheism front. I’ve even, in the past, been a bitch about mentally judging people in OA who have abstinence but aren’t super-skinny. No, I never was a bitch enough to say it outright. But I think it, and that’s not recovered behavior at all to me.
      Oh boy. This isn’t fun to confess at all, because I feel sick at the thought that I’m being a judgmental jerk in the rooms. It may stem from my belief that everyone’s judging me first, so I’d better’d strike and dismiss them immediately. That attitude isn’t recovered. I know it’s not recovered. Well, I guess confessing it here brings it out in the open. People can choose to judge me for what I just wrote, and I have to accept it. I’m not Miss OA, Miss SLAA, or Miss CoDA. I am a person who’s just trying to find my way through recovery after the pink cloud of the first year of recovery has passed and the dirty work is here and now.

3.Nurse the idea that someday, somehow, you can drink again and become a controlled drinker!

      Well, alcohol isn’t my problem, but I can see how that applies in my own programs. Some days, I want to toss out my food plan or make it so broad that I might have well tossed it out. Some days, I want to flirt and get acceptance from men to get that romantic chemical high. Some days, I want to just have someone to tell me what to do (or tell them what to do) and enmesh with them until I have to extricate myself. I want to not look at myself, whether it’s trying to fix someone else’s life as I see fit or have someone else fix my life (also as I see fit). I just want to exhale, to sit in a temporary sugar haze or romance high, or feel manically powerful or just float lazily as others do for me. In other words, I crave euphoria. Not serenity nor happiness nor peace. I crave the dizzying effects of euphoria.

4. Let the other fellow do the 12th Step work in your group. You are too busy!

      I used to do a lot of service, from intergroup to opening rooms to leading meetings. It’s not that I’m too busy. I’m worried that if I volunteer, people will start volunteering me to perform service until I feel like a pack mule ready for my beating when I misstep. The most frustrating part is that it has happened, even in program. I shy away from service, now, because I resent being given all of the work and none of the responsibility to make decisions. I also hate being alone at a meeting, which happened. The suggestions to try to bring new people in was met with, well, people coming back to keep me from doing a group conscience of one because I was the only one left in the fluffybunny rooms. I sat alone for a damned hour reading literature, which actually was easier than being left to try to explain program to newcomers . . . while I was still a newcomer, myself. I suppose I can be grateful for the seemingly bad and move on. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, still, that my attempts to help were treated like attempts to control. I just wanted to make a stronger meeting, and I guess I did. It was stronger once I dropped the load and walked out the door.

5. Become conscious of your A.A. seniority and view every new member with a skeptical and jaundiced eye.

      Not as much in OA, but I did this pretty consistently in SLAA and CoDA. Newcomers don’t know how meetings run, and I’ve gotten out of acceptance before. Even worse, I forgot how others were patient with me while I was playing havoc with how meetings ran. I dominated time with shares a lot, got frustrated, got annoyed. Crosstalked more than once. Just because I know how the meetings are supposed to run and that I try to practice the CoDA Safe Room principles doesn’t mean I succeed.
      I have an answer for myself: I can stay mindful of the hour before I walked into my first OA meeting. I can take a lot from that, the despair and the white-knuckle hope that something would finally work. I can contemplate and meditate on that before I walk into any room and be grateful that people were patient with me as I learned how to be part of a strong meeting. I still am trying to learn. Maybe that’s worth mentioning as a share, that I worry about not contributing to the fellowship by living strong meeting principles as an individual. Hm. That is actually a really good idea, to talk about how I want to be not an example of what to do in the rooms but to find personal serenity knowing I did my best to be a safe person in the rooms that night–even if I make mistakes. Especially if I make mistakes.

6. Become so pleased with your own views of the programme that you consider yourself an elder statesman.

Yeah, that one . . . I don’t consider myself an elder statesperson as much as a seditionist at this point. Have I been? Yeah, especially in OA. It’s not hard to see that evolution. I even did it in this journal. Here I go with being grateful for the seemingly bad, but I think I liked myself more before I reached 180 lbs. than after.

7. Start a small clique within your own group, composed only of a few members who see eye to eye with you.

I never had that. I’ve been the one on the outside looking in consistently. I haven’t had many program friends. And, well, the program friend I did make died. So . . . yeah.

8. Tell the new member in confidence that you yourself do not take the 12 Steps seriously.

      I take the steps so seriously that I’m trying to examine them and glean the depth of spiritual meaning. Yes, I did have trouble in the beginning in OA with the steps, but the OA “Our Invitation to You” connected more than any piece of conference-approved literature (in AA, ACA, or Al-Anon–all groups I attended and left before I turned 21) to which I had been exposed. I am a believer that the spiritual journey through the 12 Steps (not necessarily precisely as written) can cement a physical and mental and emotional recovery. A spiritual journey, however, isn’t about finding God and submitting to a religious structure for me (which the anti-12-Steppers seem to consistently argue that it is). It’s the journey to find one’s unique self in the morass of messages that I need to be improved upon. It’s the journey away from believing that I am inferior or superior. It’s the journey from trying to escape from life through whatever I can grab to give me that euphoria hit. To me, it’s the journey of Pinnochio and the Velveteen Rabbit: to become real.
      So, I do take the 12 Steps seriously. I take them seriously enough that I am resentful as fluffybunnies that I can’t keep a sponsor and can’t find a step buddy. I honestly don’t care if this person is in a different program than mine. What I need is someone open-minded enough to not tell me to pray as the quick-and-dirty solution. I appreciate others can. I am even sick with envy sometimes that others can. I can’t, and I need help. I need real help and someone disciplined enough to take this journey with me. I had someone, and that someone died. I don’t feel abandoned by that mentor who died as much as I do the people who demanded I do the work yet didn’t have time for me. I do accept that they were busy. There are too few sponsors in my programs, and those who do sponsor are overburdened by the number of sponsors they do have. Well, and I am hurt that some of my sponsors made program friends with their sponsees and I wasn’t invited.
      I’m going to speak a few personal truths right now. I feel resentments which are connected to stepwork. Despite that resentment, I still believe the steps (not as written) work and can work in my life. I am completely ready to have a sponsor from any 12-Step group–whether or not I work it–help me reach this initial milestone so I can feel comfortable taking on sponsorees . . .
. . . and if I leave 12-Step behind, it will be because of the resentment that I feel abandoned and judged and rejected by the sponsors I wanted to be program friends with. It will definitely be because I didn’t walk into a fluffybunnies OA room to be part of a diet and calories club. I lost the physical weight. Now, I’m ready to work on the mental and emotional and spiritual burdens. I am living Step Zero, here, and I am angry and want to use that anger energy not to destroy but to create. And then I will fluffybunnies-well do the steps on my own.

9. Let your mind dwell more and more on how much you are helping others rather than on how much A.A. is helping you.

      That’s one of the reasons I landed in CoDA. I’ll fix someone else’s life to avoid dealing with my own dookie. Right now, it’s not really program-as-written that’s helping me, though. I’m getting a whole lot out of looking at the spirit of program through a secular filter (even as I emotionally and mentally beat myself up for daring to mess with canon–which I have to remember King James did when he rewrote the fluffybunnies Bible).
So, well, I’m not dwelling on how I help others. I hope others are getting something out of my struggles in program. I hope others are getting something out of my journal besides an easy way to access Veronica Shoffstall’s poem “After a While” or read about the symbolism of mourning doves. I am putting my journal out here because it’s not pretty. It’s not a tra-la-la happy-skippy journey through the twelve steps, complete with recovered bunnies and 12-steppin’ bluebirds and forest creatures getting recovery chips this week.
      I want to stop compulsively trying to escape from real life. To me, people who life real life are inspiring and amazing people. I want to take things as they come. I want to trust in my place in humanity–neither better nor worse than anyone. I have a list of compulsive behaviors that are so overwhelming at times I want to collapse and cry in grief and anger for the weight of them all. I want not to sit in judgment of every little move I make in the world, second-guessing whether what I did was enough. That I should have had some kind of magical power to have made it go perfectly despite reality.
      I want, more than any of that, to trust myself to contemplate mindfully then act in a way that is in my best physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual interest. I want to know that I’m not going to be the #1 abuser in my life any longer, that maybe some day I won’t have the longing to run away from my hyper-critical inner judge with addict substances and compulsive behaviors. I guess I want to grow up, to stop being both cruel governess and terrified child to myself. And no, I’m not multiple personality. This is behavioral, best-reflected in my compulsive control-freak enmeshment behaviors and my hyper-needy savior-seeker enmeshment behaviors. How I act out addiction is all about black-and-white thinking to the extremes. I don’t want to live in extremes. I want to, well, live.

10. If an unfortunate member has a slip, drop him at once.

      I get more out of relapse shares than I do out of chained recovery shares, so I don’t drop people who slip. I don’t even get the mentality of people in 12-Step who would drop someone in a relapse situation. While I wouldn’t go running to proselytize by quoting Chapter-and-Verse Big Book at the person to shame them into returning, I would be deeply concerned for that person’s health.
      Going out of my way to reach out, however . . . well, I don’t reach out in general because I don’t trust me not to go into fix-it mode or another person to take advantage of me. So, pfft. I don’t reach out and no one’s really tried to reach in since that mentor. Who died.

11. Cultivate the habit of borrowing money from other members, and then stay away from meetings to avoid embarrassment.

People borrow money from people in group? Yikes. I don’t have anything to say about this, because I have never been in a situation when I’ve borrowed money from a member then run away. I’ve fished out pennies from my car for Seventh Tradition, just to have anything to put in the basket. Money between members . . . I guess I’ve been messed over enough in real life regarding money to either give money as a gift with no expectation of reimbursement or simply not talk about money.

12. Look upon the 24 hour plan as a vital thing for new members, but not for yourself. You have outgrown the need of that long ago.

      This one’s sticky and tricky for me because it’s very quickly self-correcting. I don’t diet well, and dieting requires a very long-term mentality with a goal at the end. Diet-mind makes me anxious, and the only relief is to get into the “Just for Today” mentality. There have been times when I have told myself that if I really want to relapse, I can do it tomorrow. So, I focus on getting through the rest of the day in abstinence because if I’m really wanting to relapse, I can do it the next day.
      The following morning, either my attitude is different or I just do what I’m content with–plan for a day in food abstinence. If things get bad, I can relapse tomorrow. And so it goes. I can relapse and start over with a new Day One of abstinence once I’m done bingeing tomorrow, if it’s really that important to go nuts with the compulsive overeating or self-starvation.
      I also take comfort in the program aphorism: “Don’t forget the world record is 24 hours.” This AA slogan connects beautifully with this part in “Just for Today”:

“Just for Today, I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle my whole life-problem at once. I can do some things for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt I had to keep them up for a lifetime.”

      As a dieter, I thought in terms of years of restrictive food-related self-abuse. In recovery, I don’t try to fix decades of stumbling and chaos and self-loathing and rejection and resentments in a day because it didn’t take one day to create it all. I can get through a day. Things shift with the breeze in life, like a wind sock or a weather vane. Solid plans come crumbling down because of the smallest things–like how a vacation planned for a year or more can be taken down by a lowly virus. Also, things are so often out of our control that we can be left lamenting what was supposed to be magically spectacular can leave us with PTSD.
      This is why I won’t go on a cruise ship, by the way. The promise of fun and the reality of quarantines, food poisoning, and enforced structured fun (I had a friend who was disallowed by the cruise people from enjoying her cruise vacation reading all day in her room or in the ship’s library–true story) keep me from boarding an ocean liner even to destinations I want to travel by water instead of air. So, to avoid having to get serene as I’m being forced to fold towels into amusing shapes while the ship hangs out like a plague vessel waiting to be allowed into port? I have the courage to choose not to go on a cruise and go monkeynuts having a terrible time in the name of having a wonderful vacation where all of my whims will be fulfilled. Well, as long as I’m the type whose whims involve what cruise ships offer–which are some people’s whims and I accept that. So, they can have the cabin I won’t be reserving, and I wish for them a perfect cruise experience. I’ll even sit through their vacation pictures despite my anxiety at having childhood experiences which involve being traumatized by hours of my parents’ vacation slides from places I wasn’t wanted or welcome to go.

The Journey, Not the Destination

      Well, I suppose, as I look at the importance of choosing abstinence for another twelve hours or less, I have a chance to appreciate the journey. When I wake up tomorrow morning, I may have four years and five months of chained food abstinence. Tomorrow morning, I will have had all of these niggling resentments finally exposed, and I can put them in my Fourth Step Inventory. Tomorrow morning, I will have had a chance to use what I found yesterday to generate traction in recovery. Tomorrow morning, I will have yet another chance to decide if I’m done with program entirely.
      For today, however, I get to deal with changes that are coming hard and fast. I have a transfer of technology to do, from the current system I use to a new system with a new operating system to learn. This new operating system means that I lose the applet which allows me to write my online journal offline. The previous technology transfer moved me off of using an internet browser to do all of this. So, it will be back to the internet browser for me. My technology needs aren’t big, which is good. I can be content with a netbook or a tablet device with a Bluetooth keyboard for input. So, I’m going to deal with the changes that have been set in motion already, not worrying if today is the day something changes my life completely. It will or it won’t.
      Oh boy. And I just got news that’s about to seriously play havoc with my family’s financial soundness. I’m not going to run to a room to borrow money from someone in program, but this news is anxiety-producing enough that I feel so queasy that I couldn’t eat if I wanted to right now. Life of an anorexic, I guess: Stress causes me to feel nausea, which causes me to avoid food instead of seek it out. Yay.
      I just hope that I’m recovered enough to choose to conscientiously act with the mind of a skeptic. I don’t like when I default to my addict-addled reactions, which I see are cynical in every way. I’m learning, though, making progress. Definitely not a perfect life, but no one promised me a perfect life when I entered the rooms. A saner life? Yes. A perfect life? Well, I’ve come to believe that I don’t want a perfect life. I want a life well-lived, and–just for today–program is how I want to live it.
      Even if it’s not precisely-as-written.

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