Transformation requires hard work

I took my two year old grandson to Target and accidentally bought him a tow truck. Wrapped heavily in all the cardboard and wiring that keep such things in place, my grandson was quite eager to get through the checkout line and on with the unveiling.

Clearly, this was not his first rodeo. He immediately asked the sales clerk, “Do you have scissors?” Alas, she did not.

I said, “Hey, we will be home soon and Meme will get out her scissors and we will free your tow truck!”

He looked up, he cocked his head, he replied, “Ok Meme.” Then he added, “We can do hard things! Good job Meme!” And then he clapped.

I do not know what seemed hard about this situation to him. Was it the difficulty of ripping into the box to retrieve the truck? Was it hearing “no” from the sales clerk? Was it having to wait until we drove home and arrived at Meme’s house to play? I do not know.

But what I do understand is that in the moment when something seemed hard, my grandson thought: We can do hard things. And he is correct. Together, we can do hard things. He celebrated with clapping and a big grin. My granddaughter, who is even younger, does the same thing. She claps when she stands up unaided. She claps when she grabs a piece of food and manages to get it in her tiny mouth. These kids know how to celebrate small next right steps - and I trust we are learning how to as well!

Working the Twelve Steps may feel all about us when we are crafting our responses to all these lists and noting all our shortcomings but it takes a support team to help us complete the work. I celebrate each and every one of you who even consider this practice! We can do hard things! (I am clapping for you!!)

I pray for you the satisfaction that my grandchildren possess when they complete a task. I pray for you the willingness to celebrate your accomplishment and even your considering change!

Whew! These are all the blogs on the fourth step….for now. Tune in tomorrow for a new topic.

Consequences teach us about ourselves

When we ask God what we should do, the right answers will come if we want them... if I’m willing to grow, if I’m willing to invite God into this area of my life.” Anonymous

Consequences. Sometimes only God can help me deal with those. If you want to explore this part of your life, make a list of the consequences that have come about because of your shortcomings and harmful patterns of behavior. Take stock of how your actions have caused people to react in certain ways. If you continue to work the steps, there is a process that allows you to address how you repair and restore these broken things from your past. I hope it encourages you a bit to know that all the heavy lifting in the restoration department will be God’s. We will follow his lead.

A sampling of common consequences that we have often found on fourth steps: loss of self-worth, virginity, values, boundaries, trust, self-control, self-respect, credit, property, respect of others, intimacy, jobs, marriage, children, spiritual connection with God. Other issues include: guilt, shame, humiliation, rejection, isolation, loneliness, repressed emotions, self-hatred, stress, health issues, financial problems, etc.

Any ring your chimes?

Are you ready to make life changes?

If you’ve been creating an inventory, then you are keenly aware of the lists that we have made. We have asked ourselves the questions in one form or another about the effect these resentments, fears, sexual history, financial security, emotional and even social issues have had on our lives.

When I did my first Fourth Step, many of my responses were focused on blaming others or justifying my reactions. I felt in many instances like a victim. Although these responses were common enough, they were not going to get me where I needed to go on this road to recovery.

How about you? Are you ready to put aside the habitual ways you have been thinking and feeling? Are you ready to DO something different?

Social Inventories

An inventory of your social instincts can be completed by listing your painful social connections in the first column, then answering the following questions:

1. What happened to make this an inventory item?

2. How did this affect you? What do you perceive it cost you?

3. How did you react? What shortcomings of yours were revealed in this situation?

Our social instincts are super important because we are created to be part of community. How are you doing on that front? Have a community? Are you helping your community thrive? Are you allowing your community to help you thrive?

Communities that Support and Strengthen

We are custom-designed for sociability. We were made to live within a community. Each of us, I believe, is created with a certain capacity for virtue and our respective communities need what we have to offer. But like most things under stress, these social instincts can be tainted.

We may feel compelled to love our product (what we crave) and use people. This is bass-ackwards! We are created to thrive when we love people and utilize things to make the world a better place for everyone.

When our social instincts get too compulsive, our natural inclinations turn into obsessive compulsions. We don’t just want to belong, we want to run the group. We are no longer content to collaborate for the good of the group, we compete for resources. We gulp down the resources to feed our endless pit of need. This need may show up as financial, sexual, emotional or material. But however it manifests itself, it distorts our better selves and turns us into greedy gluttons for more more more.

This, obviously, has the opposite of our desired outcome. We sabotage our chances as the group grows weary of our cry for MORE. Intimacy is impossible and settling for merely being an acquaintance is unsatisfying at the deepest spiritual level.

If our desire for social connection is out of proportion with reality, we may make foolish choices. We may go to absurd lengths to feel accepted. But is this manipulation really satisfying? No, because it is manufactured. And too aggressive.

A healthy social instinct supports the reality that each of us is enough, and enough is good. Together, we build a community that supports and strengthens the whole. As we continue our quest for transformation, we develop not only the skills needed for resilience, our presence strengthens any community that we choose to join.

Relational Inventories

How about an inventory of your relationships? Your columns for this inventory include:

1. List all your personal relationships in which there have been recurring problems.

2. Next, list the primary feeling/s you experience when this person’s name comes to your mind

(pain, fear, guilt, joy, sadness, anger, resentment, etc.).

3. How has this relationship affected you? What has it cost you?

4. What shortcomings does this situation reveal about you?

Remember - do not filter yourself! If a person’s name comes to mind - write it down. Just write!

Emotional Security

Another list involves wrestling with our need for emotional security. First off, we are created to long for and receive emotional support. We are created to be interdependent, working together to depend on one another as the situation dictates. The Kingdom of God is all about providing all kinds of support, including emotional support, to everyone - especially those for whom the world is least likely to be gracious.

The problem arises when we become obsessed with grabbing for emotional security. This problem takes on many forms. We can become overly dependent on other people to meet needs we are supposed to be taking care of for ourselves. We can allow others to control us, which is also a problem. Or, we might be exerting our compulsion for security by controlling other people.

Overly dependent people may get jealous, use relationships as crutches, and may even resort of disrespect, emotional and/or physical abuse to grab for security. This is confusing for everyone. The dependent person is looking for love and is quite startled when others find their clinging ways disturbing.

Whether you have been a clinging vine or an authoritarian control freak, eventually this causes other people to distance themselves from us. If they are unable to leave, they will certainly become resentful or even afraid. None of this provides emotional security - just an illusion of closeness.

These are descriptions of two extremes are used only to illustrate the spectrum upon which we can evaluate our relationships. Whether we are clinging or clung to, bossy or being bossed, these issues around relationships can have a serious impact on not only our sobriety, but on our overall quality of life.

Created to be both loved and loving, learning how to have healthier relationships is an essential element of recovery work. Before we start working on that in later steps, we must get honest with assessing our current relationships.

Financial Inventories

If you desire to think about your financial inventory, here are some prompts:

* Make a thorough list of examples that indicate how your impulses to either make, spend or hoard money reflects any insecurities or obsessions with your financial status.

* Have you been selfish in the pursuit of money or possessions? Give examples.

* Give examples of financial irresponsibility - when have you spent more money than you could afford? Again - examples please!

* What financial consequences have you suffered as a result of your Substance Use Disorder?

* Did you default on any loans or other financial responsibilities? List.

* Did gambling impact your finances? If so, provide examples.

As you make your list of financial insecurities, here are some additional questions to help you fill out your financial insecurity list:

* What character traits/shortcomings have contributed to financial insecurity? (Did I lie, cheat, steal?)

* What effect did this have on you? Your family? Your community?

Inventories and Finances

Tired of thinking about sex? There are more options for self-reflection. Concern for financial security is real. But is it the root of the problem?

In our group meeting a young father says, “I am really concerned about putting food on the table for my wife and kids. I am thinking about leaving this program (he is in an intensive long term inpatient program and is on day 7) and getting a job. I can manage my addiction by going to meetings.”

The group sat in respectful, empathic silence.

Finally, an older gentleman shared. “I am really worried about my relationship with my daughter. I have NOT provided for her in the way a father should. I lay in my bed at night and cry over the times I know my daughter did not have money for extra activities at school or art supplies. But, in trying to be completely honest here....I was not crying for my daughter or even thinking about her during the past 13 months when I was using - spending all my time and money drug seeking. For me, the best thing I can do to help my daughter is to address my need for recovery.”

Both men express regret over the precarious financial circumstances of their families but their RESPONSE to these financial security inventories may look different given their current mindset in recovery. Example one sees the problem he needs to inventory and address is his fear about his spotty job history. Example two believes that his financial straits are a byproduct of his Substance Use Disorder and he believes that working on recovery through an intensive inpatient program, for him, is the way to begin to address the root problem.

When we think about our worries as they relate to financial security, we may have a variety of motivations. Maybe our pride is pricked and we want to prove ourselves worthy. Certainly we live in a world that judges us by the car we drive. Fear was an element that both of the men in the above examples shared. Anytime we are in a position of financial insecurity fear is likely part of the experience. It is when we ask the questions about the character traits that accompany our quest for financial security that we may learn more about our own shortcomings.

The point of a Fourth Step is not to vomit our sins and insecurities. Like the rest of the inventory exercise, it is intended to use these lists to help us uncover patterns and shortcomings. We are on a journey to discover what motivates us so that we can become more self-aware. As we wake up to our patterns, we will acquire insights into our habitual ways of thinking, doing and feeling. We might uncover pro-addiction thoughts and beliefs.

We will learn what we need to make right, change, and adjust. Our thoughts, our beliefs, our behavior, our attitudes and more will be realigned as we work these steps. Why does this matter? Because we are rebuilding our lives, adding the capacity for resilience, decluttering our life from unresolved regrets and misdeeds, forming better coping strategies. All good stuff, so hang in!

Questions for exploring your sexual attitudes

When we do our sexual inventory, part of our work will include discussions about our sexual attitudes. Here are some questions for you to use to help complete your inventory or if you are interested in delving a bit into your own patterns around sex.

● How have you responded to sexual pressures? Explain.

● Have you made inappropriate sexual suggestions or advances to any of your children or other minors? Had sexual contact with them? Explain.

● Have you made excuses or lied about your sexual desires? Explain.

● When your sexual advances were not accepted by your partner, how did you feel? How did you respond?

● Conversely, how have you responded to your partner’s sexual advances? Have you withheld sex as a punishment? Have you been dishonest and said ‘yes’ when you meant ‘no’?

● Have you used rejection as an excuse for sexual contact outside a committed relationship? (Infidelity can be overtly sexual or emotional.) Explain.

● Have you had an affair/s and blamed the person you had the affair with (They pursued me, what could I do?) Explain.

● Have you ever explained a sexual encounter as baffling, unexplainable or “it just happened”? Explain.

● Have you ever said, “I couldn’t help it” while explaining a sexual encounter? Explain.

● Have you blamed your partner for sexual dalliances outside the marriage? Explain.

● Have you used pornography? Journal about that.

Anything come up as you journal that really freaks you out? Go talk to someone!

Preparing a Sex Inventory Part II

Our sexual instincts are part of the survival mechanism in our brain. Procreation is a drive all species need to not end up extinct. But sometimes our instincts get confused or messed up. It’s not just about the sexual act either - it is also about the nature of relationships with those you are attracted to as well. You do not have to limit your list to explicit sexual experiences!

In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, it is recommended that we focus on how our sexual instincts have hurt others. Here are some questions to guide your sexual inventory. Use four columns.

1. Who did I hurt as a result of my sexual instincts?

* Write one column that focuses on your sexual attitudes.

* Write a second column that addresses your behaviors.

1. How was I affected by this event?

2. What shortcomings does this example reveal?

There are two extremes we might uncover. One - a sexual impulse that is out of control. Another - a sexual impulse that is repressed and non-functioning. This inventory may require more thought than you might first think if the only thing you are inventorying is sexual acting out!

Ok folks, if you want to inventory - get started. If not, maybe give a bit of consideration to the fact that our sexuality may be more complicated than we have assumed.

Preparing a Sex Inventory

Completing a sexual inventory can be uncomfortable. Do you want to complete one? I was always tempted to keep it general and say something like, “This really isn’t my field of expertise.” Or, “My grandmother always told me it was impolite to speak of such things.” Or “The modern woman does not kiss and tell.” This did not fly with my sponsor. Instead, I was encouraged to be as specific as possible.

Oddly enough as I started really giving my sexual inventory my full attention, I realized that my family system had taught me some pretty weird things about sex. I had received some very strange messages and I needed to unpack them in order to understand my own sexual history.

Here is one example of weird sex stuff in my family of origin. In my late teens my father took a job managing properties for a local bank. One day I went into the branch near our house to make a deposit and my father happened to be there. This was unusual. He worked in some big warehouse in the Northside of town where the bank kept all manner of things banks need to keep buildings up and running. I waved at my dad who was sitting behind a glass partition with a woman. I got in line. I knew the teller from high school; he was a couple years older than me. We caught up on his life, I got my deposit and went about my day.

At dinner that night I could feel that my dad was “off”. I felt nervous. I pushed my food around my plate and waited for the proverbial shoe to drop. Soon, he stared at me. He chewed his food. He asked me to explain myself to the family. I had no idea what he was talking about. A wily and inveterate liar at this point in my life, it was hard to keep up the storyline that was designed to keep my father from knowing too much about me. I had no clue what exactly he had found out or how to escape his gaze.

He started, “I saw you at the bank today.”

I replied, “Yes, I saw you too. That was weird you being at the branch. What were you doing?”

“Don’t try to avoid the subject, this isn’t about me. It’s about you.” To make a long, traumatic and in some ways boring story short - he accused me of flirting with “his employee” and acting like a slut.

At the time I just shrugged and told my brothers, “Dad is a wackadoodle.” I did not understand how all these accusatory sexual innuendos were inappropriate and harmful to me. It made me feel awkward around guys and self-conscious. If my friend hadn’t been in a teller’s box surrounded by a nice glass window I’m not sure I would have had the courage to speak to him, much less flirt! As an adult, I know it was simply a polite conversation. As an unhealthy teen living in an unhealthy family, I wondered - am I slut?

It is possible that as you think back on your own sexual inventory, you may have some thoughts, feelings, or curious questions about your own sexual history. Write it all down! If it isn’t helpful for your Fourth Step, your sponsor will tell you. But you may find some interesting backstories that will have your therapist intrigued!

Preparing a Fear Inventory

If you want to do a fear inventory, here are the questions to complete:

1. Who is the person or object of fear (or anxiety)?

2. What happened to trigger the fear (list specific event/s)?

3. How did this affect me? What do I think this event cost me?

4. How did I react?What shortcomings were revealed?

Example:

1. I am afraid of my father

2. He changes jobs often and I am afraid we will lose our home; he cheats on my mother and I

am afraid he will leave us and we will not have any money; he has a hot temper and I am

afraid he will do something that will land him in jail and again, we will be without provision.

3. Get a job when I am 15 and have to lie to various people to juggle the job and my school responsibilities; I try not to eat to see if I can manage on less; I worry obsessively about getting a scholarship for college so I over-volunteer, etc. to the point of exhaustion and begin to isolate from friends and fun.

4. I do not ask adults for help. I do not check to see if my fears are even valid. As a result, I lose

that first job. I feel as if I cannot provide for myself or my brothers. Again, my pride, pessimism, insecurity, evasiveness show up as shortcomings.

In ALL our inventories, do not second guess your feelings or your version of the story. Just write write write. A sponsor and/or therapist can help you sort through all the details!

Fear and Inventories

Resentment is not the only emotion we need to inventory. We also need to address our fears. I learned that many of my fears came from either feeling inadequate or under-resourced. What is the source of your fears?

In fact, this fear is so prevalent when I listen to others share their Fourth Step (Fifth Step work) that I think of it as the “Law of Scarcity”. For as long as I can remember I have been afraid that there was not enough to go around and I wasn’t going to get what I needed. Evidently, I am not alone.

Enough food. Enough money for rent. Enough attention. Enough safety. Enough love. Enough. I grew up with the belief, this anxious feeling, that the world was a barren place and I would need to scrap and scrape to make my way in the world. I feared I would not succeed. Although I have found my own compulsivity baffling, even I can understand that self-starving was intimately tied to this feeling of “never enough”. Every time I thought I was losing out on something others had, my fear ramped up and I felt more justified in my commitment to the “Law of Scarcity” and all my strategies to survive. My inventory revealed this as I examined my resentments, fears and sexual history.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

~ Psalm 46:1-3 NIV

If Psalm 46 sounds like crazy talk to you - you are not alone! When I come across verses that sound so counterintuitive to my own experience, I pause to consider my options. Am I wrong? Is the psalmist a nut job? What might I be missing? I also use my imagination to find common ground. Many Psalms speak of fear and trembling and anger and resentment. I have two ways of relating to Psalm 46 - one is to acknowledge that the psalmist has every right to write about his good days - and this is one of them. But my FAVORITE way to read is to use my imagination. Is the psalmist crying out his psalm as he runs for his life? He believes these things to be true, but in his current situation he is tempted by unbelief. Imagine with me the psalmist running from his enemies ,heart pounding, feet barely touching the ground as his arms pump to gain more speed and distance from a situation that has triggered all his unbelief. He is trash talking his doubts, poetically demonstrating the same impulses that a guy in the New Testament also expressed, “I believe! Help me in my unbelief!”

There is much more I would like to say about this fear and how working a spiritual program taught me that the world is an abundant place, but that might distract us from our work!

Recognizing the difference between perception and reality

It was the custom in my family of origin to eat dinner every night promptly at 6:00 p.m. My brother wanted to play in a football league but practice would have required a 6:15 pm dinner schedule and that was not going to happen. Instead, my mother had him sign up for basketball - a sport my brother never had a bit of interest in playing. She sent him off to the local high school to sign up. She gave him a bouncy kickball to take with him to practice. His coaches took pity on him and brought him a regulation basketball to use, picked him up and returned him home after each practice.

We saw nothing unusual about this situation. This was part of our family system and we did not know anything different. Were we kids often disappointed when we did not get to do what our friends were doing? Yes, but that felt more like being ungrateful than living in a home with rigid rules for daily living.

As we inventory and unpack our life events, we may need some help realizing that some of the things that we thought were normal, or the things we blame ourselves for, were not as they seemed to our child’s eyes.

It is also likely that some of the patterns we developed as a result of our particular family system will carry over into all the other areas of our life. My worldview is profoundly affected by the family and culture in which I was raised. This PERSPECTIVE is so deeply ingrained that I am unaware that there may be other perspectives out in the world that would better suit my core values and my sense of self than the ones I was raised with. This tension between my own sense of self and the life I want to create and the world in which I was born into can contribute to my compulsions and eventual dependencies. They may be coping strategies (not particularly good ones) that serve as relief from the tension between what I have been told and who I want to become.

How about you? Are you absolutely content with your life? If so, great. If not, maybe there is more to the story than you ever considered.

Principles for making an inventory

Today, you may want to consider specific principles that you have lived by that may not be serving you well. If you wanted to do this exercise, it would look like another four column sheet:

1. The principle of______________________ .

2. What happened to enforce this principle in my life?

3. How did this affect me? What do I think this way of believing cost me?

4. How did I react?

Principles take many forms but usually are founded in falsehood and cause harm. The principle of prejudice, or the principle that grown-ups do not cry, or that only self-indulgent people practice self-care are all examples of principles that we may resent now that we are learning they are false and have harmed us when we lived by them.

Here is an example that my friend with the problem of naming his resentment put down:

1. I resent the principle that I was taught “Anger is a sin.”

2. My mother taught me that God hated angry people and required me to “put on a happy face”

all the time. If I cried in frustration or got angry I had to hide my feelings to avoid

punishment.

3. The effect this had on my life: I do not know what to do when I feel anger. I repress my

emotions. I am dishonest about how I felt. I have developed depression and stress-related

health issues. I think this contributed to my divorce and my using.

4. I have been selfish in other relationships as a result of trying hard to avoid any negative

emotions, I have asked my wife to take responsibility for my feelings (selfish), I have acted like a victim, my fear of losing control made me super controlling of my wife and kids, and even at work.

Ask for feedback (and help) when you're stuck

I have a friend whose wife spent them into bankruptcy. He claims he does not resent his wife. He does have a rather extensive list of her shortcomings, or as he likes to say, “suggestions for her improvement”. He reports feeling very sad, even depressed. He keeps a notebook filled with all the ways she has hurt his feelings. My friend has resentment but is not quite ready to own it. He has also accidentally completed his resentment list for Step Four as it relates to his wife!

As a child he was taught that anger is a sin. FYI - Feelings are not sinful. They are warning lights to let us know we need to pay attention. (We know they can become shortcomings if we do not appropriately deal with them, but that is a different kettle of fish.) Because he received bad intell about emotions and was punished if he did express his anger, he has no skill sets for processing his anger and frustration. He also thinks that good Christians do not feel anger. Wrong. Even Jesus got appropriately mad when circumstances called for it!

As we work through our inventories, we may need to push the pause button time and again and ask for feedback and help sorting through our emotions - particularly if we have repressed ours or been taught that our feelings are wrong. In fact, our inability to express and respond in healthy ways to a wide range of feelings may contribute to our daily problems. It certainly makes our daily life more difficult. The Fourth Step allows us to grow and learn and figure out not only our emotions, but other key information about ourselves too.

Lives of careless wrongdoing are tumbledown shacks; holy living builds soaring cathedrals.

~Proverbs 14:11, The Message

Reacting, Ruminating, Blaming, and Numbing

When we experience trauma, our entire being goes into a form of survival mode. This is a reaction, not a response. We do not think. We do not feel. We do not reason. We do not evaluate the situation and ask how we want to respond based on our core values or long term plans.

We react. We ruminate. We blame. We numb.

Maybe take some time today to consider how you might be reacting (rather than responding), ruminating (rather than thinking in a balanced way about life), blaming (rather than accepting responsibility for our issues and letting others deal with their issues), and numbing (by a million different coping strategies - over or under eating, over or under sleeping, over or under exercising, using alcohol or drugs to excess, spending too much money, etc.)