One of the things I painfully learned, beginning in early recovery, is the importance of being fully self-supporting. When I got to the rooms, my sort-of-ex had been supporting me for a number of years, and helped me out as I gained a foothold in AA. Initially unemployable, (I wasn’t speaking in complete sentences and was still seeing and hearing things that weren’t there) I really didn’t want to be self-supporting. But I cried tears of joy when, a few years later, I signed papers on the mortgage that was now solely my responsibility. Recently reviewing my finances as part of my retirement planning, I was grateful for my Depression era parents, who spent wisely, for two specific ex’s, who imparted healthy and sane views of money, and my second ever boss, who sat me down when I was a young and clueless new wife and showed me her method of managing monthly bills. Despite these good teachers, and my relative financial stability today, I can still succumb to “fear of financial insecurity,” which is essentially a lack of trust. I’m fortunate to have always had a roof over my head and enough to eat, which I recognize is a privilege. Staying clear with what is a need and what is a want helps me maintain a level of serenity in the moment. Money is one of those areas that requires self-discipline, appropriate action, and letting go of expectations for results. Sometimes I experience anxiety, when what’s going out seems to exceed what’s coming in, but instead of panic, I can use those feelings to look at where I might need to rein it in and put away a bit more for a rainy day, which can be anything from an unexpected car expense, to a raise in property taxes, or the chance to travel.
Part of being relieved of the fear of financial insecurity has to do with that other promise that “we will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us.” For me, that applies to how I spend (“Can I afford this?” instead of “I want it now!”) as well as how I interact in the world, whether that is in the professional or personal realm. The “What do I do now?” syndrome wasn’t only related to new non-drinking behaviors (as in, “How do I order pizza without saying, ‘and a pitcher’?”). I often felt confused, which usually meant scared. I remember sitting in my car outside the local community college a few months after treatment, scared to go inside because I didn’t know where to go or what to ask. A year or so later, a class I was in required going to the medical school library for research. I sat in my kitchen, anxious about not knowing where to go, or what to ask – fear, fear, fear, of being embarrassed, of getting lost, of someone recognizing that I didn’t really belong. In both those cases, and many since, I gave myself a talking to, as in “Self, if you don’t do this particular task at this particular moment, you probably never will, so just do it.” I intuitively knew that if I let fear win, it always would. Do I always "intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle me" these days? Usually. And, I say that because I’ve learned that it is ok to make mistakes, that it is ok to say, “I’m not sure. Let me get back to you,” that it is ok to ask questions, and most of all, that it is ok not to know. Life is not a contest.
I completed my amends process this past week, with written Steps 1-9, and mailing off an anonymous donation. I also wrote a letter to my younger self, taking responsibility for my actions as well as forgiving myself for making decisions based on the fear of not being accepted. I shared the letter with my sponsor, and then burned it in the backyard, and dropped a rock into the ashes to symbolize the letting go. I have taken the action. I have turned it over. I am done.
Today I "know a new freedom and a new happiness." There used to be an old-timer at my daily meeting who’d say, “There are no big deals.” I don’t agree with that, but over time, I’ve come to understand that most of what I labeled "emotional disasters" were simply examples of me attempting to live in the future, or the past. Today, when an actual big deal arises, I know what to do based on my experience and on watching you navigate the world as a recovering person.
All of the Promises have proven true for me – maybe not every one on every day, but they illustrate my way of life in long term recovery. I clean up my missteps (old and current) and do my best to live with integrity. I used to think that meant riding in on my trusty steed, brandishing the Steps like a shield as I faced down each day’s demons. Sometimes it’s that dramatic, but usually, living with integrity simply means showing up to work on time, eating healthy, being kind to loved ones and strangers, or curling up in bed with a good book when that's what my soul craves.
Years ago, a friend suggested that I wear the program “as a loose garment.” I think that phrase is in our literature; I believe it comes from the Christian Bible. It’s a good reminder to relax my grip. Today, the Steps and the principles are a gentle guide. When I’m confused about something – what to say, where to go, what to do – I can pause, access my inner wisdom, talk with a trusted other, and know in my heart that it’s all working out, one day at a time.
How do the 9th Step Promises manifest in your life today?