Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Steps 6 & 7

In September 1973, my young husband and I moved into an apartment that was as new as our marriage - we were the first to inhabit the 2-bedroom unit that had green shag carpet and avocado countertops. The after-party from our little reception at Mom and Dad's was the first of many, many parties in those rooms - drunken revelries into the wee hours, weekend dance parties ending at an all-night Chinese place, my brother and I getting stoned and making pizza while said husband was off playing cards. We were friends with Harry and Camille, and Floyd and his roommate in our corner of the complex, hanging out on the little deck during summer, BBQ grill going or a pot of gumbo on the stove, with a wide range of comings and goings. It was great, and my drinking wasn't much different than any of our friends at that point. A few years into that marriage there was a fire in the complex and a young woman was killed. I still recall the eerie sound of dripping water from the fire hoses, and creaking rafters as the building cooled and we tried to sleep. It was a long night.

We moved soon after, to a nice house on a nice street, doing our part to portray the American Dream. But by then, my drinking had increased in intensity, I'd had one affair and was headed for another, my husband was compulsively gambling (though for small stakes) while engaging in his own side-relationship and the marriage was on the rocks, just waiting for the tipping point that would end it. But even given the pain of those last months, whenever I've gone by the old apartment, my memories have been fond, thinking of how eight or twelve of us would dance the Hustle (now called the Electric Slide), or create a gymnastics pyramid in the front room while stoned. And then, this year, there was another fire that took more lives and gutted the entire complex. The site was shut down, what remained of the building bulldozed and now I drive by an empty lot, a hole where once up to 25 people cooked and slept and loved and danced, went to work and came home, did laundry and washed their cars.

I'm often struck by empty spaces where homes used to be. We see it here in Portland where old houses are demolished to make way for mini-mansions, and certainly saw it in Detroit, with empty lots in-between derelict buildings. I think about all the living in those places that are now simply open air, although in my way of thinking, those spaces aren't really empty, carrying the energy of what once was.

In a very roundabout way, this can lead me to think about Steps 6 and 7, where we take a look at our so-called character defects, and where many voice fears that if they let go of these characteristics, there will be nothing left. I don't believe that the removal of a defect, the correction of maladaptive behavior, leaves a vacant lot in the soul. The literature tells us that "nature abhors a vacuum." Ideally, when I release a piece of myself that isn't working, I have the opportunity to be refilled with a more positive aspect - often simply the other end of the continuum from what was causing me, or others, distress. 

As my husband prepared to give a share on Steps 6 & 7, we've been talking about what it means to become entirely ready, and what happens when we "ask." I hear a lot about the wording of these Steps. Notwithstanding the God/HP stuff, many replace "defect" with "defense" or take out "good and bad" from the 7th Step prayer, rationalizing that we are hard enough on ourselves without the label of "defect." I can agree with those arguments in principle, but also try to move beyond surface definitions of the language. For me, it goes back to uncovering the "exact nature of my wrongs," the root defect of character that leads to the defensive behavior. For example, I long thought that fear was a defect, when in actuality, fear is simply a human emotion, quite helpful in caveman days and sometimes now. It is the defenses that fear triggers that I hope to have "removed" in 6/7, which simply (but not easily) means gaining awareness of what I'm doing so I can choose a different response. Fears can lead me to efforts at control, people-pleasing, seduction, lying, cheating, stealing, etc. Yes, I must stop the acting out, and I need to examine root causes and conditions in order to heal from the inside out. As was pointed out during a 5th Step this week, my fears manifest because I'm propelled by self-reliance.  Lila R says that most alcoholics suffer from the "defect" of believing we aren't ok, that we're not "enough," which can lead to all sorts of compensatory emotions - anger, self-pity, self-righteousness, blame... If I'm truly, truly allowing Step 7 to work in my life, it becomes a matter of being aware of the thought patterns that trigger old ideas, telling me I'll lose something I have or not get something I want (12x12 p.76).  As my sponsor reminded me, my defenses come from a place of me, me, me. My first reaction was, "Oh no, that doesn't fit - you don't understand," but of course she's right. I don't know that anyone, outside a monastery or mountain top, is completely altruistic, but I can certainly use me, me, me as a yardstick to measure where I'm focused. Have I lost sight of my powerlessness? Am I lusting after a particular outcome? Am I pointing one finger at you and three back at myself? Have I forgotten that I'm really OK as is? Always, the opportunities to go deeper are there, if I allow myself to get still and pay attention to what's really going on inside rather than what can feel like the white-noise of my busy mind.

In the one-day-at-a-time department, I'm reminded this week how quickly things can turn, learning of two people who were professionally scammed out of money and another who's life changed drastically due to a tick bite, not to mention the horrors in Buffalo and Uvalde. One day we walk around like we know what we're doing and the next, tragedy strikes or we make an impulsive decision that turns out to be the very wrong one. One day we're sailing along and the next we're barely treading water. The literature says recovery allows us to "match calamity with serenity," to which I would say, "Maybe, by degrees." I can be grateful that the terrible things I hear about didn't happen to me without smugly thinking they never will, while not giving in to fears and not leaving the house, or locking the children away. This is a strange and often violent world we live in, especially here in the US. My task, which sometimes feels impossible, is to strive towards serenity in my own life, while doing my best to be part of the solution in the greater world - one day at a time, one choice at a time.. 

What old ideas are you aware of this week? Can you gently accept your humanness at the same time you notice what you might want to do differently next time? What are ways that you honor your memories without getting stuck in the past? If one of our primary purposes as recovering people is to be of service, how does that play out for you today, in or out of the rooms? 

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See the Feb 4 post for a sample of the 78-page workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" available as hard copy (mailed) or PDF (emailed - ideal for those of you outside the U.S.). Portland Area Intergroup also has a supply available.  Go to the WEB VERSION of this page, if you don't see the purchase link in the upper right corner

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