Lesson 21 – Step 11: Relapse

In this lesson we are going to discuss the second of the daily maintenance steps and how working Step 11 can help to prevent relapse.  Recovery is a daily lifelong process, and the spiritual growth I experience from working Step 11 helps me to maintain my spiritual condition.  The book of Alcoholics Anonymous warns about resting on our laurels.  This means we can’t rely on past successes guaranteeing future victories.  The image I was given early in recovery was to see my disease as always being in the corner doing push-ups trying to get stronger.  If I am not keeping up by growing spiritually I will eventually succumb to it.  It can be easy to get overconfident in our recovery if we don’t watch it.  I can imagine if a boxer beat the same opponent every time for years on end they may believe they don’t need to train anymore to fight them.  If their opponent however does not rest in their preparation, eventually the tables will turn.  My recovery is the same way, I need to continue to do the work that will strengthen my relationship with God to stay ahead of my hurts, hang-ups and habits.

Our acrostic for this lesson is RELAPSE:

R – Reserve a Daily Quiet Time

E – Evaluate

L – Listen to Jesus

A – Alone and Quiet Time

P – Plug Into God’s Power

S – Slow Down

E – Enjoy Your Growth

Let’s look at each one in more detail:

Reserve a Daily Quiet Time

As time goes on in recovery it can be easy to forget how difficult things were in the beginning or how impossible giving up our hurts, hang-ups and habits seemed before we began.  Working Step 11 is important because even though things do get easier, eventually we will face temptation as a part of recovery.  Prioritizing daily maintenance of my spiritual condition makes sure that I am ready to handle these temptations.  I know early in recovery I used to get so upset if I got tempted to drink.  When these thoughts entered my head I would get very angry at myself – I couldn’t believe I was actually thinking about drinking after everything I had put my family through.  Then I would start to get very scared.  I thought that working a good recovery program would mean these thoughts and temptations would go away, so if I was still having them then I must be doing something wrong.  I now realize that this is just part of being an alcoholic.  Rather than going through an emotional roller coaster, when I experience temptation I just use it as a reminder that my need for God will never go away and I go to Him in prayer.

Evaluate

There are going to be times when our ability to fight off temptations will be compromised.  We need to be aware of these types of situations and how to deal with them.  Below are two acronyms that you can use to help evaluate your ability to fight off temptation.  The first comes from Celebrate Recovery and the other is one I have heard in Alcoholics Anonymous:

H – Hurting                                 H – Hungry

E – Exhausted                            A – Angry

A – Angry                                    L – Lonely

R – Resentful                             T – Tired

T – Tense

If you find yourself feeling one of these realize you may not be on top of your recovery game – and if you start to feel temptation in combination you can be in danger of relapse.  The good news is that you don’t have to fight this alone, reach out to other people in your recovery group.  If there is something you can do about these (such as if you are hungry or exhausted/tired), take action to get yourself in better shape to deal with temptations that may come.

Listen to Jesus

It may seem obvious to most, but I never really considered how important it was to listen to God.  I was always taught to pray and talk to God, but it never occurred to me that communication should be a two-way street until well into my recovery.  The way that we listen to God is through meditation.  Now if you’re like me the term meditation may bring up images of people sitting with their legs crossed humming loudly with their eyes closed.  This may be a valid form of meditation, but I have learned that meditation can take many forms. If I can quiet my mind and let myself receive God’s message I am meditating.  I can do this listening to some music quietly, exercising without any other distractions, or just taking some time to reflect on scripture I have just read.  Quieting my mind on purpose gives me the opportunity to hear from God.

Alone and Quiet Time

In order to do our daily prayer and meditation it is important to pick out a good time and place.  The time and place we choose should be free from interruptions and distractions.  I know many people choose early in the morning to spend time in study, prayer and meditation as it helps them to prepare for the coming day.  Whatever time you choose I encourage you to make it the same time everyday so that it becomes a normal part of your daily schedule.

Plug Into God’s Power

By the time I had gotten to Step 11 I had seen God’s power first-hand in my life.  I had stayed sober longer than I was ever able to on my own.  Despite this, I still was reluctant to plug into God’s power in other areas of my life or to seek His help when facing decisions each day.  If God has the power to relieve me of my desire to drink, why wouldn’t I also go to Him with other issues?  I have had to learn to seek His help with life’s problems and seek His help when making decisions.  Doing this keeps me in closer contact with Him as I have to go to him often each day for help.

When I approach God for His help in solving problems I have to make sure I do not allow my own selfishness to enter the picture.  Otherwise, rather than seeking His will for my life I will instead try to enlist His help in getting my own way.  I have to remember that rather than proposing my own solutions to life’s problems or always asking for my will to be done, I instead have to ask for His help in seeing and accepting what His will for me is.  By dedicating myself to finding His will for my life I can truly Plug into His power.

Slow Down

Sometimes in our recovery we can find our patience being tested.  We keep asking for God’s help or seeking His answer to something and the outcome does not come as quickly as we want.  When those times arise I have to remind myself that my timing is not perfect – God’s timing is though.  It may seem to me like the time is now for something to happen, but I have to remind myself He will reveal Himself exactly when He should.  It’s easy for me to get frustrated in these times and start to feel like my recovery has stalled.  When I feel that way I have to remind myself that I’m not stuck, I’m just not seeing the results I want to see right now.  As long as I am doing the work I am going to continue to grow spiritually, it’s only if I throw my hands up in the air and give up that I can truly become stuck.

Enjoy Your Growth

At this point in your recovery you have probably started to experience some victories.  Old hurts, hang-ups and habits that seemed to completely dominate you no longer have their power.  Perhaps some relationships have been mended, perhaps some of the consequences you were facing that were making your life unmanageable are going away.  Share these victories with the group.  You never know if somebody may be on the verge of giving up until they hear about your growth and the changes in your life.  They may relate to what you’ve gone through or maybe just want a little of what you have and this can convince them to stay.  Celebrate the new life you have: give thanks to God and share your victories!

Other Thoughts

One of the things I heard in treatment is that relapse doesn’t start with a drink, it ends with a drink.  During recovery I have heard many people’s relapse stories and this has certainly been validated.  In all the times I’ve heard somebody talk about a relapse I have never heard anyone relate that they were doing the exact same things that got them sober but somehow a drink ended up in their hand.  Instead, the story I hear over and over again (with little if no difference between stories) is that the person stopped going to meetings, stopped talking to their sponsor, stopped praying, stopped working the steps and then subsequently stopped being sober.  Based on this I’ve put together the following relapse prevention checklist.  If you earnestly do these things I have no doubt your recovery can weather any storm.

  1. Keep going to meetings
  2. Keep in touch with your sponsor and accountability team
  3. Reserve a daily time for studying God’s word
  4. Pray
  5. Help others

Relapse is something that is scary for me.  One of the things that I have heard others say is that they know have another drunk in them, they just don’t know if they have another recovery.  I can definitely relate to this.  The fact that I still face temptation, the fact that my alcoholic brain thinks rainy weather is a great reason to drink and sunny weather is equally a great reason to drink convinces me that I have another drunk in me.  The thing I don’t know is if I will ever make it back to where I am today.  Will I ever be able to get back to the life I have and the relationship I have with God?  I use this fear to motivate me to continue to do the work I need to do in recovery so I never have to try and work my way back.

I know that being in recovery is by no means easy.  Life gets in the way – we have obligations at work or obligations at home that seem to interfere sometimes with recovery and compete for our time.  Sometimes it can get stressful to try and balance everything.  The thing I have to remind myself of though is that anything I put in front of my recovery I am going to lose anyway.  If I start letting my obligations at work keep me from doing my recovery work and I start drinking again, I’m not going to keep that job.  The people at work aren’t going to put up with the shenanigans I pull off when I am drinking.  If I start letting my obligations at home interfere with the work I need to do with my recovery and I start drinking again, my family isn’t going to stick around.  They know what it is like to live with a drunk and they are not going to stick around hoping that this time will be different.  For this reason I need to take care of me first.  I’m not going to be of use to anyone else if I don’t take care of my recovery and I start drinking again.  I know that anything I put in front of my recovery work I’m going to lose anyway.

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Step 10 – Lesson 20: Daily Inventory

The first time you did an inventory you probably noticed some patterns in your life.  Certain defects of character would raise their ugly head in the same way again and again, or perhaps you noticed that certain situations seemed to trigger bad behaviors.  Continuing to take inventory while we are in recovery will also yield the same results.  There may be defects of character we don’t see until later in our recovery journey, or there may be triggers for our bad behavior we can only see as time goes on.  Perhaps you will find that there are new things in your life that give it purpose and meaning that did not exist before.  Continuing to take inventory allows us to find these things and bring them to God, both to ask for His help and to celebrate the changes in our lives.

There are three types of inventories discussed in the CR leader’s guide, the first of which is an on-going inventory.  Chances are you may be doing this to some degree already, you just never thought of it as an inventory.  Taking an on-going inventory is as easy as remembering that when you start to feel angry or impatient think about what has caused this.  Use the skills you have developed and delve deeper into the situation and identify your part in this feeling.  If you owe an amends, try and make it right away.  In the same way, if you find yourself feeling good about something you’ve done think about what caused this and perhaps say a prayer of gratitude to God.  I know for me the biggest benefit of taking an on-going inventory is to keep situations from escalating.  If I have harmed somebody and I owe them an amends, why wait until the end of the day to identify it and then try to make amends the next day?  Waiting until my daily inventory only gives the other person’s anger time to take root and grow.  By making an amends right away I can help to prevent this from happening.

The next kind of inventory we should take is a daily inventory.  Take time at the end of your day and reflect on the good and the bad.  The leader’s guide lists several questions that can help with taking this inventory:

  • How did I show love to others? Did I act in an unloving way toward anyone?
  • Did others see in me the joy of having a personal relationship with the Lord? If not, why not?
  • How was my serenity, my peace? Did anything happen that caused me to lose it?  What was my part in it?
  • Was I patient? What caused me to lose my patience?  Do I owe anyone an amends?
  • Would anyone say that I was kind/good? In what ways did I act unkind?
  • How was my faithfulness? Did I keep my word with everyone?
  • How was my gentleness and self-control? Did I lose my temper or speak a harsh or unkind word to anyone?

After answering these questions reflect on your behavior.  Are there patterns that you are seeing in your life?  Chances are we all have certain people or certain situations that cause us to lose our temper or lose our patience.  As I identify these through taking inventory I bring them to God.  When I am thinking about my day I will think about times I may run into these people or these situations, and if I think I will I ask God for His help in getting through it.  When the time arrives, I will stop and take a deep breath and again ask God for His help in dealing with this person or situation.  I find that I get myself into much less trouble when I do this.  Taking inventory was key to helping me find the patterns in my life so I could seek God’s help to get me through these difficulties.

The third type of inventory is a periodic inventory.  If you remember previously we made the analogy between our taking inventory and a business keeping their books up to date.  If a business took inventory regularly but never took the time to look back for trends, there could be vital information they may miss.  Today the amount of money taken in may exceed the amount of money spent, but a look back over the past quarter or over the past year may find that money coming in was continually shrinking and money going out was continually increasing – signs pointing to impending trouble.  In the same way, if we take time to look back at our own recovery we may also find some trends we need to address.  In addition, sometimes I get laser focused on one thing in my recovery and then I will judge my entire recovery based on how this one item is going.  Taking a periodic inventory helps me to see the big picture as well as seeing the trends in my life.

Other Thoughts

One of the things that seems to come naturally to me is finding other people’s faults.  It doesn’t take me long when listening to somebody in a meeting before I know exactly what’s wrong with them (and I usually have a pretty good idea what they need to do to fix themselves).  Like the Bible says, I can find the speck in another person’s eye while ignoring the beam in my own.  Unfortunately this tendency gets me in trouble when it comes to Step 10.  When taking my inventory, my natural reaction is rationalizing my own bad behavior because of the faults I see in others.  I will focus on their actions and ignore my own.  I will start asking myself why I have to be the one that makes amends when the other person has hurt me as well.  The phrase I have heard in recovery that helps me through this is ‘don’t take other people’s inventory’.  I have to remember that I am on a spiritual journey to improve my relationship with God.  I have to focus on this instead of my own instinct to find fault in others.  After all, I can’t remember a single time when focusing on other people’s bad behavior made me feel closer to God.  It’s only when I focus on my own behavior and work with Him to improve it that I do get closer.

 

Lesson 19 – Step 10: Crossroads

In recovery Steps 10-12 are sometimes called the Daily Maintenance steps.  I like this term for them because I find it important for me to be reminded that recovery is a daily process.  After all, when you finish a step study you are not given a diploma, and there are no graduation ceremonies in Celebrate Recovery.  Daily maintenance helps us to continue on our lifelong recovery journey.  In particular, Step 10 instructs us to spend time looking back at our day and if needed to make amends to others.  This daily process helps us to see the good and the bad in our recovery and helps to preserve our relationships with others.

Our acrostic for this lesson is TEN:

T – Take time to do a daily inventory

E – Evaluate the good and the bad

N – Need to admit our wrongs promptly

Let’s look at each one in more detail:

Take time to do a daily inventory

In the leader’s guide for Celebrate Recovery they compare our taking inventory to the bookkeeping that businesses do.  If a business only looked at its books once a year, or once every other year, chances are there are issues that would go unnoticed that could have a major impact on the company.  In the same way, if we only do an inventory every year or two when completing a step study, there could be issues in our recovery that go undetected that could derail the work that we have been doing.  Just as reviewing the books keeps a business on top of its financial situation, taking a daily inventory keeps our finger on the pulse of our recovery.

When doing Step 4 we kept our inventories balanced, and when doing our daily inventories it is important to do the same.  Keeping with the previous analogy, if a company only looked at one side of its ledger it would never have the complete picture.  After all, if a business only looked at its debits, only looked at the money going out the door, but never paid any attention to the money coming in, how would they ever be able to accurately determine their financial health?  In the same way, if I only look at the good things I’ve done or the bad things I’ve done, I will never have an accurate picture of what is going on in my recovery.

Evaluate the good and the bad

For me this is where “the rubber meets the road” in Step 10.  Admitting I need to make amends is not easy, and many times my pride will get in the way.  It can get frustrating to still have to make amends after being in recovery for this long.  I have to remind myself that Step 10 doesn’t say “if” we are ever wrong, it says “when” we are wrong we admit it.  It doesn’t matter how long a person has in recovery, there are going to be times when we harm others and we need to make amends.

When those times come, I am grateful for the experiences of the previous steps and how they help me through this process.  Sometimes I am still angry at somebody that I need to make amends to.  In Step 4 I learned how to find my fault even in situations that caused me resentment.  This helps me to get past my pride telling me I don’t owe other people amends just because they did something to hurt me.  In Step 8 I realized that I may have hurt people even if I didn’t intend to and that I still need to make amends to those people.  This helps me when my pride tries to tell me that I don’t owe other people amends because I never intended to hurt them.  Finally, in Step 9 I gained experience in making amends to others and I learned what expectations I should or should not have on this process.  All of these lessons help me get past my pride telling me I don’t need to make amends and help me focus on what amends are for.

Need to admit our wrongs promptly

If you look at the way Step 10 is worded, it does not say that we need to immediately admit when we are wrong.  I think there are times when trying to make an immediate amends may be a bad idea.  For example, if the other person is still very upset they may direct that at us, and if we in turn get upset our well-intentioned amends may turn into an argument.  In the same way, if I have not cooled down my amends may start sounding more like a continuation of our argument and less like an attempt to make things right.  On the other end of the spectrum, delaying making amends can be a bad idea as well.  I know for me, I’ve had to just “bite the bullet” and go and get them done.  If I wait until I felt like it, the mood will probably never strike me.  If you have questions about the right time to make amends ask your sponsor or bring it up in your small group meetings.

I have noticed that the process of working Step 10 has had a positive impact on my behavior.  If I find that I owe somebody an amends I will also reflect on what caused me to have to make that amends.  Sometimes when I do this I will find a defect of character I didn’t know was a problem, or I will identify a situation that frequently ends with me owing an amends.  I don’t like making amends, so my natural reaction is trying to find ways to avoid having to.  If I find a character defect I will add it to the list of those I pray about in the mornings.  When I’m planning my day I’ll think through situations where that character defect may become a problem, and when I’m getting ready to face that situation I will stop and pray and ask for help getting through it.  If I notice that I struggle in certain situations I will try to be more cognizant when I find myself in those scenarios.  For example, I know from doing my daily inventories that when I am tired I am much more likely to snap at other people.  When I find myself tired and starting to get annoyed, I remind myself of how easy it is for me to lose my cool and end up owing somebody an amends.  When I see I am heading down that path I pray and ask for help, try to focus on some gratitude in the situation, and if nothing else works just grit my teeth and keep telling myself “just don’t do anything you’re going to owe an amends for”.  By attempting to minimize my amends my behavior and the way I treat others has improved.

Other Thoughts

One of the phrases I have heard in recovery is “would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?”  I know for me, this phrase helps when it comes to making my daily amends.  For most of my life, as long as I thought I was right, that was all that mattered.  That meant that if I thought you had any fault in a situation, I didn’t owe you an amends – at least not unless you made amends as well.  This attitude kept me from dealing with anger I had against other people and moving on with my life.  Inevitably this unresolved anger turned into resentments against those people.  Unfortunately, happy and resentful are not two emotions I’ve known to coincide in my own life.  What I’ve found is that the Step 10 amends process allows me to deal with the issue and move on before I develop a resentment.  Maybe the other person did do something wrong to me, but would I rather hold on to that at the price of developing resentments and being unhappy, or would I rather move on with my life?  When I am struggling to make amends sometimes I remind myself that I will be happier if I just go ahead and make my amends and move on rather than holding onto my anger because I think I am right.

A part of the Alcoholics Anonymous Step 9 promises states that “we will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us”.  How would I define a situation that used to baffle me: I would define it as any situation where I ended up with either a resentment or owing an amends.  After all, if I knew how to handle the situation properly I wouldn’t have ended up with either of those outcomes.  Doing a daily inventory helps me to identify situations that baffle me, and the behavior changes I have seen in my quest to avoid making amends has helped me to handle these situations better.  What I have found is that at first I have to consciously remind myself of how to handle the situation, but after a while I don’t even have to think about how to act.  By working the steps, and in particular Step 10, I find myself intuitively handling situations that used to lead to conflict, resentment and me hurting other people.

Step 9 – Lesson 18: Grace

The Eight Principles of Celebrate Recovery instruct us that we are to “offer forgiveness to those who have hurt” us.  Offering forgiveness is not easy, and even worse the way that many of us have offered forgiveness in the past may have been misguided.  Luckily for us, God’s example of how He extends His grace and forgiveness provides us with the example we need in our own lives.  In today’s lesson we will look at some ways we can use His example when it comes to forgiving those that have harmed us.

Our acrostic for this lesson is GRACE:

G – God’s Gift

R – Received by Our Faith

A – Accepted by God’s Love

C – Christ Paid the Price

E – Everlasting Gift

Let’s look at each one in more detail:

God’s Gift

I know for me treating forgiveness like a gift is one area where I struggle.  After comparing my own behaviors with Christ’s example of grace, I realize that I have treated my forgiveness more like a payment or a contract than I have a gift.  Too often I put expectations or conditions on my forgiveness, which does not follow God’s example.  For example, many times I offer my forgiveness only because I am feeling guilty and I am wanting your forgiveness in return.  Other times I offer forgiveness only so I can brag about it later and earn the respect of others.  If I am offering my forgiveness in order to receive something in return (such as other people forgiving me or the respect of others), then I am not really giving it as a gift.  Exchanging my forgiveness for something in return makes it look more like a payment than a gift.  This is not how God treats His grace.  He does not exchange forgiveness for obedience, He does not make a show of forgiving others to earn our praise.  He freely offers it without expectations.

Other times when it comes to forgiveness I have conditions that must be met.  Sometimes there are things that you must do prior to me offering forgiveness, other times there are things you must continue to do in order to keep my forgiveness.  I will put so many conditions on my forgiveness it starts to resemble a legally binding contract rather than a gift.  For example, how many times have I told myself I won’t forgive somebody until they admit they were wrong and say they are sorry?  If those two criteria are not met, my forgiveness will not be given.  How many times have I told somebody I will forgive them, but only if they never do that again?  Am I drawing up a legal contract whereby my forgiveness is given and maintained unless the forgiven person offends me again, in which case my forgiveness is nullified and voided?  Jesus doesn’t offer His grace with conditions.  He doesn’t offer His grace only if we meet certain conditions beforehand such as not sinning for 30 days straight or making amends first to everyone we’ve harmed.  Furthermore, He doesn’t threaten to revoke our grace at a later date if we don’t meet another list of conditions.  God offers grace without expectations or conditions as an example to us.

Received by Our Faith

There have been times in my life where I have found it very difficult to forgive myself, and in those times I have also found it difficult to believe that God would forgive me.  When I have felt like this I have had to rely on my faith and believed that God would forgive me for what I have done because that is what His word says.  My own forgiveness needs to reflect this as well.  If I believe that God will forgive me no matter what I do, I also need to be willing to forgive other folks no matter what they have done to harm me.

Accepted by God’s Love

I don’t think there has been a day that has gone by in my life where I have not sinned either through thought or deed.  And even though I am sometimes embarrassed to go to God and ask for forgiveness, in the end I always do and I always accept His forgiveness.  When it comes to forgiving others, I also need to do the same.  Sometimes the most difficult people to forgive are the “repeat offenders”.  These are the people that have hurt us many times before, and we know will probably hurt us again in the future.  And let’s face it, most of the time these people are family, so we’re not going to be able to avoid them.  Forgiving someone over and over again can be challenging over time.  Forgiving someone knowing they haven’t changed and will do this again can also be challenging.  When I am faced with this I have to remember that I accept God’s forgiveness over and over again, that to him we are all “repeat offenders”.

Christ Paid the Price

When I am having trouble forgiving other people it usually comes down to two things – my pride and my unwillingness to focus on the present.  My pride will tell me that my reasons for not forgiving the other person are perfectly justified.  My focus on the past makes sure that the wounds stay fresh in my mind.  Sometimes it can seem like too high a price to pay to swallow my pride and to relinquish my hurt feelings after what somebody has done to me.  At these moments I have to remember what Christ sacrificed for me to earn my forgiveness.  A perfect person had to endure torture, mockery and a brutal execution to earn my forgiveness.  When I compare this to swallowing my pride and giving up my hurt feelings my sacrifice does not seem so large after that.

Everlasting Gift

There are times in my life when I will think that I have forgiven somebody, only for them to turn around and do something again to me and my forgiveness is gone.  There are other times I may forgive somebody, but later I start to focus on the past again and the pain they caused me and I will decide this person never deserved to be forgiven.  Luckily Christ does not act this way when it comes to grace.  Once it is extended it is everlasting, he doesn’t have second thoughts or get angry and revoke His grace.  When I start feeling like I am heading down this path I have to remember Christ’s example.

Other Thoughts

One of the phrases I have heard in recovery is “God don’t make junk”.  This has been a phrase that has helped me when it comes to forgiving others.  When I can’t forgive somebody it is easy for me to focus on all of the bad traits I perceive in them.  This makes it easy for me to see them as a bad person unworthy of my forgiveness.  When I find myself thinking this way I have to remember that like me this person is a beloved child of God.  Sure, they may have their hurts, hang-ups and habits – but after all so do I!  They are no less worthy of God’s grace than I am.  God didn’t make a mistake when He created this person, God is perfect and created a person that He loves.  When I concentrate on this aspect of them, I find it easier to stop focusing on all of the bad things I see in them which makes it easier for me to find forgiveness in my heart.  After all, God created them and God don’t make junk!

Step 9 – Lesson 17: Forgiveness

If you look at the wording of the 12 Steps you will see that the word forgiveness is not mentioned at all.  This is one area where the 8 Principles of Celebrate Recovery go above and beyond what the 12 Steps call for.  In Principle 6 we are explicitly instructed to offer forgiveness to people that have hurt us.  Even though forgiving is not mentioned by the 12 Steps, it is related to several steps.  In Step 4 we began to get rid of some of the resentments in our past, and if I can get to a point where I can forgive someone I had a resentment against I have gone a long way to resolving that resentment.  Step 9 also deals with forgiving.  Part of the amends speech I was told to memorize includes asking the other person for forgiveness for the harms I have done them.  Even though not explicitly stated in the 12 Steps forgiving others is a Christian principle and required as part of the CR program.

Let’s look at each area of our life where we have to find forgiveness in more detail:

Forgiving Ourselves

I tend to be at opposite extremes when it comes to forgiving myself – sometimes I find it very easy to do and sometimes I really struggle with it.  On one side, I can find it easy to forgive myself for the wrongs I do because I know why I did what I did.  I can see the reasons why I did the act, and even though I am not justifying my behavior, I can quickly forgive myself because I know the background behind my actions.  After all, if I cut someone off in traffic it was because I was late for an important appointment, or if I say something hurtful at work it’s because I am having a problem elsewhere in my life that has me worried.  I may still owe someone an amends if I hurt them, but I do not struggle to forgive myself because I see the big picture in my life and know the why behind my actions.

On the other end of the spectrum there are times I have found it very difficult to forgive myself.  When I first got into recovery the regret and shame I felt over how I had treated my family motivated me to do whatever it was going to take to get sober, but I also struggled with forgiving myself because of it.  For months I could not get to a point where I could forgive myself.  Finally one day when I was struggling with this I asked myself if I truly believed God had forgiven me.  My answer to this was yes.  I then reasoned to myself that if God had forgiven me but I was not willing to forgive myself I was in fact putting myself above God in His role as the ultimate judge.  I realized that this was not my place and that I needed to forgive myself.

Forgiving Others

The next area we need to concentrate on is forgiving others.  I love the analogy they use in the CR Leader’s Guide of how being unwilling to forgive someone else is like a game of tug of war.  On one end of the rope are the memories I have of the event and the pain that it caused me.  On the other end of the rope is my unwillingness to forgive.  Because I keep reliving the past and I am unwilling to forgive the other person the struggle seems to be ongoing.  The solution offered in the Leader’s Guide, though quite simplistic, is also the most effective: let go of the rope.  You can’t have a tug of war contest with only one side fighting.  Though many times easier said than done, when we forgive others we are laying down our side of the rope and ending this struggle that has been going on in our minds.

When it comes to forgiving others I also have to look at who this is really hurting.  After all, if I am unwilling to follow Christ’s example and forgive another person, is this impacting their relationship with God?  Or course not, I am the one stuck in the past instead of the present, I am the one holding a grudge instead of showing love.  In addition to the negative impacts on my relationship with God, how much time have I wasted trying to get back at someone or imagining ways to get back at them?  As I’ve heard people say, doing this is like letting the other person live rent free in my head.  For people I hold grudges against I can easily recall the time, place and action that hurt me, but I am betting if you went back and interviewed those people they probably would not even remember the event.  For some of the grudges I’ve held onto the longest – they probably won’t even remember me!  All this effort I’ve spent holding onto these memories has wasted my time, not theirs.  Ultimately being unwilling to forgive others impacts me the most – not the other person.

There was an interesting quote in the Leader’s Guide I wanted to share around the concept of revenge: “Causing an injury puts you below your enemy.  Revenging an injury makes you even with him.  Forgiving him sets you one above him.”  When I look at events in my life I see how easily petty things that happen can quickly escalate as I attempt to make myself even with an enemy by seeking revenge.  As things intensify and we begin to do even more harmful things to each other to try and make ourselves even it becomes harder to stop.  This is where I have to try and find true courage and be the person that stops getting even through revenge and instead seeks forgiveness.

Forgiving God

The final area we need to focus on is forgiving God.  Chances are that at some point in your life you have been angry with God or even gotten to a point where you cannot forgive God.  I certainly went through this when it came to accepting that I was an alcoholic and that I needed to follow a program of complete abstinence.  I couldn’t understand why God would do this to me, why He would make me this way if He didn’t have to.  In addition to questioning the circumstances in our lives, sometimes we see the actions of others and wonder why God allows these things to happen.  After all, if God is all powerful he could certainly prevent these actions from ever taking place.  If He chooses not to intervene then it seems like He is letting evil happen.  These thoughts can drive us to have misplaced anger towards God.

For me, I have to remind myself of a few things.  First of all, I have to remember that God has the complete knowledge of the universe from beginning to end.  He knows how events in my life will play out in the end.  I don’t have that perspective, so in the present it may seem like something is a very “bad” event in my life, but over time as events unfold my perspective on this may completely change.  I also have to remind myself when it comes to the actions of others that God gives people free will and does not intervene with events that happen.  If somebody else did something that hurt you they did that using their own free will and we should not consider God “complicit” in their actions simply because He did not intervene.  I believe forgiving God is important for a person’s spiritual growth making this an important part of recovery.

Lesson 16 – Step 8: Amends

The work we have been doing since starting Step 4 has all been focused on ourselves.  Now as we start the Eighth Step we are going to start looking at our relationships with other people.  I know that when I came into recovery there were definitely some people I would rather not run into.  There were folks I didn’t want to run into because I was embarrassed by the way I had acted the last time I interacted with them.  There were folks I was scared to run into for fear of how they would act towards me due to conflict in our past.  Going out and making amends to others has been the best way I have found to get rid of this fear of other people.  This lesson will focus on the first part of this, making a thorough list of people we have harmed.

Our acrostic for this lesson is AMENDS:

A – Admit the Hurt and the Harm

M – Make a List

E – Encourage One Another

N – Not for Them

D – Do it at the Right Time

S – Start Living the Promises of Recovery

Let’s look at each one in more detail:

Admit the Hurt and the Harm

I know for me being able to admit that I have hurt someone and that I need to make amends to them is very difficult.  My pride always wants to get in the way and tell me that I don’t really owe anyone an amends.  My pride will tell me if I did something to hurt you, then you probably deserved it.  You started the conflict, or you did something just as bad or worse to me.  But this is just my pride trying to justify my own bad behavior.  I have to remind myself that this isn’t about who started it or who hurt the other person more, this is only about whether I hurt somebody and whether I can admit it.

Then of course there are those I may have hurt unintentionally.  Sometimes we may inadvertently hurt another person without ever trying to or even thinking about it.  I know for me my pride wants to tell me I don’t owe them an amends either.  After all my pride says, if I hurt you but was not trying to then the real problem here is that you need to toughen up some and not get hurt so easily.  I have had to learn that amends must be made to those I never intended to hurt.  It doesn’t matter what my intentions were, only if I hurt another person.  This piece of the amends process is foundational, all the work we do in Steps 8 and 9 hinges on our ability to admit we have hurt other people.

One distinction CR makes is for those who have suffered through abuse.  For people who have been through this, Step 8 has been rewritten:

Make a list of all persons who have harmed us and became willing to seek God’s help in forgiving our perpetrators, as well as forgiving ourselves. Realize we have also harmed others and became willing to make amends to them. 

Make a List

The next thing to do after admitting we have hurt others is to make a list of those we have harmed.  I have to remind myself not to start thinking too far ahead during this process.  I don’t need to worry about how I will make the amends.  If you have harmed somebody that is now deceased or has moved away, don’t worry about how you will make amends to them, just put them on the list.  Also, I can’t let fear of what may happen when I make the amends keep me from adding a person’s name to the list.  The goal is to be as thorough as possible, when we get to Step 9 we can worry about how we will actually make our amends and how to deal with our fears.

Encourage One Another

Making amends can be a very scary prospect.  I know for me I was absolutely terrified of Steps 8 and 9 when I got into recovery.  Use your small group, accountability group, and sponsor to help you.  There will be some legitimate questions over whether you owe amends to people, whether making those amends may harm somebody, or how to make the amends.  Utilize those resources to help you in answering your questions.  If you are coming up on these steps for the first time, share your concerns or fears with the group.  For those that have already been through these steps share your experiences.  This can help allay the fears of others.

Not For Them

Making amends is all about cleaning up our side of the street, but for me it is easy to start to lose focus on this purpose.  It is very easy for me to focus on what may happen during the amends process.  Will the other person get angry at me, will there be conflict?  I can’t control what the other person will do, but I do know that fear over what may happen will detract from my willingness to go through with making the amends.  I have to remember that this is about me and my willingness to do the right thing, not about how the other person will react.

Perhaps even more dangerous in the amends process is expecting the wrong kind of outcome.  It is easy for me to expect that the other person will forgive me or to expect that they will agree to resetting our relationship after I make my amends.  It’s very easy to walk into the amends process believing that people should forgive us or should want a relationship with us again, but this is not what making amends is about.  The benefit of making amends is freedom from the fear, embarrassment and shame that we have because of our past interactions with others.  We should not tie any other expectations to the outcome of our amends.  Unmet expectations can many times lead to resentments, and the last thing we want is to have a resentment against somebody we just made amends to.

Do it at the Right Time

I sometimes run across people who have been sober for two or three weeks who announce they are now ready to start making amends.  I always caution those people to slow down, the steps are numbered and intended to be worked in order.  I cannot think of a scenario to delay someone from beginning the steps, but I do believe it is possible to start making amends too early.  I think it is important to have the support of a sponsor and the strong spiritual base the previous steps will build for us before we start to make amends.  In addition, there could be other situations as well where perhaps the wounds are too fresh.  If this is the case we may want to let emotions cool down before reopening a wound by making amends.  The counsel of a sponsor is vital in determining this.

Perhaps even more common though is waiting too long to make amends.  I have heard many people speak up in recovery meetings and admit that years have gone by and they still have not finished their amends.  It can be very easy to procrastinate when it comes to making amends.  The fact is that if you are waiting for the mood to strike you before making your amends, the mood is probably never going to strike you.  It is better if you just bite the bullet and decide to knock them out quickly.  Challenge yourself to set a date when your amends will be complete and involve your sponsor and accountability group to hold you to it.

Start Living the Promises of Recovery

When it comes to amends I don’t believe that any of the work we do is easy.  Confronting ourselves and getting past our pride and admitting we have hurt others is not easy.  Confronting others and admitting our wrongs and asking for forgiveness is not easy.  It is the promises of recovery that makes all of this worthwhile though.  Here are the 9th Step Promises from the book Alcoholics Anonymous:

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.      Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us-sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

Alcoholics Anonymous, pg 83 & 84

First of all, I want to point out that this is referred to as the 9th Step Promises, not “things some people have gotten but experiences may vary”.  How often have people been willing to promise such amazing things?  Removal of regret about the past, comprehending serenity, feelings of useless or feelings of self-pity going away?  Fear of people going away, fear of economic insecurity going away?  Where else are you going to find a list of promises like this?  This is why we push through the fear of making amends –  because we are promised that sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly these things will happen for us if we work for them.

 

Lesson 15 – Step 7: Victory

Chances are you came to recovery because you wanted change in your life.  Before you ever made it to your first meeting a part of you wanted something different.  Then you showed the courage to take action and actually come to a meeting.  Congratulations – just making it to your first meeting was the first of what can be many victories in your recovery journey.  After all, how many people never have the courage to make it to that first meeting?  In the same way, when it comes to our defects of character not only do we have to want change and be ready to turn our defects of character over to God, we have to actually have the courage to take action and turn them over to obtain victory.

Our acrostic for this lesson is VICTORY:

V – Voluntarily Submit

I – Identify Character Defects

C – Change Your Mind

T – Turn Over Character Defects

O – One Day at a Time

R – Recovery is a Process

Y – You Must Choose to Change

Let’s look at each one in more detail:

Voluntarily Submit

If you look through the work we have been doing you can see how things have been building up to this.  It started in Step 3 when we began to turn our life and our will over to God.  Chances are though, in order to fulfill God’s plan, there will have to be some changes in our lives.  We started this process of change in Step 4 when we took an inventory and saw what was impacting our relationship with God.  In Step 5 we eliminated some of the last vestiges of our denial when we admitted what our faults were to another person.  After all, how could we continue to deny our faults after we had told someone else?  Next, we got ready to give those defects of character over to God.  We determined that we would turn everything over to God unconditionally so that we could fulfill His plan for us.  This leads us to Step 7 – where we voluntarily submit our defects of character over to God, ever mindful that it is He who removes these defects of character.

Identify Character Defects

Some of us have defects of character that need to be addressed first.  This is different from cherry-picking defects of character based on selfish motives or fear.  For me, I needed to quit drinking before any other changes could be made in my life.  You could have put a comprehensive list of my character defects in front of me, but until I “put the plug in the jug” there was no chance of me making any progress on this list.  If there is an issue like this in your life, it should be addressed first.

Change Your Mind

When removing defects of character, we are going to see changes in our behavior and our thinking.  I know for me that many times when I first start trying to change a behavior I will forget and do what I set out to quit doing out of habit.  Only afterwards will I remember I was trying to stop.  Over time I will eventually get to a point where I remember that I am trying to do things differently before I do them.  Then after that I get to a point where I don’t even have to think about the new behavior, it has become the new norm for me.  The changes in behavior we see as God works on our defects of character will also be accompanied with changes in our thinking.

Turn Over Character Defects

As part of my nature I always try and take back control whenever I can, and when it comes to turning over defects of character nothing is different.  Of course I try to justify my actions to God.  I know that alcohol is too powerful for me and I can’t handle it on my own, but what about those other defects of character.  The ones that aren’t as important or aren’t as difficult (or so I think); certainly I can handle those for God.  Why bother Him with the minor ones anyway, He’s busy enough as it is.  Although I may try to justify this behavior as “helping God,” the reality is that this is just my pride asserting itself.  I want to think I can handle my problems on my own.  I don’t want to go to God and ask for His help, I want to handle the situation and then pat myself on the back why I recount to God what a good job I’ve done with this.  Instead of doing this though, I have to humble myself and not let my pride get in the way of turning over all of my defects of character to God – even the ones I think I should be able to handle on my own.

One Day at a Time

Character defects do not tend to pop up overnight, so it’s unrealistic to expect them to be resolved just as quickly.  Rather than expecting a quick fix, we need to focus on what we are doing today and the constant process of trying to do the next right thing and turning our character defects over to God.  One interesting corollary brought up in the leader’s guide for CR is the fact that when God talked to Moses He referred to Himself as “I Am”.  He did not refer to Himself as “I Was” or “I Will Be”.  He did not even refer to Himself as “I Was, I Am and I Will Be”.  I think this is a good reminder of where our focus needs to be.  I need to stop worrying about what I did in the past or what may happen with my defects of character in the future, I need to simply focus on today.

Recovery is a Process

Along the same lines as one day at a time, we have to realize that recovery is a process.  Our goal should be progress, not perfection.  One of the things I’ve had to learn is that progress does not always equal continuous improvement.  I have an expectation that when I start praying for a defect of character it will either go away immediately or at the least start to get better and always continue in that direction, but this has not been my experience.  Some defects of character do go away quickly, some come back over time, and some continue on despite giving them over to God.  I have to remember that I need to focus on learning what I can each day and focus on that growth and not my unrealistic expectations of what should be happening.

You Must Choose to Change

The three keys to recovery given in Alcoholics Anonymous are willingness, honesty and open mindedness.  The good thing is that these three keys are things that anyone can do.  The bad thing is that each of us has to choose to do them – nobody can choose for us.  For my defects of character, I find that this is also true.  I have to choose to want to change and choose to put my self-reliance behind me.  Despite the frustrations I may feel when things aren’t going the way I expect, I have to choose to persevere.  This can be very difficult for me, especially when I start to feel that so many bad things are going on in my life.  I have to remind myself that God can take things that are bad and turn them into something good.  The things that are hurting me or embarrassing me the most in my life today can tomorrow become a demonstration of God’s power, but I have to choose to turn these things over to God first.

Other Thoughts

When I first started attending recovery meetings I heard the phrase “fake it ‘till you make it.”  At first I really didn’t like that phrase.   Wasn’t that encouraging me to not be genuine in my intentions?  As I’ve gained experience with Step 7 though I have seen why this can help.  If I’m really honest with myself, there are defects of character that I don’t even want willingness from God to remove.  I enjoy them too much, or I’m too afraid of what my life will be like without them.  This leads to a conundrum, do I pray for willingness even if I don’t really want it, or do I leave character defects off my list?  For me, keeping defects of character off my list is a much worse course to take.  I don’t want to shut God out of any aspects of my life.  So even though I may not truly want that willingness, I will still pray for it.  You never know when God may act, and one day I may find that willingness that I didn’t even want.

Lesson 14 – Step 6: Ready

If you went to the doctor’s office and all the doctor could do was tell you what was wrong with you, I have to imagine most people wouldn’t bother to go.  We go to the doctor because we want relief from what is wrong with us, we want a way to get better.  In the same way, the steps don’t just offer a means of finding out what your spiritual maladies are, but they also offer a way of getting rid of them.  A key part of this process is getting ourselves ready to turn all of our defects of character over to God unconditionally.  Only when we are truly ready to turn them over to God can we invite His healing power into our lives.

Our acrostic for this lesson is READY:

R – Release Control

E – Easy Does It

A – Accept the Change

D – Do Replace Your Character Defects

Y – Yield to the Growth

Let’s look at each one in more detail:

Release Control

Releasing control is one of the most difficult parts of Step 6 for me.  I have a tendency to make everything about me, and that includes this step.  Instead of focusing on how my defects of character are affecting my relationship with God and how He can use me, I will instead focus on me.  I will ask God to remove the defects of character I think are having the most detrimental effect on my life so that I can become the person I think I should be.  Defects of character that I’m still enjoying or that I’m too afraid to get rid of will just have to wait.  Of course I’ll try to justify this to God, I’ll tell Him how much better my life will be if He will only get rid of this or that defect of character.  If it’s a defect of character I don’t want to get rid of at all, I’ll question why it needs to go.  After all, if I’m an alcoholic why do I need to worry about something seemingly unrelated.

The thing I have to remind myself of when I start trying to take back control of my life in this way is that back in Step 3 I offered to turn my life and my will over to God.  I know that in order to fulfill God’s plan for me I’m going to have to submit to changes in my life, and these changes include removal of some defects of character that are affecting my relationship with Him.  When I feel myself start to resist changes in my life, I ask myself what is causing this?  Is it a matter of not wanting to give up the defect of character, or is it not believing that it’s possible to give it up, or do I feel like I will never be willing to give this up.  For me this is the difference between willingness, faith, and control.  I believe that the first two are natural reactions.  There are some defects of character we won’t want to give up or may not believe we can ever give up.  The real danger area is the third one – control.  If we feel like we will never be willing to give something up that is akin to telling God that this is an area of our life He is not welcome in.

Easy Does It

Sometimes I can get frustrated when it comes to defects of character.  I will know that something I am doing is wrong, and I will earnestly pray to God for His help to stop doing it – and then I keep doing it.  I will ask God why He keeps letting me do the wrong thing when I am asking Him over and over again for help to not do that.  In the same way that I want to control which defects of character God removes, I also want to dictate the timeline.  When I’m ready for a defect to go and I start praying for it, I expect quick results.  When I start to get frustrated I have to remind myself that God has a much bigger picture then I do.  I remind myself that perhaps there are some things that I still need to learn.  After all, it took me every drink I ever had to get me where I am today; there are lessons that I learned from my last night of drinking that have been integral to my recovery.  I remind myself that this is not about when I want things done but when God needs them done.

Accept the Change

Sometimes knowing I have to change or that I have a defect of character is not enough.  I struggle with wanting to change at all.  I experience fear.  I make excuses.  Putting my defects of character in God’s hands means that I have to accept changes in my life whether I may be ready for them or not.  For me if I know that I am not ready to accept a change in my life, I pray for the willingness to be ready to accept that change.

Do Replace Your Character Defects

Part of our recovery process is going to be changing some of our old habits and perhaps even the old crowd we used to spend time with.  Replacing our character defects is one of the first ways we can help with preventing relapse.  You can trip up your recovery journey quickly by continuing to hang out in places where you indulged in your hurt, hang-up or habit or continuing to be with a crowd that is doing what you used to.  As I’ve heard people say, “if you keep going to a barber shop eventually you’re going to get a haircut.”  Continuing in with the same habit patterns as before is going to lead to a lot of temptation.  The good news is that recovery gives us plenty of opportunities to prevent this.  Going to recovery meetings and church can fill the time we used to spend on other endeavors and the relationships we make in recovery can replace old relationships that may drag us down.

It can also be helpful to think about your triggers.  I know for me staying up late by myself in the basement in early sobriety was too much temptation, so I bought a chair and put it in my bedroom and watched movies while my wife slept.  I knew there would be no way I would try to drink with her only a few feet away.  Analyzing what events or activities may bring about temptation and eliminating those from our lives can help prevent relapse.  Another trick I have learned is to plan ahead.  In the morning when I am praying I think about my day and what kinds of things I may face that day that may trigger defects of character.  I pray about those moments, and then when the time comes I pray again for help in that moment.  As a final resort, I always try to have an escape plan.  I try to avoid any situation where I will be trapped and have to spend time somewhere I may be tempted.  These things help me to keep my recovery on track.

Yield to the Growth

Sometimes I have a tendency to get in the way of my own recovery, and this happens when it comes to Step 6 as well.  I let self-doubt and a low self-image keep me from experiencing God’s power.  Sometimes we have defects of character that we have been doing for so long we can’t even imagine life without them.  There are times I start to believe that these things have become so ingrained in me that I can’t even imagine that God can remove them.  When I start feeling this way I have to remind myself that God is the creator of the universe, that He is our creator.  If God created mankind, then there shouldn’t be any defect of character I have that is bigger than Him or that He can’t handle.  Just because I can’t see a way doesn’t mean God can’t find a way.  Other times I will start to wonder why God would care enough about me to help anyway.  After all he has billions of people on Earth to listen to and billions of other worlds to focus on.  Certainly I’m not important enough for Him to pay attention to.  When this kind of low self-image creeps in I have to remind myself that I believe that God has a plan for me and that I am special to Him.  In this way I can yield my self-doubt and low self-image and accept the growth God offers me.

Other Thoughts

I will close with the 6th Step Prayer from CR:

“Dear God, thank You for taking me this far in my recovery journey.  Now I pray for Your help in making me be entirely ready to change all my shortcomings.  Give me the strength to deal with all of my character defects that I have turned over to You.  Allow me to accept all the changes that You want to make in me.  Help me be the person that You want me to be.  In Your Son’s name I pray, Amen.”

I am always thankful for prayers like this that are written for me, because if I had to write my own prayer it would be quite different.  My prayer would focus on me and what I want to get out of having my defects of character removed instead of focusing on God and what His plan is for me.  This prayer reminds me to focus on God and not my own selfish wants.  To me that is the difference between turning my defects of character over to God, and turning them over unconditionally.  Unconditionally means He can choose which defects of character to remove and when to remove them.  Unconditionally means I don’t focus on what I get in return but rather what I can offer.  Unconditionally means I am ready to be the person God needs me to be and not just the person I want to be.

Lesson 13 – Step 5: Admit

Without a doubt admitting our faults to another person can be daunting.  It took a lot of courage to go through the process of doing a thorough inventory of our lives, and now it is going to take some more courage to admit those faults to somebody else.  Some might be thinking to themselves, “what do I possibly have to gain from doing this?”  I can certainly sympathize with this thought.  I’ve worked very hard to keep things secret in my life so telling these things to another person may seem like a losing proposition.  In today’s lesson, we are going to discuss what we truly have to lose and what we truly have to gain by admitting our faults to another person.  In addition we will go over some guidance on how to do this.

What You Have to Lose

The first thing we have to lose when admitting our faults to another is the sense of isolation that keeping secrets can cause.  I know for me that I used to think that I was so unique, that my problems were so rare, that the things I had done had never been done by another person.  For this reason, I never felt like I fit in, even when I started recovery.  As I have heard it referred to, this “terminal uniqueness” kept me from being able to fully embrace the group.  When I did finally admit my faults, I found others that were just like me.  The second thing we will lose is unwillingness to forgive.  I know I have certainly seen my attitude towards this change.  Before I got into recovery I thought I was a pretty good guy who just drank too much on occasion.  Because of this self-view, it was easy for me to look down condemningly on others who were caught in their sins.  Going through the Fourth Step made me acknowledge my wrongs, but finally admitting those faults to my sponsor made them real because I couldn’t pretend that nobody else knew.  Realizing and acknowledging that I am a flawed human being has made me better able to find compassion and forgiveness for others.

The next thing we stand to lose by confessing our faults is a false, inflated sense of self-pride.  When I was still living in a world of denial in which my only fault was “occasionally” imbibing too much alcohol, it was easy for me to think to myself what a great guy I was.  In the same way working Steps Four and Five helped me to find forgiveness for others, this also helped me to see my inflated self-pride.  The final thing we have to lose by doing Step 5 is denial.  We started talking about denial way back in our first lesson, and for good reason – until we get past denial there won’t be any growth in our lives. As long as I kept things secret I could live in this world of denial where they never actually occurred.  After I admitted my secrets to my sponsor I couldn’t come back the next week and start denying that some of the things I had told him had occurred, it was already out there.  I could no longer be in denial because I had told another person and this could not be taken back.  Now you might be thinking to yourself that you can live with isolation, unforgiveness, pride and denial, but to do so is to deny ourselves all of the things we have to gain from Step 5.

What You Have to Gain

When we give up our isolation, unwillingness to forgive, false pride and denial we stand to gain so much from admitting our faults.  The first thing we have to gain is healing.  While I completely believe that any sin we confess to God is forgiven, being forgiven is not the same thing as being healed.  Our past can still cause us pain and embarrassment well after we have received forgiveness.  For me the journey towards getting past the shame and hurt in my life started with confessing my faults to another person.  Admitting my faults forced me to have to deal with them instead of continuing in secrecy and denial.  It was only after I began to deal with my past that the embarrassment and shame began to go away.

One of the first things I felt after my fifth step was a feeling that a great burden had been lifted off my shoulders.  This freedom is the second thing we have to gain from admitting our faults to another.  As David lamented in Psalm 32, the burden of his secrets wore him out from “crying all day long” until his “strength was completely drained”  (BibleGateway.com).  When we admit our faults we gain the freedom that comes with not having to carry around and protect our secrets.  The final thing we stand to gain is the support of our recovery group.  Other people in recovery are not mind readers, people will not know how to give you the help and prayers that you need until you open up and be honest about your past.  Once we do this and get past our feelings of isolation we can truly begin to use the group as part of our healing.

Tips For Doing Your Fifth Step

The first thing you will need to do is choose a person to give your Fifth Step to.  Most people will utilize their sponsor, but if not the rules about choosing somebody the same sex as you apply.  You’ll want to choose somebody you trust, and you’ll want to setup an appointment with that person where you can have ample time to do your Fifth Step without interruptions.  The following is a recommended agenda for this meeting:

  1. Start with prayer
  2. Read the Principle 4 verses found on page 25 of Participant’s Guide 3
  3. Keep your sharing balanced – weaknesses and strengths
  4. End in prayer

Keep in mind that if you have any criminal activity within the statute of limitations that you will be bringing up during your Fifth Step; utilize clergy, a therapist or retain a lawyer that is in recovery to hear at least that portion of your Fifth Step.

Other Thoughts

As mentioned above, admitting our faults to another person can be daunting, and you may be fearful of what will happen once you do.  My experience has been that CR is a safe place, and the people inside CR are safe people.  I have never experienced somebody walking into a meeting, being honest about what was going on in their lives, and then the group acted shocked and then promptly kicked that person out because “we don’t serve their kind here.”  I have never heard people talking about others who were previously at meetings and making fun of or gossiping about those people’s problems.  Nobody shows up to CR because their life is going great and they have no problems.  The thing that unites all of us no matter what our hurts, hang-ups or habits may be is that we know we are powerless over them and that our lives are unmanageable.  For this reason what I have experienced in CR is acceptance, understanding and genuine compassion.

Even after reading this some may still not be convinced that letting go of their secrets is worth it even with the promise of healing, freedom and support.  I am reminded of some advice my wife gave me on day one of recovery, she told me “you’re going to have to get out of your comfort zone.”  This turned out to be very valuable (and true) advice.  Doing Step 5 with my sponsor certainly qualified as getting out of my comfort zone.  I am also reminded of that definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  Whatever I was doing to try and get rid of the pain and embarrassment of my past was never going to work – if it was going to it already would have.  If I wanted to get past the shame and embarrassment that thinking about my past brought on me, I was going to have to try something different, something outside of my comfort zone.  I won’t tell anybody that the Fifth Step is easy, but I can say from my own personal experience that nothing else I’ve ever tried has ever worked as well as this has when it came to dealing with my past.

Lesson 12 – Step 5: Confess

I have to imagine that if there were only four steps in the Celebrate Recovery program it would be a tough sell for folks.  I can only imagine telling people that we have a program where they are going to have to admit they’ve been in denial, admit they can’t solve all their problems on their own and that they need God’s help, they need to start turning their lives over to God, and then list out all the bad things they’ve done in their lives, and then that’s it.  I imagine most folks would pass on that.  Luckily there aren’t four steps, there are twelve.  And the promise of these twelve steps is a new life with God and freedom from our hurts, hang-ups and habits.  This starts with Step 5 and our lesson for today, confessing our faults to ourselves, to God and to another human being.

Our acrostic for this lesson is CONFESS:

C – Confess Your Shortcomings, Resentments and Sins

O – Obey God’s Direction

N – No More Guilt

F – Face the Truth

E – Ease the Pain

S – Stop the Blame

S – Start Accepting God’s Forgiveness

Let’s look at each one in more detail:

Confess Your Shortcomings, Resentments and Sins

For me the first part of this came when I began to realize I had done some wrongs in my life.  If you had asked me to do an inventory before I got into recovery, I would have simply told you, “I’m a good guy, I just drink too much.”  I really thought that was about the extent of it.  By doing an inventory (and especially the fifth column which forced me to focus on my faults) I began to realize that there was more going on in my life then just drinking a little too much.  The next part to this is being willing to confess these things to God and another human being.  I know that for me this can be a struggle.  Pride and fear can cause me to not want to confess my faults.  My pride tells me I don’t need to confess.  Some things my pride tells me are “after all, everyone does it, and it’s not really hurting anybody but me so why would anyone care” or “I’m an alcoholic so I don’t need to confess my faults in other areas of my life”.  If my pride isn’t telling me I don’t need to confess, my fear is telling me I don’t want to confess.  My fear tells me “if people found out about what you’ve done they wouldn’t want anything to do with you” or “if they find out about what you are doing they won’t respect you.”  Fear tells me the pain and embarrassment of my faults is too much to let out.  This pride and fear puts up barriers in my relationship with God and my fellow man.  If I can’t even find the willingness to confess my faults to God how am I ever going to accept God’s help in fixing them?  If I am unwilling to confess my faults to my fellow man how am I going to let anyone in to help me?  By getting past my pride and my fear I can tear down the barriers I’ve created and start on the path of healing.

Obey God’s Direction

The concept of confessing our faults is based in Biblical teachings.  In Romans Chapter 14 we are told that “every knee will bow” and “every tongue will acknowledge” God and that each of us will “give an account of ourselves to God” (BibleGateway.com, n.d.).  There is ultimately no escape from confessing our faults to God, we will all do this eventually.  In the same way, James Chapter 5 says you are to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (BibleGateway.com, n.d.).  Confessing our faults is a part of our spiritual walk.

No More Guilt

I know for me keeping secrets can cause a lot of guilt in my life.  When I do things that harm others it hurts me and causes guilt.  When I keep these things a secret it causes me to feel even more guilt.  I’ve found that admitting my faults is a powerful step to eliminating that guilt.  Bringing what I’ve done to God is an important beginning to the healing process and admitting what I’ve done to another person eliminates the guilt that that my secrecy has caused.

Face the Truth

Confessing my faults has also helped when it comes to seeing the truth.  First of all, it forces me to acknowledged that I’ve done some wrong in my life.  I have to get past any denial I have about my past and be honest.  Confessing also helps me to understand the magnitude of the things that have happened in my life.  I have a tendency to blow things out of proportion or to minimize things.  I’ve also found that the longer things bounce around inside my head, the worse it gets.  I’ll blow things out of proportion and start to think to myself, “nobody is worse than me” or I will convince myself that I’m the only person that has done these type of things and that I should be ashamed of myself.  And if I’m not blowing things out of proportion I’m minimizing them.  I will tell myself that I’m not really hurting anyone so it doesn’t matter, or that I’m not as bad as other people so I can continue on with what I am doing.  Sometimes just the act of saying things out loud can get me past this thinking.  Just confessing it to another person I will realize that the things I’ve been blowing out of proportion are not as bad as I’ve been making them out to be or I will realize that I’m impacting others more than I think if I’ve been minimizing.  My sponsor also helps with this.  Their neutral opinion and loving honesty can help me to face the truth about my past and its impact.

Ease the Pain

In the Leader’s Guide for this lesson there is the quote that, “Pain is inevitable for all of us, but misery is optional.”  I think this is an appropriate quote for this section.  We are all going to experience pain in our lives and we are all going to sin, but what we choose to do with that will determine our future.  Do we choose to keep the pain of our misdeeds to ourselves, preventing God’s healing power and the healing power of the group from helping us?  Choosing to keep secrets is choosing to prolong the pain and is only inviting misery into our lives.  As I’ve heard many times in recovery, “we are only as sick as our secrets.”  Do we choose the path of continued pain shutting others out and letting our secrets build barriers between ourselves and God, or do we ease the pain and let others and God in and experience healing.

Stop the Blame

When we confess our faults we can get past blaming others.  In Step 4 I was forced to find my part in my resentments, and in doing so I had to take a hard look at my own actions and begin to take accountability for what I had done.  When I finally confessed these faults to my sponsor, I could no longer blame others for my actions as I had finally said out loud that I was responsible.  I had taken accountability for what I had done.  When analyzing my part in my resentments I also began to see what things were mine to own and what things were not.  I learned how to avoid false guilt and only take accountability for what my faults were and not to take ownership of what others had done.  I learned how to stop blaming others for my faults and stop blaming myself for other’s faults.

Start Accepting God’s Forgiveness

The process of accepting God’s forgiveness begins with acknowledging our wrongs to Him.  If we are unwilling to acknowledge our faults to ourselves and unwilling to acknowledge our faults to God how are we going to be able to seek forgiveness for them?  For me the first part of seeking forgiveness is to go to God and be specific about what I’ve done and acknowledge this to Him.  From there I can begin to seek His forgiveness in my life.

Other Thoughts

I know for me one of the biggest sources of fear I have when it comes to confessing my faults is this fear that I am so unique.  In my head I will begin to believe that I’m the only person that has done these terrible things or that I’m the worst person that’s ever done them.  This fuels fear and embarrassment and pushes me to not want to be honest with myself and especially with others.  The thing I have learned in recovery though is that I am not as unique as I like to think I am.  In fact, I haven’t found anything that’s particularly unique about me.  All of my faults and shortcomings can be traced back to seven deadly sins that existed long before I did.  It’s not like I’ve invented a whole new deadly sin that only I’ve done.  I have to remind myself of this sometimes when I start to feel that fear.

In the same vein, I can find myself hitting peaks and valleys in how I view myself.  Sometimes I will be thinking to myself about how great I am.  I’ll be patting myself on the back for how great a husband I am, how great a father I am, how great an employee I am and how lucky everyone is to have me in their life.  Sometimes I will be thinking the opposite.  I will be thinking of how terrible a husband and father I am and how that if people at work knew how incompetent I really was they’d fire me on the spot.  A phrase that I have learned in recovery to help me get through these peaks and valleys when they come is, “better than some, not as good as others”.  The fact is that I’m not the best or the worst husband, father, employee, Christian, tennis player, etc in the world.  The fact is that when it comes to any and everything in my life, I am better than some people and I’m not as good as others.  This also helps me when I feel fear about confessing my faults.  I’m not the best or the worst person out there, the fact is that I’m better than some, and not as good as others.  Reminding myself of this also helps to get me past my fear of confessing my faults.

One caution on doing your 5th Step.  The relationship between a sponsor and a sponsee is not protected like attorney-client privilege or confession with clergy.  If you have illegal activity within the statute of limitations to confess you can do that with a member of the clergy or find an attorney that is in recovery and pay them a dollar and do part or all of your 5th Step with them.  This way you do not have to worry about a sponsor being forced to testify against you if the worst case scenario happens.