Overcoming Dependencies: The 2nd Step and Restoration to Sanity
This episode features Roger N. and how a different approach to the 2nd step changed his recovery.
For a lot of us there comes a moment as the years mount in sobriety when you realize something is just not right. For me it happened at about fifteen years. On the one hand, I couldn’t see anything wrong. I was still doing all the things I’d learned in AA: sponsoring, being sponsored, service work, home group, and regular 10th step work to try to keep it clean with my insides.
Slowly but surely though I was having restlessness, irritability and discontent return into my life. I couldn’t see it. It was more like a low-grade fever going up day after day. So I didn't even know to talk about it. Sometimes I think it was like a kind of denial, until the day came I couldn’t deny it any more.
That day came when my wife of many years told me she wanted a divorce. WTF! That is not supposed to happen to someone who is sober and working a program of recovery. It sure did get my attention though. Thankfully my sponsor had benefitted from therapy in addition to the twelve-step program, so he sent me off to one of his counselors. That first one didn’t work well for me, but I found another one. Tony was a social worker, long time sober himself, and a spiritual teacher who worked with A Course in Miracles. What he didn't tell me until later was that he was also in recovery from co-dependency.
Tony nudged me to move outside my AA routine. He was sneaky about it, though I didn't realize it until later. He started by pointing me to Bill W’s article The Next Frontier and with suggestions that I needed a bigger spiritual restoration to sanity, what he called a larger 2nd Step.
And he came back to it over and over again, to the point of annoying me. Regardless, the day came when something broke open for me. Tony had sent me back to the article yet again, and on that particular day something shifted. As an aside, that is such an important lesson. I can read things over and over again, and not really understand.
I had always thought the emotional sobriety Bill described in his article was the result of managing my emotions, keeping myself in an appropriate range of feelings. Behaving. Now I see that’s crazy. Emotions aren’t manageable, and they aren’t reasonable, they are indications of things happening inside me. And they need attention.
Instead Bill taught from his experience that it was dependencies on people, circumstances and things that set him up for emotional excesses. In his case it was depression. In mine it was increasingly becoming discontent. I was just not able to experience “happy, joyous and free” like the Big Book promises. And it wasn't because I wasn’t working my twelve-step program. Actually, Tony helped me see that a good program should uncover more stuff that needs to be made right. And that many of us should have that happen the longer we are in recovery.
The tide began to turn for me when Tony had me do an extended inventory of every need, wish or desire that I looked for through someone or something else. At some point in that process, which took months, I began to really appreciate a particular phrase in the Big Book. “A long period of reconstruction lies ahead.” For a little more than two years, Tony helped me get at those things. I discovered when others were not okay, I could not be okay, that somehow I was either the cause or the solution. I also found that I had an endless number of ways that I expected things from people, jobs, even AA and life itself. And so many conditions that I put upon others. Whenever someone or something didn't line up, I would experience disappointment, frustration, or discouragement. If things continued to go awry, I would find myself in a downward psychological spiral.
As things slowly began to become clearer, and the inner clean-up process continued, I came to the same realization to which Bill came: that even my dependence on AA was a problem. In the end, while I could be a part of the community and still practice the program of recovery, the final solution had to be to turn inward, to Higher Power, and to Higher Self.
With that effort I came to understand why A Course in Miracles says the only solution is atonement, or at-one-ment. As long as I believe I am sick, or broken, or sinful, or just plain screwed up, I can’t get out from under the weight of it all. I can’t be okay without letting go of every old idea I have about not being okay. That’s proves to be a very different 4th and 5th step inventory, to look for the old ideas that block me off from knowing I am okay.
Today I understand that the promise of the 2nd step restoration to sanity is much, much more than I imagined. It is literally to lead me to knowing myself to be one and whole. I got to AA today to stay sober and to work with others, but my spiritual path is now with the Course and in Unity Church. They turn all I learned in the church of my youth on its head, and even my ideas of being alcoholic are rearranged. I’m certain I can’t drink, but I don't find fault in myself either.
The craziest thing is that my wife and I are now divorced. That relationship was based on the lie that I was a troubled man. My new reality is that I am well. Still fully human, certain to misstep, and prone to misperceptions of every imaginable kind. I have been restored to a kind of sanity I never knew existed. I just didn't know what I didn’t know.
All of this came about through those same twelve steps. But my understanding and practice of them has deepened considerably. That has changed everything. Today I am pretty content most of the time. That’s a miracle. But to paraphrase the Big Book, somehow or another I became ready to receive it.