Sobriety is NOT that simple

Sobriety is NOT that simple

A huge part of my continued sobriety is reading. I love books. I love learning. My name is Sara, and I am a nerd. I also like inspirational quotes and passages. I get daily emails with motivational wordstuffs around sobriety. Sometimes, they are so damn on-the-spot that I feel like the writer is spying on me (or is that my anxiety?). Today was not the case. Today, my motivational wordstuffs pissed me off:

In the Sixth and Seventh Steps of the program, we become willing to let go of our defects of character – issues, behaviors, old feelings, unresolved grief, and beliefs that are blocking us from the joy that is ours. Then we ask God to take them from us.

Isn’t that simple? We don’t have to contort ourselves to make ourselves change. We don’t have to force change. For once, we don’t have to “do it ourselves.” All we have to do is strive for an attitude of willingness and humility. All we have to do is ask God for what we want and need, and then trust God to do for us that which we cannot do and do not have to do for ourselves.

We do not have to watch with bated breath for how and when we shall change. This is not a self-help program. In this miraculous and effective program that has brought about recovery and change for millions, we become changed by working the Steps.

All emphasis added was mine. The part in red was what, well, made me see red. So you get to see it in red too! #sharedexperiences

Sobriety is not that simple * youareagoodmama.com

ANYWAY, I hate the assertion that sobriety is simple. IT IS NOT. It is 100% not simple and easy to change a behavior that that is compulsive, persistent, and results in brain changes that challenge your own self-control. That’s why so many addicts relapse, and why there are so many different pathways to sobriety. If sobriety were easy and simple, everyone would do it the first time!

Compared to stories I’ve heard, my road to sobriety was relatively easy. I haven’t relapsed since my last drink on September 9, 2006. I haven’t been incarcerated. I haven’t lost my children, my spouse, my family members, or friends due to drinking. I never lost my job or became homeless. I never had to be hospitalized for health reasons related to drinking or detoxing. I don’t list all these things to brag – I’m grateful that these didn’t happen to me because I understand how easily they could have.

Sobriety isn't easy * youareagoodmama.com
I have all this, thanks to the hard work of sobriety

However, it’s not smart to compare your sobriety journey to that of others’. My sobriety journey was not easy, nor was it simple. Also, once I completed the sixth and seventh steps, I didn’t just sit back and let things happen. I continued to work. Instead of making snap decisions based on how I felt at the moment, I tried to consider all consequences that could occur (translation: I cared about how my actions affected others and didn’t just act on whim). I analyzed how I felt, and reached out for help from supportive people if those feelings were too big to handle on my own. Some might call that God working in my life. That’s fine. I choose to also respect the hard work I was doing.

I would also argue that recovery work IS a self-help program. I mean, if I wasn’t willing to admit I was an addict, or seek help, I’d still be blacking out from too many Jack & Cokes on the weekends. Self-help doesn’t have to mean you do it all on your own – it isn’t called All-By-Your-Self-help.

Sobriety isn't that simple * youareagoodmama.com

Motivational wordstuffs such as this mean well, but I feel they can be very damaging to recovery work. I could easily see someone thinking, my sobriety wasn’t simple, so what am I doing wrong? It’s dangerous to simplify sobriety work. It isn’t simple. It’s messy and complicated and hard and time-consuming. Is it worth it? YES. Absolutely. Just don’t call it simple.

www-youareagoodmama-com

My character defects

The overwhelming support for my previous post on alcoholism inspired me to write more about my recovery journey. I am in the middle of working the Steps and let me tell you – it is hard work. The payoff is so worth it, though. In case any of you are not familiar with the 12 Steps, here they are (along with my progress):

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. Done
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Done
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. Done
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Done – NOT FUN
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. Done
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. Done
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. Done
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

    Serenity Prayer
    Serenity Prayer: a great companion to the Steps

While the organizer in me gleefully puts done next to the steps I’ve completed, the realistic part of me knows that all of these steps are completed on a daily basis. Complacency is my enemy – may I never get so comfortable in my abstinence that I forget I have a problem.

All the steps are important, and doing them in order is even more important. First of all, if you can’t identify there is a problem, you can’t be helped. Next, you have to believe that you are worthy of forgiveness by your Higher Power (HP). That step was hard for me – I couldn’t imagine forgiving myself, so why should anyone else (including an HP)? I had to let go of that control and realize that it was out of my hands. Once I did that, things started getting better. Then you turn your life over to your HP before moving on to the down & dirty work of Step 4.

Step 4 is the moral inventory, where you list all your resentments, what part you are responsible for and how you can do better. You do not want to tackle your moral inventory without having your Higher Power on your side – trust me on that. It can easily turn into a self-bashing, I-hate-myself mess. Then you discuss your wrongs with your HP and sponsor (Step 5). For me, this was very healing as I could finally talk about this stuff with someone who related because she had been there. No judgment, no shaming – just acceptance. Beautiful. I used my moral inventory to compile my list of character defects for Step 6, and after discussing them with my sponsor I asked my HP to remove my shortcomings. That is Step 7 and where I’ve been living for a few weeks now.

I'm so glad I got to fully experience this joy
I’m so glad I got to fully experience this joy

I’ve chosen to highlight my Step 6 because it seems like motherhood both mutes and amplifies my character defects. I didn’t know what intense emotions felt like until I became a mother, and then I REALLY didn’t know what intense emotions felt like until I became a mother free of compulsive thinking! Compulsive thinking allows one to act without thinking – it numbs you and prevents you from feeling the full effects of your actions. When I started working the Steps, I remember feeling so overwhelmed by everyday emotions because I was feeling them like a “normal person” for the first time. The feelings are still intense, but it’s no longer overwhelming because I’ve grown accustomed to it. It’s a beautiful thing.

This is my Step 6, as shared with my HP and my sponsor. The character defect is in bold and the “payoff” of that character defect is underneath it. The “payoff” is what I’m giving up by asking my HP to entirely remove it. I have also added how each character defect shows up in my mothering.

Step 6: “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

Victim
Don’t have to take responsibility for my actions
This one didn’t show up in mothering per se (even I couldn’t blame the baby for something I did) but did show up in my co-parenting. I could very easily get angry at Bryce for something that I also contributed to (baby not getting a nap because we were out) but conveniently forget my part in it. I would also get resentful that he didn’t help out more, even though I hadn’t asked for help and I made it seem like I wanted to do it all. The control freak in me wanted to control all aspects of parenting, but the victim side in me wanted to blame him for allowing me to do it all. WTF, self? Now I’m more honest in what I need from him as a co-parent and if I start to feel resentful about something, I first search to see if I can share some of the blame.

Stealing Mom's coffee may elicit strong reaction...
Stealing Mom’s coffee may elicit a strong reaction…

Reactive
Respond to situation without thinking; don’t worry about who I hurt
This is a biggie and one I work on many, many times a day. Colt is a very spirited and independent child who has inherited much of his mother’s stubbornness. When he does something that I’d prefer he didn’t do, it’s so easy for me to fly off the handle and freak out. Prior to working the steps, I was more likely to yell and be unreasonably angry. This would, of course, scare him – which then would make me feel guilty. Nowadays, I try to take a deep breath first, and then respond rather than react to the situation. I keep my voice level and explain why I’m upset, rather than yell. I know that he is not yet capable of modulating his emotions, so as the adult it’s up to me to keep mine in check when possible. And when I do lose my cool, I make sure to apologize and explain that, while Colt shouldn’t have thrown the car at the wall, Mommy shouldn’t have yelled like that. Note: I am perfectly ok with yelling and scaring him if he’s doing something dangerous like running towards a parking lot. No apologies if I scare him then.

Insecure
Build walls, keep people away, push loved ones away before they see I’m not good enough
Insecurity is the hallmark of a mother, and I’m no different. For much of Colt’s life, I’ve doubted myself as a mother. A few decisions didn’t cause me any insecurity (breastfeeding). Others had me going back and forth on whether I was a decent mother or a terrible mother (diapering, sleep, baby wearing, foods, working…it goes on). I almost cut myself off from the Internet because every time I read something that was different than what I was doing, I felt like I was doing it wrong and felt like a failure. As I’ve gotten more experience in this mothering thing, I’m growing in confidence as well.

I'm ok with being a workaholic in THIS job :)
I’m ok with being a workaholic in THIS job

Workaholic
I’m a good person because I work so hard
I’m so eternally thankful that I realized this was a character defect so early in Colt’s life. I could have missed out on so much. Important: do not confuse ambition with workaholic. Me as a workaholic would put more energy into my job and coworkers than my family. I was willing to go the extra mile for my patients, but not my family. I would tell my son to wait while I answered one more breastfeeding question in the online group I helped moderate. I would go in on weekends, without asking how that made my husband feel. Work was another drug for me – something I could lose myself in and use as a buffer against the pain of reality. Now I see that being a sober mother is the most important job I could have.

Envy (insecure)
The right thing/attribute will make me happy/make me a good person
Envy goes hand in hand with insecurity. It’s SO EASY to see other moms and be envious of how they seem to have it “all together.” But, I know from experience that I looked like one of those moms from the outside, when inside I was a hot mess who was barely keeping it together. It’s also easy to be envious of things – if only I could afford that big fancy stroller/toy/vacation, my child/family would be happy too. NOT TRUE.

Perfectionism (insecure)
Being the best is what’s most important. If you don’t do it perfectly, it’s not worth doing. Trying to be perfect makes me a better person
Another facet of insecurity. There is no such thing as a perfect mother and it would be an exercise in futility to try to be one. I had to learn that one really quickly or go insane. But, I still managed to beat myself up for not being perfect at this motherhood thing. Today, I’m much gentler with me.

Procrastination
I can avoid doing things that are uncomfortable or that I don’t want to do
This one hasn’t shown up as much as the others. It’s hard to avoid changing a poo diaper when the toddler is crop-dusting the living room. Babies have a way of making their needs known, and they usually need them NOW. They’re pretty persuasive about being on their timeline, not yours.

Gossip (insecure)
Put others down to make myself feel better, prove my superiority
Yet another piece of insecurity and huge in the mother world. This comes both as gossiping about a specific person and gossiping about (judging) a whole group of mothers. I see this so much in my breastfeeding work. Infant feeding choice is one of the most emotionally charged topics out there. But, having strong emotions about a subject is no excuse for putting down another mother for making the opposite decision. We moms are our own worst enemy, when we should be champions for each other.

These are moms who are true champions of other moms! Meals on Heels Board, August 2012
These moms are true champions of other moms!
Meals on Heels Board, August 2012

That was my Step 6…for this round. I’ll be revisiting this Step for the rest of my life – in fact, Step 10 is reworking Step 6 whenever needed. I’m not perfect, but I am perfect in my imperfection and willing to work toward the perfect ideals that the Steps state. I think that’s also a way to describe my outlook on mothering: I’m not perfect at it, and I’m ok with that, but I’ll always work toward that perfect ideal because I love my baby.