I went to meetings for a year before I bought the book and started working the 12 Steps.
It was hard going at first because I’d never hit bottom. I’d had some dark days and nights getting lost online, but I never had an addiction. These bouts of curiosity only lasted a few days, a few weeks at most, and then burned themselves out, and I moved on to a productive life. I was a seminal blogger!
I’ve had some dark nights of the soul with my relationships (none of which have lasted longer than a year). I have this fear of abandonment and when I love a woman, I hang on to her too tightly. I make her my higher power. She’s the greatest thing in the universe to me and I obsess about our relationship. This always leads me to suffocate her and many of my most loved girls have gone out and slept with other people just to get rid of me.
When my love abandons me (or when I lose a good friend or a job or a community), it stirs up unresolved lack of attachment stuff from my childhood and I feel lost in a big world, but I’ve never been suicidal. I’ve never been incapable of taking care of the tasks in front of me. I just get a little weepy after every break-up.
At age 44, after about six years of therapy, I realized that psychology and religion and yoga and Alexander Technique were not enough. I needed more help. There was something pathological in me, a rage against women and against authority and against anyone or anything that reminded me of frights from my childhood. I realized I wasn’t always relating to people and places on their own merits, rather I was reacting to what they represented to me.
I started my 12-step program in May of 2011. In December, due to severe financial issues, I stopped driving any unnecessary miles and missed meetings until April of 2012. My behavior was sober. I wasn’t acting out, but I was a dry drunk. I hadn’t worked the program.
So in April I bought the book and in May I started sitting in Starbucks and working the 12 Steps and discussing it with my sponsor.
Step One asked that I admit I was powerless before my tendency to have co-dependent sex and love addicted relationships. I wasn’t at all sure that this was true. I’ve always felt in control. But in hope of getting what I couldn’t imagine, I took action I didn’t believe and admitted my powerlessness before my emotional addictions.
Step Two asked me to accept that God could restore me to sanity. Done!
Except on the rarest of occasions, God has been a distant force in my life. I’ve always believed in Him (except for a couple of years during college), but rarely felt like I was relating to Him. That God loved me meant nothing to me. That I should love God meant nothing to me. That God judges me and rewards and punishes me according to my behavior was obvious to me. God is the judge. I am the judged. That was pretty much the end of my story with God.
Having grown up with God and having almost always led a religious life, it was weird but intriguing to explore a new relationship to God in the program. Sometimes you can hear the same things so many times that they lose all meaning. Now I was hearing about an entirely new route to God and it kept my interest. I found it comforting and accessible. Twelve step prayers, for instance, weren’t in some foreign tongue.
Step Three asked me to make a decision to turn my life over to God. This wasn’t easy. I found it a tad degrading. From a Jewish perspective, God has given man a program, a Torah, and you just do it. Jews don’t talk about turning your life over to God. This was goyisha thinking.
I did like the Third Step prayer: “God, I offer myself to Thee — to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!”
By this point, I’m fascinated by the 12 Steps and start checking out various books from the library on them and listening to Youtube lectures on Big Book study.
There wasn’t a lot of work to the first three steps. They were more affirmations. Not a big deal. They were ways of thinking completely contrary to the way I’d gone about living my life, but I was willing to try them out. It didn’t really matter if I didn’t agree with them. It didn’t really matter if they didn’t make sense to me. I was not going to get hung up on labels and definitions.
When I first converted to Judaism in 1993 through a Reform rabbi, I was determined to be like Dennis Prager and to be equally involved with all three denominations (Reform, Conservative and Orthodox). Orthodoxy didn’t make rational sense to me, so I was just going to participate a bit as a sociologist. Then I got to Los Angeles in 1994 and became steadily intrigued by Orthodox Judaism to the point that in 2000, it didn’t matter to me that it didn’t make sense to me, there was just something there that spoke to me. I had to become Orthodox. I had to do an Orthodox conversion. I had to live as an Orthodox Jew because the best people I knew were Orthodox Jews. I was not going to get hung up on labels and definitions.
I started practicing Alexander Technique in 2008 and I had a lot of arguments and objections all the way along but I stuck with it because it just plain worked. I was not going to get hung up on labels and definitions.
I met girls who weren’t my type but they just intrigued me, so I pursued them even though they didn’t make rational sense to me.
I started practicing Kundalini Yoga in January of 2009 and even though much of it didn’t make sense to me, there was just something there that spoke to me and I stayed with it for two years of near-daily practice.
So I’m frighteningly flexible when I think something might improve my life or I just want to participate and have an experience. Things don’t always have to make complete sense to me for me to give them a try. When I was in college, I played with atheistic communism for a couple of years because it just seemed intriguing.
My recovery work really began with Step Four when I made a complete and fearless moral inventory of myself. I started writing out everyone and everything I resented, working my way across four columns (who/what I resented, why I resented them, how they threatened me, and what my role was).
For instance, I resented life for crippling me with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This destroyed my 20s. I spent most of my time in bed. I never made a full recovery. I never got to finish university. I emerged out of it hobbled. CFS threatened my prestige, my social relationships, my independence. And what role did I play in getting CFS? I drove myself absurdly hard in the months leading up to my collapse. And everything that CFS did to me that was out of my control? I just had to give that up to God.
Perhaps the most difficult part of this step was tackling my resentments against some people who had raised me. Since I was a little kid, I was drilled with the credo that you can’t blame your parents. It just seemed pathetic to blame your parents. Only wankers do that.
The problem was that even though I kept telling myself that you can’t blame your parents, I had all this thinly disguised rage against some of the people who had raised me. It did me no good to keep telling myself, “You can’t blame your parents.” I’d always avoided talking about my childhood in therapy because it seemed like a waste of time. I wanted to concentrate on my decisions in the here and now. As I got older, however, I saw how the choices of others affected my life.
So to truly work this step, I had to start talking about my childhood in therapy and to get clear about how I felt about various decisions made by mom and dad types that affected me. When I had clarity on how I felt about these people, I was able to look at what they had done that I felt had hurt me, how it hurt me, and what role I played in these hurts. Then I was able to begin the difficult work of forgiving them and forgiving myself for not being perfect, for being enslaved to our various spiritual and psychological maladies that adversely affect others.
As I filled out each column, I was able to let go of some resentment. Filling out the second column helped me to see that it was an entire person or institution or idea that I resented, it was a particular manifestation. It became clear to me how threats to my health, my social standing, and my finances aroused my fear and resentment. I felt like my very survival was at stake, like someone was holding my head underwater.
One guy stole about $30,000 of property from me. He threatened my survival and my social standing. I saw that I had played a significant role in this. And then I had to let go of my resentment as I understood that in the stuff that was purely on him, he was acting out of his own spiritual sickness.
I wrote about the three acting schools and five synagogues that had booted me. They hurt my self-esteem and my communal standing. My very survival felt in peril when I lost my social home. I had fewer chances to be successful with women when I became known as a pariah. I wrote out how my own transgressive behavior and writing had brought on my ejections. If there was any part of them that I didn’t deserve, then other people were acting out of their own spiritual sickness. I had to let go of the resentment or I would never get well.
I wrote out about the two great loves of my life. Both had treated me with contempt. That hurt my self-esteem, my sex life, and my social standing. One had repeatedly cheated on me to drive me out of her life. I saw that I had made each woman, a decade apart, my higher power. I had hoped that they would rescue me. I was not capable of a healthy relationship and neither were they (neither has married). We each had our own spiritual sickness. I played the role of the love addict and she played the role of the avoidant.
I wrote about the Seventh-Day Adventist church. When they kicked my dad out of church employment in 1980 when I was 14, it destroyed my social life. We were now outside the Adventist pale and we were exiled into the diaspora. I played no role in my dad getting kicked out. Any mistakes that were made in that inevitable confrontation were attributable to the spiritual sickness of others.
I resented Christianity. I felt like I had spent way too much of my childhood forced to listen to stupid sermons and to read stupid books of apologetics. I hated Christianity. When other kids were playing, I was typing up stupid book reports on Christian classics. My religion separated me from others. It seemed to rob life of everything fun. It retarded my personal development. I never learned to dance and to be normal. I grew up in this weird separatist cult. I had to give up my resentment against this religion, however, or I would never get emotionally sober. I had to halt my resentment replay machine. Any flaws in Christianity were the fault of the spiritual sickness of those who created and perpetuated the faith. I was now an adult and could choose my own religion.
I had many confrontations with teachers and institutions. I reacted badly to authority and in response, authority was constantly hurting me, disciplining me, distancing from me and the like. The actions of my teachers damaged my standing in the community and my ability to make a living. What role did I play in this? Huge! I was constantly acting out and breaking the rules. Anything that was not my fault was due to the spiritual sickness of others. I had to forgive them for that so I could forgive myself for my transgressions.
I’ve had many feuds with fellow writers. Some of these feuds damaged my face, my health and my sleep. They damaged my self-esteem, my social standing and my ability to earn a living. What role did I play in these fights? It varied. I often practiced shoddy journalism, using my blog as a bully pulpit to insult others. I stepped on toes. I was deceitful. I was self-aggrandizing. I was manipulative. I was cruel. I was careless. I would thrust myself forward at other people’s expense. I was all about number one.
The next eight steps follow predictably from here. I had to confess my faults to another person. I had to become ready to have God take away my defects of character. I had to become willing to make amends to those I’d hurt. I made amends. I began taking a moral inventory on a daily basis and when I was wrong, I promptly admitted it. I increased my contact with God, asking for His direction for my life. I tried to be of service to others and to carry this message to other addicts.
As a result of working the 12 Steps, I had a spiritual awakening. I found myself turning to God as a trusted friend. I did less trampling on others as I pursued my goals. I stopped to ask on a regular basis if I was acting selfishly or if this was what God intended for my life. I let go of all historic resentments. I stopped replaying things in my head where every time I thought about some dispute, I became a little more innocent and the other person a little more guilty. For the past six months, I haven’t used my resentment replay machine.
Caught up in the moment, however, I have not been able to avoid the flare-up of petty resentments. When someone cuts me off in traffic or speaks to me rudely or interrupts me when I’m making an important point, I often feel resentment but by working the 12 Steps, I’m able to notice what I’m doing and to let go of the resentment that same day, if not that same hour. I don’t keep feeding my resentments.
I have had less success letting go of my fears. I haven’t worked as hard on my fear inventory as I did on my resentment inventory.
Every day I ask myself two main questions — how free do I want to be? How real do I want God to be in my life?