This is a month of milestones. Milestones of recovery and milestones of guilt. How do I recognize them both?
Counseling is beneficial to me. Ok, that is kind of an obvious statement. Shocking, right?? Actually, to me it isn’t so obvious. (Sorry, counselor!) I am seeing counseling now for what it is meant to be, a component of my recovery. A very important one.
Each time in my 12 step meeting, we read a definition of our addiction called “Our Problem.” At the end it states what we must do to overcome our problem. “We must attend and support recovery meetings, share with and listen to others, continue to work the 12 Steps, gratefully serve the fellowship, and reach out to others who still struggle.” There is one addition for me…counseling. I can give you an example. A very important one for me.
My counselor recently asked me to do an exercise. He asked me to start listening to my wife. I told him I do that. A lot. Evidently that wasn’t enough. So he gave me an exercise to try with her. He told me to ask her about her day. And then just shut up and listen. For 15 minutes. Without saying a word. Just see how that feels and listen to her. Ok, I can do that. That’s easy because I do that all the time. I don’t interrupt, I always listen to her about what is going on with her.
So I got home. We fixed dinner, took care of the kids, took a walk around the lake with dog, cleaned up around the house, and then finally settled in for the night. All was quiet. I asked about her day. And I shut up and listened. Only, I discovered something. I wasn’t good at it. I had to mentally stop myself from interrupting every couple of minutes. I was really surprised by how much I would have normally interjected, given her advice, told her how to handle a situation. I also discovered something else that was the most important. I heard so much more. Wow, did I miss a lot usually. She shared things that I normally would have missed. All because I listened.
This seemed like an interesting exercise, another way to connect with my spouse. Just a good practice to put in place to deepen intimacy with my wife. To put her needs above mine. Until something interesting happened to connect the dots for me. I told you, I need extra parts in my recovery because many times I miss important truths. This was one of those times.
I was having breakfast with a brother in recovery. He talked about submitting. He was mentioning how in Step 3 we turn our lives and our will over to the care of God. How submitting his will to his wife was practice for submitting to God. That made it click for me. Listening was the same way. Actually marriage is the same way.
I have missed so much in my marriage. Such important truths and learnings. Marriage by design is practice. It allows us to practice intimacy, listening, submission, communication, love…all those relational components. It is practice for us to develop a deeper intimacy with God. And I missed it. The entire time.
I have no interest in giving you an account of my adventures, only the wondrously powerful and transformingly present words and deeds of Christ in me that triggered a believing response among the outsiders. – Romans 15:18 (The Message)
I have been uncomfortable with trying to tell my story. I honestly still have pride and selfishness as character flaws that haven’t gone away. I know these exist in me and therefore add to my hesitancy to tell my story. Basically, I don’t trust my own motivations for telling my story. I don’t want to make it about me. I want it to be like the Bob Marley work of my youth: a “Redemption Song.”
I took this to my counselor and my sponsor to get some guidance on this. My sponsor as I believe I have previously stated has cautioned me about not being willing to share my story. That by not doing so, I am not allowing God to use it for His glory. So I am not sure what to do here. They gave me good advice and straightened out my warped thinking. So here goes.
First, I should tell my story if I need to tell it to get more out of me. Will it benefit me in my own recovery to tell my story in the situation I am in. Is there a purpose for me to share it to aid in where I am in working the steps. Like I did in step five when I shared it with a friend who isn’t in recovery, as an act of admission of my wrong doings. I should consider the situation and see if there is a need for me to share based upon my own recovery.
Second, I should tell my story if the other person will benefit from hearing it. Recently, I had this opportunity come up when speaking with someone new in one of our recovery meetings. I saw that he was struggling in starting to work through the steps and in maintaining any long periods of sobriety. So I prayed about it and really felt the need to share my own difficulties in entering recovery and staying here. I was able to share my experience, strength and hope with him. I was able to talk to him about the need for counseling, accountability, recovery meetings, checking in with other guys, and having a sponsor in my own recovery. I told him to take what you like and leave the rest. And he did.
Finally, my story has to be relevant. In other words, I don’t need to share it just to hear myself talk, to bring attention to myself for no purpose. There has to be a reason and a purpose to share it. In step nine while making amends, I have shared my story with a couple of people who had the right to know my story. It was relevant to me making amends with them. So I did. It was uncomfortable and difficult and definitely relevant. I didn’t share my story to make excuses for my actions and the damage I caused them. I shared my story because my story was relevant in the context of making amends.
Three guidelines to sharing my story:
- Do I need to tell it to get more out of me
- Will the other person benefit from hearing it
- Is it relevant
I can live with those. Otherwise, as my sponsor told me before, anything else is probably wasting my story, my “redemption” story.
So now I am making amends. I didn’t expect this to happen this way. I don’t know what I expected. I guess I expected the big emotional scene. The one you see on TV and the movies. I tearfully lay out my shortcomings and take responsibility for my past and how I caused such damage to each and every person I hurt. We both cry and talk about how much we love each other and that things will be different and the past is the past and we have a bright new future to look forward to together. That’s not how it has gone for me. Or for the people I have on my list.
As I mentioned before, I have three different categories. First is my wife. Her amends are different and special. Quite honestly, her amends are up to her. I came to her to lay bare my character flaws, the ways that I recognized that I had damaged her, and to listen to how she felt based upon how I had hurt her. There was no tearful scene that led to a shared view of a hopeful new day. She was honest with her hurt, the damage she felt from me, and the destruction that my acting out had caused to her personally and to our marriage. She was clear about the end of her trust in me and in other people because of me. She said she didn’t know if she could forgive me. She also said she was guarded about telling me she loved me and that she was hopeful for the future because she didn’t know if I would stay in recovery. Amends with my wife is a day to day undertaking. Not something that is immediate or instant.
Second is those that I make amends with face to face. My family including my kids, my friends, my parents. People that I have hurt that are still in my life and will most likely stay in my life. I met with my kids and talked them through what I had done, how I had not been engaged and had not been the father God called me to be or the man I should be as an example to them. I asked them how my behavior had impacted them. They told me that my absence impacted them. That even when I was here, it was obvious that I was distracted or didn’t have time for them. One of my kids told me that this version of me now was different, that it was obvious I was trying to change and that he hoped I would stay this way. I met face to face with my close friends who are not in recovery but are my accountability partners. I saw the impact of my lies and my manipulation on them and the struggle they have to remain in my life, that its only through Christ acting through them that they can be here with me in accountability. I didn’t see before the damage I had done to them.
Finally, there are those that I can’t see face to face. People that aren’t reachable in person. Former bosses that I had to send a letter or email to apologize for my previous behavior, to ask how that impacted them, and to ask forgiveness for the man I was and the selfishness and behavior that impacted them. One former boss told me that he appreciated my candor and that he was thankful that I was seeking to improve my life. Several didn’t respond. There are also those letters that I can’t and won’t send. The ones that I wrote to former affair partners. I apologized for my part in manipulating them to meet my own selfish needs. Then I shredded those letters.
I didn’t expect amends to be this way. I didn’t expect this depth of feeling. I didn’t expect to see this depth of damage in all those around me.