Archive for the ‘Journal Through Recovery’ Category

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.

Turning my life over to God was something I thought I did a long time ago. It’s the combination of turning my life AND will over to God that I missed…and am struggling with now.

Almost every person I have met in recovery has mentioned to me that they dreaded the same exact thing when working the 12 steps. Step nine. “We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Yep, that Step nine. Facing the fallout is what I call it. That is how it has felt to me throughout these last several months of recovery and working through the steps with my sponsor. How on earth am I going to be able to make amends to everyone I hurt?

In step eight, I made a list of all those I had harmed and became willing to make amends. The steps are in order for a reason. Amazing how sanctification works. Webster’s dictionary defines sanctification as “the state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment.” Note it says the state of growing, not of instantly becoming. I hate that part of the definition. I would prefer it to happen instantly. Growing means over a long time period. A continuous act of becoming more mature. Not what I wanted to hear.

As I continue this journey down the path of sanctification, patience and trust have been two areas of growth in my life. I have struggled with these areas before and after recovery. In my life before recovery, I didn’t trust God and therefore didn’t have patience to wait for Him to work in my life. As I work through the 12 steps and in my recovery, daily I am learning to lean into God with my life and my will. That also means stepping into His timing as well. Which for me means practicing an immense amount of patience. And that brings me to step nine.

We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. – Step Nine.

Amends. According to Miriam-Webster, amends is “to compensate for a loss or injury.”  I wouldn’t have been ready for this a month ago, or two months ago or when I entered recovery. I thought I would never be ready for this. I was like many other people I know in recovery. I was afraid of this step. Afraid to face the people that I had harmed in my addiction. Those that I had disregarded in my descent into self destruction and selfishness. My wife, my kids, my mother in law, my friends and family. All those that I had lied to, damaged from my selfishness and manipulation. I did not think I would ever be at a point where I was ready to face them with rigorous honesty, seeking to make amends for the damage I had caused them.

Yet…here I am. I have a list. I have prayed over it. I have divided those on my list in three groups. Group one has only one name…my wife. Her amends is special and only for her. Group two are those I will meet with face to face, those that I believe I can talk to without causing them or my wife or children any further damage. Group three are those I can’t make direct amends with, those that seeing would further injure them or cause my wife and children damage.

So now its time to make amends.

Life in recovery is a Rollercoaster. The ups and downs are intense, terrifying, and rewarding.

I think I missed something. Or maybe its just my screwed up decision making. Regardless of why, I most definitely didn’t completely understand the purpose of Step Four. Let me explain. I think I told you that Step Four was the step I most dreaded after I started working through the steps. I truly didn’t want to have to face my own flaws. I knew they were there but just felt that it was easier to blame God for why I was the way I was than actually look at myself and how my character defects kept me in a never ending cycle of sin and shame. The only upside of Step Four to me was that I at least would have dealt with those character flaws and they would be gone and therefore I wouldn’t have to worry about them anymore. That is what I believed would happen.

This may come as a surprise to some of you. I truly hope not. They didn’t all go away. I know, shocked aren’t you? Ok, you can stop laughing at me now. I really thought that they were gone. Or maybe I told myself that so I wouldn’t dwell on what they are. Manipulation, lying, pride. Things I didn’t want to continue to face. Somehow, they are still there. They show up when I am stressed, angry, isolated, emotional, even when I am just not strong enough on my own and don’t give God control in the moment .  Basically at the same times they used to show up before recovery.  So what is the difference between now and recovery?

Let me try to muddle through this. Recently, I was talking with my wife. We were just catching up at the end of a long day. The TV was on, a normal evening. That’s how it started, normal. Anyway, I wasn’t really paying attention to what was on the TV but did hear a female begin to speak in an English accent. To set the stage here, one of my affair partners was English. My wife had actually spoken with her. In an instant, without forethought or delay, I started changing to another station. I was really good, or so I thought. I stated how I had just remembered we had one of the shows we liked saved and I wanted to start it.

My wife got silent. Dangerously silent. She said, and I quote, “I know what you are doing.” I said what do you mean? She told me not to insult her intelligence. She said I was trying to manipulate her by turning the channel. Ouch.

Yeah, manipulation. Right up there at the top of my list of character flaws. The only problem is, everyone close to me knows my flaws. I have named them for them. They have agreed and added a little more clarification to make sure I knew they recognize them when they manifest. Exactly what my wife just did. She called me out. I wish I could say I recognized it, immediately dealt with it, and know I won’t respond that way again.  I didn’t. I tried to say no, I want to watch a show. You know…manipulate.  Again.

So I stopped, listened again, listened to myself, and heard the truth. I was manipulating. I was going back to a character flaw. I thought when I brought them to God they were truly gone. Actually, they are part of my sin nature. I have lived in that nature for so long, my character flaws won’t just magically disappear. I do have one thing going for me now. I know what they are, so do my loved ones, and we can address them. The manipulation is still there. However, my recognition of it is heightening. Thank you, God, for that.

Working the 12 steps is starting to get really real. That is such a cliche but so apt to where I am. I am about to start Step 8. As a quick reminder, Step 8 is as follows: We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.  Yeah. That Step 8. No other way to put it but damn.

I have been working on my list in my mind since I did Step 4, identifying my flaws and defects of character. I knew this was coming. There is one person at the top of my list. My wife. She is numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. She has her own list and the rest are secondary, including my kids. They are next. But first, its her.

As I was preparing for this list, I kind of discounted it. You know, its just a list and becoming willing. However, as my sponsor and counselor both pointed out to me, it is so much more. That whole becoming willing part. That’s more than just saying the words, making the list and then taking action.

For me, its been about understanding the true reasons for the amends. Why are the people on my list actually on my list? What did I do to give them that honored place on my amends list? I am being facetious. (That means sarcastic for you native Texans!)

Anyway, I was struggling with this. I identified the people who belonged there. The ones that I had lied to, manipulated, taken advantage of, used for my own selfish gains, not been engaged with, not been present with, and just had been mean and ugly and rude with. I had the reasons but I was struggling with connecting with those reasons.  I didn’t really feel the impact. And then I did. I got it. Just from being with the first person on my list.

My wife and I were working through intimacy exercises. Just checking in on how we both felt, what we loved about each other, and then a devotional reading and prayer. She said something she said quite often and I had repeatedly dismissed. She said she couldn’t help but think that the reason I had relationships outside of our marriage and broke my sexual vow to her was because of how she looked, that she wasn’t pretty enough, that she was overweight. And I said the things I usually do, I told her that wasn’t true, she was beautiful, and it was all my fault. I said the words because I was hopeful it would stop her from getting triggered and would give her some comfort. The problem was, I didn’t really own it. I didn’t own WHY she felt that way.

I was talking with my counselor the next day, telling him about how she went to that place and that I was realizing that it was my fault. Being the supportive, loving, touchy-feely counselor that he is (again, sarcasm for you native Texans), he pointed out that it most definitely was my fault. And by allowing her to continue down that path, I was allowing her to take away my responsibility for my actions. They were my actions that caused that damage, that caused her to feel less than enough. That’s when I felt it, that’s when I owned it. It’s my responsibility. I am sorry, my love, for making you feel less than enough.

I love meetings. I hear stuff that I just don’t believe at first. Ok, I know this is a goofy path for a journal entry but hang with me. I believe and the Bible is clear that God reveals Himself to us in many ways including reading His word, prayer, being still and shutting up and listening, worship, and even yes even other people. That includes recovery meetings. See, God LOVES revealing himself to me in recovery meetings. Only, I am too thick to see Him coming most of the time.

So I am going to shamelessly steal this incredible share that a friend of mine used recently in the Thursday night group. Yes, you know who you are. He announced very proudly that tonight his topic would be on shame. I seriously felt the air leave the room. If it was a larger group, you would have audibly heard the collective “ughhhhhh.” Sorry my friend, maybe it was just me but I think we all felt it.

I seriously considered just mentally checking out. I steadied myself for another reminder that shame meant I thought “I am bad” and guilt meant I healthily thought “I did bad things.” So moral of the story, feel guilt not shame. Blah blah blah, right? Only my friend is way smarter than me so of course that isn’t what he said at all.

His opening statement was that shame is an emotion from God but can be completely self centered and hinder recovery. What did he just say? Ok, I am awake now. He said that allowing ourselves to wallow (his words, not mine!) in our shame was another form of justification for our actions. Ok, so that is a bit harsh, don’t you think? I mean, come on. I thought we are supposed to feel sorry for guys stuck in shame because they are wrongly focused on thinking they are a bad person, not in the right area of guilt where they remember God’s salvation and redemption and that they have done bad things. Only…that isn’t what he was saying. He was saying that staying in shame is a cop-out, basically.

Ok, I am really paying attention now. Keep going. So my friend said there are three ways of recognizing that we are stuck in shame in our own lives. Three warning signs that we are in shame and that staying there is selfish.

  1. We are acting out of fear because we are afraid to expose our true self and need to hide. Yikes, that hurt. Definitely a cop out I take
  2. We are blaming and refusing to admit the truth. Basically, I let myself off the hook by setting such a low standard. Obviously, I suck so therefore I can’t expect to be much better. Yep, definitely a technique I have used.
  3. We disconnect and don’t feel or experience our emotions. This robs us from feeling compassion for those we have hurt. Yeah, emotional avoidance. I rock at that.

So shame is selfish. Yeah, I guess it is. So what do I do about it? Community. Community is the key. Being able to walk into my groups, share my garbage, and still be loved. Wow, what an antidote for shame. I love the quote he closed the share with and dropped the mic, so I will steal it (again, sorry my friend!): “As long as I am conditionally known, I will be conditionally loved.”