You are right where God wants you to be. Uncomfortable. That means He is revealing something to you. Something you need to work on. I hate when my sponsor is right.
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.
“So how often are you reaching out to the guys in your recovery groups?”
That was what my counselor asked me yesterday in my session with him. Reaching out? Does he mean like actually talking to them or just being in group? No, he meant actually texting and calling other men to “talk.” There was just one thing my counselor didn’t know. I don’t know how to reach out and actually talk to men. These are guys who have problems. They have issues and they share them openly so I know what they are struggling with. Why would I want to reach out to them and talk to them?
“You need to start working on building intimacy with other men. It’s how you learn to build relationships.”
Ok, is he really serious? What am I supposed to talk about? And to whom? I know they pass a phone list around during the meetings that people sign up on and then copy other guys numbers. I even hear guys talking about how much this helps them to talk to each other when they are struggling or arguing with their wives or even when they have something good to share. I just don’t know how to do that. How can I reach out to someone else when I can’t even be honest with myself? There is so much I don’t want to face. Talking to someone else is terrifying. I struggled to just tell my counselor most of what I had done. I have shared in group which fortunately is just about talking without interruption. Now he wants me to talk to other people? I really just want to protect myself and isolate back into the quiet of my own lies.
So I went to the next meeting. I like the smaller ones. I have actually had casual conversations with guys in the group. They seem genuinely interested in how I am doing, without being intrusive or really pushy. So, I tried. I texted a guy who seemed like he was nice enough. He actually responded and wanted to know how my day was, when was my disclosure (hopefully I can still avoid that!) and how was my wife handling things right now.
Ok, that was one. I responded and answered his questions and even checked on him. He has been in recovery for almost a year. He was out of the house for seven months before his wife said she wanted him to come back home. He told me that the only way it happened was that she saw him practicing what she had always wanted, a loving and honest husband.
Next, I saw a guy I knew from our previous church. We had great conversations then about who knew more scripture and was more intelligent. Ok, maybe we were both a bit full of ourselves. Anyway, he is humble. He isn’t the same anymore. I like this version of him a lot. His compassion seems real and his words are full of honesty and not arrogance. I have a lot to learn.
Reaching out is terrifying to me. However, I have been able to talk to a few guys. The other night when my wife was overwhelmed with sadness from the depth of my betrayal towards her, I went and stayed with a friend. I was scared. I didn’t think she would want to talk to me again. I didn’t think God would want me because of how dirty I am. I reached out and one of my new friends shared this with me:
Psalms 25 has been my cry to the Lord. “He hears you when you cry out to Him and is with you.”
I am discovering that sharing is painful and necessary and healing and encouraging.