I spent most of my life apologizing. “I’m sorry”. I told it to my parents, my brother and sisters, my friends, my teachers… “I’m sorry” came out of my mouth so easily and so often. Later my bosses and girlfriends heard it, people at the bar, my neighbors… “I’m sorry”. Judges, probation officers… “I’m sorry”.
If asked to describe me, most people would say: “He’s pretty sorry”.
Not everyone comes into A.A. at the same level. I was so beaten down mentally that I didn’t even have resentments. I couldn’t. I was such a piece of crap that if you did something bad to me, I wasn’t mad at you: I felt I deserved it.
I had to work the steps multiple times just to get up to the level of humanity that most of you described as “pitiful, and incomprehensible, demoralization”. I also had to extrapolate. I’ve heard people say: “I did the steps EXACTLY as they are written in the book”. Folks, it’s not sacrosanct, these are suggestions. The resentment list in the 4th step is a process. It’s not the ONLY process, or even the BEST process. Get into the spirit of recovery, not the letter.
In addition to everything suggested in the book, I went through the 10 commandments, the 7 deadly sins, and made a list of every relationship I’d ever had that went south. The latter gave me much insight into myself and the world. Most people won’t need this, but to me it was precious. I mention it because I speak to the bottom 2% of recovering alcoholics, the hopeless ones.
I reviewed each situation with as much honesty as possible, dividing the actions into a) what I did and b) what they did. There is much more to it than that, but for someone as sick as I was this simple portion — a mere stepping stone for most people, just the prep work — was in itself illuminating. It allowed me to realize that just because you were mad at me didn’t mean I did anything wrong. Just because the results sucked doesn’t mean my decisions were bad. Just because you feel hurt by something I said doesn’t mean I hurt you. Just because my parents didn’t love me doesn’t mean I’m not lovable.
I had a very childish view of myself and the world. Kids are completely self-centered. Sometimes others do not even seem real to them. They think that they are All Powerful, that they are the most important people in the world. If a boy stomps his foot twice, and a tree falls seconds later, it fell BECAUSE of his actions. If his parents are fighting or get divorced it’s his fault. In reality of course, children have NO power. Sometimes it seems like no one even listens to them when they talk. They are merely victims of circumstance. A child will NEVER make an adult do anything.
I saw — possibly for the first time — that not everything that happened was my fault. This is “right-sizing”. Thinking I am the “worst” is no different from thinking I am the “best”. It’s an improper view of my importance.
This became my basis for doing the 10th step, also. This step concludes with: “… and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it”. I have written solely on that. (https://asjimseesit.wordpress.com/2010/05/13/the-10th-step/ ) My point in this essay is that where “I am wrong” is usually not in my actions, but in my beliefs. My beliefs guide my actions, so I better make damn sure they’re sound. As Mark Twain once said: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Working through this allowed my self-esteem to climb above sea level for the first time. More importantly, it allowed me to see that I believe things that aren’t true. In time I developed resentments. Where this is a danger for most, for me it was merely “growing up in public”: somewhat painful and vaguely embarrassing. Of importance is that I did not develop resentments until I had a plan of action to deal with them effectively. Maybe that’s why, for me, resentments are rather humorous. They are merely the fuel that gets me off my butt and working on the steps.
“If temperamentally we are on the depressive side, we are apt to be swamped with guilt and self-loathing. We wallow in this messy bog, often getting a misshapen and painful pleasure out of it. As we morbidly pursue this melancholy activity, we may sink to such a point of despair that nothing but oblivion looks possible as a solution. Here, of course, we have lost all perspective, and therefore all genuine humility. For this is pride in reverse. This is not a moral inventory at all; it is the very process by which the depressive has so often been led to the bottle and extinction.”
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (p. 45):
“Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick.”
Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 64
“Someone who knew what he was talking about once remarked that pain was the touchstone of all spiritual progress.”
12&12 p.93, Step Ten