We have arrived at the so-called “maintenance steps” because we have come to see how earlier life experiences, losses and disappointments had stunted our emotional development and distorted our perceptions in ways that produced the shame and low-self esteem that separated us from other people and from a Higher Power.
We have learned to more objectively review our conduct, see the repercussions of our actions, and take responsibility for them by humbly communicating to those we have harmed our desire to take ownership of our bad acts and express sincere regret.
The effect of this systematic house cleaning is that we know that there can be an end to conflict based upon fear, self-seeking, dishonesty and anger. We know that we have made amends, and are committed to an ongoing process of making peace with our past.
We can stop looking over our shoulder, avoiding people, and working so hard to either put ourselves above other people, or grovel for their approval because we have lost our sense of self.
We have felt with increasing frequency and intensity the presence of our Higher Power, walking us through this incredibly empowering process, coming to see many of the situations that we experience as opportunities to demonstrate our newfound ability to look outward towards others, or simply to enjoy the moment without demanding that it be more or less than it really is.
A personal inventory no longer requires heavy industrial excavation equipment.
Whether it’s impatient anger, quickness to judge others harshly, fear of the next bad thing to happen, avoidance behavior, or immediately seeing everything in terms of how it affects us….we know that we have a basic deficiency that has dominated our reactions to our detriment, and we have envisioned ways to change those tendencies to more constructive actions, and tried to implement them.
We have seen our tendencies and know when we have done wrong. We know when we have been selfish, hurt another person’s feelings, overstepped our bounds, shortchanged others who deserved our undivided attention, or simply got lost in our harried lives in ways that caused problems for those around us.
Now, when those old habits rear their ugly head, we take the time to slow down…write, pray or solicit help to get to the root of the problem, and to assess whether we need to say or do anything to make things right.
I favor the “spot-check” inventory, intermittent oases of self-reflection to see whether I’ve lost my way or if my motives as suspect, and I reflect on whether my attitude in my daily affairs reflects the gratitude and appreciation for where I am today compared to where I used to be.
When the spot check inventory becomes a consistent part of our daily lives, it is easier to go through difficult times without having to negatively affect those around us.
I learned that people didn’t “cause me” to feel a certain way, and when my expressions of frustration or disappointment were misdirected and required amends.
As with our fourth step, we bring our revelations to our sponsor, to insure that we’re seeing things clearly, and to reinforce the value of the checks and balances that are part of living purposefully and honestly.
When we reach a point in our lives when we are experiencing an uncomfortable pattern; maybe important relationship is foundering, or we have just lost the joy of living that is so often otherwise present, it may be appropriate to do a “mini fourth step”, a deeper, more probing accounting of our actions, and determine whether we have become enmeshed in self-centeredness again.
If so, we apply what we’ve learned in steps 5-9, share it with a sponsor or spiritual advisor, and see whether an amend is necessary, or if there are ways that we can adjust our behavior to allow for more productive or communicative relations.
There is no room in our lives for resentment any more. Choosing resentment is to choose suffering, and we know that our Higher Power doesn’t want us to suffer needlessly. Sometimes though, suffering is part of the embarrassment and awareness that we have hurt others, and it is the interior catalyst to seek forgiveness and reconciliation.
If we feel our blood pressure rising, feel that “need to be right”, or if a wave of martyrdom or victim-hood coming on, we can imagine a big red flag coming out, warning us of the danger of going down that old road again. Though we have improved greatly, we are not all better. Our more deeply ingrained character defects will rise up and try to take us by surprise. But now we know better
We know that we pay a steep price for settling for less than our best, or backsliding emotionally, and either one is a poor substitute for doing the right thing and side-stepping unnecessary turmoil.
Once we have determined that an amend is in order, we quickly communicate our regret over our conduct. I frequently find that simply saying “I’m sorry for what I did/said. No one deserves to treated in that fashion.” If we are sincere in our efforts, such occasions will be less frequent, and taken readily in stride by those we’ve offended as an uncharacteristic slide into bad behavior…rather than as proof (to others and to ourselves) that we are emotionally crippled people who will never get well.
I recently read an article about forgiveness that said, “Forgiveness must be earned, it must be deserved, it must be requested, and above all, it can only be granted by the person who was offended.”
After having been granted a period of abstinence and emotional recovery, most days are free from blowups and overt emotional binging, but we may find that we have lost some of the spark or vitality that we had previously, when we more sensitive to the pitfalls and distractions from an abstinent day well lived…more open to being guided by others, quicker to work the tools. In the AA 12+12, it refers to such a period as things going “disappointingly dull.”
In cases such as these, an annual housecleaning inventory can breathe new life into one’s program. Have we become complacent? Have we begun to take some of the many small miracles in our lives for granted? Are we doing service? Are we committed to sponsoring others, and helping them with the steps?
These things bring continual reminders of what early abstinence and sobriety were all about?
If, despite one’s best efforts to work the steps, you consistently have painful encounters with others that trigger paralyzing bouts of shame and worthlessness, it may indicate incidents of abuse, trauma or neglect in your past that will require additional help from professionals better qualified to help.
Having said that, I would suggest that you seek out a professional that is thoroughly familiar with 12-step recovery, lest you find yourself in the middle of some sort of philosophical tug of war between a sponsor and a therapist, which won’t be particularly healthy for you.
Our 12-step program is designed to prepare us to become vulnerable and allow deeply held feelings to surface and come up for healing. But we are not professionals in mental health, and sponsors who are working with such people should take care not to dispense advice as if we were.
I am of the opinion that our program of recovery is pretty much perfect.
But food addicts often possess multiple addictions, and mental health issues as well, and this makes each person’s treatment an inexact science at best.
That is why, in my humble opinion, our process works best…and was designed to work best…by keeping the FIRST compulsive bite down, because it allows us to detoxify the body and stabilize the brain chemistry, so we can differentiate what behavior may be a result of our addictive eating, and whether there are other causes for chronic anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, or other mental health problems.
In closing, I want to say that the awareness that comes to us from working the steps will NEVER be a permanent solution if we fail to maintain our spiritual condition as evidenced by our commitment to physical abstinence, and consistently working the tools that have keep us teachable and insure connection with our fellow addicts.
If we truly believe that we have a progressive and fatal malady, and if our powerlessness has led us to this beautiful recovery program, the fullest possible recovery is insured ONLY by carrying the message to others and practicing our recovery principles in all of our affairs (we’ll talk more about that in two weeks).
Continue making ninth step amends – we have not “moved on”.
Share your progress in ninth step amends, and how often you have found yourself doing tenth step inventories this week.
And, of course, report your current status on working the tools and the state of your physical abstinence.
1) I have made an effort to work the tools this week, but I could do much better.
2) I’m working the tools each day. It’s a regular part of my program and my abstinence.
3) I really have difficulty finding time to work the tools, but I’m cleanly abstinent.
4) I really have difficulty finding time to work the tools and I cannot stay/get abstinent.
The Twelve Steps