Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Conversing Sisters: Step 6, Removing All These Defects

Lisa & Me, circa 2013

This post is part of a series of writings I did with my sister Lisa, in 2012. Our thoughts and perspectives reflect a moment in time. They may or may not have changed in the passing years.

Step 6: “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

Lisa's Thoughts  

Step 6 is truly the step that separates the men from the boys. This is where I learned how I often seek comfort rather than character building. Previous to working this step, I often found myself in a state of reactivity. Without thought, I responded to situations in my life quickly and often harshly never considering that I had a choice in the matter. After working this step, I have come to know that there is a choice in everything I do.

There have been many uncomfortable moments in my life where I have chosen to be comfortable rather than stand in my truth and build my character. I first had to take a look at the big things - drinking, for example. I had to decide moment to moment whether or not I was going to live and stay sober or drink and die.

In the beginning, it was moment by moment, second by second. I would not drink for just that moment and somehow the moments become hours, the hours become days, the days become weeks and so on. This is how I have chosen to become entirely ready to have God remove my defects of character with action. It’s with every response- do I respond in love or in fear every time, moment to moment? At the end of a relationship, I am not ready to let go of, do I sit in it alone with God and heal? Or do I enter immediately into another relationship, so I won’t have to feel the loneliness and rejection?

You see, for me, this step is what I do next with whatever I am presented with. I haven’t always worked this step perfectly and, fortunately, later on down the road there is a step that helps with that too. However, I am aware today that I have choice.

I often laugh at the things I used to get all worked up about. How I would spend days and weeks festering over one little thing, reacting over and over. I have found such peace and joy in this step. Every time I am able to behave differently, even just once, I feel I am conquering myself a little more each and every day. There is such power in this step, and the more I rely upon it to work in my life the more miraculous my relationships become by simply doing one thing different.

Liz’s Response 


I want more!!  Love you!

Liz's Thoughts  

This step marks the halfway point in this writing project on the twelve steps and the halfway point for any alcoholic working the steps towards recovery.  It is significant then that a willingness, ability and desire (perhaps this is what is meant by “ready”) to allow God to work his miracle in your life happens at this point in the journey. I’ve experienced the first five steps as an awareness of who I am, where I come from, and the actions I have made that have led me to this moment in my life. It is suggested that by engaging in this level of awareness and accountability that I would be ready to have the defects of my character removed.

This is the first step that overwhelmed me, gave me pause and, for which, I had a physical response (a tightening in my chest). In reading this step, I came to really know and understand that the AA program is not playing around; it is playing for keeps.

I don’t always want to give up my defects of character. They are familiar to me, which gives me comfort because I know my place in the world with them. I have engaged with my family, friends, co-works and humanity with these foibles. I know how others respond to them and how to cope with that response. This has given me a level of stasis that I know I can survive in.

However, I don’t merely want to survive this existence. I want to thrive.

Therefore, I must we willing to lean into the discomfort of the unknown, to risk growth and progression.

In pondering this, I hear the words of actor and activist, Ruby Dee...

I find change really comes down to comfort. I will contemplate, intend and plan on change, but until I’m pushed out of my comfort zone, I will not engage in it with any real intent or vigor.  It is at these times of great discomfort I’m am able and willing to let go of my familiar friends.

Our Cousin Angela (therapist) advises me, in these moments, to treat the character defeat as a friend. I invite this friend over for tea, we have a chat, and then I ask it to leave. This approach works for me because sometimes my defects of character are also my coping mechanisms –coping mechanisms that have literal and figuratively saved my life.

It is a painful day when you realize the very behavior that has saved you in the past is the very behavior that is preventing you from further growth.

That is why it is beneficial to take a moment and honor the place it has held in your life (having a chat over tea) and then turn it over to God. I suspect if I have truly worked the prior steps, though this action may be terrifying and painful, with it comes great peace and space to grow into what you are becoming.

Lisa's Response


Yes Yes Yes!!!! Alcoholics share all the time about how their character defects were exactly what previously saved their lives, literally. I can so relate!! I had to manipulate, to an extreme, to get myself out of many life and death situations. It is still one of the ones I can’t seem to let go of.

I love that you shared that quote by Ruby Dee! It is so perfect for this step.
Thank you for all you do! I have so enjoyed this process.

Although, I do need to talk to you and get honest about some things I am struggling with…

I hate that I am not perfect sometimes or that my judgment is still that of an addict.

I love you!

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Conversing Sisters: Step 5, We Are Admitting

Lisa & Me, circa 2010

This post is part of a series of writings I did with my sister Lisa, in 2012. Our thoughts and perspectives reflect a moment in time. They may or may not have changed in the passing years.

Step 5: "Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs."

Lisa's Thoughts  

EGO- Edging God Out.  

The 5th Step is the step that allows me to face my ego head on. I like to call it - the ego diffusion step. As I have gotten a little better in AA, this is the step that keeps me from acting on my thoughts and acting with God’s guidance for the most part.  

When I first came to AA, I would have liked to have told you that I was a good mother, a good daughter and a good wife. I probably said out loud, more than once, that the only reason why I drank was because of what others have done to me, and if you had my life you would drink too.  The truth was that I was not a good mother, a good daughter, a good sibling, a good wife or really much good at all, as far as my behaviors were concerned. Facing myself in this manner has been one of the most challenging, yet the most rewarding at the same time.

This step, also, helped me deal with some of my resentments concerning my childhood and the religion I was raised in. I hated having to meet with the Bishop to discuss what I had been up to and then come up with an action plan as to how I was going to change my behavior, so that it would be aligned with what the church was teaching. 

After working this step, I fully understand the power in discussing my wrongs with another human being and the freedom it offers. I do, however, appreciate that in AA it is understood that you can read your 5th step to anyone you choose. It can be your sponsor, your parent, your friend, a guy on the bus, or a religious leader. Having the choice seemed to make it easier knowing that I could completely come clean about my shortcomings with a perfect stranger if needed, so that I would feel safe.  Every 5th step I have worked, I have read with my sponsor at the time.

In addition to dealing with a great deal of ego in this step, it also provides the opportunity for two human beings to share their suffering. I believe suffering is the great leveler and truly is what binds us together. It gets easier to clean up my wrongs when another woman stands up and shares my story in front of a group of strangers. It always made sense to me that if they can do that, then I can most definitely write it down on paper and discuss it with someone I felt very safe confiding in.
Becoming aware of my wrongs has made making them right that much easier. In addition, the awareness allows me to remember the spiritual price I pay when I behave in a way that is not congruent with the program of AA or the spiritual laws I choose to govern myself by today.  These wrongs have miraculously become my greatest assets in working with other alcoholics who suffer as I did.  

Step 5 is that purification process that burns deep until it shines just like a potter’s clay sculpture. 

Liz’s Response 


I love what you have to say about sharing your wrongs with another person. I totally agree.

Also, I completely understand your aversion to speaking with a Bishop and appreciate your willingness to hold space for how it can be beneficial. I only wish that all people had the same experience that I did meeting with my Bishop. I know that they don’t and that breaks my heart.

I did, however, miss in this piece what the process was like to formally admit your wrongs to yourself and to God. You touch on it briefly in the beginning, I crave more of your experience with those two experiences. I think it is inspired that those three admittances live in one step as they are three distinct actions/experiences yet they inform on each other completely.

Love you!

Liz's Thoughts  

This weekend I’ve felt disconnected from the spirit. In my morning and evening prayers I would ask for the Spirit to be with me as I was feeling particularly vulnerable. Yet, I still felt disconnected.  I knew God was with me but I didn't feel the presence of the Spirit. It occurred to me that perhaps this was because I was too consumed with what I was feeling and how I had been mistreated that I hadn’t created space for how I was contributing to the feelings I was experiencing. I realized that my ego was bruised. By admitting this to myself I could then start the process of examining why my ego was injured, what I thought I was entitled to (entitlement is a key informant that this is an ego issue) and what my ego was after.

I’ve been engaging in self-awareness/reflective behavior long enough now that this has become second nature. There is a part of me that gets excited to discover something new about myself, something new to work on and grow from.

It wasn’t until I had admitted to myself that I could take it to God. This morning I acknowledged what was battling my ego and asked for comfort and strength. I still was not feeling the Spirit. In the middle of the day it occurred to me that I needed to ask for forgiveness for being prideful, which I did and felt the Spirit immediately.

As I continued throughout the day, I reach out to a couple of my dearest friends and admitted to them that I’m an ego driven person.  It’s helpful to admit my foibles to others because (1) it allows me to hear my own voice naming and claiming what is; (2) a way of being held accountable and (3) these people are a source of comfort, strength and love.

Admitting my wrongs to myself, God & trusted people helps me to work through my issues and continue the struggle for growth and development.  

Lisa's Response


I love this! I love that we were able to talk about this in depth.

What I have learned over the past few days, or was reminded of, is with every action we are either feeding our ego or our soul, and it is simply a choice we make. The one we feed is the one that survives, or takes control I should say. I believe if we feed our soul our ego will follow suit and work in harmony with it.

This is such a powerful journey we are on, the purpose of life is to learn. I am so grateful for the many painful experiences in our lives that broke us to complete teachability and I believe we are all that more blessed because we are open to learning… that is the miracle.

Love you!

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Conversing Sisters: Step 4, We Are Searching & Fearless

Me & Lisa, circa 1980

This post is part of a series of writings I did with my sister Lisa, in 2012. Our thoughts and perspectives reflect a moment in time. They may or may not have changed in the passing years.

Step 4: "Made A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory of Ourselves."

Lisa's Thoughts  

When I first heard the steps read out loud in a meeting of AA, this was the step that probably scared me the most. At first glance, the words seemed so cold that anytime someone would say them I would be frozen with fear. Immediately, every single demoralizing act would rapidly run through my mind so chaotically that I couldn’t fathom admitting to most of my wrongs- let alone take an inventory of all of these things in an effort to try and make them right.

Fortunately, the steps are in order for a reason. Because I had worked the first three with a woman I loved and knew loved me, when it finally came time to work this step it was a little easier to take a deeper look at it. Surprisingly, when I met with her to receive instructions on this step, it wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. My assignment was to write down all of the resentments I had - the things that just seemed to bother me, anything in my life that I found difficult to let go of, and to write, in detail, the full extent of each circumstance with each resentment.

I am sure my list wasn’t very different than any other alcoholic, even though I was under the impression that I was terminally unique at the time. My list included several people who I felt had harmed me along the way. The people who made it to the top of the list were my father, my uncle, my ex and soon to be ex-husband, several ex-boyfriends, my grandparents, my younger sister and above anyone else was myself.

I remember bringing my long list to my sponsor the next week believing that she was going to truly be impressed by my extensive list, and that she would feel so sorry for me because there had been so many people who had hurt me throughout my life up until that point. So, I am sure you can imagine my astonishment when she read my list nodded a few times and handed it back to me and said, “The next part of your assignment is to write down: your part in each of these situations; what wrongs have you done to these people, and talk about that; and bring it to me next week.”

I was shocked.

I remember driving home that day and thinking: My part. What does she mean my part?! Doesn’t she know how bad these people hurt me? Doesn’t she know what I have done for most of these people and they haven’t done anything for me at all?!   

Geez! I was so entitled.

I have since worked several 4th steps over the years. I’ve received so many blessings and have learned so many things about myself and how I interact with the world.

I’ve learned that the greater the resentment, the greater my part is.

This isn’t always easy to swallow and usually takes some work for me to really peel back the layers and see my part, but God and willingness always seem to help me get there. I have also realized that we take a “moral” inventory of ourselves not an “immoral” inventory.  Meaning, we get to cleanse out the resentment, identify where we could have handled some things differently, and then look back and see where we have grown, and also where we have done right.

When I work this step with my sponsees, once they have completed the whole resentments list and their part, I also have them make a list of all of the things in their lives that bring them gratitude and joy. I ask them to describe their part in that as well. I think it is healthy to take an inventory of ourselves, to make note of our strengths and the things we would like to improve upon, just as successful businesses do.

This step always keeps me balanced and helps to remind me that I am rarely upset for the reasons I think I am. When resentment comes up for me I always ask myself three questions:

What happened?
What is this reminding me of? (This is usually where the feeling of pain comes from)
What was my part?

These three questions help me move through the resentment quickly, so it doesn’t take up too much of my time and energy. Resentments seem to be one of the greatest offenders in alcoholics and if not dealt with usually lead to relapse. Knowing this, I do take them seriously and stay close to God whenever I am dealing with them.

I do have to laugh, though, at the resentments I have had in the past. Some of them seem so ridiculous to me now. My current sponsor (who is simply amazing) always laughs when I call her with a new resentment. She says, “Honey, resentments may be the dubious luxury of normal people. Unfortunately for you, you are not even close to normal.”

We both laugh, tell each other how much we love one another and the program of AA.  What a blessing it is.

Liz’s Response 


I love the three questions. They are a practical and simple tool to have in life’s toolbox.  It also keeps your mind occupied so that the crazy making parts can’t take over. I love that you add gratitude. I completely agree. Whenever I become anxious or annoyed I start playing the “glad game.”  Pollyanna left a mark on my soul.

I also appreciate the distinction between immoral and moral inventory.  One is for you, the other is for God and, as I learned from you, we need to stay out of God’s business. Yes, it is important to identify and own your part or as Oprah says “Name it so you can claim it.”  Since we are only responsible for our actions & can only change our behavior it gives us a way to work through the resentment. It also allows us to forgive ourselves.  How can we fully forgive others if we are unwilling to forgive ourselves?

This also reminds me of a story someone told me of the time he met Maya Angelou. They had a brief conversation and at the end she said to him – take today to forgive the lies that have been said about you. AND forgive the lies you have said about yourself.

LOVE Maya Angelou!

Liz's Thoughts  

As I mentioned in step 3, I spent the last year of my life preparing to make further/deeper covenants with God. These covenants would reaffirm my commitment and desire to be a faithful disciple of Christ. Before, I could make these covenants I had to prove that I was ready and worthy. Upon deciding to make these covenants, I met with my Bishop to assess where I was at and receive guidance on how I could prepare myself to further progress spiritually. I know that I would have to enter a repentance process. I was fully aware that some of my behavior was not in keeping with the commandments and covenants I had already made. I naively thought that I would confess my sins, that punishment would be given, and that I’d promise never do those things again.

All of that did happen and so much more.

My Bishop told me from the beginning that this process was going to primarily occur between me and the Lord, and that his job was to remind me that the Lord loved me and that I would be forgiven.
That set the tone for a year of taking a moral inventory of myself. It was easy to assess the obvious transgressions. It was much harder to really look at my behavior with integrity and honestly identify where I needed to improve. There were moments when I thought I had thoroughly cleaned my spiritual closet and the Lord would gently and lovely reveal a whole shelf of crap I hadn’t even addressed.

It took me awhile to look at myself fearlessly. I didn’t always want to hold myself accountable for my actions. However, I discovered that everything I uncovered and addressed was met with love and light. Love and light brought clarity and healing.

Once I had experienced this a few times I was no longer fearful about what I might find or how it would be received. Towards the end, I was looking for ways to improve as I wanted this love and light to envelop my entire being.

This is how I chose to live today. I’m constantly taking a fearless assessment of my moral inventory in hopes of actively participating in my life with authenticity.

Brene Brown says, “Choosing to live and love with our whole hearts is an act of defiance. You’re going to confuse, piss off, and terrify lots of people—including yourself. One minute you’ll pray that the transformation stops, and then the next minute you’ll pray that it never ends. You’ll also wonder how you can feel so brave and so afraid at the same time. At least that’s how I feel most of the time…brave, afraid, and very, very alive.”

I appreciate Brown’s honesty that authenticity isn’t always met with acceptance and it doesn’t always feel comfortable. I’ve come to know that ultimately it will always attract and be supported by love and light. Therefore, in order to live in true authenticity it is necessary for me to continually search and fearlessly taking my moral inventory, ensuring that my side of the street is clean so that I can stand in my truth and tell my story with integrity.  This is how I make manifest the glory of God that is within me with humility.

Lisa's Response


I know that you know this process all too well as far as taking an honest look at where you could have been more aligned with your true self and the work and time it has taken to get your recommend back. I love that you share so openly about the journey and about vulnerability.

Thank you so much for sharing this with me and reminding me once again that it begins and ends with humility. In the beginning it is humiliating and in the end it is always humbling. I am so grateful that we get to be humans together.

I learn so much from you each and every day!

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Conversing Sisters: Step 3, Turning Our Will

Lisa & Me, circa 1991

This post is part of a series of writings I did with my sister Lisa, in 2012. Our thoughts and perspectives reflect a moment in time. They may or may not have changed in the passing years.

Step 3: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

Lisa's Thoughts  

When I think of step 3 the first thing that comes to mind is making a decision. It sounds so simple to just make a decision and stick to it, yet I find this to be one of the hardest and most complicated aspects of my life and my sobriety. It requires a great amount of faith and trust to blindly turn my entire life and my will over to something that I can’t physically sense. It has been a painful day today and here I am finally making a decision to truly let go of someone who was never mine to begin with. I struggle with this and often am baffled by my ability to show up and suit up for the big things in my life, yet these little issues such as relationships and resentments shut me down. I was driving home this evening from an AA meeting and began to reflect on the past few years of my life. Twenty-Two months ago I shot the father of my unborn child in self-defense. A few short weeks later, I showed up to the hospital in labor with a 357 and a protective order in my diaper bag. Tinker Bell was the alias they listed me under and it was only safe to have a few people by my side, one being my sponsor in AA. I refused all pain medication so that I could be of sound mind and be able to leave or move in a hurry if needed. My physical pain was excruciating, my heart was completely broken, and I was taken to places physically and emotionally that I didn’t even know existed. I remember breathing and closing my eyes. I saw myself as a little girl in the arms of my Father in Heaven. He was holding me and it was almost as if I left my body and became a witness to the events below. My daughter, Lilly, was born within a few moments. She was alive and safe and I had no idea how I brought her into this world under the current circumstances. Looking back on that whole situation, I see without a doubt that I allowed God to take over. It was only divine timing that I even had a gun in my home the day mine and my unborn child’s life were in danger. Only God could bring her here and allow me the strength to endure the physical and emotional pain. I stayed sober through all of that without doubt or fear. Yet I can’t seem to move through rejection. I repeat over and over again in my head - rejection is God’s way of saying wrong direction. This statement helps remind me that I made a decision some time ago that God is either everything or he is nothing. I have to believe that the only free agency I have today or choice, so to speak, is whether or not I connect each and every day.

I love the metaphor of electricity that is often used. When I wake up, I flip the light switch to see through the darkness - this is something I never question. My reliance upon electricity allows me freedom in living my everyday life. I have to place this same reliance on God without question and the more I depend on him, the more freedom I have to live my everyday life. It is one in the same. It is when I doubt that I lose my way. It’s when I stand in front of the light switch attempting to make a decision to turn it on or not. The more I learn, the less I know. When I feel like I have it all figured out, my foundation crumbles and I am left with humility which leads to pain. Pain then motivates me to become willing to turn it all over and trust. I often forget the moments that God has gotten me ahead of danger, or has placed me in situation where I have been healed, or have been in service to help another. I am running low on faith and gasoline today and it helps to write all this down on paper in an attempt to clean this eroded connection to God. I don’t always like reality, especially sobriety reality. Life on life’s terms is never my favorite.

God speaks to me through His children, if and when I make a decision to listen and seek, rather than teach and talk, about all the things I think I know.

Liz’s Response 


Your voice is strong. Your story is relevant. This essay is further confirmation that you must stand in your truth and tell your story for the benefit of our brothers & sisters trying to make their way through this Earth school.

You inspire me every day!

I thank God that in His infinite wisdom He allowed for us to be sisters - that I have you to go through this journey of mortality with. It has made all the difference. Love you!!  

Liz's Thoughts  

The act of making a choice is the genesis of all creation. Once the decision is made intention, energy and faith move toward what has been decided. Nurturing it to grow. Therefore, before any action can be taken a decision must be made. The decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God is to endeavor to give of myself to Him entirely. Can I give to God as liberally has He gives to me? To all of His children?

I struggle with turning my life and will to the care of God. What if He doesn’t give me what I want? What if I’m resigning myself to Job’s existence, the biblical version of a country western song? Sometimes I foolishly think that if I don’t turn something over to God or talk with Him about it, then I can ensure that the outcome of things will be in my favor. My rational mind understands the ridiculousness of the perspective and yet I still think it.  Experientially, I have learned that when I do turn things over to God’s care that there is always wisdom, love and support. Oprah Winfrey teaches that God can dream a bigger dream for us than we can dream for ourselves.  I know this to be true. Therefore, I must, repeatedly decide to turn my will and my life over to God’s care. Sometime multiple times in one day.

Recently, I was pondering my fear that if I truly dedicate my life to God that He will then choose a Job-like existence for me.  I realized that Job’s life looked the way it did because he covenanted with God for it to be so. The magnitude at which he suffered was agreed upon before it occurred.  This gave me great comfort. For, I have not nor do I intend to enter into such a covenant.

At the beginning of 2011, I decided to make further covenants with God. This required me to do a spiritual cleansing and enter into a year-long repentance process. Never before had I been so committed to my spiritual growth. One of the most valuable lessons I learned during that time was what an expert teacher humility is. A friend of mine says that when we humble ourselves the truth is illuminated. Once I was sufficiently humble, which was a feat in and of itself, I could feel and clearly see what was possible through God’s loving hands. It did not at all look like Job’s existence but uniquely my own. Yes, there would be pain and heartache but there would also be joy and fulfillment. Through all of these experiences, I would learn how to live to the fullest measure of my creation.

Lisa's Response


I love that we, as humans, have the similar thinking patterns about God and talking to God, and that if we don’t discuss certain things with him then he won’t know about them.  It just goes to show that “normal” or “alcoholic” thinking errors occur just the same.

I also love that we all share the common fear of what God may have planned for us and that it may not be what we want or have in mind.

I love that you share that Oprah quote and have reminded myself of that over and over again especially over the past few weeks.

I love you and thank you again for sharing this with me.