If we kept track of how much time we spent thinking about various things, we would probably find that we spend the vast majority of our time thinking about the same problems we've had all of our lives over and over again, or of similar problems we've collected memories of for many years.
So what can you do about what's in your head anyway?
The conceptual universe is dead space. No matter how well we use our imaginations to brainstorm a problem, it is only a scheme until we put it into practice, and nothing can be determined about how that practice will work until we put it into action. Until then, we are in dead space - living in the past.
If we've been up late scheming to deal with an injury or offense, we may set out to do that someone or something harm. If we do, we only make matters worse. We begin to live in conflict and loose the joy of living.
For many of us, we have no other option but to rely upon alcohol or our substance of choice. Our adaptations have failed, and our addictions prevents us from facing and dealing with the real problems at hand. We avoid what we don't know how to deal with by using some form of escape.
So how do these grievances begin?
Greivence, complaints and resentments start with a story we tell ourselves about how we've been injured by others, how awful others have been to us, and what victims we've become.
From Alcoholics Anonymous
"The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong was as far as most of us ever got. The usual outcome was that people continued to wrong us and we stayed sore. Sometimes it was remorse and then we were sore at ourselves. But the more we fought and tried to have our own way, the worse matters got. As in war, the victor only seemed to win. Our moments of triumph were short-lived."
"If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison." -Alcoholics Anonymous pp 55-56
So how do we get out of this bitterness and resentment?
Its so simple you'll laugh. We write it down!
You'll find guides to that task here:
As we write our problems down, things become clear. We begin to see that we are saying might not add up, that there might be holes in our stories. Somehow, the stories we've been telling ourselves don't really ring true. We find when writing down what we've been saying that some aspects of the story might have had more to do with our own behavior than with the behavior of others.
Even if we do get others to believe our story, and they start to side with us, and agree with us on how awful it is, and what a big victims we are, does that help? Try keeping a log. You'll see that what you might have at first thought was a valid grievance might not be after a good nights sleep. Its not that we mean to be harmful, or intend to deceive others, its just that we fail to see how are behavior affects others as we go about trying to get what we want in ife.
So how do we get relief?
We pray and ask God to help us to show others tolerance patience and pity, much like we would treat a sick friend.
Because to have compassion for others places us in a position of a provider and, if we can have compassion for others when they're sick, we'll be able to forgive ourselves when we're sick at times too.
If we focus on our own behavior, we are much more likely to see what bothers others. That's where the conflict can be resolved. It does no good to focus on their behavior. We can't change others, or their opinion of us. What we can do is try to understand how we got into this mess, what we did to bring this hatred or anger upon us. It's painful to contemplate and consider our own victim status. To play the tape over and over again in our heads hurts ourselves. Its much better to think of what might have been, than to be stuck with what 'they did to me', or 'how I'm going to get them back'.
Where have we gone wrong?
You might object by saying "I was only a child, how could I have done anything wrong?" Childhood is perhaps the most selfish period of time in a persons life. An infant needs to be weaned from some activities that might be considered chemical dependency if it weren't for the fact that mother's food and comfort are so basic to life. While we are taught to work hard to get what we want in life, the formula fails because as we do, we come into conflict with others trying to do the same. The more you get, the less others get, and so in a selfish environment, we fight over getting our own way, or having more for ourselves.
There is probably no more common addiction in the world than trying to have things our own way. In order to overcome this conflict, we seek a higher authority, and harmonize and coordinate our efforts with each other to accomplish His will, instead of our own. When we see others doing good works, and align our selves with unselfish behavior, we can rely the goodness of the universe, and upon each other as well.
The definition of selfishness - to seek for oneself without regard for others does not rule out self interest. If we pay attention to what others want and need, we can set about helping ourselves without being harmful. Selfishness is only harmful when we disregard others in the process of getting what we want.
We know that in every case where there is anger, there is also fear, usually the fear that we will create a problem with our anger that will result in consequences. Many of us put it this way: "We were afraid we will loose something we already have, or not get something we want." These fears are not really about spiders and snakes. The fears we are talking about are the fears within us. Fears born of insecurity, and inadequacy, doubts about who we really are, and our capacity to deal with the problems and difficulties in life.
Again, we write our fears down, we put them on paper. We asked ourselves why we had them. We realized that trying to do things on our own failed, and that if we are still trying to rely only upon ourselves, our little plans and designs, we will fail. We already have. It may not be apparent on the surface, but deep down inside, we know that's true. The book puts it this way: "Self-reliance was good as far as it went, but it didn't go far enough. Some of us once had great self-confidence, but it didn't fully solve the fear problem, or any other. When it made us cocky, it was worse." -Alcoholics Anonymous p 68
You'll find guides to help you get to the bottom of this difficult emotion here:
What we fail to realize is that the very thing we try to avoid is likely to occur because of our own effort to control the situation. People sense the manipulations we use to keep them around, or they see us coming when we want something from them, and they don't like it. So we lose what we have, and fail to get what we want. Because others can see our selfishness, they may choose to get a piece of the action rather than cooperate. Why would anyone cooperate with selfish people unless it would help themselves? If we're being selfish, why can't they?
The book says, "We asked God to remove these fears and direct our attention to what he would have us be." Alcoholics Anonymous p 68. (This time, instead of asking God how we can be helpful, we ask God who he would like us to be, what role shall I play in this situation that I'm afraid in? If I'm afraid, its because I'm trying to rely on myself. Asking God what to do in a situation like that makes great sense.)
And About Conduct in General, and Specifically Sex
From Alcoholics Anonymous
"In no other matter is the guidance and direction of God more important than in matters of sex....human opinions run to extremes, absurd extremes, perhaps. One set of voices cry that sex is a lust of our lower nature, a base necessity of procreation. Then we have the voices who cry for sex and more sex; who bewail the institution of marriage; who think that most of the troubles of the race are traceable to sex causes. They think we do not have enough of it, or that it isn't the right kind. They see its significance everywhere. One school would allow man no flavor for his fare and the other would have us all on a straight pepper diet. We want to stay out of this controversy. We do not want to be the arbiter of anyone's sex conduct. We all have sex problems. We'd hardly be human if we didn't. What can we do about them?"
We reviewed our own sex conduct over the years past. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate? Whom had we hurt? Did we unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion or bitterness? Where were we at fault, what should we have done instead? We got this all down on paper and looked at it. In this way we tried to shape a sane and sound ideal for our future sex life. We subjected each relation to this test: was it selfish or not? We asked God to mold our ideals and help us to live up to them. We remembered always that our sex powers were God-given and therefore good, neither to be used lightly or selfishly nor to be despised and loathed. Whatever our ideal turns out to be, we must be willing to grow toward it. We must be willing to make amends where we have done harm, provided that we do not bring about still more harm in so doing. In other words, we treat sex as we would any other problem. In meditation, we ask God what we should do about each specific matter. The right answer will come, if we want it." -Alcoholics Anonymous p 69
You'll find a guide for that work here:
When I started out in the program in the 1980's, I read some of this material and thought to myself, my ideal partner for sex relations ought to be thin, smart, rich etc. What my Sponsor shared with me is that it was my character, and the strength and sanity I need to become what God wants me to be that needs work, not my partner. We are not being asked to live up to any one else's standards, ideals, or code of conduct, but we are expected to live up to the standards that have been provided us by our Higher Power.
We need to live with a clean conscience in this area, and be comfortable with our own behavior by asking God for help shaping our conduct, behavior and character in sex relations and the power to continue to do His will. Its impossible to find consensus in the community in this area of our lives due to the extreems of opinion that exist on the subject. Only God can judge these matters, and in no other area of life is God's guidance more important.
The Exact Nature of our Wrongs and the Sixth Step in Detail
My first question when reading this step was: What do you mean the "Exact Nature of my Wrongs"?
I had done the fourth step, writing out the inventory which described my selfishness, dishonesty, and fears, where I had been inconsiderate, where I had aroused jealousy, suspicion or bitterness, whom I had hurt, and where I was at fault. But what did that really mean for me? Before my 5th Step, I reviewed my inventory, and took a look at what my behavior looked like, what that behavior represented, what it was really saying about me. And I had help along the way from people who helped me to take a look at myself like Joe C. and Ray M.
What are defects of character?
In my first fifth step, a minister, Joe C listened as I discussed my findings and would occasionally interject something like: "So, you used people..." or "So, you were blaming others...", and yes, I had to agree, though I was often so preoccupied with the severity of the circumstances I couldn't see the general behavior it resembled. As I was trying to eliminate that behavior, those simplifications became very useful.
In my second and third fifth steps, I realized that much of my behavior was continuing to be repeated, and I believe some of that repeated behavior was due to my unwillingness to let go of some of my defects.
In my fourth fifth step, I used the definitions of character defects found below that proved to be very useful and wrote in my book: "I am now entirely ready to have all my defects of character removed", and I meant, even the some of my sex conduct that I had previously held onto, along with the date, and that has remained true to this day.
In my fifth fifth step, I summarized my character defects by looking up definitions and getting more specific about each detail while keeping the big picture in mind, which was a return to what Joe C and I had done before.
After several other efforts at confession, brevity and legal definitions, my sponsor Ray M, who had listened carefully, asked me yet again,
"But what is the exact nature of your wrongs?"
A year after he died, I realized as I was falling asleep that all it really boils down to is that I've been harmful, and that I need to repent of my harmful behavior and make repair to the lives of the people who've been hurt. To overcome the problems we find painful to ourselves isn't enough. We also need to address the problem we can become to others.
From Alcoholics Anonymous
"What we must recognize now is that we exult in some of our defects. We really love them. Who, for example, doesn't like to feel just a little superior to the next fellow, or even quite a lot superior? Isn't it true that we like to let greed masquerade as ambition? To think of liking lust seems impossible. But how many men and women speak love with their lips, and believe what they say, so that they can hide lust in a dark corner of their minds? And even while staying within conventional bounds, many people have to admit that their imaginary sex excursions are apt to be all dressed up as dreams of romance."
"Self-righteous anger also can be very enjoyable. In a perverse way we can actually take satisfaction from the fact that many people annoy us, for it brings a comfortable feeling of superiority. Gossip barbed with our anger, a polite form of murder by character assassination, has its satisfactions for us, too. Here we are not trying to help those we criticize; we are trying to proclaim our own righteousness."
"When gluttony is less than ruinous, we have a milder word for that, too; we call it "taking our comfort." We live in a world riddled with envy. To a greater or less degree, everybody is infected with it. From this defect we must surely get a warped yet definite satisfaction. Else why would we consume such great amounts of time wishing for what we have not, rather than working for it, or angrily looking for attributes we shall never have, instead of adjusting to the fact, and accepting it? And how often we work hard with no better motive than to be secure and slothful later on, only we call that "retiring." Consider, too, our talents for procrastination, which is really sloth in five syllables. Nearly anyone could submit a good list of such defects as these, and few of us would seriously think of giving them up, at least until they cause us excessive misery." -12 Steps and 12 Traditions pp 66-67
The Deadly Sins
By using the following definitions I realized that because I had Despaired, or given up on life, I had failed to do what I needed to do (Acedia) and then things really did become hopeless. When I saw that it really had become hopeless, I also failed to make use of my talents (Sloth), and had it not been for the mercy of you and God, I would really have died.
See what you find in a review of these definitions from Wikipedia: Seven deadly sins
Acedia (The neglect to take care of something that one should do. It is translated to apathetic listlessness; depression without joy.)
There is no doubt that as alcoholics, we are mentally ill due to the excessive amounts of alcohol we've used an excessively long time. The diagnosis' that attend alcoholism are described in Wikipedia: Alcoholism
Psychiatric disorders differ depending on gender. Women who have alcohol-use disorders often have a co-occurring psychiatric diagnosis such as major depression, anxiety, panic disorder, bulimia, post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or borderline personality disorder. Men with alcohol-use disorders more often have a co-occurring diagnosis of narcissistic or antisocial personality disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, impulse disorders or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Women with alcoholism are more likely to have a history of physical or sexual assault, abuse and domestic violence than those in the general population, which can lead to higher instances of psychiatric disorders and greater dependence on alcohol.
When we review our fourth step with these defects of character in mind, reviewing what we have written down on the worksheets provided in this document, we can see how these defects of character show up, and so can others.
A friend of mine described my behavior rather briefly, but I summed his opinion up this way:
I saw how what I believed to be love showed up as lust or lasciviousness (wanton behavior, or being driven by lust), and obscenity (discussing taboo subjects intended to arouse lust). And how my own desires to be with her harmed others. Originally, I believed I had done nothing wrong (antisocial personality disorder), that the people who were hurt were just rivals loosing to my more successful seduction (narcissism), and the behavior itself - just innuendo and insinuation. I later realized that my behavior had been perceived as intimidating or looming - even by the woman I sought. There are many other examples of the exact nature of my wrongs that were revealed by reviewing my behavior, I've described here, but this one came as a surprise to me because I was so preoccupied with what I believed to be my love for her that I couldn't see what was really going on as I pursued it.
Sometimes, because the use of computers and cell phones prevents us from seeing our partner's responses clearly, nonverbal cues are gone, and we find ourselves disambiguating, or making the subject clearer for the reader. If we are in a public forum and still get no response, we might continue to write until its no longer welcome, and end up considered offensive again.
We don't need to use fancy psychiatric terms or religious terms to determine how we are showing up in the world in a harmful way. The feedback I received in my first fifth step regarding using people and blaming people went a long way to helping me overcome those defects of character, and had it not been described in a general way with language I'm familiar with, I might not have been able to see it and deal with it. But these characteristics our society has defined are useful as a starting point. Just take a look at your writing, and see what it tells you before you take your fifth step so you can make a clear statement about the exact nature of your wrongs based upon the writing you provided.
We think that victim status gives us the right to punish. What we realize later is that punishing circumstances escalates until we are brought to our knees by a circumstance of our own making, and that what is really needed is healing. Please see: Bodywork
Whether harmful behavior is intentionally harmful or not, whether it has something to do with what we said, did, or failed to do, we need to get beyond aggression and fear to operate successfully in the world. We need to have grace in society, and when living with addiction and co-dependency, we often have no access to the gifts of grace at all.
Some of us needed professional help, and in areas of Finance, and Medical Care that makes great sense. I've provided a list of the services that I've used both Traditional and Alternative here: Local Agencies