Hidden Reward 1: Staying in Close Contact with Our Experience
We hated feeling bad. We avoided pain or discomfort. We wanted life to be easy. We’d go to great lengths to maneuver away from any situation that might cause us anxiety or tension. Our first instinct was always to run. We were pain-phobic. We’d do whatever was necessary to escape feeling uncomfortable. This fed our addiction like oxygen feeds a fire.
Working Steps 8, 9, and 10 shows us that we are not as fragile as we thought. We don’t need to run away. We are discovering that we have an innate ability to experience discomfort and grow from it. Pain is nothing more than a signal that something is wrong. If we have a broken leg and we try to walk on it, it’s going to hurt. Our leg is saying, “Don’t walk on me! I’m broken. I need rest and help.”
Our pain has been trying to communicate with us for a long time, but we haven’t been listening. We didn’t want to hear what it was saying. We blocked out the message by anesthetizing ourselves, by not listening, by playing games. We paid a huge price for our avoidance. We remained trapped in our emotionally immature behavior. We remained imprisoned in a false-self. No one could trust us, and we couldn’t even trust ourselves. Without a willingness to experience our painful feelings, we can never grow and mature into the person we’d like to be. We can never reach our potential. We can never grow into the person we were supposed to be. We can never become our true-self.
To grow, we must stay in close contact with our experience, whatever it is. This is one of the things we are learning when we work Steps 8, 9, and 10.
Our experience holds important information for our growth and development. We need to stay in close contact with how we behaved in our relationships to make a thorough list of those we have harmed. We must face the wrongs we have done without running away from the truth. Step 8 stops us from running, and had us hold still and feel our feelings.
If we were rigorously honest with ourselves while making the list of people we had harmed, we probably felt one or more of the following feelings: anxiety, shame, discomfort, or guilt. This is exactly what we were supposed to feel. We were learning that we don’t have to feel comfortable to be OK. Sometimes being uncomfortable means we are OK too. In fact, another hidden reward is that we feel more comfortable the more willing we are to feel uncomfortable. Yes, another paradox!
This process of learning form our pain also happens in Step 9. We have to stay in close contact with our experience as we humble ourselves before those we have hurt. We need to feel the pain and discomfort that comes from having violated our own moral and ethical standards. We need to stay in close contact with our experience to understand how we betrayed ourselves and others. This self-understanding is at the heart of self-forgiveness and emotional recovery.
Step 10 asks us to continue staying close to our experience and learning from it. We are asked to frequently engage in self-examination whenever we are upset or angry. We need to use the experience of our daily interactions and behavior in a regular practice designed to show us where we need to give ourselves credit for handling a situation well, where we still need improvement, and where we need to admit we were wrong. We need to stay close to our experience to make these spot checks and daily reviews of who we are and who we aren’t.
We have recovered the ability to stay in close contact with our experience and learn from it. This has restored our ability to flow with the cycle of experience. We just aren’t getting in the way of ourselves as much as we used to, and when we do, we can become aware of how we are blocking ourselves and work through it.
Matt attended my retreat on emotional recovery. He had over 20 years in NA and seemed to be working a solid program. Part of the retreat was spent completing the Emotional Sobriety Inventory Form provided in the appendix of my previous book, 12 Smart Things to do When the Booze and Drugs are Gone. The first column of this form required Matt to describe a situation that upset him. Here’s what he talked about:
Two months ago, he and his wife, Sheila, where planning on leaving for a really cool vacation. They were going on a 30-day cruise in Europe. They were even upgraded to a first class suite that came with its own butler. Matt was excited to be treated like royalty. He and Sheila had been looking forward to this cruise for over a year.
What attracted Matt and his wife to this particular cruise was that they would be dropped off with their road bikes and a guide in one of the ports in Spain, ride for a couple of days, and meet up with the ship in another port. Matt loved to ride, and so did his wife. He imagined how great it would be to ride through little Spanish villages, stop for lunch, and experience the beautiful country from the seat of his bike. Well, they never went on the trip. Sheila fell down a flight of stairs and broke her leg three weeks before they planned to leave. Good thing they bought vacation insurance.
Matt was upset. He unconsciously blamed Sheila for ruining the trip. He would scold her and tell her that she should have been more careful. He’d tell her that she ruined his summer. He made it all about him.
Matt was terribly disappointed, but he didn’t know how to soothe himself and lick his own wounds. Instead, he verbally lashed out at Sheila. I could see that there was a part of Matt that wasn’t feeling good about his behavior, but he wouldn’t admit that he was wrong.
He justified how he was treating her because she was,after all, a bit careless. She needed to be more careful, and it was his job to straighten her out. As he discussed what happened, he made a passing comment to the group that he wasn’t being very compassionate towards her. I interrupted him and said, “You’re worse than that, Matt. Not only are you not being compassionate, you are also being sadistic and beating her up because you are disappointed!” Wow, that stopped Matt in his tracks. He knew it was true. Immediately, he started feeling remorseful for his selfish and cruel behavior. He realized that she felt disappointed too, but there was no room for her feelingsit was all about Matt.
Here’s a snapshot of the dialogue that happened next:
Dr. Berger: It’s time for you to work Step 10 with her Matt.
Matt: Your right, but won’t she hate me?
Dr. Berger: You don’t have to worry about that, she already thinks you’re a jerk.
Matt: Thanks. (sarcastic)
Dr. Berger: The only thing that she doesn’t know is that there is a part of you that knows you’re a jerk and wants to be better than that. I’m certain she’d love to get to know that part of you as well.
Matt: (Smiling) Yes, I guess she does know that I’m a jerk. I guess I need to make amends, don’t I?
Dr. Berger: You guess?
Matt: OK, I need to make amends. Wow, I can really feel a resistance to the idea. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to admit I’m wrong.
Matt stayed in close contact with his experience as we explored his resistance. He learned a lot about himself and how his selfishness hurts his relationship. He came to see how his false-self made it very hard for him to admit when he was wrong. Matt made a commitment to the group to work Step 10 when he got home. The week after the retreat was over, I got a call from Matt. He told me that he had made amends to his wife and it worked out better than he could have imagined.
One of the many hidden rewards in working Steps 8, 9, and 10 is to stay in close contact with our experience so we can learn from it. Let’s now unpack the second hidden reward from making amends.
Hidden Reward 2: Authenticity
Steps 8, 9, and 10 show us how much we have to gain by being authentic. These three Steps provide us with an opportunity to experience our potential selfour authentic self. We see that we are much more than the self we became to manage our anxiety and control life. This fabricated-self limited our possibilities because it prohibited us from staying in close contact with our experience. It forced us to play roles. It created a caricature of a person. We became masters at manipulation and deception. We were inhuman and cruel.
Our false-self determined that some ways of being were OK and others not. We disowned parts of ourselves to live according to its perfectionist demands and specifications. There was no room for us to be our authentic self under the reign of this tyrant. We were exiled from our own life. Isn’t that absurd? No wonder we had so many problems. It’s no wonder we were lost and empty. When we denied our authentic self to meet unreal expectations, we disconnected ourselves from the best in ourselves in favor of the worst in ourselves.
Steps 8, 9, and 10 reunite us with our true-self. They help us put the best of us in charge. They require that we used our understanding of ourselves and our character defects to right our wrongs. By taking responsibility for the harm we have caused and sincerely making amends, we start to experience serenity and peace of mind.
Stepping up and owning who we really are while taking responsibility for our actions continues the reconstruction of a more positive self-concept. Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy, stated that, “Authenticity, maturity, responsibility for one’s actions and life, response-ability, and living in the now, having the creativeness of the now available, is all one thing.” Authenticity is central to our growth and development. It is essential to our recovery. It is imperative to our maturity.
We must have a persistent effort to reveal ourselves as we are in this moment, without censorship, if we are to reconstruct our lives and increase our self-esteem. We will discuss this in more detail later in Chapter 10. For now, it’s important to note that honesty and authenticity catalyze and initiate the process of change. Remember, the paradoxical theory of change tells us that change occurs when we own who we are and what we are doing, rather than by trying to be someone we are not.
Being authentic means revealing your truthyour experience. Authenticity is an intention to reveal yourself as you are in this moment. We cannot be trustworthy without being authentic. We cannot have deep and meaningful relationships without authenticity. The word intimacy comes from the Latin word “intimus,” meaning innermost. To be intimate we must be willing to reveal our innermost experience and truth.
Authenticity is also critical if we are going to benefit from a practice of inward searching and self-examination. If we don’t admit to our innermost self what we know to be the truth, then we are still playing games. We are avoiding ourselves. We are being selectively honest. This will mess up our efforts at creating a better life. Selective honesty is one of the many ways that we can sabotage our recovery. (If you’d like to learn more about the effects of selective honest on recovery, see Chapter in 12 Stupid Things that Mess Up Recovery.)