Step four: filling empty spaces.

The calendar went around the table, and I passed it as usual, but not before pausing and looking at the next week’s topic: Step four. I had been thinking about signing up for the lead, but not on step four. Someone else who had actually worked the step could take that one.

By the end of the meeting, still no one had signed up. As I walked out the door, T called my name and asked if I would do the lead. “You would do such a great job,” she said. “I’ll sit next to you and help lead the meeting.”

My Higher Power speaks to me through the kind people I meet in Al Anon. She gave me the push I needed. Later that week, she texted me: “Thank you for offering the lead and I’ll help you along. We just share our experience, strength, and hope of step four. Don’t be concerned with having “worked” the step in some formal way. Higher Power gives us the words and those always speak to the hearts of the members. See you Tuesday and feel free to call me.”

I am so grateful to be a part of this community. Below is my first Al Anon lead.

Step four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory.

When I first signed up to do the lead for this week, I wasn’t sure about what I would talk about. I haven’t “formally” worked step four, so what could I possibly have to share that would be helpful to others? (And by “formally” working a step, I was thinking of someone who worked with a sponsor to physically write out their moral inventory.) But after encouragement from members of this group and thinking it over more, I realized that we all work the steps in different ways. There is no right or wrong way. And I have been weaving step four into my everyday life since I first came to Al Anon. I hope my story today can bring you strength and hope where you need it.

I’d like to start with a reading from Courage to Change, page 55:

Isn’t it exasperating to go to the grocery for an item, only to find the shelf empty? Fortunately, grocers can correct that situation by taking inventory to learn which shelves need replenishment.

The same is true for me. A fourth step inventory illuminates my own empty spaces, my shortcomings. This doesn’t have to be a painful or scary experience. I don’t have to pass judgment on an empty shelf, but unless I take the time to become aware of it, I won’t do anything to fill it, and the problem will continue. By taking inventory, my empty spots can be filled with the help of the remaining steps. I experience the healing power of these steps whenever the formerly hurtful circumstances recur while the pain that I once felt does not.

I believe if we don’t take action to fill our empty spaces with something positive – if we don’t replace the fear with love – resentment begins to grow there, instead.

When my husband was in active addiction, I had a lot of anger. I felt like I was doing most of the work when it came to caring for our child. On the weekdays, I’d get our son ready for daycare, drop him off, pick him up, feed him, play with him, give him a bath – while my husband slept, “worked late,” found some reason to leave the house or spend time in the garage. On the weekends, I’d wake up with our little one while my husband slept in. When I tried to wake him up, I yelled. “Wake up! I’m doing everything! This isn’t fair!” It typically didn’t end well.

As many of you know, sobriety doesn’t solve all of our problems. Our moral inventories are still there, the empty shelves waiting to filled, and no one can fill them but us. My husband got clean, and resentment grew in that angry, empty space.

I remember one Saturday morning, standing in the kitchen, the dishwasher open in front of me. I had just put all the dishes away, and the sink was full of more dishes to load. At my legs, our little one, asking when I would be done. A Sesame Street CD played in the background. Laundry tumbled in the washer downstairs. A to-do list building in my head. Upstairs, my husband’s alarm clock blaring for the last half hour. Him, in bed, sleeping, oblivious.

The anger began to wash over me – the same old thoughts of “this isn’t fair, he’s never going to change, I’m doing everything, I’m all alone, it’s all his fault.” But I didn’t want to feel angry anymore. I didn’t want to go upstairs and yell at him to wake up. I didn’t want to let him sleep and be angry the rest of the day, punishing him with my silence. I had been through all of that before, and it didn’t help. It didn’t help us move forward. The anger held us back.

I cried. The anger moved through me. It turned into sadness, confusion, a feeling of being overwhelmed and alone. I just wanted help. I just wanted him to be with us. I allowed myself to feel and accept these the feelings as mine to face. Then, I released them, and I went upstairs.

I didn’t yell. I replaced the anger with communication, and I told him I needed him. I needed help. It was all too much for me and I couldn’t handle it anymore. Would he please wake up and help me?

He responded better to that. And with love, compassion, communication, came perspective. I realized – he’s trying. He’s clean. He’s working on his issues and he’s not perfect and he needs help, too. He doesn’t want to sleep all day and miss out on his family. And so, with time, it’s getting better. We take it one day at a time. We have breakfasts together on the weekends now. We have a weekday routine in the mornings and evenings, tag-teaming the drives to and from daycare, dinner time, bath time, bed time. I don’t feel like I’m going at it alone anymore. We’re on the same page, doing it together, moving through each day with the same loving rhythm. Our son is four, and starting to feel big emotions. Rather than dismiss them, we are teaching him how to identify them, to know that they’re okay, and to release them. I suppose it’s never too early to start making your searching and fearless moral inventory, right?

As I prepared for this lead, I kept coming back to this: Step four is all about self love. It’s about loving yourself no matter what. Love yourself enough to recognize and celebrate your good qualities. Love yourself and allow yourself to feel, accept, and release the negative. Know that you are not your feelings, or thoughts, or behaviors. Self doubt and self hate have no place in your path forward. Love yourself enough to let go and let your Higher Power guide you. You are enough. Just ask your Higher Power to help you fill the empty spaces with what you already have within.

 

Lean in and pray.

The summer of 2017, M relapsed. And by relapse, I mean he went full force back into using regularly and lying to me about it. After a weeks’ long stay in rehab that past December, months of intensive outpatient and nearly a half a year of clean, hopeful progress – we were back to locked doors, missing money, refusal to open up and be fully transparent, suspicions, fights, tears.

I had coffee with my friend S that summer, someone from my old food blogging days. Although we were not the closest of friends, we could always open up to each other so easily about the deep stuff that had us wondering about the everyday world and the relationships we keep. She had moved out of state but we still got together for coffee now and then when she came back in town.Her faith in God was something that I once ignored about her. Not because it turned me off, but I realized we might never be the friends that I thought, or hoped, we might be because of this difference in values. I didn’t believe in anything. I didn’t believe that God didn’t exist, but I didn’t welcome him into my life, either. I didn’t think I needed him.

So we had coffee and caught up on writing life, motherhood, navigating adulthood. Before we started saying our goodbyes, I opened up to her about my current struggle. I had been thinking about it during the entire date, wondering how to say it – just blurt it out? My husband is a recovering addict and our marriage is hanging on by threads and I feel very alone and confused and scared and the everyday that I once celebrated so much has now become my own struggle. There is no good time in a conversation to bring it up.

But I said it briefly – M had been in rehab, and it brought me to searching for something higher. I told her I admired her own strong faith, that she could just put her life in the hands of God and knew it would be OK. I had had one brief feeling of spirituality, of believing in something larger than me, in Japan, standing before a giant sitting Buddha. Was that what I was looking for? Does God exist in different forms? Is he the image of a man, or is he the energy all around me? I didn’t know. I felt like I was chasing something and I didn’t even know what it was or if it existed.

Lean into those questions, she said. Ask him for a sign.

I hadn’t prayed in a long time. I decided to try.

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. // Al-Anon Step 3

I liked the idea of praying, but a part of me felt like I didn’t have a right to do so. Because I’d rejected God for so long, how could just ask him for help now that everything is falling apart? Because I’d always judged people who found God this way – who couldn’t figure out a way to solve their problems themselves, so they just relied on God to fix it, and tell them what to do, and answer all the questions that they didn’t know how to face themselves. And if I did ask him for a sign, how would I know? Would I just be looking at everything after and thinking, is that it? Is that Him? If I did believe in God, did he have to be in the form of a man, and Jesus, or could I continue to believe that he is everything around me, that he is the energy flowing through me and my breath going in and out? Could it be what I wanted to believe, or is it another way? Is that what he would show me?

Lean into those questions. Ask him for a sign.

I didn’t know how to pray. So I wrote a letter.

Dear God,

I’ve been avoiding your name. I’ve been asking lots of questions, and searching, and buying books and not reading them, and meditating, and feeling like I’m forcing spirituality onto myself while also remaining doubtful and pushing away for fear of being a phony and a hypocrite and weak.

I want you. And I’ve been avoiding talking to you because a part of me does not want to be a person who prays. But a part of me wants to embrace prayer.

I need help.

Life is hard, and if I believe that we are all connected somehow, that the breath of life that flows through that tree that I’m looking at through the window also flows through me, that you are that life, that you are everywhere, not just some man looking down at me from the heavens above, listening to me, but that you’re wind blowing through the leaves and birds chirping and the blue, blue sky, and my son’s laughter, and the light shining through the window – then I have to be able to look to you for help.

Because you are life.

And I don’t know what it is you do – make things better? Tell me the answers? Give me a sign in the form of thunder and lightning, some clear vision that floats out of the sky, or maybe something smaller that falls into my path and just works somehow?

I realized that the one thing I haven’t done is let go.

Surrender.

To finally put my faith in you.

To stop trying to answer the questions myself and to let you tell me.

To be completely vulnerable, and to talk to you, and ask you for help, and admit that I don’t know the answers, and that if you’re everywhere and everything, then it will all be okay.

Please give me a sign. And I will be yours truly.