Today is the Pride parade in SF. It’s just a few blocks away from my little room rental here in South Park, but I’m sitting writing this blog post instead of moseying over there to watch the fun. I’m here instead of there because I’d be watching the fun, not participating, and that feels like it’d be more lonely than sitting here talking to you.
I’ll probably regret it. We’ll see. It’s only 2pm so I have time to change my mind.
Last night, late at night, after watching I Am Not Your Negro on Amazon, I decided to look up the 12 steps. I’ve heard them rattled off in the handful of AA meetings I’ve attended, but I’ve never attempted to “do them”. I don’t have a sponsor. I don’t buy into so many of the AA concepts. Actually, it’s just one trope that deeply irritates me: that anyone who quits drinking without working the steps is a white-knuckling-dry-drunk-on-the-verge-of-relapse. I don’t believe that, and I never will believe that.
However, as I continue to hit walls left and right in my “freedom from dieting” work, I wondered, idly, if there might be some gold buried in the steps that might actually help me.
So I decided to read up on what it means to truly “work the steps”. Two basic ideas kept cropping up in the “how to” manual I found online: Surrender and Humility.
Isabel Foxen Duke talks about surrender in our Stop Fighting Food coaching calls. I know she has a (not so good) history with OA, so it’s striking to me that she uses that word so many times to describe giving up the ghost of diet-promises, and living in the reality of our bodies as they are. What does surrender mean?
“Let go and let God” – a favorite AA phrase, popped into my head when she brought up surrender on a call the other day. It was one of my (borrowed) mantras when I first quit drinking. I felt a little guilty trashing AA and then clinging to one of its treasured mantras, but I used it. I used the hell out of it. It got me through some overthinking and anxiety. It got me to sleep at night.
Surrender. It also reminds me of an annual list-making exercise I would do. I would write three lists: things that are easy to change (that I should change), things that are hard to change (that I should change), and things I have no control over that I just, well, want. Every year I would re-read those lists at the end of the year, and the only stuff that had happened were on the “out of my control but I want it” things. Every single time.
I had things on my “easy to change” lists that were really damn easy. For example, I had a goal to make my bed every morning. It’s a duvet with cover – no top sheet – that I could easily pull back up neatly and puff up the pillows. But no, I didn’t do it every day. Or never leave dirty dishes in the sink. Or drink less diet coke. None of these things happened.
On the “hard to change” (but still seemingly in my control) list I had things like quit smoking and lose weight. Or, one year when I was feeling extra introspective, I put “forgive my father” on that list. Didn’t happen.
But that wish list. That damn “out of my control” wish list. Well all of that came true. Raises, promotions, falling in love, getting married. When I wished for them, and let them go, they came true.
Surrender is powerful. I think I know that, deep down. I think I’m a little afraid of it.
I had heard about steps 4 and 5 a lot. You write an unflinching moral inventory, then you tell someone. You openly tell someone (in AA, it’s usually your sponsor) all the things you are deeply ashamed of doing in your life. When drunk, as a kid, whatever. You write it all down and you own it and you share it.
It’s supposed to unburden you, and to help you sort out WHY you wound up addicted to alcohol.
I decided to write my own moral inventory last night. It’s hardly exhaustive. I have a feeling I’ll be adding to it for years to come.
I didn’t like doing it. I didn’t like facing my character flaws and my mistakes. This moral inventory thing is one of the bigger AA tasks that I am feverishly opposed to: why do we need to tear ourselves down to “understand” becoming addicted to an addictive substance? My moral failings aren’t worse than anyone else’s. What the fuck?
But… there is something in it. There’s something about admitting that I have been prideful and egotistical, even with the people I love the most. That I’ve often operated as if I’m superior to others. When I read the Fountainhead in high school, I secretly believed I belonged in Ayn Rand’s “objectively better than others” group. It’s terrifying to admit it, but I truly believed (back in the day) that if I lost weight I’d be damn near perfect.
Pride. My pride has flipped the script in my romantic relationships over and over again. If I was feeling low, it was my lover’s job to boost me. To fill up the empty bucket. To praise me. Same with bosses. If they did that, they were good. I would give back. If they didn’t, boy howdy: they were damn near abusive in my mind. Cruel. Selfish. I’m not saying that I should have given everyone a pass, but my ego is so fragile.
My ego is a wimpy wisp of moody wind. I don’t want to depend on my ego or other people’s praise to feel ok. But if I can’t create a constant sense of worth and strength from within, or get it from other people, where will it come from? AA would say humility. Letting the higher power in. Letting some bigger force guide you.
Don’t worry about being perfect, worry about doing what the universe wants you to do. Read the signs. Write the wish list and let it go.