Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Revisiting Step Four

Lately I've gotten a couple of requests to be a sponsor. I declined both times (one because the other person lives on the other side of the country and she needs a sponsor close to home; the other because she's a friend and we share some mutual friends, so the ability to be 100% honest could be difficult--or more difficult than is helpful for a person so newly sober.) It's not impossible to be friends with your sponsor: my own sponsor and I used to date each other, years ago. Prior to my getting sober, though, we weren't that close. We run in different circles and have different friends. At first I asked her to sponsor me just temporarily, until I could find a sponsor. But it has worked out so well that there was no need for a change.

The main reason I've declined, though, is that I don't feel ready to be a sponsor. I haven't completed all my step work--at least not officially (even though step work is never really done). Some folks blast through their step work and are sponsoring several people within six months of getting sober: that's just not me. I need to be much more deliberate. It seems like every time I think I figure something out, something else happens that makes me realize I had barely scratched the surface. In all honesty, I don't believe I'll be that helpful (except in a surfacey kind of way) until I have a much better understanding of my own alcoholism. Fact is, I'm still making some stupid choices in my life and learning how to be a better "reader" of alcoholics and why we do what we do.

I think I've come to understand the nature of deceitfulness pretty well, but one thing I'm just now starting to grapple with is acting out--something that alcoholics do quite a bit of. The term gets thrown around a lot. A child has a tantrum: we call it acting out. An adult has an affair: we call that acting out. An alcoholic drinks their booze: we call that acting out. It dawns on me: I'm not even really sure what acting out means.

Try googling it and you will get a ton of differing definitions.

But it seems to me "acting out" appears to mean something along these lines when most folks are using the term: somebody has powerful impulses or feelings, and despite knowing it's destructive, or at least not productive, to act on them, they do it anyway. Often the impulse or feeling has been tamped down enough and not dealt with that it overpowers them. And often there are buried feelings that are underneath what's been consciously stuffed down. To us, acting out looks childish. To them, acting out feels like the final straw, something they do when they're fed up and sick of frustration, an action that feels utterly necessary. They just want to feel better.

Almost all of my previous romantic relationships have ended because I acted out and was unable to see at the time that there was a better way.

I was one of those "serial monogamy" people who would stay in a relationship for about six years (actually it was 4 yrs, 6 yrs, 6yrs, and now Chelle and I will reach 7 years in August, yet I did my best to end it in our 4th/5th year--interesting, huh? I will say that my marriage with Chelle did not commence as an affair; thank God we have that going for us.) But typically, I ended relationships by cheating and getting involved in a new one. The cheating was always me acting out. Now I'm not taking all the blame--relationships are a two-way street--but a fair portion of the blame belongs to me. My relationships would all turn into this psychological knot of misunderstanding and miscommunication, failed expectations of each other (some of which were not vocalized by either person), needs not being met, and digging in of heels and not being able to understand where the other person was coming from at all. So both of us would feel victimized by the other and there we were, stuck. It seemed impossible to untangle the knot we'd created. Over time, I would lose the energy or will to even bother untangling it. I felt that tired.

Then boom! Along would come another woman (and they always come along. I don't care how fat I am or how fit I am; how drunk I am or how sober I am; how together I am or how falling apart I am; the Universe sees fit to play a game of Woman Chess with me. God and I are trying to work this out together.) This woman would be everything I needed. She'd listen. She'd understand. She'd adore me. We'd have great sex. I'd look at her, look at my present relationship with the dead sex life and the huge tangled up knot, and the result was inevitable. My savior had arrived on her white horse.

It was easier to just start over again from scratch with the new woman.

And, of course, in six years, I'd be right back to where I'd been originally because I had never learned anything from the first, second, etc episodes of acting out.

When I was in the middle of it all, I could not have begun to realize how much my acting out was just a big "fuck you" thrown in the face of my previous partner. I thought it was just life, not me refusing to be a grown up and deal openly and responsibly with the normal conflicts that will arise in any relationship. Indeed, I could not have begun to articulate the buried feelings that were underneath all the anger, the tumult, and the rush of a new love.

I'm pretty sure my two biggies--hurt and fear--are somehow the culprits, but I've yet to tease it all out.

I hope I'm not making myself sound like too much of an asshole. Acting out isn't always necessarily a totally horrible thing. Acting out is a powerful learning tool. Knowing this little bit I know, I'm already finding out that with some people, ironically the only way to really know what they're feeling is to watch how they act out. We've all got friends who keep things to themselves. It may be that they themselves so are completely unaware of their own feelings (because they find their feelings unacceptable, so choose to ignore them or bottle them up) that they are unable to articulate them to you--thus, their acting out is the only way you can truly get a glimpse into what's going on inside them. Having that insight, you are then able to help them out, be a friend to them, by getting them to look at those feelings. Of course, this only works if they want to do that and want to get better.

I will be a sponsor one day--perhaps sooner rather than later. I do "get it" that sponsors receive help for themselves by working with those they sponsor. And people who are sponsors still keep their own sponsors. It's not like a military hierarchy. We're all equally in this boat together, pulling the oars.

That's one more thing I like about AA.


Stuart said...

Ive spent twenty two years with the same woman. I dont want the universe to throw anymore on the chessboard. It took me too many years to train this one, dont think I could go through training another. Unless my wife reads this...in which case Ill HAVE to find annother one ;-) Kudos to you for examining yourself and knowing your limitations, Joyce.

Joyce said...

I just wish I didn't always have to learn the hard way. One very simple thing I had to get through my thick skull was that just because I am attracted to another woman, that doesn't mean I love my current partner any less.

It just means I need to put on the French maid outfit and let her tickle me more... lol

I'm just kidding about that last bit, Stuart you dawg.