Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Never-Ending Self-Inventory

So, what is it with us recovering alcoholics and all our "inventory taking" and fits and starts and returning to 4th Step work and hashing and rehashing our experiences over and over again, ad infinitum, ad nauseum?

We do it so we can stay sober.

Every time we do it, we learn a little more about ourselves, we evolve a little more. Learning what we learn, that old knee-jerk reaction of automatically reaching for a drink whenever we feel anger, frustration, pain, jealousy, or resentment gets less and less intense. My knee doesn't twitch anymore when I get angry. I just let the feeling wash over me--"Man, am I pissed off!" and I start taking steps to calm myself before I open my big mouth and spew things I don't really mean, things that are just likely to exacerbate the situation, putting the other person on the defensive, and then it turning it into a shouting match. Later on, when the fight has simmered down, I always wound up feeling really stupid and small anyway.

One of the first things I came to realize is that, being human, I am going to experience a wide range of emotions, and that's just the way it is. None of them are innately "good" or "bad." Anger, for example, can be perfectly justifiable. Love, if directed towards the wrong person, can be completely inappropriate. Feelings are neutral. They're nothing but feelings. It's what we do with them that makes them "good" or "bad."

Anger is always a challenge, though, because it's a powerful feeling that can be used as an agent of destruction, and when it's not handled well, it can turn into an alcoholic's worst enemy: resentment. Resentment can be as dangerous and debilitating as fear in that regard: it's a total mind-fuck.

Check it out: resentment is every bit as toxic to your mind as chugging booze. When I'm resentful, oh man. I obsess for days, weeks, months on end, about what made me angry. I go over and over in my head the circumstances which led to my anger, I fantasize about making speeches or taking revenge. I think about how unfairly I have been treated. I turn myself into a victim. And, the other person is evil incarnate, when they're the one who was the asshole and now they're walking around pretending like I'm the one who was all wrong! I stew and stew.

So, we process, we take inventory, so we can get this poison out of us. When you write it all down in an honest self-inventory--what did I do and why; what did they do and why; I'm able to see MY PART in what happened and own that. My anger gets neutralized. I may not be able to control the other person, but I sure as heck can control myself. So, what can I take away from this? What wisdom have I gained? Okay. I won't do that anymore.

Self-inventory NEVER ends. It goes on until the end of your days, because no one, and I mean no one, is a perfect angel who is never at fault in any way all the time. And sometimes I need to learn the same lesson over several times before I truly "grok it."

Without this healthier outlet, sobriety is precarious.

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