Step 10: When I’m “disturbed”

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

There is a common misconception about this step, that all it requires is a sort of daily catalogue at bedtime of our positive and negative behaviors of the day. But that’s not what the step says! It says the words “continued” and “promptly.” What does this look like?

I often turn to Alcoholics Anonymous’ materials  (and meetings, when there are no sex-related meetings available) as foundational building blocks for my recovery. Their “Big Book” is the original blueprint for the Twelve Steps.  As I read, I can easily substitute the words “sexual obsession, sexual anorexia, or sex addiction” for the word “alcohol,” and “acting out” for the word “drinking”. So, here are some words straight from the original textbook for recovery (p. 66-67):

      It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the {sex addict}, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feeling we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of {sexual obsession} returns and we {act out} again. And with us, to {act out} is to die.
      If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for {sex addicts} these things are poison…
     This was our course: We realized that the people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. Though we did not like their symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves, were sick too. We asked God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said to ourselves, “This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.”

      We avoid retaliation or argument. We wouldn’t treat sick people that way. If we do, we destroy our chance of being helpful. We cannot be helpful to all people, but at least God will show us how to take a kindly and tolerant view of each and every one.

      Referring to our list again. Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.

Words that jump out at me are “poison , fatal, and infinitely grave.”  I cannot, under any circumstances allow resentment or anger to take root in my mind and soul. But what tips it off? The reading says, “we did not like their symptoms and the way they disturbed us.” Dictionary.com provides this definition:

dis·turbed/disˈtərbd/Adjective

1. Having had its normal pattern or function disrupted.
2. Suffering or resulting from emotional and mental problems.
 
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines it as “Showing signs or symptoms of mental or emotional illness.”
 
As addicts/anorexics, if we allow life circumstances or other people’s choices to get under our skin, we actually sink into mental and emotional illness. It interrupts our normal pattern- the way we thought things ought to go, and we lunge into insanity, which easily leads us back into the throes of addiction, which ultimately leads to death. That’s heavy stuff! What’s a woman to do?
 
Here is where the 10th step comes in. We don’t wait until bedtime to deal with the problems of our day. “We continue to take personal inventory.” When something disturbing comes up, we take a step back, completely disregard everything that’s out of our realm of control, and take stock of ourselves. Why is this bothering me? What sensitive place in my heart is being poked at? Is it my pride, my need to control others’ thinking, my fear of abandonment or rejection? I need to  make a quick mental list of my own shortcomings and “promptly admit it.”
 
Sometimes, I can’t think straight right in the middle of a situation, like if someone is yelling at me. But if I fail to see that person as sick and treat them as gently, and without selfish motives, as I would a very sick person, I am most likely going to open my mouth and pile up a few more things that I am going to need to turn around and admit, as soon as I take inventory of the situation.
 
I used to work in a nursing home, mostly with residents who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. At the time, I was morbidly obese. Rarely did a day go by that at least one of those men and women didn’t make some comment about my size. Now, I had a pretty thin skin in general about my weight and would turn into a puddle of mush if anyone else had said some of those things to me. But I learned to smile kindly and say something like, “You’re right. I am a big girl.” That always stopped them in their tracks. They didn’t expect me to be sweet or to agree with them.  
 
How was I able to respond so well at work but not in the rest of my life? I saw those residents as sick people, who wouldn’t say such things otherwise. Also, I took my own inventory. They had a point! Like it or not, I was huge! Lashing out at sick, accurate elderly people was not going to change my defect. It was only going to send me into a crazy place in my head, where I would be constantly walking on eggshells, waiting for the next person to tick me off. I may have blown up at someone and lost my job. I probably would have overeaten as a result of the stress and made my defect even worse! There is no way I could change the fact that these people with no verbal filters were going to comment bluntly on whatever they observed. The only thing I could change was how I perceived the situation, adjust my own attitude, and begin to address my eating and exercise habits.
 
Who or what disturbs you today? What’s in there, crawling around under your skin, rattling around in your brain, grating on your nerves? Allowing those things to disturb you will only thrust you into the jaws of addiction. The 12 steps provide us with the tools to remain sober in spite of outside circumstances. Now comes the difficult work of using them.
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