Friday, May 31, 2013

Step 5: "Why do we need to bring anyone else into this?"

From Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, here's part of Step 5:  Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.   My bolding.
More realism and therefore more honesty about ourselves are the great gains we make under the influence of Step Five. As we took inventory, we began to suspect how much trouble self-delusion had been causing us. This had brought a disturbing reflection. If all our lives we had more or less fooled ourselves, how could we now be so sure that we weren't still self-deceived? How could we be certain that we had made a true catalog of our defects and had really admitted them, even to ourselves? Because we were still bothered by fear, self-pity, and hurt feelings, it was probable we couldn't appraise ourselves fairly at all. Too much guilt and remorse might cause us to dramatize and exaggerate our shortcomings. Or anger and hurt pride might be the smoke screen under which we were hiding some of our defects while we blamed others for them. Possibly, too, we were still handicapped by many liabilities, great and small, we never knew we had.

Hence it was most evident that a solitary self-appraisal, and the admission of our defects based upon that alone, wouldn't be nearly enough. We'd have to have outside help if we were surely to know and admit the truth about ourselves--the help of God and another human being. Only by discussing ourselves, holding back nothing, only by being willing to take advice and accept direction could we set foot on the road to straight thinking, solid honesty, and genuine humility.

Yet many of us still hung back. We said, "Why can't `God as we understand Him' tell us where we are astray? If the Creator gave us our lives in the first place, then He must know in every detail where we have since gone wrong. Why don't we make our admissions to Him directly? Why do we need to bring anyone else into this?"

At this stage, the difficulties of trying to deal rightly with God by ourselves are twofold. Though we may at first be startled to realize that God knows all about us, we are apt to get used to that quite quickly. Somehow, being alone with God doesn't seem as embarrassing as facing up to another person. Until we actually sit down and talk aloud about what we have so long hidden, our willingness to clean house is still largely theoretical. When we are honest with another person, it confirms that we have been honest with ourselves and with God.

The second difficulty is this: what comes to us alone may be garbled by our own rationalization and wishful thinking. The benefit of talking to another person is that we can get his direct comment and counsel on our situation, and there can be no doubt in our minds what that advice is. Going it alone in spiritual matters is dangerous. How many times have we heard well-intentioned people claim the guidance of God when it was all too plain that they were sorely mistaken. Lacking both practice and humility, they had deluded themselves and were able to justify the most arrant nonsense on the ground that this was what God had told them. It is worth noting that people of very high spiritual development almost always insist on checking with friends or spiritual advisers the guidance they feel they have received from God. Surely, then, a novice ought not lay himself open to the chance of making foolish, perhaps tragic, blunders in this fashion. While the comment or advice of others may be by no means infallible, it is likely to be far more specific than any direct guidance we may receive while we are still so inexperienced in establishing contact with a Power greater than ourselves.

Our next problem will be to discover the person in whom we are to confide. Here we ought to take much care, remembering that prudence is a virtue which carries a high rating. Perhaps we shall need to share with this person facts about ourselves which no others ought to know. We shall want to speak with someone who is experienced, who not only has stayed dry but has been able to surmount other serious difficulties. Difficulties, perhaps, like our own. This person may turn out to be one's sponsor, but not necessarily so. If you have developed a high confidence in him, and his temperament and problems are close to your own, then such a choice will be good. Besides, your sponsor already has the advantage of knowing something about your case.

Perhaps, though, your relation to him is such that you -would care to reveal only a part of your story. If this is the situation, by all means do so, for you ought to make a beginning as soon as you can. It may turn out, however, that you'll choose someone else for the more difficult and deeper revelations. This individual may be entirely outside of A.A.--for example, your clergyman or your doctor. For some of us, a complete stranger may prove the best bet.

Perhaps the single thing I value most about sobriety was the feeling of finally having some release from the death-grip of self-delusion and fantasy I'd been living in previously, every minute of every day of my life.  Even though this release for me was gradual - it took years - and is always incomplete, the relief of even having a bit of it was, as they say, indescribable.

Remember what Sr. Heléna Marie, CHS said about the religious life, in her "What the Religious Life Is and Is Not" (again, my bolding)?
It is not a place to hide from others nor from yourself. Whatever you have found difficult in others in the past, you will find difficult here. Every character flaw that drove you crazy in others before you entered will drive you crazy here, too, except that here you are living twenty-four hours a day with those who have them! Nor will you be able to hide from whatever in yourself you would rather not face. The formation process in community will naturally bring out those aspects of yourself which might prefer to remain hidden. Your shadow will become apparent to you (as it has probably always been apparent to others), and you will have to face it, accept it, and eventually own it as a creative part of yourself. As Brother Clark Berge, SSF, says: "The religious life is no way to hide from problems. If you try to hide, they will find you out."

To my mind, the key phrase here is this one:  "Your shadow will become apparent to you (as it has probably always been apparent to others), and you will have to face it, accept it, and eventually own it as a creative part of yourself." 

And that's the beautiful thing, really; you can finally see what has been hidden for so long - but hidden only to you!   It's odd, isn't it, that the most important things about ourselves are hidden and opaque to our own eyes and understanding?  That we cannot see most of the things that make us who we are - and therefore don't have some of the most vital information we need in order to live?   

And that this is absolutely normal, and in fact an inescapable fact of living - since we literally have no memory of most of our most formative years of life?    So that, in fact, we need others - honest others - to help us understand ourselves; we need the people who can already see our shadow, and who'll tell us frankly of what it consists.  And we need courage to help us face these things, and accept what we find - which will mean the destruction of our own mostly delusional self-image.

We need other people to help us cut through the massive delusions we have about ourselves.  And, in fact, we need a way to live - because our own way is almost always based upon a total fantasy.

The really exciting thing is the last clause:   "you will have to face it, accept it, and eventually own it as a creative part of yourself."    This reminds me of something I read at Mockingbird once, from Dr. Frank Lake - a quote from Clinical Theology, his "textbook for pastoral counselors":

The nature of the help God gives through His Church is to make what cannot be removed, creatively bearable. Paul’s thorn of weakness in the flesh remained. Resting in the power of God, he could glory in his infirmity. It is natural, and it is, I think, spiritually desirable, that we should at first strive and pray, as Paul did, to have our weakness and negativities removed. But the utmost of personal effort and of professional skill may disappoint our hopes in this direction.

What then? There are no lectures in the medical course to inform the doctor of the paradoxical movement of the spirit which can turn decisively away from the evidently vain hope of a cure, to a courageous bearing, and more, to a creative using of the pain and loss that cannot be cured. There is a strength which is made perfect in weakness. Without the prior weakness this particular endowment of strength could never be experienced. Medical practice must extend itself to prevent the outward man from perishing. Pastoral practice, recognising a certain inevitability of failure in this entirely laudable object, extends itself to ensure that the inward man is concurrently renewed from day to day.

The natural man in us tends to reject the paradox that mental pain and spiritual joy can exist together in us, without diminishing either the agony of the one or the glory of the other. The whole personality may be afflicted by a sense of weakness, emptiness, and pointlessness, without diminishing in the least our spiritual power and effectiveness. This is possible because Christ is alive to re-enact the mystery of his suffering and glory in us. So far as our own subjective feelings are concerned, any inner-directed questioning of our basic human state may produce the same dismal answer as before; the cupboard is bare. While we regard our humanity as a container which ought to have something good in it when we look inside, we miss the whole point of the paradox. We are not meant to be self-contained, but channels of the life and energies of God Himself. From this point of view our wisdom is to let the bottom be knocked out of our humanity, which will ruin it as a container at the same time it turns it into a satisfactory channel….

We must expect that the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the fullness of life within the Body of Christ will force out the alien elements of despair, distrust, anxiety, rage, envy, lust, and the like, which are each man’s deposits from the intolerable passivities of infancy, to declare themselves before they are cast out.

This is another very interesting explanation for the fact that the A.A. experience (and also, it seems, the Christian one!) is "open-ended" - that is to say, that "the house A.A. helps a man build is different for each occupant."    Naturally, each of our "thorns in the flesh" will be different, because none of us has exactly the same life experience.

Thus, the "owning it as a creative part of yourself" must therefore be a completely unique process and path for each person.  In fact this, to me, is a reality almost completely unplumbed and unexplored - as far as I know - in both psychology and in Christianity; I think this might be a terrific place to spend some time and attention.

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