Step 10: We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Following the news, I was reminded once again of something Dr. James Hollis mentioned in a class at the Jung Center several years ago. It was a wisdom that struck home with me, a commentary on our current state of affairs today. Thoughtfully, he asked something close to this: “How could things be different in our culture if each person could take personal responsibility for the violence, the dysfunction or the pain that is within him?”
I pondered his question all the way home and have recalled it many times since. Remembering his words about how each of us tends to deal with that with which we don’t want to face or cannot see with denial, avoidance or projection. Whatever we can do, it seems, we humans are highly skilled at either turning a blind eye to that which is within us or we project whatever is in us out onto others. Sometimes, even, we do great harm to others by taking out our own fears, insecurities, anger or hate onto another — and that “other” is often innocent, but made to bear what someone can’t acknowledge in herself.
“Oh would some Power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us.”
This line from Scottish poet Robert Burns always comes to mind when I think about Dr. Hollis’ question. I take it seriously, and his question and Robert Burns’ homespun truth are closely connected to my efforts to keep my commitment to that daily personal inventory.
Yes, it is hard to see myself as others see me.
Yes, it is hard to do that daily inventory.
Which reminds me of a line in A League of Their Own: Of course it is hard. If it weren’t more people would be doing it.
* * * * * *
Now and then, someone attempts to take my inventory for me.
My reaction ranges from mild annoyance to hurt at having my weaknesses, flaws or mistakes pointed out by someone else.
Now and then, I am shocked that I hadn’t seen my own flaws and later — often much later — I am grateful to have had someone point out what I could not see in myself.
And sometimes, instead of going into a shame spiral, I examine myself and discover that the person wanting to do my inventory for me is projecting their stuff onto me.
What I do with others’ projections, criticisms and judgements says at least as much about me as it does my critic. Sometimes people are right, and sometimes they aren’t, but how I respond or react is a part of recovering my equilibrium and staying emotionally stable, sober and in peace.
* * * * * *
When someone feels called upon to do my inventory for me, I work on trying to remember to remind myself to take a few deep breaths before I respond.
Time was when I instantly bought what another was selling, seeing myself always as the one at fault, the one to blame, the one who was wrong.
Sometimes now, however, I ask another person (my sponsor, a trusted friend, etc.) to give me feedback. Is this criticism or judgement about that person, or is this about me? Sometimes it takes a lot of discernment to know what is projection and what is perception.
I often have to deal with my feelings about what that person said before I can adequately assess the fairness or truth about what the person has said.
Is my response instantaneous defensiveness and an unwillingness to see the truth about myself?
What is underneath my reaction? Is it fear, anger, guilt or shame? Does my insecurity make my reaction stronger than it ought to be?
Is the giver of the criticism someone I barely know or someone close to me? Is it a repeat behavior or out-of-the-blue?
Does criticizing me seem to give the giver some kind of satisfaction? Make him feel superior? Does the person talk down to me or meet me straight across as an adult, a loving friend, an authentic helper?
After I have worked with this event, can I shake it off, or does it continue to read its head, disturbing my peace?
Do I need to take the time and the trouble to talk through this problem the other person sees with my sponsor, or it is worth my time? (If I shrug things off every time, I probably need to take a look at myself.)
And does my response become my hitting back, doing the other person’s inventory as a payback?
And am I overthinking this? And if so, what is my reason for doing that?
* * * * * *
“I don’t understand why people think they can say such rude and cutting things to you,” a weathered West Texas ranch woman said to me one day.
“You shouldn’t let people talk to you the way they do.”
The truth is that “letting people talk to me that way” was part of my codependency. Upon long reflection and the help of my sponsor and a skilled and caring analyst, I began to see how I had been set up to act in such a way that I drew people to me who had a need to “talk to me that way”. This blog isn’t the format for explaining how that character defect developed over my lifetime or to lay out all the ways that behavior contributed to some deep insecurities.
Working the program with a sponsor who was neither afraid to hear whatever my 4th and 5th steps brought forward nor hesitant to speak the truth to me in a firm voice. I was never afraid to ask her to help me see the truth about myself because I knew that she longed for and prayed for a “return to sanity” for me with every fiber of my being. She never did for me what she knew I must do for myself, but she stood with me while I flailed and faltered. She propped me up on the leaning side until I could stand to do my own daily inventory. She loved me toward God, encouraging me to speak the truth in love only to myself, giving up my self-judgment and self-censoring, even when someone else had shredded me with judgement and censure.
And what is a huge part of my recovery? Recovery means that I accept the mercy and grace of a God who stands ready to forgive me. Recovery is working only my lane in life, doing my inventory consistently and with radical honesty and uncommon patience.
Recovery for me is a lifelong learning curve toward wholeness, but I have to do it only one day at a time, one hour at a time, one breath at a time. And yes, it is hard to fall from grace in my own eyes, but it doesn’t have to be fatal.
Recovery is a joint venture. I do my part. God does God’s part. And others do their part, for the good or for the painful.
The 10th Step may be hard, but recovery is a lot harder without it.