Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Broken Open

Two weeks ago, I spoke at my ACA meeting, breaking both my silence and the protective covering I'd kept neatly in place over my heart for the past 38 years in one draining evening. The next morning, I tried to capture the rawness of the experience in words. I couldn't talk about it with anyone. My SD got a quick response as I ducked out the door after morning mass: "The physicality of the emotional pain keeps surprising me." My sponsor/friend got "I can't talk. Just read my blog." And that was about the extent of the discussion I've been able to give to the experience.

But, through it all, I kept praying for the strength to allow myself to work through the pain, and not to mask it again. When the emotional pain presented itself as an actual, physical ache, I prayed for strength. When the busyness of life brought me a calming numbness, I prayed for the ache to return, for the grace and strength not to hide in the dailiness of life, but to make the time to deal with this. Now. Not later.

Last week, I heard a surprising answer in prayer. I heard the nudge that it was time to consider moving on to step 4: making a searching and fearless moral inventory of my life. The "dreaded" step 4, which I had not given much attention since I'd started back with the 12 steps in the beginning of November. The same step 4 that I'd so cavalierly passed off as "no big deal" to some other people at the ACA meeting weeks earlier. I'm a Catholic, I told them. I do an examination of conscience and go to confession on a regular basis. It's an important part of my faith life. I'm not scared of step 4.

Yeah, right. I was so terrified of a "real" step 4 that I couldn't even think about reading ahead in any of my recovery books.

So, the response in prayer surprised me. I took out my journal, made a few notes, and went to sleep. When I woke the next morning, I felt a calm about step 4, a readiness. I'd been praying to use the brokenness from my talk for some growth. This seemed the best way to do that.

I downloaded a 20 page inventory, filled with more than 200 questions from my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. The instructions said to write, write, write. Answer every single question, even if the only answer is "this doesn't apply to me." I filled more than 75 pages of notebook paper. I cried. I prayed. A lot of both, actually.

Yesterday, I sat down with the pages. I read through it all, and organized it into themes, ideas, and experiences. It's pretty incredible, actually. Who I am: the good, the bad, and the horrendous, all on a stack of notebook paper, tucked into a binder, hidden in my bedroom.

The final question in the inventory is this one: "Am I ready to forgive myself?" I answered that one with a prayer, because I'm not yet ready to take that step, but I know the One who can lead me to readiness.

Step 5 is looming above me: admitted to God, myself and another human being the exact nature of my wrongs. I thought step 4 was scary. Step 5 is a nightmare. I have a wonderful confessor who has already heard a significant percentage of my inventory and who has a lot of positive experience with the 12 steps. And, still, it terrifies me.

So, for now, I am going to pray with my list. I'm going to hold it in my hands -- a physical representation of all the emotional/mental/spiritual pain -- and ask God to show me how to forgive that woman, how to feel compassion for her, how to love her the way He does.


  1. You are doing such important work in your life. God bless you as you move forward.

  2. May the Lord bless you and keep you....Just keep walking on the journey.