Our first example from Part 1:
Dumpling regularly gets in relationships with mean men. They are sarcastic and unkind and do not treat her with respect. Dumpling has a big breakthrough one day, and realizes that she has a pattern of getting into abusive relationships.
Is Dumpling's solution to never get in a relationship again? Is the problem relationships? Is the problem relationships with abusive men?
Sobriety is not about saying "no" to life -- it is the very opposite of that. As I heard in a meeting just recently, "go through the open doors." What I need to do when I use the tools of recovery is to divine where -- and what -- the open doors are.
It's silly to read, but not too crazy to imagine, that someone who's been badly burned in relationships might decide that the solution is to never get into a relationship again -- or that they are "too broken" to handle relationships -- or that it's always the "other person" that is the problem, that there just aren't any "good" partners available. But aren't all those conclusions (which, to be clear, are false conclusions) just various ways of saying "no" to life? I say "no" (well, I say "no thank you" actually, because I am the soul of courtesy) to my disease, but I don't say "no" to life. And whenever I conclude that saying no to my alcoholism equals saying no to life I have reached a false conclusion.
Also, aren't those false conclusions just a melodramatic pose which allows someone to make big sweeping statements, ("All men/women are assholes/bitches!", "I'm never getting involved again!", "I'm just not cut out for relationships!") but not make any real or substantive changes in how they pursue a relationship? Or make any real changes in themselves? It's easy to stand around and make dramatic statements, shaking your fist at the heavens like Scarlett in the turnip field, "With God as my witness ... !"
Sure, Scarlett, till the next person comes along and your dramatic statement, which is not an insight that allows you to make any changes it's just something that feels great to say, is as easily set aside as Ashley for Rhett (just to finish up our "Gone With the Wind" analogy there).
The key in sorting this all out is in the inventory. The key is (almost) always in the inventory. Because, in our example, Dumpling can't change anyone or anything but Dumpling -- and to do that, she needs to get clarity. An inventory helps you untangle your resentments (both real and imagined) and your fears so you can determine what the real problem is -- generally defined by my character defects, to use AA-speak -- and then find the solution that matches it.
(HINT: The real problem is almost always going to be how my character defects, my "instincts out of control" as the 12&12 puts it, drive me to keep making the same choices over and over again but expecting a different result each time -- and how my character defects allow me to live in fantasy, to indulge in magical thinking rather than live in reality; life on life's terms. Once I have the problem -- my character defects in a situation -- defined, I pursue the solution via the 6th and 7th Steps of AA, which, to paraphrase them, are about being ready to change and then asking for God's help in making that change happen.)
When last we left our heroine, Dumpling had determined that she had a problem with abusive boyfriends. Hurt and angry, on the advice of her sponsor, Dumpling did a four column inventory on her ex-boyfriend(s).
In the 1st column she wrote "I Resent" at the top, then crossed that out and tearfully wrote in big, dark letters, pressing the pen so hard she nearly tore through the page, "I HATE" -- and then in the space below, wrote her ex's name. Let's call him... ummm ... Giblet.
At the top of the 2nd column she wrote "Why," and under that wrote "You know what that asshole did to me?" -- and then in the space below she listed everything that came to mind, everything Giblet ever said or did that upset her:
"He used to joke all the time about my weight in front of his stupid friends. And all his nicknames for me were totally demeaning, like 'Dodo' and 'Dumpster' and that time we went to the beach he called me 'Beach Ball' all day. And half the time he forgot his wallet and I had to pay. And he canceled our big plans the day before Christmas, instead of me coming over he said he wanted to spend time with his Dad, but then when I asked him after Christmas what they did, he and his Dad didn't do anything special at all! What did he expect me to do on Christmas day, with no notice -- the whole world already had plans! Asshole! And I know he was lying about other girls at the end. Especially that one neighbor of his. Something was totally going on there. She's such a whore. And ... "
Dumpling went on for about three pages in a similar vein.
When she paused and looked at what she wrote it was certainly familiar -- it could be the text of any conversation she had with a couple of her friends on a regular basis. They would sit at Starbucks and have mocha lattes and talk about their boyfriends -- or ex-boyfriends. They laughed and called it "Sex in the Sober City." Dumpling's sponsor, in a move both insightful and annoying, as most of her sponsor's moves were, pointed out that part in the Big Book that says "to conclude others were wrong was as far as most of us got" -- or something like that. Thus, it's on to the 3rd Column in the four column inventory.
I should tell you that Dumpling's diligence was driven by the fact that her sponsor cut her off. "Dumpling," her sponsor said, "Don't call me again till you have an inventory on this, and you're ready to read it to me. If I listen to any more about Giblet I'm just enabling you to live in the problem and obsess on it. Which, face it, is a form of self obsession." That bitch! Dumpling had half-way made up her mind to fire her. Whenever people shared about their sponsor in meetings it always sounds like a really nice guidance counselor or something! How can her sponsor say "Don't call me again till you've written an inventory!" What if Dumpling wanted to drink? I should fire her. I will fire her! I...
I should finish this inventory, Dumpling thought.
At the top of the 3rd Column Dumpling wrote, "Affects My" and then under that, wrote "It totally messes with my..."
She liked this column, it was easy. It was just like multiple choice: Self esteem, pocketbooks/personal finances, ambitions (as in dreams or goals), personal relationships, sex relationships... She went through the choices from where her sponsor had pointed out where they were listed in the Big Book and matched them to each of the items in her rant in the 2nd Column: Demeaning nick names? Affects my Self esteem. Check. Forgets wallet? Affects my Pocketbook/Personal Finances. Check. Self esteem. Check. Personal relationships. Check. Self esteem. Check. Self esteem. Self esteem. Self ...
"Well I didn't need to do a damn inventory to figure out that I have a problem with self esteem," Dumpling thought, "I could have figured that out from watching Oprah."
But writing it over and over in the 3rd Column, seeing how many examples of what happened between she and Giblet (Giblet and she? Giblet and her? Whatever.) involved her self esteem was, you should forgive the expression, quite sobering.
And then... the 4th Column.
"My Part" she wrote at the top. The 4th Column is where Dumpling would look to see where she had been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking or frightened. To look for her part in things; to see what her share of the responsibility was for how the relationship played out (The Big Book actually uses the word "blame," as in "where were we to blame?" -- a loaded term for most alcoholics until her sponsor pointed out blame is, in this case, just another word for "taking responsibility.")
Dumpling wasn't much for praying, despite all the talk about it in meetings, but she stopped for a minute and said under her breath, "A 'lil help here, God, on this part. Thanks." She meant it when she said it, and time and again she'd been told that was all that mattered.
She took a deep breath, and thought, and then wrote:
"I kept coming back for it, over and over. I didn't like those nicknames, and I never really said anything about it. In fact sometimes I laughed and pretended it didn't bother me (Dishonest). And I knew he was a jerk for a long time, but ... "
She paused for a moment, and marshaled her courage, and then went on.
"... I was afraid that if I didn't make it work with Giblet that was it -- that no one else was coming along. (Fear) And I like being someone's girlfriend (Self Seeking). Every time he forgot his wallet I said that I didn't mind, and that I was happy to pay, and that it didn't matter. (Dishonest). And it made me feel more secure in the relationship to be paying for things (Self Seeking). And secretly I liked what happened at Christmas, because then he 'owed' me. (Selfish. Dishonest.) And I don't know for sure for sure that he slept with his neighbor while we were going out (real or imagined, she thought) and ..."
Dumpling continued, surprising herself even as she wrote at what was coming out the end of her pen.
Later, after she had read the inventory to her sponsor (whom she decided not to fire) together they came up with what her character defects might be in the context of romantic relationships, specifically her relationship with Giblet. Playing the victim (not speaking up for herself, not saying "No" loud and clear), keeping score, feeling superior (that one surprised her, but if you are dating someone you think is an asshole then on some level, hand-in-hand with thinking this is all you deserve is some sick thing about feeling "better than," Dumpling's sponsor pointed out.)
The biggest surprise that came from the inventory was not only her resentment towards Giblet, but Dumpling's resentments and regret towards herself, for being the kind of gal who keeps dating guys like Giblet. "Remorse is resentment turned inwards" her sponsor said, pointing to where the Big Book mentioned that (her sponsor had a really irritating habit of saying things and then pointing them out in the Big Book. It made her great over coffee but a total drag at parties.)
Dumpling had a sneaking suspicion that at some point there might be some amends -- amends! -- she might have to make to Giblet, but there was NO WAY she was ever going to see him again, let alone make amends for anything.
"Balk at the Step you're on," her sponsor had advised.
And when the time came, boy, did she.