Good morning Mr. SponsorPants,
I hope you can help me with a little dilemma I have. I recently came back after a run of several years. Before that I had several years in the rooms before I went out. Now that I am back in the rooms I am actually in a different state than I lived in when I got sober. My issue now is trusting people in the rooms. The first time I was in the rooms I trusted everyone because I didn't realize that some are sicker than others. Now I find myself on the other extreme. I don't share at all in meetings because I don't know who is safe. I call my sponsor but I find myself holding back. I haven't outright lied yet but I just leave things out... and yes, I know, omission is a form of deception.
I know it takes time to open up and trust people, but I am afraid that my lack of trust will take me back out. Right now my sponsor gave me some step work to do and I have no issue writing it all out. I think knowing these things and having them in black and white in front of me will get me to learn a lot about myself and the patterns that lead me to drink. However, if I am to do this properly, a lot will be revealed and I am afraid to tell it to my sponsor, or anyone for that matter. I know I need to do this, but I don't know how willing I am to share it. I'm stuck right now.
Any insight would be greatly appreciated.
Stuck Untrusting and Nervous I'll Relapse
The first thing I want to say to you is welcome back!
A relapse of several years has to include some real darkness, and many people seem to find coming back to Alcoholics Anonymous strangely harder than the first time they came into the rooms. Please, please, be gentle with yourself, and rely on the fact that nothing in Alcoholics Anonymous is theory based -- it has evolved through the practical experience of many thousands of clean and sober alcoholics, and if it worked for them it WILL work for you.Willing but unsure of those around you, afraid of relapse, wanting to trust but unable to do so ... oh, SUNIR, I am sorry, that is a dreadful place to be. It's a terrible tangle of emotions -- let's try and sort some of this out and break it down into some actions you can try, okay?
You are right -- it takes time to open up and trust people. To reflect back to you what you're describing, it is like some nightmarish race you find yourself in: Will you be able to develop the ability to open yourself to people in AA before your alcoholism sneaks up behind you and grabs you by the throat and drags you back down to hell?
Here's what I think: Yes, you will be able to.
And here's how:
Start talking about this fear and trust challenge with just a few people in AA. Yes, some are sicker than others -- so find a few of the others, and skip the some. That may be easier than initially broaching the trust issue with your sponsor. Sometimes we unconsciously bring a lot of baggage to the sponsor relationship (I'm not saying you have, I'm just saying it is not uncommon) and that can make it difficult to open up in that relationship at first. So find a few people in the rooms -- maybe someone who has experience with relapse -- and just say this to them: "Since I came back to AA I am having trouble with trust." That's all. You don't have to elaborate, or give any specifics, and if pressed for more information you can just say "That's all I'm comfortable saying for now, but I'm trying to reach out." Or something like that. You can play 'broken record' if people -- often with good intention -- encourage you to share more before you're ready.The point is to start to open up. And you don't have to -- ever, if you don't want to -- share anything that makes you feel too vulnerable or unsafe -- but you can start to talk about the problem you're having opening up (and it will not only be helpful to you, but to others as well). Part of what's keeping you silent is this perhaps unconscious assumption you're making that to open up equals getting immediately into the toughest stuff you're afraid to share -- but you don't have to start there -- and you never have to go there till you're ready -- all you have to do is start talking about the problem of talking.
My experience with my own fears -- when alcoholism has my perceptions warped and my vision twisted -- is that all my fears feel huge, and they spill over onto each other and feed each other and my alcoholism, which then feeds them -- no wonder we can't do this alone!
When trying to untangle my fears it helps me to sort them this way: Ego fears and Survival fears.
Ego fears I must (eventually) smash, Survival fears I must pay attention to, but modulate. (To illustrate the difference somewhat, it is Ego fear if I am afraid that taping money to my face and walking naked through Central Park at 3am will make me look foolish. It is Survival fear if I am afraid doing that will get me killed. Sometimes they overlap, which can make things even more confusing.)
This all may sound obvious, but what I've found is that when alcoholism has my head spinning my Ego fears feel like Survival fears -- thus it can seem like if I raise my hand in a group to share then I will be destroyed.
Of course, that's not a thought I literally have -- "If I share I will be destroyed!" -- it's an intensity of feeling -- my level of anxiety over what people think of me -- or what will happen if I tell my secrets -- is like my life was at stake
So don't try to tackle that all at once. Start with the manageable, and begin to say to some few individuals that you are having a problem with trust and with sharing. Work up to saying to your sponsor that you are struggling with trusting everyone -- including your sponsor.
And here's another thought: How about breaking the action of your suggested First Step writing in half, like it's the Eighth Step ("... made a list ... and became willing ..."). In other words, first do the writing and then work on becoming willing to share it. Even though you have "no issue writing it all out" right now you're scaring yourself with the sharing part. You frame writing as something you're "going to do" -- but haven't done yet. You can get into some immediate action without being fully willing to take on the second part -- the reading it to your sponsor. In fact, I might suggest that you share that with your sponsor -- "I'm writing, but I'm not ready to read it yet." One way or another, I cannot think or feel my way into different thinking and feelings -- it is through action that I change those. So if the problem is the feeling of fear -- a lack of trust -- the first action you can take is the writing. Get busy and see what happens, feeling-wise.
You are very wise to extrapolate out that eventually this paralysis puts you at some risk for relapse. So again (because I think it is very important, and also because in my experience alcoholics are great ones for saying we have no problem doing something -- but still not doing it): Getting into action will shore up your sobriety -- a lot, I wager -- and you can do that without immediately tackling the larger fears about trust.
Finally, I suggest you bring a Higher Power -- as you understand a Higher Power -- into this equation. You don't even have to understand your Higher Power to ask for help. You can even believe that asking an HP for help is stupid or weak or foolish or insane or lame or it didn't work before or it won't work this time or ... or ... or... . Just get quiet for a few minutes regularly (morning and night? Shower and sitting in the car at lunch?) and ask for Divine Guidance, and for help in setting aside fear and mistrust.
If you get to have an HP as you understand them, then you can have one that is so delighted to hear from you that it doesn't matter if you're kneeling at the foot of your bed or jumping around in the back row of an aerobics class wearing your old leg warmers and going "Woo!" when your favorite song comes on. That is a completely hypothetical example, of course. (What -- why are you all looking at me like that?) My experience has been that if I regularly ask HP to help me become willing the door starts to open a little bit. And that's all it takes. You don't have to become 100% willing. You just have to get to 51%. That's always enough to get me started.
Listen to the part of you that wants to live, SUNIR. And remember, you've already done the hard part -- you came back from a real and tough relapse. Keep that in perspective -- the toughest part is behind you, so the level of fear you have now (i.e. lack of trust) is your alcoholism working on you.
Fear is a part of the human experience -- it's the amount of it and where it comes from and whether or not I let it drive me or paralyze me that I think marks me as an alcoholic.
The good news is that you and I have spiritual tools to use to deal with that fear and keep our alcoholism from using it against us.
To quote the Big Book, "It works -- it really does."
Welcome back, keep coming back, and know that everyone who read this today is rooting for you to make it -- especially me. With all that in your corner your alcoholism doesn't stand a chance.