Making A List, Checking It Twice…

Step 8

“Made a list of all persons we had harmed,

and became willing to make amends to them all”

 Today is Christmas Eve. For many of us, that means getting together with family we don’t often mingle with. Sometimes the mix creates a Molotov cocktail, with one incendiary whose mission is to pit family members against one another. (Wikipedia says these particular cocktails are “primarily intended to set targets ablaze rather than instantly destroy them.”) Perhaps you can even name that person in your family who moves from conversation to conversation setting everyone off. Perhaps you are or have been that person.

My Honey often repeats the phrase, “Hurt people hurt people.” When wounded families come together for the holidays, they don’t leave their hurts at home. Often the pain of mingling with abusive or intrusive family members is exacerbated by secret sins that have never been made right. With the just-right mix of people, ghosts of Christmas’ past, and often, booze, many families have a less than “holly jolly Christmas.”

If your family holidays are not Norman Rockwell worthy, and the above paragraphs ring true in any way, you are far from alone. Many people in recovery survive facing their families at holiday time. They even manage to look at these get-togethers as litmus tests of their own recovery. There’s nothing like “Uncle Joe’s” inappropriate comments that can bring the truth of where we are in our own recovery racing to the surface.

Do we react or respond? Do we get sucked into an argument, or walk away? Can we remember who we are now, not allowing ourselves to be placed into the ill-fitting boxes from yesteryear?

Or are the tables turned? Am I the one forgetting to allow another to grow out of their family straitjacket? Do I hold someone hostage with my jokes or innuendos? Are there amends I haven’t yet made or been made aware of?

One popular Santa song says:

“He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice”

Step Eight speaks of a different list, one that requires some serious introspection.FullSizeRender-1 In A Hunger For Healing, we see that, “Step Eight is a social housecleaning, just as Step Four was our personal housecleaning. In Step Eight we’re setting out to clean up all the bruised relationships and the pockets of guilt, pain, fear, resentment, and sadness that are stored inside, stuck to our shameful past deeds. For this undealt-with material blocks us from loving other people, ourselves, and God in the present.

It’s as if God were saying, “Okay, now you want me to take all of your character defects, fine. Then you can be free and serene and the person I want you to be. But first you must see that almost all your troubles involve other people. You’ve tried to control them one way or the other or fix them; you have guilty or resentful feelings about them; or you have been so preoccupied with yourself and your feelings, dreams, and plans that you have ignored them emotionally and caused them to experience some of their worst fears of being deserted. Now I want you to face what you have done and own your part in hurting each person in your life so you can move into the future I have for you unencumbered by the past and beginning to understand how not to keep repeating the mistakes of that past.”
– A Hunger for Healing, p. 135-136

The Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, Chapter 4/Step 8 reminds us that “The Eighth Step starts the procedure of forgiving others and possibly being forgiven by them, forgiving ourselves, and learning how to live in the world.”

As we celebrate the holidays with our families, we can remember that, although they may be far from perfect, so are we. Only with the true Spirit of Christmas in our hearts, can God restore the brokenness of our pasts and use our story to bring hope to loved ones who are still stuck in unhealthy places.

So, here’s the Christmas challenge for all of us, as we interact with others over the holidays: Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to make us aware of ourselves, and any amends we need to make. And then, let’s make our lists, check them twice, and pray for Spirit-led opportunities to follow through with Step 9.

Happy, emotionally-healthy holidays to all! And to all a good night!



Oh, Lord – It’s Hard To Be Humble (Step 7)

Step 7: Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings,

I grew up singing two songs about humility. One was a Christian camp song that said, “Humble me, humble me, oh Lord; humble me…humble me, so I can do Thy will…” The other, sung by Mac Davis, went something like this: “Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.”

College Daze

                                              On top of my little world ~ Before the fall

As an ‘80’s teenager, popular music both shaped and reflected the person I was. Sometimes I pretended to be perfect in every way, while refusing to come to Jesus with certain corners of my heart. Other times I truly wanted to follow God’s will and His plan for my life. Living with me was like flipping through every radio station on a long road trip. One day, I was like, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee.” The next, it was more the Def Leppard version, complete with the mentality that “it’s better to burn out, yeah, than fade away.”

I wanted everything life could offer and I wanted it “right now!” I had planned out my future while still in grade school. As a young adult, I refused to wait for life to unfold. I forced it. I forced my way, my will, and my ideas onto other people. I tried to control them through manipulation, guilt, or fear. I tried to force broken boys to love me. I forced myself into relationships where I didn’t belong. I forced myself to reach impossibly high goals, expecting others to work as hard as I did, with little compassion for their shortcomings. I was often full of myself and empty of humility.

Then I fell. I not only physically fell from the roof of a barn, shattering several vertebrae; I also crumbled emotionally. The road to recovery was excruciating. My physical body healed more rapidly than my psyche. All pride had been crushed. I had to learn to walk in humility, just as I had to learn to walk with my new crutches – one step at a time, one day at a time.

Decades later, as I take a close look here at Step 7, I’m wondering if the Mac Davis song still sometimes describes my stance toward humility. Do I ask God to remove my shortcomings, while clinging to the falsehood that I am somehow perfect in every way (or at least in some little way)? I’ve been down this road countless times! Why does pride still rear its ugly ugly head in my life?

Isn’t it PRIDE that keeps me from going to God the minute something goes wrong on the inside of me? Oh, it’s not a big deal. I can handle it. I lie to myself, while ignoring the Spirit’s “still small voice.”

The book of James holds a promise for people like me in chapter 4, verse 10. James says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” If I humbly ask God to remove my shortcomings, He promises to lift me up. When I am puffed up with pride, full of hot air or a hot temper, God cannot lift me up. He can barely wrap His arms around me when I’m so full of my “my way or the highway” attitude.

In 2004, I was twenty years from being a headstrong teenager, trying desperately to control my tiny world after it came apart at the seams with my mom’s divorce. By then, I’d been married for ten years to a chemically dependent spouse and I carried a ton of guilt, anger and anguish around inside my head. My own thoughts of divorce crept across the borders of my mind as I struggled to find feelings to match my marital vows after addiction’s roller coaster had robbed me of so much. When I flipped through the radio and found Norah Jones singing, “No matter how hard you resist it, it never rains when you want it to…You humble me Lord… I’m on my knees empty…” I identified with that humility. Although God hadn’t handed me an addict on a silver platter, He definitely used being married to one to teach me to walk in humility.

Today, I live in a different world – far removed from the chaos of cocaine addiction. But I don’t want to forget the lessons learned in that valley. Forgiveness. Humility. Patience. Courage. Honesty. Surrender. The valley of the shadow of addiction is a deep one. It will mold a character. It can make us or break us, maybe both. I think the brokenness is what calls me back to my knees when I get too big for my britches.Step 7 Meme

I need Step 7 every day of my life. It’s an exercise that transforms me from the me-I-don’t-want-to-be to the me-the-looks-like-Him. When l admit my shortcomings and humbly ask God to immediately remove them before they embarrass or humiliate me, or misrepresent Him, my life flows so much smoother – fewer regrets, fewer do-overs. Why I so easily forget that, I do not know. But, tonight, I just want to make that little camp song my bedtime prayer, “Humble me so I can do Thy will.” Will you make it yours, too?

You humble me Lord
You humble me Lord
I’m on my knees empty
You humble me Lord
You humble me Lord
So, please, please, forgive me
You humble me

Kevin Breit/Norah Jones



“No Grits For You” (A Step 6 Story)

Step 6

“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

 I am mean in the mornings. I don’t mean to be mean. I don’t want to be mean. But I am mean. Sometimes just a little mean. Sometimes big mean.

Before we married, I told my husband about it. At first he didn’t believe me. “How can someone so nice be mean?” he innocently inquired. After I explained the problem he said, “That doesn’t make sense. Our bodies store glycogen in the muscles and the liver. We are designed to be able to go without food for two or three days.”

Even after the I Do’s, he remained unconvinced. I think he doubted my experience – perhaps thought I was looking for excuses to be grumpy. It wasn’t long, though, before the cantankerous side of the bride arrived. Think honeymoon. Florida Keys. The morning after we have each devoured giant pieces of the best Key lime cheesecake EVER.

Honey wants to hang out on the porch before breakfast. (He likes to ease into the day, no rushing, no timepiece.) I wake up, down 24 ounces of water and start rummaging for breakfast, knowing my window between bride and bridezilla is fairly small. Honey calls me outside. Wants me to watch the sky with him, chill and chat with him, just BE. With him.

I’m torn. I want to. Really, I do. But I know how I’m feeling. I know that I need to eat food…and fast. I don’t want to ignore my new husband. It’s awesome to be wanted, just for my company. However, I don’t want to ruin the moment by snapping his innocent head off with my two-edged tongue, sharpened by a cheesecake hangover.

I open the refrigerator, already knowing it’s empty. I dig through bare cupboards searching for a jar of peanut butter or a leftover packet of Saltines from prehistoric guests. Nothing. Honey is calling to me. I’m churlish, wanting him to come inside and dress for Denny’s or Cracker Barrel. Even Dairy Queen, I-Don’t-Even-Care-Queen, I’ll eat anything. He doesn’t feel my urgency.

Suddenly I remember the Harry & David gift basket that had been delivered the day before. God bless the friends who sent this! Grabbing a forty-dollar gold-foil-wrapped pear and a handful of mixed nuts, I head outside to the sun-kissed morning and the man who wants to enjoy it with me. Whew, that was close.

Honey escaped my meanness that day, but now, nearly five years later he’s fully convinced that someone “so nice” can be mean. Often, the first thing he says in the morning is, “What can I get you for breakfast?”

Why am I sharing this with you? What does the above anecdote possibly have to do with Step 6? Don’t log off now…here’s the connection:

In Melody Beattie’s book, Codependents’ Guide To The Twelve Steps she says whether we call our issues “character defects,” protective devices or simply a need for healing because of woundedness, the result is the same: we all have SOMETHING WRONG. WITH US. THAT WE NEED TO BE READY TO RELEASE TO GOD.

My morning meanness has authentic roots. I can justify it medically. I can play it off, excuse it, or even ignore it. But that does not negate the fact that I may injure those close to me because I refuse to allow God to remove the character defects that prey on my blood sugar issues.

One of my issues is the codependent tendency to be controlling. It’s something God and I have been working on for some years now, but I often have to be reminded of Step 6 and become, once more, “entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” That controlling thing happened again this morning, before breakfast, when I wanted to control what my husband got to eat.

On Sundays, I like to cook breakfast, not just inhale a bowl of cereal while straightening my hair like “normal” mornings. So, I got up and started preparing a frittata: onion, fresh tomatoes, avocado and kalamata olives. Mmmmm. Just as I popped the accompanying Ezekiel bread into the toaster, I called Honey to the table. He entered the kitchen asking, “Are there grits?”

No, there aren’t grits. I made a frittata.” (I knew I sounded slightly irritated, but I didn’t care. I’d been in the kitchen for 30 minutes and was ravenous and ready to eat. I just wanted him to eat what I’d made and hush.)

Wow! That looks amazing. Can I have some grits to go with it?” Honey asks.

“Why do you need grits? We have toast.”

I’m South African. I like corn grits with my eggs. You know that.”

I don’t care what you are. Just sit down and eat. I did not say that part out loud. What I did say was this: “If you want grits, you can make them.”

Wow. That wasn’t very nice. I regretted it as soon as it came out. Honey silently moved toward the pantry and got the grits. As he came close to me to open the microwave, I said, “I’m not going to say anything else until after I’ve eaten something, okay?” He agreed that that might be a good idea.

After the microwave had dinged, the prayer had been said, and half my frittata had been eaten, I swallowed my pride and asked Honey to pass the grits. He did, gently stating, “Just think of them as polenta. They are quite nice with the frittata.” We made up. And lived happily ever after. (At least until the next time my need to control crops up in a weak moment,Frittata and I allow it to win instead of immediately taking Steps 6 and 7.)