Eighteen and a half years ago I set out on a path that would lead me to participate in a twelve-step programme. There are many such programmes around, and there are many that probably would be suitable for me with my combination of personality quirks and propensity for alcohol and substance abuse. However, the one that I got involved with happened to be the original and, in my opinion, the best, Alcoholics Anonymous.
At this point I could just say ‘I completed the 12 steps, the programme worked, end of story’. Certainly, since I worked my way through the programme as laid out in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, I have not felt the need to drink alcohol or to use any of the substances that I used to. So, in that way it was a success.
But, as was made clear to me at the time by people who had lived through the process of waking up from the alcoholic hell, abstaining from substances, while being an essential part of the journey, was only the beginning. This has proved to be true.
What I have found is that using drugs and alcohol, though mainly drugs, preserved the pain and the character flaws intact like a fly in amber, with the exception that when the amber was cracked open this bug was still alive.
It still amazes me that even after being told how it would be I am amazed to find it is just like that.
They told me to take it easy because I would be wobbly, I chose to ignore that admonition and I hit the ground running. Couldn’t they understand that I was thirty-seven years old and I had to catch up, by that age I should have been much further along the road than I was. Comparing myself to others, they said I’d do that too.
What has brought on this bit of reminiscence? It’s all about sex, of course
Recently, I had an affair with a married woman. This was a mistake. But not only in the obvious way.
I fell into friendship with a woman, and had I been a different type of person it could have been a really good thing. However, I was unable to resist falling into a pattern that has caused so many events to occur in my life. We had sex and my life broke up into pieces.
I lost a friend and my wife lost her tranquility. Her life was turned upside down as I found myself facing the truth that the AA veterans had warned me about. Take away the drugs and alcohol and you’re left with you.
All my life I have been focused on sex. I do not know why, or how this fascination came to dominate my being so entirely, but it is so. As part of the 12-step programme we make a searching and fearless moral inventory of our lives, it is the daunting step 4. I wrote out my step 4 and it was as described, searching and fearless, as I write this I have it sitting on the desk next to me.
The experience of writing it was painful and humiliating. In it, I itemised every thing I had ever done to harm another person, there are details of what I did and why I felt justified in the action. I remember reading it back and experiencing the closing of a loop, or a number of loops. Everything I did to another had been done to me, the perceived hurt had been passed on almost because I knew how much it had hurt me. In my mind, writing it down and sharing it would prevent it from happening again.
But it didn’t work that way, as I see now, I am still there.
Following my wife’s discovery of the affair I moved out from my home, I left my children and my wife, although I still visit, probably more regularly than anyone would like. But I am alone. This is what I realised had to be. As if to drive the message home, that it was time for introspection and not for a quick change to the next caretaker, my move from home coincided with an unprecedented occurrence in history and any opportunity to jump into another relationship was removed from the table. Yes, divine irony, I get it.
To compound the fact, my wife decided to visit my erstwhile lover and double-down on her vengefulness, which had the effect of not only ensuring that I would never see her again, which was already certain, but of making her hate me too. Irony upon irony.
So, I am alone, and the enforced solitude has made me face myself through the lens of the past. There is no chance of doing anything that would allow me to build a protective cocoon around the hurt, and I must finally do the work.
It has occurred to me that I have never looked after myself, I have always brought someone else in to take care of the bits that I don’t want to do. Most recently, my wife has washed my clothes, cleaned the house, carried out most of the shopping trips, in short, she has been a surrogate mother to me.
When we met, I had been clean and sober for five years and already I was a veteran of two relationships in early recovery. Despite the warnings, I knew best and I launched into a relationship within a few months of getting clean. It was disastrous and the inevitable break-up/down hurt more than I could remember anything hurting before. It was only my bloody-minded determination not to drink or use drugs ever again that carried me through, that. Oh yes, and the support of many people who cared, although God knows why.
After the pain wore off I started another, ill advised and chancy relationship. This lasted a few years on and off and ended in horrendous pain, I chose to see it as an opportunity to grow, and in so doing managed to avoid properly learning anything from it. A few short months after that ended, convinced I had moved through successfully, I met the woman who would become my wife.
The common factor in all these situations was that I was seeking sex and justifying it by entering a relationship, which would prove that I wasn’t just looking for sex. In all three cases, if I hadn’t had sex, they would have slipped past me and the pain would’ve been avoided. But, patterns, by their nature are repetitive, and I was like a train on the tracks.
My enforced solitude is making me confront this truth. Even now, as I am writing this, I can remember scoffing as I was told that this would happen. I am far too smart to be trapped like that, I thought, my arrogance blinding me. Having advised people about stuff myself, I know the feeling they must have had, watching me do exactly what I was warned against doing. Well, I’ll say it for them, they told me so.
And now I have three children who need me, sometimes, and I have a wife who doesn’t understand why I have to do what I am doing. I have tried to explain that I messed up what we had before it was even a thing, and that I must see this change through because I can see it now, and will never be able to un-see the behaviour that is laid out in stark relief. I have been unfair to her in so many ways.
And where does that leave me now? Well, this started off about sex and there was a reason for that. The overwhelming urge to have sex seems to have left me and I don’t recognise myself. It seems to be part of the backwash of the affair and now I am unable to behave as I did previously, or, more precisely, I no longer want to behave in that way, so deeply affected am I by this. My wife behaving towards me in such an uncharacteristically merciful way is certainly part of that, and the analysis of what happened in the affair is definitely another part of it. It seems that I have been broken open by these two people and I must now deal with the result, alone.
Back to the 12 steps. One of the steps involves, after detailing all harmful behaviour and looking at what aspects of our character is shown in each case, we ask for the defects of character to be removed. I remember a man in the meetings who had been clean for about fifteen years when I was brand new, he said that this step was like making a cake, you mix the ingredients, put them in the oven and leave the cake to cook. You don’t need to keep opening the door and checking, once you’ve asked for them to be removed, it will happen. As with most of what was said at that time it went over my head, but I listened and I find it was preserved in my filing system. I remember thinking that I wasn’t too sure I wanted the sex-urge to be removed, or even that it was a defect of character at all.
Now, I am starting to see what it means. It has only taken eighteen years of recovery for me a) to understand that sometimes the sexual urge is out of proportion with the rest of the organism and b) to see that having that over-blown feature removed, or at least dialled down, might be a good thing.
I am left to wonder about what might have been if I had been able to restrain myself from following the urge, could things have been different? The answer is a definite negative. I am the animal that I was made to be, and until I understood differently, I was doomed to travel along the track that was my path. There is a universal system that can turn everything we do, from the worst shit, into pure divine gold. I have seen this happen before and I believe that this situation will be the same. My blundering around, trampling on peoples lives, will somehow bring about something beautiful for all concerned.
This belief is all that is keeping me together at the moment. When I see my childrens’ lives turned upside down, and I see how confused my wife is, I must remember that when the timer goes, the cake will come out, perfect, whole, and complete.