The Madness of Being Good

I’m having anxiety today. Some guilt. Waves of old feelings. And what whey all boil down to is this sense that I’m not doing it right. Whatever it is. Life? My day? My choices for the the next few months? It can get crazy in these heads of ours. Sometimes the more I meditate, the crazier it seems to get. Contrary to a common misperception, meditation isn’t a means to escape – it makes us confront our mind and teaches us to practice not buying into what our mind tells us. Practice not buying in. I still buy in all the time, like today.

Sometimes I get scared that I’m not doing recovery right. Which makes me laugh out loud, because it’s such a preposterous idea that one could do recovery wrong, and yet it’s still a common belief in my brain. It is true that most of us who are trying to recover from addiction and various forms of self-destruction are often tremendously hard on ourselves and afraid of making mistakes. We double-bind ourselves to where we can’t win. So I can get that way about my recovery. Am I not going to enough meetings? Is it bad that I don’t have an official sponsor right now? Am I going to inevitably revert back to the way I felt three years ago before I joined al-anon and found some relief from fear and people-pleasing?

Sometimes I think it’s enough that I believe in and have a relationship with God. That it’s enough that I meditate on a daily basis, write my feelings out in a journal, call friends and fellows when I get scared or feel overwhelmed. That I reflect on my behavior and pray to be guided to new experiences. That is essentially what the 12 steps are all about. But I don’t have a sponsor. I’m not sponsoring any women. I am not on an official step in a book. I paused on a very rigorous 4th step a few months back (which was quite liberating and relieving) and have not returned to it. I plan to be traveling for at least four to six months come September, and what do I do then? Plan my traveling around meetings? Of course not. We enter recovery to live our lives. Not to good at recovery.


Sometimes I hear these old ditties in my head: am I a bad girl for not sponsoring any women? Girls ask me, and then they stop calling. But I don’t seek them out. Does this mean I am selfish and not being of service? Am I headed for serious trouble by not going to at least 3-4 meetings a week, Al-Anon or AA? Does it even work that way, accruing meetings? Am I “sick” because I haven’t worked all the steps in Al-Anon? Is there something wrong with me, and that is why I am so resistant to continuing to work the steps in Al-Anon? Is it my very issues that make it so hard for me to maintain relationships with sponsors?

In terms of the last one, I do have a very hard time being sponsored. It’s not always that I don’t want to do the work; I’ve always been a “good student.” (In fact, setting a boundary and saying no to continuing to work the 4th step with my previous sponsor was a loving act of self-care.) It’s that all my people-pleasing comes up, and I make sponsors my Higher Power, and I dislike the feeling that I have to check in with them. I dislike the feeling that I am obligated to call, that if I don’t call, or if I don’t call often enough, I am doing something wrong. I dislike the label of sponsor, in the sense that I don’t like this idea that we have entered into some sort of strange contract that puts them in charge of me. I know that is not the case, but that is how I still perceive it. My perception is that all this work in recovery takes from my life today, instead of adding to it. It feels like one more thing to do, and after a long day or week of teaching, I often just want to be left alone. Why should I make my life more challenging? Hasn’t it been challenging enough? I don’t like that it is so in me to be afraid to rebel and not do things perfectly. I wish I could care a lot less about all of this. I wish it could feel like enough, and maybe be enough simply to rely upon God. Then I have to listen to what God is guiding me toward. I wish my perception could more often than not be: whatevs, it’ll all work out. But that’s not me. I care. I’ve always cared. I’ve always been concerned with doing the right thing.

And yet the truth is, I don’t want to do the work right now. At all. I don’t want to keep working on a 4th step and checking in with a sponsor and going to a lot of meetings. Of course I want to stay sober, and of course I want to be happy, joyous, and free, but I want to do what I want to do. My way. Is that bad? I feel like women in particular feel guilt about this. That to just do what we want to do (even if it is rooted in love and self-care and causes no harm) is some kind of shameful selfish act. I feel like God must be bigger than that. I feel like I can be happy, joyous, and free without doing recovery the way I think I am supposed to. I feel like I already do so much work when it comes to my actual job, and what is left over is spent relaxing, socializing, walking, writing, reading. Perhaps when I enter a year off from teaching, things will shift. I also have the rest of my life to do this work, so…

Oh, but jeez.

I wish I wasn’t so concerned with doing it right and being good. I wish I could just let myself fail and not feel so scared or like I’m a bad girl. I often think that is my real work. As my former-sponsor used to say of what God means to her: How much more loving and accepting can I be of myself. How much freer can I be of the inner critic? How free can I get from always feeling like I’m doing something wrong? How emancipated from Fear can I become, ever present in the loving embrace of God, as I understand God?

I expressed this once to a friend in AA, and she understood. I thought at the time that I should go back to therapy because I was feeling a lot of fear. She said I should be having more fun, not doing more work. That made sense to me. I have been working on this recovery stuff for over ten years. The past five years of my life have been extremely challenging and busy and filled with profound growth and change. Which is a blessing a gift, and I wouldn’t change a thing. But we can get so mired in the heaviness of reconstruction. More often than not we need to just play.

So maybe it is enough right now. Maybe the recovery is just to love myself through these feelings and not rush out to do anything or change something in an attempt to try to fix them and control them. Let God be in charge and stop trying to be a good girl.

You hear a lot of beautiful messages in the rooms, but you also hear a lot of sickness. Mixed messages. Fear-based recovery that is about staying one step ahead of our “disease.” I don’t know if I agree with all of that. That is why one of the slogans is “take what you like and leave the rest.” And of course, “to thine own self be true.” What works for another might not work for me. The 12 steps are meant to be lived, I believe, not worked: perhaps, yes, after initially going through them with a sponsor (when they might as well be in German.) But then what? I think the message of recovery can often be misinterpreted as one of continuous self-improvement. But what I think we are after is continuous self-acceptance. Allowance. Surrender. Letting things be. Stopping the tinkering. Stopping listening to our minds and then running out and trying to do something to fix things and make it all better. We can try to use the 12 steps to fix ourselves and get so healthy and pure and spiritual that we never have to bother with earthbound issues again, but that is a hoax. There’s no arrival and no graduation, no grade or quiz. We don’t get rid of our humanness. We learn how to be human with a little more peace and serenity. To stop fighting our humanness in all of its messiness and glory and fascinating patterns.

Then again, this might just be my perception. But it feels pretty good, arriving to this place right now. There’s nothing I need to do. Nothing I need to fear. Let me just sit here a while and listen to the sound of my fan blowing across the room.

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