Addicts Need To Clean Out The Broom Closet

Q. In the past I stayed sober, but didn’t really feel it because I didn’t work the steps. Every time I try to start them, I give up. I think I am scared to do the actual step work because I hate bringing up my past. It causes resentments and depression all over again.

Imagine that we have a dirty kitchen. We sweep everything up, mop up the messes, and throw everything into the broom closet. We throw the garbage in there, too. Eventually we’re going to have to go in and clean out that closet. It’s a nasty job, but deodorant sprays can only do so much.

You can probably see where we’re going here. An addict’s head is the same way. We stuff all the nasty stuff and try to cover up the stink with alcohol and other drugs, but it gets worse and worse. When we try to do without the “deodorant,” we discover that it doesn’t work very well for us. At that point we can do one of two things: get high again (which hasn’t been working for us either) or go in and clean out the closet. It’s a nasty job, but we if we have help, and if we do a good job, it isn’t long until the kitchen is liveable again.

Most of us can relate to where you’re coming from. For just about any alcoholic or addict, looking at the past can be pretty scary. But if we never open the closet and look inside, how are we going to get rid of all the trash? It's impossible to make our past go away. We have only two options, deal with it, or turn our brains off again. There is no third way.

The 4th and 5th steps come where they are for a reason. They’re preceded by admitting that we’re powerless, that with help we can overcome the old obstacles, and becoming willing “to turn our lives over the the care of God as we understood him.” Whether or not we believe in god, we have to have that willingness. If we don’t, then we aren’t ready to do a 4th step, let alone a 5th.

The thing is, we don’t have to do it perfectly! We do the best we can. Maybe we’re not able to do a fearless inventory, but perhaps we can be a little bit fearless. The same is true of the 5th step. We can trust a little, and share what we’re able. The important part of that step is admitting to ourselves the exact nature of our wrongs, anyway, not someone else’s wrongs. If we were abused, were an abuser — no matter what our secrets are, it is always going to feel better to get them out and tell someone about them. That closet, remember?

Another thing: anyone who has been around the rooms for any length of time has heard things that would likely curl a newcomer's hair (and if our sponsor hasn’t been around for a while, we can find an old-timer to help us with the 4th and 5th — it’s allowed). The chances are pretty good that whoever we choose will have similar stories of their own. Most of us aren’t all that different. Remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect. We can always go back and repeat the step later — with a little more trust, and a little more fearless.

The important thing is to do the best we’re able — to get a start.  

Questions From Newcomers: How Do We Earn Respect And Trust When We Get Sober?

One of the common issues facing us in early recovery is the lack of trust and respect from others in our lives, whether family, friends or employers. While some — especially family — are often willing to accept our new, sober selves and welcome us back into the fold, there will always be some who find themselves unable to trust, and others who will continue to think of us as they did when we were active in our addictions — as worthless drunks and junkies.

And why shouldn't they? Compared to the chaos that we created when we were using, and the length of time involved, why should a few weeks or months of new found sobriety impress them? Most of us used for years, eroding the trust and often respect of practically everyone around us. How many unkept promises, how many financial fiascoes, how many drunken escapades, how much despair, worry and heartache did it take to damage those relationships?

That being the case, it's not the least bit surprising that it might take quite a while for folks to trust us, and to see that we really are trying to do the next right thing. The remains of our addict personalities (which certainly don't disappear simply because we put down booze and/or other drugs) don't help the situation, either. Defenses built up over years against our behavior can't be expected to disappear overnight. If we were in their positions, we'd behave the same way.

So, what can we do about it? Simply continue to live our sober lives. The only way that we can reasonably expect others to begin trust and respect us again is by earning that respect and trust — the same way anyone else would — by showing ourselves to be worthy of it. This doesn't happen overnight, just as it wouldn't with a stranger that we happened to meet. We would watch that person, trusting them a little more each day, until we came to consider them a friend we could count on. Is it not reasonable to expect that the same would be true of people who knew and were affected by us in our addictions? Where we have no reason but caution to be leery of strangers, those folks have plenty of reasons to worry about us. Most will get over it in time; others may never feel the same way about us as they used to. If that is the case, and if we have been unable to repair the relationships despite our best efforts, then we have to accept that things may never be the same. That can be painful, but we have to live with what is, not with what we might wish it to be. We need to remember that while we are responsible for making amends and righting wrongs to the extent that we can, we are not responsible for the way that others react to our efforts.

So we live our sober lives. We take care of our recovery by sticking with our support groups and doing what we need to do. Then we get jobs, pay bills, go back to school, carry out our obligations to our families and others, and generally live trustworthy lives that command respect. This isn't going to happen overnight — but the chances are good that it won't take nearly as long to regain people's regard as it did to damage it to begin with. Remember – most of them want to give us the same regard they used to, they're just afraid. It's up to us to show that it's safe for them to do so.

It's amazing how we often get what we are looking for in recovery, simply by living clean and sober, one day at a time.