Finding a God of My Understanding

My parents were not religious at all, and I was brought up with more of an ethnic and cultural identity than a religious one. When I met the man I would marry, I found that his family was much more religiously-oriented than mine; his brother was even a religious leader. My husband wanted us to follow religious teachings and so I agreed to do that. We had four children and taught them the principles of our faith. We even sent them to religious school for education. We followed the tenets and were a “religious family.”

Then sexaholism broke through all the boundaries of our religion and came full force into our home. My view of religion became very negative and I was angry. I had participated in religious activities in order to be a “good wife” and not create problems, yet this disease had brought insanity into our home.

I was still feeling angry when I started going to S-Anon meetings. In my group there was an older woman who seemed very different than me and who talked about God and how important God was to her. She would say in the meetings time and time again to“hit your knees.”  Whenever she said that, I wanted to leave because I was not about to have anything to do with God. I kept coming to meetings, but I wouldn’t sit next to her.

I went on for many months rejecting the “God part” of the program. I would walk in the mornings and recite the Twelve Steps. I would go to meetings almost nightly, but I would not accept that there was a power greater than myself. One day as I was walking and obsessing about a hypothetical conversation that might or might not ever happen, it occurred to me that even though I didn’t believe in God, I could call a higher being “HP.” I felt fairly comfortable with that. Even though I was doubtful that HP could do anything for me, I began visualizing a little gnome sitting on my left shoulder. This little shoulder gnome was with me all the time and believed in me. When my thoughts became too terrifying for me, I talked to the little gnome and I felt better. It took another six or seven months before I took that woman’s suggestion and “hit my knees.” I remember that morning and the relief I felt by taking the action of going to my knees. I knew then that I, too, could have a God of my understanding who would be with me and help me. In my Step Two process I became acutely aware that religion and spirituality were not the same, and I could believe in God as I have come to understand God. That is a comforting thought for me.

Reprinted from S-Anon Twelve Steps, pages 18-19.

Giving the Outcome to God

I remember reading Step three and thinking “I can do this!” Making a decision felt comfortable; that is, a decision is an action, something to do. I’m much better at doing than not doing something. So I “did” Step three; I “decided” every day, every hour, every minute, but I found no relief.

Then it was suggested that once I made the decision, I needed to let go — to surrender. “How does one let go?” I asked myself. I pictured myself holding my husband as he was dangling over the edge of a cliff. Surely letting go would not be caring or loving! To me the word “surrender” implied being forced to do something against my will. Would God force me to do something against my will? Would He expect me to abandon the one I loved? I couldn’t make sense of this, and I prayed and prayed about it.
Then in a meeting, a woman shared about her “God Jar” and about how her life had become peaceful. I had seen a change in her over the months, so I asked her after the meeting to explain her “God Jar.” The idea was to write down on a piece of paper exactly what I wanted to give to God, then drop it (let go of it) into the jar. Taking the thought out of my mind and putting it on paper, then putting the piece of paper into the jar (God’s hands) seemed like a helpful, visual, concrete action to me. Driving home, I began to dismiss the whole idea. When that familiar sinking sensation returned as I drove in my driveway, I decided to try the God Jar anyway. If it didn’t work, I just wouldn’t tell anyone. I found a large jar in a cabinet and wrote down the obsessive thoughts that were spinning in my mind about my husband’s sexaholism and our marriage. I decided to let God have the situation, and I let the note fall into the jar.

I didn’t expect much, but by the next morning I was pleasantly surprised by a sense of peace that I had not known before. I sat down and wrote lots of little notes to add to the jar. On New Year’s Eve, seven months after I began using the God Jar, I opened the jar and read each little note. I could see that almost all my requests had been granted, but not necessarily in the way I had pictured in my mind. Rather, they had been answered completely and beautifully, in surprising and unforeseen ways. Thank God my Higher power is bigger than my imagination!

It has been over three years since I surrendered my husband’s sexaholism and surrendered our marriage to God. I didn’t understand how my husband could choose to continue to act out and not seek recovery, but I had the courage and the strength to let the marriage go when it became time. Today, I am grateful to God for the gifts of that relationship, the changes that have occurred in my life, my rich relationship with my Higher Power and more people who really love me than I could ever have imagined.

Reprinted from S-Anon Twelve Steps, pages 33-34.

Willing to Let Go of All These Defects of Character

By working Steps Four and Five I became aware that jealousy had always been a major problem for me. Even though my recovering partner and I had not yet made a formal commitment to each other, I resented any woman with whom he interacted, regardless of whether or not there was cause to be angry. My resentful feelings were especially acute when my fear of rejection and abandonment surfaced. I acted out these feelings by pouting and withdrawing from my partner and being cold and distant toward the woman. When anger fueled my jealousy, it really did seem that I could control my partner with the force of my angry feelings. I had difficulty understanding that what I had used to survive in this relationship was a “character defect.” I could not imagine how our rela- tionship would last if I was not trying to control how he related to other women.

I talked about my jealousy character defect in my Fifth Step, and from time to time I did feel willing to have the jealousy removed, but my fear was great, and I did not know how to become any more “ready.” I tried replacing feelings of inadequacy and inferiority with thoughts of the love and care of my Higher Power. I knew I needed to get my sense of self-worth from a relationship with a real Higher Power, not a human one, but I still struggled with being “entirely ready.”

One night I sat outside his apartment in my car, knowing that a woman with whom he had been in treatment was visiting him. He was working a good recovery program and I was seeing the results of that, so I had no reason to believe there was anything inappropriate about her visit with him. Yet my jealousy, driven by feelings of betrayal from the past, made my pain nearly unbearable. I hated my partner, the woman, and myself, and I felt like a rat in a trap with no way out. I knew I could never be happy, joyous and free if I was jealous of every woman with whom he had a conversation. I thought to myself, “I can’t live this way,” and for the first time I finally accepted the truth that my partner’s attention was his to give, not mine to control. God granted me a gut-level awareness that the pain of holding onto my jealousy was worse than the pain would be if the relationship ended (my greatest fear). In that moment I finally felt entirely ready to be rid of my jealousy.

This process of becoming entirely ready was a powerful lesson in how a particular defect works for me (for example, by providing an illusion of control) and works against me (usually by reducing my ability to love and care for others and myself ). I learned that becoming “willing” takes as long as it takes. The pain of holding onto this destructive defect of character had to become worse than my fear of change. This incident helped me learn that regardless of the issue, I can turn my will and my life as well as my character defects over to my Higher Power, trusting in His love and care for me.

Reprinted from S-Anon Twelve Steps, page 67-68.

Using Prayer to Change the Things I Can

A discussion on the Eleventh Step in an S-Anon couples meeting led me to question exactly how I could improve my conscious contact with my Higher Power. Even after many years of attending S-Anon and finding freedom from many of the effects of sexaholism, I was aware that I tended to forget my Higher Power during the day when things were going well. I decided to use a favorite prayer, the Third Step prayer (found on page 63 of Alcoholics Anonymous), whenever possible during the day to improve communication with my Higher Power. I wanted to use this prayer to increase my conscious contact with God and as a reminder to humbly give myself over to my Higher Power. I made the commitment to stay open to whatever my Higher Power might show me and to carry out God’s will to the best of my ability. I decided to use my commuting time to begin the process. I was usually an angry, aggressive person behind the wheel, a habit I still had from the crazy days of reacting to sexaholism. I knew from recent Tenth Step inventories that this was an area of my life that required major revision. The first change I made was choosing to stay in one lane instead of weaving and racing through traffic. When traffic stopped or slowed to a crawl, I began my prayer. Whenever I was stopped at a traffic light, I recited the prayer, repeating it over and over until it was time to move again.

Before the month was over I sensed a welcome change in my attitude in many areas of my life. I found serenity on the roadways — abstinence from “road rage.” I was feeling better about myself and about my relationships. Then my employer made cuts in staff, and I was one of those who lost their job.

Like virtually anyone in that situation, I suffered great anger and distress for several days. When I shared my feelings at my S- Anon meeting, the group helped me come to accept those feelings and also helped me to see what a great opportunity this was for me. The group became the source of my awareness of my Higher Power acting in my life, even in that situation. They could see the advantages of my position and the unlimited opportunities open to me to make a positive change in my line of work. I became aware that moving on to work that I loved was another way in which I could do my Higher Power’s will for me. This realization put to rest the fear that God’s will for me must always be unpleasant or downright burdensome. My group and I celebrated the change, and the fellowship has continued to support me as I have moved into a new career.

Reprinted from S-Anon Twelve Steps, pages 134-135.

Making “Living” Amends

During our early adult years, my brother and I had a very strained relationship. I felt he had physically and emotionally abused me as a child. For my safety, I chose to become very remote from him. As time went by, what had once seemed like a necessary attitude of detachment became a punishing coldness. Working the Steps made it clear that my serenity depended on keeping my behavior “clean,” regardless of the behavior of others. I knew it was time to make amends for my own punishing, abusive behavior, yet I felt stuck. I was afraid that if I made direct amends to my brother, he would attack me verbally. I needed to be able to make the amends safely.

I brought the problem of making this amends to my sponsor. She suggested I make a “living” amends. As a start, she suggested that each time I encountered my brother on the telephone or in person, I actively initiate a friendly “Hello, how are you?” — each and every time. After several months, I noticed that I was less tense around him. We actually seemed to be somewhat friendly with each other. This was certainly progress.

Her next suggestion was that whenever I was in his presence I should try to stay in the same room he was in, at least for a brief time. I had spent years going from room to room to avoid his presence at family gatherings. Staying put was very awkward for me initially, but as time passed, it became more comfortable. Slowly I began to have more compassion for him and began to separate my brother, the human being, from the sexaholism that affected all of us.

Over time we began to interact with one another. Today, I can ask his advice on topics about which he is knowledgeable. Our relationship has grown tremendously, and I am grateful because now we must all contribute and communicate to cope with our mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease. Does this improved relationship mean I have forgotten my brother’s abusive behavior? No, but I have worked hard at my own healing in therapy and through Step work. I thank God for my recovery from the abuse and for the benefits I have received from following my sponsor’s suggestions on this amends.

Reprinted from S-Anon Twelve Steps, page 103-104.

Identifying with Our Fellow S-Anons

I came to S-Anon hoping to find answers. I wanted to know the statistics on his chances of acting out again and how soon it was going to be. Though I didn’t find statistics, I did find a supportive group who gave me unconditional love, acceptance and understanding. At a gut level they understood my situation like no one else could — not the therapist I was seeing, not my sisters, not my friends. I was in so much pain, and I was so angry. The group helped me to see that I cannot control a sexaholic’s behavior and that I am powerless over trying to control him. Today, with the help of this fellowship and the Twelve Steps, I am happy. I am grateful to have this program and to be in this relationship with a recovering sexaholic. I also am excited and hopeful for the futures of my children, perhaps the ultimate recipients of what I’m doing today.

Reprinted from S-Anon Twelve Steps, page 9.

Not Our Reponsibility

We had learned to be reactors rather than responders in our relationships. Some of us had taken part in the sexaholic’s activities in an attempt to hold the relationship together; others had lectured and scolded in vehement opposition. Some of us had cried and pleaded and asked for promises. Others had suffered quietly, hoping and praying, afraid to tell anyone about the problem. Many of us had tried all of the above.

We became preoccupied, even obsessed, with the sexual behavior of another person. We were suspicious and tried to catch the sexaholic practicing the addiction. Some of us denied the problem, refusing to acknowledge to ourselves or others the source of our guilt, fear, and confusion. We isolated ourselves from those closest to us in an attempt to keep our secrets. We suffered fear, anxiety, depression, guilt, loneliness, rage and a lack of energy and motivation.

In S-Anon we come to realize that just as we did not cause the sexaholic’s acting out, we cannot “cure” it either. We learn that it is not our responsibility to keep the sexaholic sexually sober. Instead, it is our job to manage our own lives, whether or not the sexaholic chooses sobriety.

Reprinted from S-Anon Twelve Steps, page 2.

Step Eight and Being of Service

When I first heard people say in S-Anon meetings that they were focusing on themselves, I thought this sounded like a selfish and self-absorbed fellowship. In my childhood, I was taught that giving to others first was the way to go. Being generous and self-sacrificing was being good. How could focusing on myself be of any good to anyone including me? Working through the Twelve Steps has been an opportunity for me to examine my motives and my relationship with God and others. Through the Twelve Steps and using other tools of the program, I have learned to focus on myself. I saw the truth about harm I had caused others and myself in my noble effort to be helpful. How could trying to be helpful be harmful? That didn’t make much sense to me for a long time. I still sometimes forget.

I found S-Anon was a fellowship that welcomed me and allowed me to collapse in exhaustion and despair. Even in program, I needed to feel helpful, worthwhile, and approved of. What would I do if I couldn’t do for others what they weren’t doing? There was plenty of stuff around that needed to be done. Who’s going to do it? Why not me? Read more

Becoming Accountable for Our Choices

Step Eight suggested that we begin to “own” our character defects and take responsibility for the choices we made, but many of us were so accustomed to thinking of ourselves as the wronged party that we could not see how we had wronged others. Reviewing our Fourth Step helped us to recognize people we had harmed. In any past relationship, were we attentive, loving and forgiving, or were we preoccupied, bitter or resentful? We put all the people we had harmed, including ourselves, on our list. If some of the people on the list had also harmed us, we worked toward forgiveness, recognizing that continuing to blame other sick people would just prolong our misery. When we did not feel willing or able to do this, we asked our Higher Power for help until we did feel willing.

Reprinted from Working the S-Anon Program, 2nd Edition, page 26.


Willing to Go to Any Lengths

When I came to S-Anon, I had been stuck on Step Eight in another Twelve Step program for a long time. I had a list and I knew the people to whom I needed to make amends. I was willing enough to say “I’m sorry” and to reach out to re-establish relationships with those I had harmed the most — my children from my first marriage from whom I had been estranged. Yet a thought kept going through my mind: “There’s something else I have to do. There’s more to this Step than I have been able to face.”

Through working the Steps again from an S-Anon point of view, I experienced many changes in my life. I became aware of the nature of my own unhealthy behavior in certain relationships and situations. I experienced a wonderful freedom from feelings of guilt and shame. Then I received a letter from my sixteen-year-old daughter that felt like a slap in the face. She essentially said that she needed a mother who would take an active role in her life and that if I wanted a relationship with her, I would have to do my part by at least living in the same city as she did, rather than on another continent. Her message reminded me of a line from the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous: “The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it.” Read more