For those who aren’t in 12-step recovery, that word probably ushers in thoughts of Starbucks-fuelled grad students counting sweaters in the back of H&M as one part of their under-paid job requirements. Knit-One Pearl-Two while the supervisor, youngest of the crew, checks off the stock pars and lists any extra items or items that are damaged.
For those of us in 12-step, inventory has another connotation. Inventory is where we take stock of our selves. We look back and document resentments, fears, sex harms and other harms through a process of identification and clarification. We seek to put down on paper the exact nature of the things that get us and keep us squirrely. We take an honest look at our behaviours and thoughts and what really drives them. We write to discover the truth about our lies.
Fun stuff, eh?
Well, who amongst us is really into looking that deep into ourselves, into our less-than-shining moment, into our dark past? Who is interested in dredging up the muck from days gone by? No one, but it’s important for many of us to peer into the abyss and assess the damage before it gets into the red zone. It’s vital to those who are suffering to keep drink and/or drug out of hand to get a handle on what makes us tick. For those who want to change how they approach life, it’s a tonic to the old way of handling things.
Again – fun, huh?
Personally, I don’t mind the process. I like it in some strange way. It can be difficult at times, but it can also illuminate the unlit crevices of my spiritual and mental make-up. It also brings into the light the stuff that I don’t want to come out. It forces me to examine the lies that I have created to forge my façade. It demands that I take a look at the stuff that is eating away at me from the inside out.
The first time I did inventory, it was about 60 pages long, all hand-written in neat little columns and it took me several days to share with my sponsor. (Inventory is step 4. Sharing it with another human is step 5). It took me way longer than it should have, but I did it. And writing it all down – the bad and the ugly (no good in this one) – left me bereft of hiding spots. It was all out.
Or at least everything I was conscious of at that time.
What inventory does is that it shows precisely why we do and act the way we do. It uncovers warped coping mechanisms, uneven thinking and illogical actions. For me, it was an epiphany of sorts. It lay to waste all my lies and justifications. It allowed me to take an objective view into my own head. And for a muddled and foggy dude like myself, I needed that clarity.
Many people bolt when it comes to doing this step. All but one of my sponsees have jumped ship at this point. For many, it comes across as daunting and overwhelming. “Why do I need to bring all this crap up? I’m not drinking – isn’t that good enough?” some cry out, pulling hair and gnashing teeth (note – no one was pulling hair and gnashing teeth). I know guys who have been in the program for years and refuse to touch this exercise. Some knock on that door and then leave before they put pen to paper.
Yes, it can be overwhelming, but the truth is that once I started the process, it was easy to continue. I had to take a non-judgemental attitude towards myself. Sure, I did some crappy things in my time. I did some stuff that to this day makes me cringe and suck in my teeth and wonder who that madman was. But I had to plod through the work to see my part in all of this. You see, the whole thing comes down to this: all my problems are of my own making.
Let me repeat: ALL of my problems are of my OWN making.
Yup – everything. Doesn’t mean that if some dude comes in off the street, punches me and runs away that it’s my fault. That’s ludicrous. But what is my fault is if I continue to resent that guy. If I stew in those bitter juices for years and years. If I take it out on others. If I let it get to me that much. To play victim. That is what the inventory gets into. What am I doing to perpetuate my own suffering? Or what did I do to turn everything ass-over-tea kettle?
Look, there are countless articles on this step. Countless worksheets and lectures and seminars and all that jazz. I work straight from the book and keep it simple. I like simple. I can complicate a toothpick, so simple keeps me honest. And honesty is what it’s all about. An honest searching and fearless moral inventory of myself. Whatever I hide is what will keep my thinking sick. Those deep, nasty secrets I want to take to the grave with me? They will take me to the grave sooner if I don’t drag them into the light. And I had to share it all. In doing so, I became a free man. And share it I must continue to do.
I mention inventory here because I am dire need of it these days. I have been holding resentments and playing into fears for a while now. I have been whistling in the dark, hoping to keep my spirits up while nervously looking around the shadows. I am currently on that step in my NA work but will have expedite the process by doing it the way I used to. To get the relief I need.
Resentments have been at me lately, and I have been working on self-reliance (oooh, bad idea) and self-will (even worse idea). I have been neglecting my conscious contact. I have been allowing these things to add up, without even being fully conscious. And where does this bring me? My wife told me the other day that I have not been myself lately. She has been up late at night anxious about me (the last time she was up like that was just before I got arrested and got outed for my alcoholic self). My mother emailed me yesterday and mentioned that I sounded like my old self on the phone and she was worried.
So, there it is. Restless, irritable and discontented. Not at toxic levels, but enough for others to notice and for me to feel off-kilter. I recognize some of the things I feel now are similar to those when I wrote my first inventory years ago. I have written smaller ones since, but I get the feeling this is going to cut deep. I am already bracing myself to face some things I have been unable or unwilling to face as of late. Lies I have been telling myself. Stories that no longer serve me. And it’s going to be tough, but I will do it, because I need me. My family needs me present. My work and other parts of my life need me to be emotionally and mentally available. Wrapped up in me is a bad place to be.
There is a line in the header of this blog. Right after “Message in a Bottle” is the phrase “swimming in big chunks of truth”. Well, that’s where I’m headed now. In the deep end of the pool where all that stuff is. I may have some fear, but I have a greater fear of what I will become if I don’t do this. And hey, this is stuff we just have to do. Often. It’s not like I’m breaking down the Berlin wall here, but I am certainly trying to crash down some of my self-imposed barriers. Barriers to my authentic self and a life of service and giving back. Of serenity. Of living life on life’s terms.
Just another chapter in a life worth living. And celebrating. One dusty box at a time.