My Spiritual Awakening was of the educational variety, as cited in Appendix II, ‘Spiritual Experience’, the Big Book of AA. Others saw the change in me before I realised it myself. I see today that my family of origin had been at ease with me well before I remarked the change within myself. My mother has consistently enjoyed my visits, my company and service these past years. My sister, since accepting my amends twenty four years ago, has enjoyed my visits too whenever I’ve called home. I won’t describe here what a turnaround that is in my history with her. And, as I look back, my elder brother, arch enemy of my sacred ego, has been relaxed around me too these past years. In the old days, I hovered about them, hand on pistol, watching, judging, ready to pounce, to get my revenge in first and protect my bristling sense of myself. And recently, on the street where I live, four years after making amends, those neighbours whom I voyeured for years have asked me to keep an eye on their house! They were going away for the weekend. God has a sense of humour.
I did recognise these miracles as singular deviations from my standard behaviour. At my father’s funeral, I let my elder brother, the eldest son, take his rightful place at the head of the coffin. Against the grain of our history, I did not contest place of prominence with him. Instead, I quietly took my place at the back. I was five years in Sexaholics Anonymous at the time; had worked the steps and had some recovery behind me. I had been dreading the choreography of the occasion; dreading how my ego would endure public subordination to my elder brother. He was tense too. I could see that. But the transforming power of that act changed our relationship. And today, eight years on, we are still on civil terms with each other. While I noticed the miracle of humility wrought within me, it did not occur to me that I might have been on the threshold of that personality change spoken of in Appendix II; the personality change sufficient to bring about freedom from sexaholism.
Only recently, meditating over a trivial encounter, did I dare to think that I too may have had a spiritual awakening. A stray cat wandered up the wall at the back of my kitchen. Half her tail was missing along with a swathe of hair on her left flank. I handed her up a saucer of milk and, for my reward, I reached up to pat her. But she recoiled and moved away. I persisted, reaching out for her to let me pat her for my kindness, but she would not move forward again until I backed away. Watching her lap the milk on her terms, I asked myself, ‘By what Grace am I standing here, spurned by that cat, yet happily watching her drink my milk? Where has the old personality gone, the one that would have taken the milk away as punishment for her defiance?’
I was thirteen years in Sexaholics Anonymous; still working the steps, failing, falling, slipping, getting back up again, working the steps again, attending meetings and working with an inspiring sponsor.
Again, a few days later, I had pause to reflect and ask if indeed a pattern of personality change was afoot. I was on the phone, passing advice to a sponsee over a long-standing issue that was bothering him. When he called a few days afterward, I asked him how my advice was going. He told me that he didn’t like the advice I gave him and that, in his opinion, I had overstepped the mark as a Twelve Step sponsor. Well! I drew myself up, lowered both barrels and took aim, ready to blast him away when I paused – somehow - drew breath, and let him finish speaking. When did patience trump indignation in my experience? Holding the phone away and praying for patience, it came to me that this man had every right, in this instance, to take or leave my advice. In the old days, I would have fired him on the spot for insubordination. Once more I asked myself, ‘What has happened to you that you are not gagging at having your kindness rejected?’
Was I experiencing the kind of recovery I had heard the Sexaholics Anonymous winners talk about? The ability, by God’s Grace, to endure; to stay on the phone, continue supporting a sponsee even as he contested the advice and my right to give it! The thought that a Power greater than me was acting through me filled me with more joy than ego-based rage and indignation ever did.
This joy has been further kindled now that I have taken on board a lesson I learned at a recent Sexaholics Anonymous convention abroad. Feeling tired, pressured and claustrophobic amongst 150 attendees and after a number of intense sessions, I entertained a dislike toward certain members. I understood too that the feeling was mutual. The resentment got so bad that, during a pause in a particular session, I left the hall to find somewhere quiet where I could be with my Higher Power. With prayer, I calmed down and got through the weekend extending courtesy to all.
Sharing the experience afterward with my sponsor and with trusted members, I learned the difference between disliking someone and resenting someone: to me, they had always been the same thing. Today however, I accept that it is natural to like some people and not to like others. By the same token, there are people who like me and just as naturally there are people who dislike me.
My sponsor put it well. ‘Some people like the colour blue and some don’t. It’s the same with people. I like some people whom you don’t like and vice-versa. Today, we try to be mature and not focus our magic-magnifying minds upon their defects of character until we burn with resentment. This is being grown-up, living life on life’s terms.’
Since then my relationship with those to whom I don’t relate so easily has changed and I have noticed the difference it makes in me. I am not endlessly consumed with resentment, nor do I have to feel guilty about not liking someone. Today, I can pray for someone I dislike and be civil and of service to him or her. In the old days, I just pouted and gave the cold shoulder. Today too, I can pray for those who dislike me. This frees me from the old, self-imposed obligation to contort and twist myself into the shape that might find approval from the person I was talking to; it frees me from resenting those who wouldn’t buy the version of myself I was wearing. These were situations that used to baffle me. Today, I am free of them; free to live my own truth and free from the exhausting effort of trying to be liked. Living by these truths is such a joy and such a shift in my attitudes and beliefs that I truly believe my spirit has awakened.
Now I see so many examples of a spiritual awakening: readiness to express gratitude; an appetite for wisdom, patience and tolerance over impulsivity; praying for others - especially for any lust-trigger that passes me; an appreciation of peace of mind, and of the freedom from having to constantly rescue my ego by replaying grievances over and over again, trying to change the result; awareness of the privilege of being fully alive, of knowing and being me; my right to set healthy boundaries for myself and the importance of respecting the boundaries of others; the courage to be friends with someone, even though friends do have rows; the wisdom and skill to detach healthily from dysfunctional relationships; and, in all of this, the peace and joy that come with improving conscious contact with my Higher Power.
These precious gifts are mine one day at a time. My sobriety, and therefore my serenity, are contingent upon the daily maintenance of my spiritual health. This spirit of mine is fragile. It burns quickly under lust and resentment. It shrivels up under self-based fears. However, I can stay strong by continually working the steps; by prayer; by attending meetings and by being of service; by making healthy connections; and by surrendering any urge to indulge a fantasy, a resentment or to retreat with fear.
My defects are like weeds: they grow quickly around my spirit if I neglect it. One unweeded defect at a time, I would be returned to my old way of life by my old attitudes, beliefs and ideas; the ones I grew up with. When they encroach, these attitudes confine me to a life of addiction. They place me at the centre of a world that will not be the way I want it to be; and when my ego crumbles under that reality, the pain is unbearable. I run away, retreating into the darkest corners of my mind; recede further and further into unreality. Inevitably, I medicate with compulsive, ever more destructive sexual behaviour. It is joyless; a solitary, controlling, fear-based existence. The Twelve Steps are the best pruning tools for unbinding the ego from my spirit and allowing me to live in the light of day.
Learning to live against the grain of my nature was not easy. Change hurts, especially at first, like a couch-potato hauling himself to the gym those first few weeks. It can still be challenging today, when I am stressed or when my spiritual health falters. AA old-timers say, ‘Staying sober is simple: Don’t drink and change your whole life.’ And again, ‘…the result was nil until we let go absolutely.’ AA p.58.
I had to let go absolutely of all the unhealthy attitudes, ideas and beliefs that I had lived by. Mind you, the depth of pain to which I had sunk, weighed down by those old attitudes, made me hungry for change. The pain was worth it. My life is unrecognisable today. I am unrecognisable to myself today. Sure, there have been slips and falls and fights and nights of staring at the ceiling in fevers of resentment, of rage and sorrow. But these pass.
I am myself today; no more slinking around in shame and secrecy. The chains of ego and sex addiction are behind me so long as I keep trudging forward. By staying spiritually fit, by living life on life’s terms, I feel finally grown-up. My spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health have never been better. Today, I can say that, by God’s Grace, it is truly great to be alive.