Owning Up, Part II
This is the second part of a two part series on “Owning Up, Emotional Honesty.” In the first part, I discussed the confessional-box tradition I grew up in and my many years of therapy.
In this part, I discuss the importance of what twelve-steppers refer to as the “rooms,” the meeting places where we go to “share,” as they say, “our experience, strength, and hope.”
Those of us in peer-group recovery programs like AA, NA,
OEA, and SA know very well the importance of hanging out in “the rooms.”
They are often cold, damp church basements with concrete walls that have been painted over so many times they begin to look like melting taffy. But they are the rooms where I go three or four times a week, if not more, to learn how to live in the real world.
As a recovering alcoholic of over twenty-six years, I take great consolation in knowing that others in these church basements are struggling with all the issues that normal, earth-people deal with every day: money, relationships, anger, a boss, an adolescent child, a new job, or Verizon tech support.
It continues to remain a mystery to me that it takes some of us a lifetime to figure out what many people discover very early in the game. On the other hand, when I was first getting sober, the world seemed so new that I just assumed everybody else had solved the puzzle of living, while I felt like I was sitting on a stray piece of ice in the middle of one of the Great Lakes near where I live.
After all, the awareness level of an active addict comes close to an airline pilot’s line of sight in a thick ball of fog at Heathrow.
Addicts have never been known to be actively present to their lives. As an alcoholic, I can’t tell you how many days of teaching I missed, how many alcoholic flus I had, how many children’s birthday parties I copped out of, ensconced in my bedroom with a pounding hangover-headache.
When I was actively drinking, life, for me, was always the grand intruder. A child’s needs were always secondary. A wife’s fears were irrelevant. A father’s sickness was always something I had to attend to. Love, in my alcoholic world was nothing more than loyalty with resentment.
Some of the old timers in the recovery rooms are adamant about not turning meetings into therapy. Many of them, of course, have never been in therapy and often scoff at what they think therapy is all about. I am sure many of them think that therapy is nothing more than a whining session, a new-age soft environment where a patient just complains, the therapist listens, and the health insurance picks up the tab.
Therapy, of course, differs from the recovery rooms on many levels. First of all, therapy requires an “expert,” a professionally trained counselor. In recovery rooms, on the other hand, as addicts and alcoholics, we “share”; we aren’t supposed to offer psychological advice or guide a person through a marital crisis. And we don’t teach someone how to accept their sexual orientation or how to survive sexual abuse.
There may be some therapists in one of our twelve-step program meetings, but they are there as recovering alcoholics and alcoholics, not therapists.
Secondly, therapy often engages a client in some very deep psychological secrets that only a therapist has been entrusted by the client to be privy to. These are secrets that, if revealed, could be devastating to a client’s professional and personal relationships. And, ideally, only a counselor is trained to deal with these secrets.
And sharing deep psychological issues in recovery rooms could be very dangerous to a recovering addict or alcoholic. Although most people at meetings I go to are relatively stable, there are some who could take advantage of anyone who might reveal those issues. More significantly, there is no guarantee that someone in the rooms might not openly judge someone about the moral or psychological content of some issues.
Lastly, the rooms are not the place to receive or give advice about what psychiatric meds to take. That’s what psychiatrists are for. As recovering addicts or alcoholics, we also have no business telling someone they should avoid all prescribed controlled substances. Those decisions should only made by a doctor and a patient or a patient’s family.
Saying all of that, what exactly should we be allowed to “share” at a meeting. Well, I come from the liberal school of recovery. Except for the caveats I mentioned above, I believe that any thing that affects my sobriety is fare game at a meeting.
That doesn’t mean I should give all the details of an issue, nor does it mean that I need to give names or addresses. But I certainly can generalize a personal conflict or an issue into an emotional or psychological category—fear, control, rage, lust, pride, vanity, resentment, trust, to name just a few. All of these categories, by the way, are referred to in the twelve-step literature.
Emotional transparency, to me, is, and ought to be, an essential goal in the rooms. Some old timers and recovery- literature thumpers get very uncomfortable at meetings where individuals share their emotions, information about their relationships, or get “too personal.” However, with some limits, I believe that the personal is what a recovery program is all about: my relationships with my children, my significant other, my friends, my co-workers, my business contacts, and even strangers who drift in and out of my life.
I’m not talking about revealing the details of sexual abuse, getting out of a maximum security prison, or unresolved psychiatric issues. But I am talking about being honest about my feelings, my behaviors, my rationalizations. Honesty is absolutely essential if I am going to do some hard-core changing in my recovery.
I have often been puzzled at the statement used in recovery rooms, “feelings are not facts.” If I’ve not acknowledged my feelings or have repressed them for most of my life, they become the undercover realities that need to come out of my emotional closet. Otherwise, I will continue to live in the dark world of my secrets. And secrets, we all know, are what we lived on in the throes of addiction.
In the end, I can’t hide in recovery literature. If I find myself quoting lines without internalizing how those lines apply to my life, then I live in some abstract world of other people’s words. I must bring all of the recovery language back to me—absorb it, feel it, be energized by it. Then I am ready to bring my new, honest, and open self to the world.
Honesty. Emotional Transparency. Owning Up. Living in the Present. Facing Life. Sharing experiences. It’s all good.