- 2011 -
Most of the people brave or crazy enough to start a twelve step program end up dropping out around Step 4. That’s where it gets tough.
If you make it that far, you begin work on what’s called a “moral inventory,” which is essentially a list of all the ways you’ve screwed up in your life. And not only that –– you must also come up with possible explanations why you screwed up, or thought that it was a good idea at the time.
Of course, spending days mulling over your biggest mistakes in life isn’t the cheeriest process. Eventually you start seeing patterns in it all. Longings you never knew you had begin popping up until it’s hard to recognize yourself. You come to realize that there were reasons for your stubbornness all along –– selfishness, lies, thoughtlessness. I think when we’re honest with ourselves, we’re pretty messed up deep down.
Days passed in my one-bedroom apartment without event. After completing the first month of the Recovery curriculum, I found myself sitting on the floor of my apartment, squinting line by line over my biggest downfalls. Tim listened intently from the couch nearby, his hands folded in front of him.
It was sloppy. I guess it probably always is. It went like this: I fessed up about every resentment I could think of and still held on to, then any guilt, then any fear, and last of all, any perversive behavior. I tried to relate my anger with Ashleigh for leaving, my shame in concealing myself from her and not having tried harder to make her stay. I first began to see, also, the fear that would haunt me for many months afterwards: the fear that I might be abandoned by everyone else.
Every so often, Tim would ask me if I thought I saw any patterns in the inventory. One showed up pretty quickly: almost every single time I found myself broken, by myself or others, I would seek out isolation –– and I don’t mean just being alone in my room or something.
I would retreat far from people. Withdrawing my trust, I became skeptical of every motive around me, moving away, mastering the art of self-protection. I remember thinking it an admirable quality.
But self-preservation is the main predator of honest relationship. Getting close with other human beings was the most dangerous, difficult thing I’ve ever done. It’s bound to cost much, and gain, hopefully, the greater. Life, as I imagined it as a child, has become so much harder than I ever thought it could be. But as a result, it’s also much better than I ever could have anticipated.
- 2004 -
I pulled into the BJ’s drive-through while still changing clothes and ordered a cheeseburger in nothing but my underwear. I learned this trick early on in my high school career –– jumping into the car in a baseball uniform and emerging on the other side of town in a show choir tuxedo or something. Occasionally I was lucky to fit in a quick meal.
Today it was basketball to some formal National Honor Society meeting. After turning my order in, I pulled some slacks on and found an old tie in the back seat of my ’94 Grand Am. I wrapped it around my bare neck and braided it together sloppily. But I didn’t care. I’d been out of it all day –– very seriously out of it –– at least since the breakfast table that morning…
I managed to get my shirt buttoned before the waitress made it out to the stand with my food. I handed her some cash, only barely coherent, and scarfed the meal down on the short drive to the high school.
I considered not returning home after the meeting. The thought of it made me sick to my stomach.
I texted a friend of mine and he said I could crash at his place for the night, as long as I could wait a few hours until after his family had dinner. I reluctantly agreed and, without another option, went home.
After slipping in through the front door and finding the living room quiet and empty, I sprawled onto the couch and didn’t move. Mom came by and tried to talk. I pretended to be asleep.
No matter what, I couldn’t sleep, though. Not while my head kept whirring with the conversation I’d had with my dad that morning.
I couldn’t even remember how it started, but things had gotten heated in the middle of breakfast. I told Dad for the first time that I didn’t really want to play basketball that season –– that I didn’t like the sport all that much and was already busy with other school activities. I told him it was my choice whether or not I played.
But Dad was adamant. The argument dissolved into shouting in the kitchen; Mom hurried around here and there, getting Mandi ready, trying to stay out of the line of fire as Dad and I yelled needlessly back and forth. Eventually, tempers grew to a boiling point:
“If I have to play, I’m just going to tell everyone you made me,” I yelled.
“Really?” Dad shot back, a fire growing in his eyes. “How about this, you want me to tell everyone what you’ve been looking at on the computer?”
I froze. Mom glanced at me uncomfortably.
“I know what you’ve been looking at. I found all of it.”
It took a couple moments to really come to terms with the fact that I’d been found out.
It felt something like shrinking, like becoming an ant, right there beside the refrigerator. I couldn’t formulate any words to defend myself. The silence crushed all my will power.
Dad had left the room then. He didn’t need to say anything else. I wouldn’t consider quitting the basketball team again after that.
I stayed on the couch until my head started hurting. I sat up after that, and stared at the coffee table, through the coffee table. Where was my ride? How long could family dinner last?
Mom walked by, eyeing me with concern before she disappeared into the basement. Why did I feel so guilty for not wanting to play?
Although I’d grown to love most sports I played, I’d spent a good majority of my life trying to communicate how I mostly just participated because I knew I was expected to. And the shame in having my online porn stash discovered was only a small wound compared to the mountains of failure I heaped on myself –– to the idea I’d acquired somewhere along the way that in order to gain any worth or love, I had to perform well.
So I kept playing basketball, and by my senior year, became a team captain (in football and baseball, too). I acted as the lead in almost every drama production, became a section leader in the show choir, yearbook editor-in-chief, National Honor Society president, SHOK leader, church worship leader, among other things. I did everything I could to work myself into the good graces of my parents and community, motivated by the mortifying fear of failing.
I graduated in the top of my class. I got accepted into a respected university. I etched my name into plaques on the walls of the Lamar High School and married my sweetheart, securing my title as one of Lamar’s many golden boys.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, I’d been formulating a life plan and clinging tight to it: all good things in life come by trying harder, doing more, and performing better.