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Archive for May, 2008

Where I’m At

Stage 8. Late Adulthood: 55 or 65 to Death

Ego Development Outcome: Integrity vs. Despair

Basic Strengths: Wisdom

Erikson felt that much of life is preparing for the middle adulthood stage and the last stage is recovering from it. Perhaps that is because as older adults we can often look back on our lives with happiness and are content, feeling fulfilled with a deep sense that life has meaning and we’ve made a contribution to life, a feeling Erikson calls integrity. Our strength comes from a wisdom that the world is very large and we now have a detached concern for the whole of life, accepting death as the completion of life.

On the other hand, some adults may reach this stage and despair at their experiences and perceived failures. They may fear death as they struggle to find a purpose to their lives, wondering "Was the trip worth it?" Alternatively, they may feel they have all the answers (not unlike going back to adolescence) and end with a strong dogmatism that only their view has been correct.

The significant relationship is with all of mankind—"my-kind."

(From) The Developmental Stages of Erik Erikson By Arlene F. Harder, MA, MFT


I was talking with a friend today, and she was telling me about being at work and wishing it was Friday, and her plans for that evening of working on a project with her daughter, house cleaning and laundry to be done. I said to her, "Your life must be filled with joy!" She said it was, and I’m know it’s true. I have had the great fortune of being able to spend a lot of time with her, her boyfriend, and children. I hope it is a joyful life for them, because it certainly gives me a great deal of joy to watch them!

But, in talking to her today I felt melancholic for those days in my life. It dawned on me that those days are behind me. This of course caused me to reflect on where I’m at in life now. I studied Erikson’s developmental stages years ago in college and looked up the previous passage to refresh my memory as to where I’m supposed to be at this point in life! What follows is a first attempt at deciding if I have reason for Integrity or Despair.

I would suppose that an assessment of one’s life should begin with looking back to one’s youthful hopes and dreams, then determine what was accomplished and what was not. But my problem is that I don’t remember having any…LOL. Though, I guess that’s not entirely true, "Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll" was my mantra from age 13 on. Even though I’m not particularly proud of it, I guess I did accomplish my youthful goals! Got strung out on every drug that was available at the time, and in the end, became a gutter hugging drunk. Had sex with hundreds of women. And certainly remember spending hours upon hours laying on the floor wasted/tripping or drunk listening to rock and roll! So, from this perspective I lived the life I set out to as a youth. Now is this a reason for Integrity or Despair?

In very early recovery this seemed to be a reason for despair. I was broken as a human being. My life up to this point was a source of a great deal of shame. I joined A.A., N.A. and S.A. in a desperate attempt to not only put that life behind me but to block it from memory. Fortunately, the twelve steps (particularly 9-12) helped me to put this youthful life in perspective. There is a passage in the Big Book that sums up my view now on this period of my life:

Showing others who suffer how we were given help is the very thing which makes life seem so worth while to us now. Cling to the thought that, in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have — the key to life and happiness for others. With it you can avert death and misery for them.

So, it would seem that God has turned what would have been a source of Despair in my life into a source of Integrity!

Update on "Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll": Have been in recovery for 19 years, leaving drugs/alcohol completely behind; have been in only three short term relationships since recovery, not entirely leaving sex behind but at least dramatically cutting back – progress not perfection in this area…LOL (will do a posting on these relationships soon); I don’t listen to Rock any more, but have been know to listen to Smooth Jazz for hours. I tell myself this is not the same, but maybe I’m just rationalizing…LOL!

I would suppose that the next thing to assess is what has or hasn’t been accomplished in my life that I wanted to since recovery began. I been trying to think of anything I wanted to do but haven’t. But I am finding hard to think of anything. I mean, there are things like "skydiving"…LOL. But, considering I have had real opportunities to do it and have backed out, I guess I really don’t Despair over not doing it! There is one thing I regret not accomplishing, having not found a long term intimate relationship. My friends assure me it is only a matter of time before I do…LOL. But, considering my track record so far: my relationships in recovery have been few and far between AND short lived, I am not hopeful. My last two Ex’s suggested that my relationship with them was but a training ground for the "real" one to come. If that is the case, I may have too much to learn before I am ready! Now is this a reason for Integrity or Despair? The verdict is still out on this one. So many people seem to be wrestling with this same issue, I’m not unique (Who knew?). And perhaps, there really is still time. Hope springs eternal.

As I look back over my time in recovery, I have accomplished some things I could not have imagined in my youth. I have raised a daughter who never saw her father drunk or high, and who knows I love her. Beginning with a 9th grade education I got a bachelor’s degree (BSW). I had a career where I rose to the top, and the performance of my job effected thousands of co-workers. I have sponsored so many people, many of which got AND stayed sober. I have gotten to participate in the transformation of so many lives. I founded numerous A.A. and N.A. groups (the oldest will be celebrating its 18th anniversary in June, "Aragona" A.A. group in Va. Beach). And have had the privilege to serve in just about every service position there is in the fellowships. There are two accomplishments in my recovery that go far beyond what I could have hoped for at any point in my life. The first is to experience the giving of love on all levels. From the 12th step call on the unknown drunk who didn’t want or understand unconditional love, to the intimate caress of a woman who could (even if for only brief moment) want and accept unconditional love. The second accomplishment is to receive the unconditional love of so many friends and strangers. What an incredible gift the giving and receiving of love is to my life.

Erikson says it is at this point in life we ask ourselves, "Was the trip worth it?" The answer seems to be "Yes". Since I’m just entering this final stage of life I’m sure that this assessment may change over time. But for now it will do. As I review what I have written, I have at this moment a sense of Integrity about my life. And hopefulness, my life is not over and many of my accomplishments can be enhanced or built on. Also, many can be enjoyed for years to come. And who knows, perhaps some day I’ll find someone to share it with!

We have shown how we got out from under. You say, "Yes, I’m willing. But am I to be consigned to a life where I shall be stupid, boring and glum, like some righteous people I see? I know I must get along without liquor, but how can I? Have you a sufficient substitute?"

Yes, there is a substitute and it is vastly more than that. It is a fellowship in Alcoholics Anonymous. There you will find release from care, boredom and worry. Your imagination will be fired. Life will mean something at last. The most satisfactory years of your existence lie ahead. Thus we find the fellowship, and so will you. ("A Vision for You" Big Book)

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The love I seek is so deep, so faithful and true, I wonder if I will ever find someone that will love me in the way I desire. It goes deeper than passion, but as simple as politeness. I desire understanding, and an unfaltering trust. Someone that other than my Father, that I can run to when the world is cruel. Someone who will warm my heart with kindness and firmly speak truth to me in love. Someone that will sit and read with me but will also dance in the rain with me. Love is a funny thing. So often "found" and not kept. Why? Well it is because it was never found, for if it was it would be like a treasure, held tightly and never let go, valued above other things.

A. Steele

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“Suddenly I realized what the matter was. My basic flaw had always been dependence — almost absolute dependence — on people or circumstances to supply me with prestige, security, and the like. Failing to get these things according to my perfectionist dreams and specifications, I had fought for them. And when defeat came, so did my depression.

There wasn’t a chance of making the outgoing love of St. Francis a workable and joyous way of life until these fatal and almost absolute dependencies were cut away.

Because I had over the years undergone a little spiritual development, the absolute quality of these frightful dependencies had never before been so starkly revealed. Reinforced by what Grace I could secure in prayer, I found I had to exert every ounce of will and action to cut off these faulty emotional dependencies upon people, upon AA, indeed, upon any set of circumstances whatsoever.

Then only could I be free to love as Francis had. Emotional and instinctual satisfactions, I saw, were really the extra dividends of having love, offering love, and expressing a love appropriate to each relation of life.

Plainly, I could not avail myself of God’s love until I was able to offer it back to Him by loving others as He would have me. And I couldn’t possibly do that so long as I was victimized by false dependencies.”

(Grapevine, January, Bill W.  1958) Full Article Here

This article has a great impact on me over the years. I first read it early in my sobriety when the book “Language of the Heart” was published. Of course back then I had little understanding of its implications for my life. At that time the only thing I could depend on for anything like “prestige, security, and the like” was A.A. its self. And fortunately, the oldtimers back then made sure that I didn’t depend on A.A. too much…LOL. And “Those adolescent urges that so many of us have for top approval, perfect security, and perfect romance…” had long past before coming into recovery.

The early years of recovery were like a fairy tale. Things I never dared dream of came true; higher education, career, family, deacon in a church, recognized member of the community, sponsoring lots of people, starting meetings, DCM, etc. Without realizing it, I had worked very hard to build the perfectionist dream the article talks about. For a time it seemed that I had achieved it AND that it would last forever!

But, alas, it all fell apart. The details of how all this came about will be discussed in another posting. Suffice it to say, it was about 50-50 between circumstances beyond my control and character defects that I had yet to recognize and work on. As my world fell apart I fell into a deep depression. It was at this time I picked up this article again. I must have read it a hundred times (along with the St Francis Prayer). As Bill W. said, I knew the answer was in that prayer, and that the action was to break those dependencies. But how? Once again, the answer was lost to me.

In the years that followed, the depression worsened. Circumstances and choices I made (which still seem right to me) pushed the hope of regaining that perfectionist dream ever farther away. Which I realize now, was the source of my depression. But, at the time, I could not see that. What I saw, was that my life (God) was conspiring to make me give up on all the things that I had thought would bring happiness! In fact, I came to believe that personal happiness (at least for me) was to be given up. During these years of depression, I threw myself into service to family, A.A., sponsees, etc. I gave up on career, friends, romance, prestige, security, etc. For this is how I came to interpret the St Francis prayer.  Had not St Francis himself given up great wealth, prestige, and romance to pursue a life of service to God and his fellow man? And, “It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life” surely meant that happiness was to be only found then.

One thing that I did learn during this period is that service to others, regardless of the motive, is rewarding! So rewarding in fact, that it made the depression manageable and kept the thoughts of suicide at bay. I know from my own experience, that no matter how bad things are, helping another alcoholic/family member/stranger will keep you sober and alive for at least that day! As Bill W. notes in the 12&12 two-stepping can carry you for a long time. But, as he also notes, it is not a life filled with happiness and joy.

I have heard it said that normal people can think themselves into right actions. I suppose this is the theory behind “Positive Thinking”, and that positive affirmations can change peoples lives. But, it has been my experience, and from what I have seen in other alcoholics, that we have to do the opposite! I have to act my way into right thinking! After years of being of service to others simply because it was the right way to act, the thinking slowly started to catch up. I realized that being of service to others was an act of love to them. Whether or not I felt that love, they did. And, if they accepted that love, they were then open to receive an even greater love from God! A Love that had the power to change them. By simply doing the right thing, I was a “channel of God’s peace“. At first this realization was a bit disturbing. If God was using me to offer His love to others AND was changing their lives, what about me? I don’t know if it could be called a spiritual awaking, but it dawned on me that I must have had God’s love along. Surely I could not give away what I did not have, and I had seen too many lives transformed before my very eyes to doubt. A quick survey of my life made me see that God had supplied all my needs in spite of me…LOL, and that His love had flowed through me the whole time!

This awaking opened the door to incredible things. Willing and eager sponsees flocked to me. (Several of these sponsees others had given up on entirely, but they worked the steps and started sponsoring others!) My home group grew and went through a wonderful transformation, eagerly reaching out to the newcomer. Miracles became the order of the day for many! It was an amazing time. My depression was nearly lifted (though not entirely removed). And, of course I basked in the “The sunlight of the Spirit”.

I wish at this point I could say, “Then, I lived happily ever after!”…LOL. But, such is not the case because there was still an issue yet unresolved. “Those adolescent urges that so many of us have for top approval, perfect security, and perfect romance…” returned with a vengeance and with them my depression returned with a vengeance as well! “My God, how painful it is to keep demanding the impossible, and how very painful to discover finally, that all along we have had the cart before the horse! Then comes the final agony of seeing how awfully wrong we have been, but still finding ourselves unable to get off the emotional merry-go-round.”

In my post on the 7th step you can see the beginnings of the work I have done to get off this merry-go-round. The defects I described in recent postings run deep in me, and yet another 4th &5th steps has been needed to get at the heart of my perfectionist dreams. I finally understand what Bill W. meant when he wrote “Reinforced by what Grace I could secure in prayer, I found I had to exert every ounce of will and action to cut off these faulty emotional dependencies upon people, upon AA, indeed, upon any set of circumstances whatsoever.” There is still much work for me to do. My defects and perfectionist dreams have not only hurt me, but all those close to me. Repairing the damage will not be easy. Some friendships are lost for good I fear.

In the end though, I think I finally understand. “This seems to be the primary healing circuit: an outgoing love of God’s creation and His people, by means of which we avail ourselves of His love for us. It is most clear that the current can’t flow until our paralyzing dependencies are broken, and broken at depth. Only then can we possibly have a glimmer of what adult love really is.”

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Step 7

For a variety of reasons that I’ll explain a little later, my sponsor has strongly suggested that I work on step 7 for awhile. For the past few years I have focused on steps 10-12. These steps require a fair amount of work, action, persistence, and willpower. Even though God really does most of the work, these steps (10-12) require participation in the process. I have found comfort in this process because I could actually affect the outcomes, thus feeling less "powerless" in my life!

In a recent 5th step, and from close friends, I have become aware of some character defects that I have been unaware of. Immediately I began to "work" on these defects using steps 10-12. Though this process heightened my awareness of the depth of these defects, I got little or no relief from them. In fact, in some cases they became worse…LOL. I was really at a loss for why. Steps 10-12 have allowed me to grow in ways I could not have imagined.

I explained all this to my sponsor and to my surprise he suggested that I focus on step 7. Of course, early in my sobriety I had taken this step often to great affect. But, admittedly, I have neglected this step since then. I do instruct my sponsees to work this step AND see the change that occurs in them as a result. But for me, until my last 5th step, my defects were always the same. I have gotten a great of relief from these (though not entirely removed…LOL), and steps 10-12 have helped me grow in the areas that were relieved. So, doing the 5th, casually working 6-9, and focusing on 10-12 has worked just fine for me.

As I mentioned before, this process has not worked on my "new" defects (not really new, just couldn’t see them). So when my sponsor suggested the 7th step I was eager to try. I read what the Big Book had to say about step 7 (Here) and what the Basic Text had to say (Here). I was almost disappointed! I was ready do some work! But, as it turns out, the only "work" to be done is to "humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings". This had worked for my alcoholism and addictions. This had worked in the beginning for my very glaring defects (though I always suspected that self preservation had played a part). But could this step actually relieve these defects that had been so ingrained in me that I couldn’t even see them until 19 years in recovery AND many many 4th and 5th steps?

Happily, the answer seems to be yes! Once I stopped trying to find a way to "work" step 7 and simply became willing to have God to remove these defects and asked Him to do so, I have gotten a great deal of relief (though certainly not removed entirely). As it turns out, only God can do this work in me. Of course the work I can do begins. Repair the damage done to others by my defects and find out how God would have me live a life that is not ruled by these defects.

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