CLA Tool Box
The CLA "Tools of Recovery" state:
Sponsors are CLA members who are committed to recovery through the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. A Step sponsor leads us through the 12 Steps of recovery. We choose a sponsor who has what we want. The sponsor and buddy may be the same person.
In working another 12 step program, I got aware that my life was unmanageable around clutter. For years, I had been paralyzed, overwhelmed and oblivious about the boxes, piles, collections, unpaid bills, ignored correspondence, unfinished projects, unopened purchases, unused items that filled my hallways, overflowed from my drawers, spilled out of my closets. I knew that underneath all that was dust and filth – I didn't know there were also mice.
I had a good excuse – I was a widow raising 3 young children. I had moved to a much smaller house following my husband's sudden death. I was an Internet professional and had worked in volatile start-ups. I juggled my work, my special-needs daughter, my community activism, my 12 step meetings, my insomnia, volunteering, driving my children to their various extra-curricular activities and Sunday school teaching.
In retrospect, I did it by moving from one activity to the next without stopping to clean up from my last project or prepare for the next. I needed to be busy so I didn't have time to feel anything. By the time I got home every day, I was exhausted, angry, resentful, full of pride and incredibly hurt. I was too tired to deal with laundry, cleaning, cooking, organizing or maintaining a healthy home environment. I couldn't think straight in such a messy environment, but I could watch television and berate myself for everything that I was NOT doing and fall down a familiar, negative spiral of depressive thinking until I dropped to sleep.
These self-pitying feelings originated in my traumatic childhood. I had survived by repeating the same patterns through-out my life – investing myself 110 percent to accomplish big things that helped others and got me recognition all the while sacrificing my own needs. I got much approval from others, but I never approved of myself. I never counted myself in my priorities, I never noticed the good things I did, I did not think I deserved my own attention.
When I found CLA initially, phone meetings were hard for me because I could hide my shame, not pay attention nor stay focused to listen. I am visual and it helps me to view a person's communication in order to remain engaged. I found that when it comes to things that are emotionally threatening – I will take any distraction and not reveal the truth about myself. On the phone I can stay in my head, but at in-person meetings, I am forced to come out of isolation and be seen. Miraculously, in my desperation, I started an in-person CLA meeting with someone I met at another 12 step fellowship who had shared about a problem with cluttering. I knew I could get myself to in-person meetings, and it was simple to set it up using the traditions and support provided by CLA WSO.
Because we were all new to CLA, and for many, our meeting was their first exposure to a 12 step program, we had no available sponsors. I have had a sponsor in another program that I speak to daily. I yearned for such support in CLA. I knew I did well with structure, but I could provide none for myself even though I could organize someone else and had worked my way through college as a personal assistant and executive secretary.
I desperately wished for someone to be witness to my commitments, to provide feedback from their own experience regarding the reality of my intended projects, and show me the way. I don't have good judgment when it comes to how much time it takes for me to do something. I don't know how to take care of myself. I have absolutely no idea how much energy I have. I think that I am depleted before I even begin to deal with paperwork. (It had taken me 7 years to send my husband's death certificate to my accountant. I constantly misplaced my children's birth certificates and sent for them several times, only to lose them again.)
I had promised I would find a CLA sponsor and then was embarrassed to admit when I didn't do it. I became ashamed of myself and felt I had let the meeting down by not being a good role model. It was an intervention from my HP that got me down to LA for the Clutter Free day. Out of nowhere, I got a call from someone driving down. I went with the intention of finding a sponsor. I had hoped there would be discussion around this tool.
It was wonderful to put faces to the voices I have heard on the phone and words I have read in CLArity. I heard people communicating about how their mind was a jumbled mess, just like mine. I was surprised, relieved and disappointed to find that I was not alone in not having a sponsor and also in refusing to sponsor someone else. People who I judged to have it "together" in their appearance, spoke my concerns about not considering themselves "advanced enough" in the program and definitely not able to assist someone else's recovery.
I learned at the Clutter Free Day, that recovery is about "Progress, not perfection." I heard that "You can not think yourself into right action, but you CAN act yourself into right thinking." I took home with me that all we need to be is "one step, one action" ahead of someone else in order to be a sponsor.
I established a sponsor relationship with someone I met in LA, and I agreed to sponsor someone who had asked me repeatedly at home. I will sponsor as long as it supports my recovery. I must get more from sponsoring than I am giving so I sponsor to be reminded of what I am committed to in my recovery from cluttering.
As a sponsor, I share how I work my program and I sponsor someone who wants to work the program in a similar fashion. This is unnerving at the beginning, because we get to learn to tell the truth and trust someone else with intimate details about our living situation. As I gain the ability to do this daily, I am finding that I deserve to give myself attention and I can trust someone else to be understanding. Here's what works for me:
I write down my mantra for myself that I can view during the day when I forget who I am and what I am committed to. I email it to my sponsor and sometimes I look at it 25 times during the day. It looks like this:
I am a compulsive clutterer. I am abstinent and grateful today because I don't add anything, unless I remove something first. Daily I commit to my sponsor my plan of action. No matter what happens today, I know that I am working my program to become clutter free. I make my bed when I wake up. I put away everything I take out. I do one act of de-cluttering. I clear my sink before I go to bed. I write down my schedule and assign a timeframe to each task. I ask for help to bookend and turn over my anxieties when I get stuck.
It has been amazing to me to see how much I do when I write it all down and how much easier it is when I turn it over to someone else. I ask my sponsees to do the same for themselves.
It is much easier to sponsor than I feared, because daily I get a phone call about someone else's de-cluttering progress, and I get to be witness to their spiritual and emotional growth. They are so grateful when I point out their obvious progress. It strengthens my focus and I know I am not alone, because I have a sponsor that I am turning over my goals to as well.
Before I only noticed what didn't get done and now I'm relieved of that critical judgment because I have someone else "holding the space" for me to recognize how much I have done as well. I am learning to measure my time and choose where I invest my time, energy and resources. I am learning to say no to things and people. I am recognizing that I am only obligated to my own program and my own commitments come first. I heard someone say that CLA is a "selfish" program, and I think it is true for all of recovery, we must mind our own business first.
It is uncomfortable and I feel guilty, but the more I say no to what I don't want, the more I am able to determine what does work for me and the free-er I am to enjoy what I do choose to have in my life. This has been a long process – its taken 2 years of going to in-person meetings to get to this place. Weekly I work the steps with a step buddy. Some days it seems like 2 steps backwards instead of 1 step ahead, but I have another day tomorrow and every day is a success if I do one thing that I said I would.
No longer do I have to struggle, stay stuck, or keep something that doesn't support me. Every day I am reminded to take care of myself first, turn over my plans to my sponsor and let my higher power support me. I don't have to do it alone because today I have tools of the program, as well as the steps and the fellowship. It is simple, but not easy. I am truly grateful for the 12 steps and CLA tools for recovery, especially the tool of sponsoring and being sponsored.
Cindy S., CA