Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Lamb Has Wolf Whiskers.

Silly title, I know, but it was only recently that I came to the realisation that once again, I have been sucked into the "orbit of self" of a sober alcoholic. I was gobsmacked when I began to see the pattern.

The details are irrelevant, what does matter is that I am still, 2 1/2 years out of my long-time marriage to an alcoholic, susceptible to some of the behaviors.

I have spent many years trying to be a use and a comfort to those in need - on the Crisis Line, in Victim Services, as a sponsor, so it takes me a while to stand back and say, "Wait a minute, I'm not comfortable with this - why is that?"

This time, it took me a couple of days, but when the light finally dawned, it illuminated some of the old, old patterns of behavior I've fallen into, so many times in my life. I can still get sucked in to the "Poor Me, See How I Suffer" dance, and be whirled around the ballroom a couple dozen times before starting to think, "I'm feeling some dizziness and deja vu, what's really going on here, inside my head?"

I can start out wanting to offer encouragement, support and help, do it willingly and gratefully, and it can take me ages before I am able  to see that the supply line is only going in one direction. In good friendships, it goes both ways. In times of trouble, there can be a momentary shift, but it will soon settle back into a mutual give-and-take.

I'm deeply grateful for a sponsor who has the directness of honesty, the love of program, and the willingness to suggest oh-so-gently that I'm, well, barking mad on a particular subject. She's off on holiday right now, and I hope she's having a magnificent time. She made a point of letting me know that I could still reach her by email, and we've exchanged a few. Whenever I think of her, I smile, because she's such an enormous gift in my life. It's powerful to know that this person I love will take me to task if she thinks I need it, but do it in such a gentle way that I can hear what she is saying, and feel nothing but gratitude.

Yesterday I had a visit, from the partner of the friend whose death propelled me to look with clarity at my life and my marriage of 17 years, and was thereby instrumental in getting me out, into this new and amazing life with Robert and my program friends down here.

Their anniversary, and my dead friend's birthday are coming up, and his partner is struggling with his grief this time of year. We sat and talked and laughed, because like Robert, my friend was one of life's great masters of humour, able to use it to comfort, to enrich, to warm, and I spent many hours with him, laughing so hard I'd have tears in my eyes, having to take off and wipe my glasses, and beg him to stop, oh stop, my sides hurt from laughing.

He was such a gift, my friend, he and his partner would still, after 21 years together, light up at the mere sight of one another. I remember being delighted at the strength of their union. With Robert, I understand for the first time in my life what it is to feel safe, loved completely, and know that this wonderful man walking in the door, will have me laughing myself silly in no time. We spend a lot of time laughing together, over life, and over nothing at all.

I'm going for a CT scan on Nov 6th, in the hopes that it will show the cancer to have been reduced somewhat. I wasn't nervous about it at all, because the two lumps I have which are palpable, have been greatly reduced in size, and that's good news. But Robert admitted that he is a little frightened.
I know I would be, too, were our positions reversed.

Friday, October 24, 2014

What Qualifies as "Gossip or Criticism."

I was raised in an adoptive family in which the major form of humour was sarcasm. I picked it up along with some other bad habits, and used it right into the doors of Al-Anon.

Before progam, I used sarcasm as a weapon, as a rebuttal, as a defense, and to score points in an argument.

 I spoke to my first sponsor about it, and she reminded me that in our closing, we read, "Talk to each other, reason things out, but let there be no gossip or criticism of one another. Instead, let the understanding, love and peace of the program grow in you one day at a time."

I define "let there be no gossip or criticism of one another" very narrowly. Many times, a new sponsee will ask me who my other sponsees are. I don't tell them, because that runs up against my strong belief in keeping confidences. If one sponsee wishes to break that confidence by talking about who their sponsor is, that's up to them. Nobody is going to hear it from me.

I'm not comfortable in hearing about who irritates or bothers you at a meeting, because they are too this or that. I am not at a meeting to sit and fume because someone has a personality quirk I find irritating. I am at a meeting to share the experience strength and hope I have to offer, to bask in the atmosphere of love and acceptance, and to learn.

My experience in this program has taught me right from the start, that it would invariably be the person who was irritating me the most, who had the lesson I most needed to hear at that time.

In my second group, which was a home-group meeting, we went to a member's apartment, and we were no further that just inside the door, before I was silently judging her for her d├ęcor. (I was a supremely shallow person 30 years ago, I lived in anger, fear, and judgement.)

During the meeting, I was judging this same woman for the way she spoke, her choice of clothing, her speech patterns; everything about her, got my goat. The meeting ended, I went home, and found that one thing she'd said, was getting more and more powerful the more I thought about it. It applied to my own character defects, and it stuck in my head all week, like a cocklebur seed to a sock. It poked, prodded, and needled at me day upon day. I finally called my sponsor to complain about this obsession, and we had a very interesting and to me, madly infuriating discussion, in which she suggested, not for the first time, that what most annoyed me in another person, often turned out to be a character defect or personality quirk of my own that I disliked.

I swallowed and muttered and grumped while she explained this idea in greater detail. When she was finished, I didn't have much to say, I was too offended, so I said a stiff goodbye, thanked her, and hung up.

Talking to her hadn't helped me in the way I'd hoped or wanted. I didn't get what I thought I needed from that discussion; instead I was, as so often in the early days with my sponsor, mightily offended. I took offense very quickly when I was new to Al-Anon. My self-image was so negative and so shaky, that even the slightest suggestion that I was wrong could send me into a tailspin for days. After a few months of dealing with this aspect of my personality, my  sponsor suggested that perhaps by being offended, I didn't have to hear what she was saying?

That hit home with a thump, because it was simply, and undeniably true. A large part of my judgement, when it wasn't about allowing me to feel superior, because I didn't do that at meetings, was about being to cut that person out, as someone I didn't need to listen to very carefully.

This woman taught me to listen carefully when anyone speaks during a meeting, because I've learned that the most (to me) unlikely person, may be the one person at the meeting who is carrying the message from my HP, that I most need to hear.

Friday, October 17, 2014

More Treatment

I saw an oncologist on Tuesday of this week, and she said that because I'm responding so well to the treatment, and tolerating it so well, also, that they are considering another twelve rounds of chemo as soon as the present batch is complete.

I'm feeling fine with that prospect. For me, chemo has not been the horror story I had been led to expect, from all the reading and listening to stories about "My aunt had cancer, and when she was in chemo it was awful, it aged her terribly, she was sick all the time, etc etc."

In the last year or so, I have noticed that whenever some people find out that one is facing a procedure, they will immediately begin reciting every horror story  that they, or anyone they've talked to has ever heard.  I was hugely fortunate, in that a friend in program whom I love and admire, had undergone one of the same major operations I was facing, and she had me over to her place to talk all about it, show me the scars, explain what to expect, what might hurt, what might be an improvement over the results of the first operation, and a few other things.

When I got back home that afternoon, Robert took one look at me, and said, "You look much better." I told him that this time with my friend had removed about 80% of the fear I'd had about that particular part of the second operation. And it has proven to be quite true, it's nothing as negative as some told me it would be, and it is a relief after the results of the first operation, which was most definitely not a success.

Had I not had her experience strength and hope, I would have been much more frightened, and some studies have seemed to suggest that the better of a headspace one is in before a procedure, the better one is able to deal with it, and any side effects.

One oncologist told me that she thought that chemo was about 10% medical, and 90% medical. I find that I have been able to go through it with gratitude, peace and joy, for my life, and time with my beloved, wonderful Robert.

When I was still so upset about the call from my ex, and obsessing as to how he had managed to secure my unlisted number, I called up my first sponsor here, and asked if I could come to talk? She immediately and warmly agreed, and I went to spend an hour and a half with her wisdom and support. When we hugged goodbye before I left, we were both a little choked up and teary. We have talked a few times about her unfortunate comment, and my over-reaction to it, but have put it down to just a misunderstanding, and agreed this time to resume working through the new 4th Step workbook, "Reaching For Personal Freedom"

We had barely started with it, when the misunderstanding took place, but I find that I miss the meetings with her, talking and laughing. My new sponsor is a great help to me, and I enjoy and appreciate her enormously. That doesn't mean I can't also enjoy and appreciate my first sponsor, and spend time in her company. We may not consider it a sponsor-sponsee relationship, but I'm thinking that it's in name only - the sharing of experience, strength and hope is all still there.

Knowing that I have people to whom I can turn, during difficult times in my life, has been a blessing for which I am continually, deeply grateful. And I truly believe that the practise of gratitude transforms our lives in ways we cannot imagine when we first start to try to work it.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Taking Care of Myself

Thursday evening, around suppertime, my land line rang. I checked the display screen, and it showed the name of the area, but no specific phone number. I often get calls like this from the Cancer Centre, so I picked up the phone, without waiting to hear if the caller was going to leave a message.

A voice said, "Hi! It's (ex-husband)"

I was taken aback, my phone number is unlisted, and I am very careful about to whom I give it out; everyone knows not to give it to my ex. Last time he had my cell phone number, after I had left him, and been gone for several months, he started to call me every day.

Time and again, I had said to him, "Don't call me anymore. Call your program friends, call your sponsor, call someone else, don't call me, I don't want to talk to you. I left you because I didn't want to be with you anymore, that includes talking to you. Leave me alone!"

It was, as it always was with him, like talking to a brick wall. The next night, the phone would ring, and it would be him again. I realised the only way to stop him was to get an unlisted number, so that's what I did. I got an unlisted land line.

Somehow, 2 1/2 years after I left him, he managed to get my unlisted phone number, and called me.

I should have just hung up immediately, but I was startled, so I asked, "What do you want?" (I don't care what he wants, I want to be free of him.)

He replied, "I just called to talk."

I said firmly, "I don't want to talk to you." and hung up. Within about a half hour, I phoned my service provider, explained the situation, and asked for a new unlisted phone number. It went into effect today, and the old number is now "unassigned."

It felt thoroughly unpleasant,  to know he had my unlisted phone number, and could call me any time he chose. If this happens again, and he gets my new unlisted number, I'm going to go to the police and charge him with stalking. The laws here have changed considerably with regard to stalking, and continual unwanted phone calls fall within the stalking legislation.

I was disgusted that he felt he could try to force himself back into my life in this way, but when I considered it calmly, I thought, why should anything have changed in his thinking, just because I've been gone for 2 1/2 years?

By the time I left, after 17 years, I just wanted some peace. I realised, after a couple of days in this city to which I moved, that the strange feeling I had, was the result of no-one being angry with me. At first, I had a bit of a hard time getting used to how lighthearted I felt. But as time went on, and I began to understand just what a difficult situation I'd been surviving, and how much better my life was without him in it, my joy of living started to resurface. I started to wake up happy again, ready to face another day, secure in the support of my HP.

Then, after almost a year down here, I met Robert, and thought we could be good friends, which we were, for quite some time before the relationship deepened into what it is now. Having a loving relationship with a man who treats me with respect and care,  has shown me how much I was missing, living with an alcoholic who was not in recovery, and saw no need for any change on his part. My ex lied to everyone, not least of whom was himself, all while presenting himself as the soul of honesty - ironic.

I made new friends in program, and have found myself to be in a safe place.
Even with the cancer diagnosis, I am the happiest and most grateful, I've ever been in my life.







Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Speaking At A Meeting.

Last night, after the meeting, I was standing with my sponsor, and a woman who I hadn't seen before came up to say to me, "You could be a stand-up comedienne." She smiled at me, and walked away. I turned to my sponsor and asked, "Why would she say that to me, I didn't say anything funny tonight, did I?"

My sponsor said a few things about my delivery, and honesty, and left me feeling somewhat more understanding of what that had been about, but not much. I don't plan what I'm going to say, I just open my mouth, and start speaking about the topic, and allow my Higher Power to direct the flow. Most times, if you were to ask me afterwards what I'd said, I couldn't tell you.

It's like writing a blog post here - I may have a slight idea of what I'd like to get across in my writing, but once I've begun, it goes where it will, and I follow. When I was new in Al-Anon, I felt very anxious about speaking at a meeting, and it seemed of paramount importance that I get it "right." I judged myself so harshly, that it was a small jump in thought, to assume that everyone listening was doing the same - judging.

I've learned that what other people are thinking of me is none of my business. My job is to clean my side of the street, keep it neat and tidy through practising the Steps and Traditions, and whatever other people get from my shares is not up to me. This allows me to not worry if the newcomer is hearing what they need to hear - they have their own Higher Power, and things will work out for them with my only input being my sharing at meetings.

I've often begun speaking, thinking I was about to talk about one thing, and found myself a mile down a side road, talking about something else entirely, which somehow is closely related to the topic, but for some reason, seems to be what I need to talk about that night. There have been many times when I've surprised myself by what I've shared - I may not have realised I had that outlook, or still carried that doubt or guilt, until I hear myself saying at a meeting that this is how it is for me right now.

Today and yesterday I was worrying about the future, how long do I have to live? What will my health be like in six months? What end am I facing?

I had to stop and say to myself, "Live in the moment!" repeatedly, and force my mind into that place, as I mixed our home-made muesli in the giant tub we keep for just that purpose. Later, we went out for a nice long ramble around downtown, and to the bead store, where I bought enough findings to make myself four pairs  of earrings. I've always wanted to make my own earrings, but have never gotten around to it. Now seemed like an excellent time.

Walking and talking with Robert brought me sharply into the present - his company is such a gift and a pleasure, that I can easily revel in the moment. Tonight, I have my new step group to enjoy. Life in the now, is a glorious adventure; it's my choice as to whether or not I live there.

When I speak at a meeting, I try to allow myself to be a conduit for my Higher Power; I do my best to keep my ego in the back seat, and let my HP do the steering. I am no longer overwhelmed with insecurity, and I don't give what I've got to say, nearly the level of importance I once did.  I've said most of it many times before, in the 30 years I've been in program, and I'm grateful for the chance  to listen and learn.

Friday, September 26, 2014

'Obedience To The Unenforceable.'

I've heard that phrase used to describe how 12-Step meetings work - we all agree to a loose framework of behavior which makes the meeting safe for everyone. But in truth, there is no-one in authority who will, or can, force us to abide by the framework of respect and consideration; we do it because we want the meetings to be comfortable, useful, hopeful, and a soft place to fall for each of us.

Now and then we will hear a newcomer, or less often, a member with some years in program, admonish a meeting for being a certain way - the member might feel that some people are laughing when they shouldn't, or perhaps topics aren't being addressed the way this member feels they should be.

In the book, "How It Works, for Families and Friends of Alcoholics" a group conscience is defined as "the voice of the majority of the members." This voice is reached through discussion, and then voting on the subject, with an agreement beforehand that we will abide by the decision reached.

I've seen group consciences where one member asked for a discussion and vote, on something about which he or she felt very strongly, and I've seen the discussion bring to the surface, aspects that other members hadn't considered, and which in the end, changed the way we voted.

I've also seen members ask for a group conscience because they felt that something wasn't right, and the vote went with the majority of the members voting against their idea. Some members can accept this as the voice of the majority, apply Tradition One: "Our common welfare comes first, personal progress for the greatest number depends upon unity" and with good grace, understand that they are in the minority on this issue, and things won't change to suit them.

By contrast, I've seen members become more and more agitated about having been voted down, until their anger causes them to decide to attend a different meeting. I once worried that this was a bad thing, that in voting, and the voting going against their pet idea, we might be "driving them away."

It was my first sponsor who pointed out to me, that each of us has a Higher Power, and that maybe this person needed to move to another meeting, in order to be able to learn something he or she desperately needed to learn, in order to continue to grow.

Many Al-Anon members have spoken to me about how one person has said something in a meeting which was life-changing for them - I like to call these "startling revelations." I enjoyed the first meeting I attended, but it wasn't until I moved away, and began attending a new-to-me meeting, that I had a startling revelation about some part of my life. It was the result of hearing a member speak who had I not moved, I'd never have heard. She was a force for change in my life, but I had to go to a different meeting to meet that force.

Because of this, I believe it is vital for all of us to allow meetings to be run by our Higher Power.  The more that I can set aside my ideas about what should be being read, or discussed, or evaluated, and allow the meeting to flow with its own speed and power, the more I am uplifted, refreshed and granted serenity.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Am I Open To Constructive Criticism?

Today I was nattering to Robert about something, and he replied in his laidback way, with a grin, "Thank you for making me aware of those alternatives," at which I burst out laughing. That's his gentle way of saying - "I know that, I can think for myself, you're being controlling."

Constructive criticism used to make me squirm and writhe, with shame and anger. I had no way of understanding that criticism didn't necessarily mean that the person was condemning me as a human being, perhaps they were offering me a different way to do something, another viewpoint about a topic, or a new way to frame a problem, which reduced it to a manageable size, and allowed me to have a completely changed outlook.

I took criticism as an insult and a betrayal. I couldn't hear it, I wasn't interested in receiving it, I'd go miles out of my way to lay the blame at the feet of anyone else, so I didn't have to be told that what I had said or done was not the best way to do it.

When anyone would offer me even the gentlest of criticisms, my first response was first a hot anger, then self-pity, and then a seething resentment. How dare they? Didn't they know that I was already struggling with an unmanageable home life? That I'd had a rotten childhood? That I was exempt from the normal feedback because I was unhappy and depressed?

When I consider what it must have been like for my first sponsor, I have to laugh. That woman offended me more times than seems humanly possible for anyone acting from the best of intentions. She'd offer me a constructive criticism miles more delicate than the one of Robert's mentioned at the beginning of this post, and I would swell up like a puffer fish and take serious offense. I will never forget the day that she said gently to me, "Well, you know, righteous indignation is delicious, but it's not the best way to go about things."

I thought she was talking about the drinking alcoholic. I said, "You mean him."

She looked at me with loving eyes, and replied softly, "I mean you."

I was shocked and mortally offended. I wasn't righteously indignant! I had a darn good reason for my feelings. I was a martyr! I had a right to be obnoxious, because I was only responding to what I received with like behavior. And with my first husband, that may very well have been true. But it wasn't helpful to him or me, it wasn't kind, it wasn't loving, and it got me exactly nowhere at all in working my program.

That was one of the first times in which I slowly came to believe that what my sponsor was offering me was a way to see more clearly, and a way to change. It took a while from her comment until my grasping dimly what she was on about, but it did slowly happen.

When I can accept my character defects without blame, shame or guilt, I am free to behave differently. I can accept that I am not perfect, and never will be. I can clarify Step Seven for myself:

"Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings."

I need help to change my behavior, I cannot do it on my own, because I have only my mind and my personality to do it - I need a power greater than myself to be able to stop, admit, accept, and then let go, and try a new way of responding.