Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Test Results.

I got the pathology results from last week's test. The cancer has recurred. So I am facing more major surgery as of May 9. I still have to hear about the tumour marker blood tests, and am waiting to be booked in for a CT scan to check for metastasis.

Today, I am feeling stunned by the news, depressed, despairing and highly anxious. I was standing at my ironing board working on a pattern I'm making for a friend, and had to stop and ask my Higher Power for help - the tears were streaming down my face, and I was completely undone.

I am not afraid of death. I believe it will just be like going to sleep - fading off into unconsciousness. I do mourn the possibility of leaving my beloved Robert far too soon. We haven't even had a year together yet, but it's been the happiest time in my life, and in his. We get along amazingly well, with no conflict, a shared delight in reading, gardening, and other pursuits, and a shared sense of humour. We can make each other laugh, and that's a gift.

It seems so unfair to have finally found the love of my life, and have to be enduring this misery with it. I was just beginning to feel like myself again from the last surgery, and I'll have to start again from scratch in a month. Worse, because this surgery will be even more invasive and mutilating.

I'm afraid I have nothing positive to offer anyone in this post today, just my own pain and sorrow.

Friday, April 4, 2014


Guilt can be a useful signpost that I have behaved in a way which contravenes my ethics or philosophy. In that case, it's useful, helpful, and makes good sense to pay attention to what the "still small voice" of my conscience is trying to tell me.

But when guilt is an overwhelming wave consuming me, it's always been a form of self-abuse. I am just not sufficiently evil to warrant that kind of guilt.

We cannot know what we don't know. It's self-bashing to look back at choices made before I had learned about alcoholism, and decide that I was a terrible person to have done, thought, or felt whatever it was.

Practising self-acceptance means that I work to forgive myself for my not-knowing. I work to let go of the struggling mess I once was, and forgive that confused unhappy woman. Life is different now, I am different, and I deserve to let go of the past. Today is a new day, the sun is shining, and I am at peace.

I'm going through a new round of testing to check for metastasis of the original tumour, the first test looked okay, but I have to wait for the biopsy results. It's a difficult time, I'm up and down with it, but overall, my mood is good. The sun is shining today, and that helps.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I Love You, But I Don't Like What You Did.

One action I still find extremely difficult, is setting a boundary with someone I love. I did this recently, and it was agonising, trying to find the right thing to say, to express my feelings without condemning or accusing, while letting them know that I felt they had overstepped one of those personal lines.

Sponsoring for many years has led me to an understanding that there will be times for each of us when we will be told what we most definitely do not want to hear, and if we can stay quiet long enough to really, truly, listen to what is being said, there will be a pearl of self-understanding encased in the rough and scaly shell of explanatory words.

I've moved slowly from being someone who accepts everything, excuses it all, makes up reasons to ease the hurt of someone's behavior, finds some way to choke it down regardless of how offensive or repulsive, to believing that if I am as careful as I am able to speak my truth kindly, I can let go of the outcome and trust in my Higher Power to work things out for the best, whatever the result.

Sounds good, right? And I do believe it, but the reality of doing so is surprisingly painful, especially when the person I'm setting the boundary with is someone I love dearly. I dither and waffle about whether I should say something or just let it go, I struggle mightily with "How Important Is It?" And then when I finally make the choice to set the boundary, and the recipient is sincerely apologetic, I'm horrified to have been the cause of their pain, lash myself with regret for having caused it by speaking up, and feel guilt.

When I think about it hypothetically, setting a boundary seems neat and precise and if I'm careful, as though it should be relatively painless - the truth is that it's invariably messy and hurtful and sloppy and awful.

Why then should I do it?

I do it because I've come to the realisation that when I accept unacceptable behavior, I am lying about who I am, what I feel, and what I believe.

The saying is, "the truth shall set you free." not, "the truth shall set you free, and you won't feel a thing."

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Acceptance, And Facing Our Own Powelessness.

Yesterday I received a comment from a reader who had found a loved one dead from a heroin overdose, and felt guilty because they'd talked themselves out of a feeling of concern that something was wrong, and the next day, found his body.

I read the comment this morning, and was reminded of Neil Young's "The Needle And The Damage Done", in which he sings, "...but every junkie's like a setting sun..."

I came to my blog this morning meaning to write a post about "Live and Let Live." I read that comment and thought of the last young man I knew who died from a heroin overdose. He was in his early twenties, a handsome university student. When I heard that he'd been found dead with the needle still in his arm, I recall being swept by an almost overwhelming sadness at the waste of another life.

When still married to my first husband, (who as far as I know is still drinking, 20 odd years after we've been divorced,) and very new to Al-Anon, I found the idea that I was powerless over his addiction to be maddening. Again and again I would speak at meetings about wanting to change him, and would hear others sharing about the difficulty of realising and truly accepting that the alcoholic or addict makes their own life choices. We can decide to stop enabling, and we can work on our own recovery. We cannot force them into sobriety. We are utterly and completely powerless.

We cannot save them from themselves, regardless of what the recovery business would like us to believe. I know couples who have almost bankrupted themselves putting a child into one rehab centre after another, only to lose the thousands of dollars expended, when the child leaves before the end of the treatment and picks up again. We are unable to fix what is wrong with them, they must be desirous of fixing their own lives. Some will, and go on to lead happy fulfilled lives. Some won't, and will die young, of alcohol or substance abuse. That's an unfortunate reality, but until we accept our own powerlessness, we can't be set free.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Being Satisfied With Our Daily Accomplishments.

I've heard many times in meetings, and from sponsees, and once upon a time, believed myself, that what I (we) managed to get done in a day was never enough. I gave myself no wiggle room for illness, fatigue, or simple mood - every day was the same - I hounded myself mercilessly to do more, always do more. I couldn't look at what I'd accomplished and feel satisfaction.

Today I was out picking moss from the stone verge of the rooftop terrace. The crows like to come down, pick up a clump of moss, and fling it out onto the terrace, looking for worms and other insect life. We end up with a terrace covered in small clumps of moss with mud attached, distributed evenly on the walking surface.

 I figured out that if I just remove the moss, they have nothing to fling and I feel immediate gratification at the resulting clean space. Much of gardening seems to consist of various tidying and neatening jobs of this sort, and I enjoy them all. Years ago, however, I wouldn't have been able to do what I did today, which was to do half the task, then stop for the day. Or had I been able to stop before completing the job, I'd have been completely unable to take any pleasure in the work I had completed, because I would have been nattering at myself about not staying at it, until I finished.

I was raised to believe that half-done was the same as not started. I had to be in Al-Anon for quite a few years, before I could give myself credit for whatever I managed to get done in one day. And it took a few more years after that, before I could even consider giving myself permission to take a day of rest. It felt like the "thin edge of the wedge" to get up in a day and decide that if I did not much of anything that day, I was still a good person, and my world wouldn't fall apart.

Challenging this kind of message instilled in early childhood can feel world-shaking to begin with, but after we've moved through the process to a state of clarity unsullied by emotions of guilt or shame, we may be astonished to realise their power over us.

Today I accept that whatever I get done is enough for today. Some days I will accomplish everyday tasks, as well as clear up a backlog of waiting chores. Other days, I'm doing well to be up, washed, and dressed. It's all okay. What matters is that I have love and respect in my life. Picking moss can be spread over two or even three (gasp!) days.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Clarification, and Thought-Stopping.

Occasionally I will receive comments which quote literature other than our conference-approved literature.  When I created this blog, I decided to keep it strictly Al-Anon related. For this reason, if you quote from a book which is not conference-approved literature, I will regretfully delete your comment. I do, however, invite you to comment in your own words, and I appreciate all who take the time and effort to respond to any of my writings.

On to my other topic: thought-stopping. This was explained to me when I was new to program, as a way to keep myself off the gerbil wheel of obsession. In order for it to work, I needed to be conscious of my internal dialogue. That took me a long while to achieve, because I'd get started trying to pay attention to my thoughts, and would manage for short stretches, until one powerful surge of feeling accompanying a thought would sweep me along, sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for hours at a time. When I finally surfaced, gasping and spluttering with the realisation that I'd been submerged in one of my obsessions, roiling and spinning wildly with the force of the emotions that were such a part of them, I'd start again to try to listen to the madness that was such a constant backdrop to my days. The madness inside my own head.

I learned that I needed to stop the thought before it got a chance to take hold of me. This required that I be aware of what were my triggering thoughts. I discovered that they usually began with "He shouldn't" or "she shouldn't" or "they don't" or some such judgement. I learned that I needed to stop at that precise moment, turn my thoughts firmly towards something which gave me pleasure, whether that be sewing, painting, gardening, the book I was reading at the time, my dog, a fun time with a friend, nature, whatever it was that I enjoyed in my life, and force myself to think about that instead.

I'm deeply grateful for having learned this skill so many years ago, it has served me well with my recent experience with cancer. I received a call yesterday that I need to go for testing on April 2, to see if they can detect any signs of recurrence. Without the skill of thought-stopping, the intervening time would have been filled with fear and worry.

Being able to decide that I am powerless, and don't want to go quietly mad with worry and fear of what might be, allows me to live from now until April 2nd, and enjoy my life with Al-Anon friends, and my beloved Robert. I'm so grateful for this wonderful program.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Spiritual Nudges.

For the last couple of weeks or so, I've been thinking about going back to a Tuesday night meeting that I always enjoyed. I have cut my meeting attendance down to once a week, but I've been thinking about this meeting lately, and remembering how satisfying it was for me, because I really like a lot of the members, many of whom attend faithfully each week, giving the meeting good continuity. It's a meeting with a lot of laughing, which I think is a sign of health and humility.

Then, yesterday afternoon at the office operating committee meeting, my first since the operation, I met up with one woman for whom this Tuesday night meeting is her home group, and after giving me a big warm hug, she asked, "Are you going to be coming back to our meeting again soon?"

Her question, coming on top of the meeting having been in my thoughts quite a bit, made me decide to start attending again. Once the decision was made, I realised that I am feeling a fair amount of delighted anticipation. I enjoy the positive nature and good humour expressed there. When I moved back here, I'd gone to a meeting within a night or two of arriving, but didn't like it particularly, as I was pretty much ignored. Now, this doesn't matter for me, because I've been in Al-Anon for 29 years, I knew there were another 10-12 meetings in a week here for me to check out, and I know full well that each meeting has a different flavour. But it bothered me because no-one asked if there were any visitors or newcomers, and I believe that's an important part of welcoming newcomers to our meetings - that we make the effort to acknowledge and welcome new people, trying to ease the way for them to feel comfortable and at home in the rooms.

This Tuesday night meeting was the second meeting I went to when I was first here, and as soon as I entered the room, a woman smiled at me, patted the empty chair beside her, and invited me to join her. She asked if I was new to Al-Anon, and when she found out I was a long-timer, we had an amusing conversation before the meeting began. It's a warm, welcoming meeting, whose members do their best to make it safe for all who attend.

There's a strong emphasis on the Steps and Traditions, and I always felt good when I walked back out to my car afterward.

So I'm going to pay attention to this spiritual nudge, and next Tuesday evening, I will be sitting in a church basement, listening carefully to all the people whose experience, strength and hope is such a gift and a blessing for me.

I've taken the pockets apart on the winter coat I'm sewing for myself, there was something about them which I found unsatisfactory, but only slightly. Nevertheless, over the many years that I've been sewing for myself, I've learned that I'm far better off to unpick and re-sew, than tell myself it's good enough - were I to do the latter, it would bother me for the life of the garment. Patience is a virtue.

Part of Al-Anon's teachings are learning when I need to let go, and when I need to re-do.