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.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Levels of Faith.

One of Robert's favourite jokes is a line from standup comedy, which he heard many years ago:

"I'm more the paranoid agnostic type - I don't believe in God per se, but I do believe there's some force out there in the universe, working against me."

I love that. I can relate to that. I was an unbeliever in anything positive, and a strong believer that the world was out to get me, when I was new to Al-Anon. It seemed as though no matter what ideas I came up with, or how hard I tried, I was unsuccessful.

I'm referring, of course, to trying to make the alcoholic stop drinking. I remember going for walks with my dog - I would stomp off, after an encounter with a sodden husband who was enraged and ranting, and I'd go to sit in the park near our house, while my dog ranged all over the park seeking out whatever it is that dogs look for, in the dark.

I'd sit on the swings and fume. I recall asking aloud, "What do you want from me?"  I didn't know of whom I was asking that question, it would just burst out of me in moments of intense frustration, and there is no frustration quite so intense, or so doomed to failure for those of us who are control freaks, as trying to make an alcoholic quit drinking.

My first sponsor asked me, "Who are you talking to, when you ask that question?" I was taken aback, and had to sit and think for some time, before answering haltingly that I thought maybe I was talking to God.

She smiled at me, saying "But you call yourself an aetheist."

I replied, "Well, I've thought I am, but...."

She smiled again, that irritating sponsor smile that lets you know that she's been through all this once at least, and probably more times than she could count. I was very God-shy when new to Al-Anon, and all those mentions of God, or a Higher Power, were almost more than I could stomach.

Where was the handout with the list of ten ways to make the drinker stop drinking? That's what I'd been expecting; I was completely unprepared for a total change of life.

But I kept going to meetings, and working the program, even when I wasn't sure what I believed. I just knew that my sponsor and other old-timers for whom I felt respect believed, so I decided to coast on top of their belief for a while, and see what happened.

And I kept having conversations with my Higher Power, although nowadays I'd call them complaining sessions or rants more than conversation. I was too emotional to have many rational conversations, whether with people or my HP.

My belief in a Higher Power has grown and ebbed throughout the years. I feel conscious contact when I am grateful and seeking humility.

I lose that feeling of conscious contact when I'm full of fear and anxiety, as I was shortly after being told by the surgeon that I was terminal. It's been a real mind-shift to accept that he was mistaken, I'm not terminal, and who knows how long I've got on this earth; it could be years yet.

My oncologist is very positive, and so am I. This last chemo, the volunteer came to take us in and asked how I was feeling. I replied honestly that I'm good, I feel good, and I feel happy. He passed his hand over his eyes and said, "I must still be sleeping."

It didn't register at the time, but he was commenting upon my ability to feel joy even as I walked towards the chair for another chemo treatment.

I give all the credit for this to Al-Anon, and the support and love of my beloved Robert, my family and program friends, and my HP. Life is good. I'm so grateful to be able to know that.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Problem Is What We Make It.

This past summer, Robert and I were walking downtown in a fairly busy area, and found ourselves face-to-face with an attractive young woman. We did that little dance to one side and then the other, trying to move out of the way, yet moving in unison, so that we were still unable to pass. Almost every other time this happens, I find myself laughing with the other person, and then one of us will stop trying to get out of the way, and wave the other by, with good feeling on both sides.

This young woman became angry, we couldn't believe it. We've talked about it since, laughing that if that is a big annoying incident for her, she must be doing very well in her life. I wonder how she'd manage if she were to lose a loved one, or get diagnosed with cancer?

It took me years in Al-Anon to realise that my problems had precisely the room in my head and in my life that I gave them. I was shocked by that suggestion the first few dozen times I heard it, and then irritated and then angry - were these people trying to say that my problems were minor?

I thought them enormous, insurmountable, terrible and depressing. That was my take on them, that was my description of them, that was the amount of room I gave them in my life.

When I began in my fumbling way to try to practise gratitude, I slowly but surely discovered that I had many things in my life for which I could feel grateful. And doing that regularly, searching out the people, times and facts of my life for which I could feel nothing but gratitude, changed my attitude completely.

"How Important Is It?" became my favourite slogan, and I used it on everything over which I became upset or even slightly annoyed. My first sponsor would ask me, "Will you remember this in a week? A month? A year? Will you be lying on your deathbed thinking about it, and wishing you had handled it differently?"

I found her questions blasted my mind open to a way of living I'd never imagined. Why, I could let go of this stuff as soon as I decided to! It's my choice to decide that something may require thought or effort, but it only becomes a "problem," and only takes up room inside my head, if I choose to allow that to take place.

Let me say that another way - I may get stray thoughts flitting through my head, but I can sit quietly and watch them float by; I don't have to reach up, get a stranglehold upon them, and then spend the next two days obsessing over them.

I can watch them come and go, then turn my mind to thinking of that which gives me serenity, peace and joy. As with so much of this wonderful program, it's my choice. I do not have to give the committee of assholes any room at all inside my head. I've got the key to the lock on that door.