Thursday, December 31, 2009
I will be offline until the 3rd, when my ip has promised hookup in the new place; as soon as I've got internet, I'll check in. (I hadn't anticipated, when I started this blog, the sense of community I feel with the recovery world online.)
My spouse was joking last night that the dogs have the right idea of how to go about a move - walk around the boxes instead of complaining that they're in the way, don't let the fact that almost everything is packed away stop you from having a good wrestle with your favourite toy, and never miss a chance for a nap.
From the ODAT, page 366:
"Again I resolve to live the coming year One Day At A Time, easing myself of the burdens of the past and the uncertainties of the future. Whatever may come, I will meet it with a serene mind."
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
I was an exceptionally angry woman, when I began attending Al-Anon meetings. I'd had a rough time of it as a kid; I'd been abused in every way possible. I grew into an adult brimming with resentment, and seething with rage. I was furious from the time I awoke until I drifted off to sleep at night, and only the subject of my fury changed; my rage was constant, and it was set on "high."
I was lonely, having been taught from a toddler that people couldn't be trusted. I desired intimacy, and feared it. I couldn't handle letting anyone get too close to me, terrified that they would discern the deeply flawed individual I perceived myself to be, and reject me. I was a strange mixture of no boundaries in some areas, and unassailable battlements in others.
I'll never forget a conversation with my first sponsor. We were in her kitchen, preparing a meal, and talking. (From this vantage point, I'm sure it was more that I was talking, and she was attempting to get a word in edgewise, no easy task when I was at full throttle) I was ranting on about how another person had let me down, and my feelings about this, and when I paused to draw breath, she interjected quickly, "Yes, well, righteous indignation is delicious, but it's not very useful as a way of dealing with the issue..."
I stopped short. I was offended that she would label my feelings as righteous indignation. I was offended that she would suggest that I had anything to do with it, the other person was wrong, couldn't she see that? (Years later, we had a laughing fit over the look on my face, and how she had, with that one gentle comment, completely ruined my enjoyment of righteous indignation for all time. It was just ... never the same afterwards.)
I have a choice. I can choose to work to make my time on earth worthwhile through my own efforts, or I can expect/demand that other people fufill my wants and needs, and pronounce them lacking when they fall short. (I seem to be harping on a theme this week.)
My first sponsor taught me that perspective is everything. Where is my focus? Outside myself, narrowed in to the details of the other person's alleged crimes and misdemeanors? What can I hope to achieve by that? I can't change other people; all I ever managed to do was to make two of us miserable, instead of just me.
I recently ran into someone I hadn't seen in a couple of years. He was furious that his son had asked him not to come over for a while, didn't he have the right to see his grandchildren? Gentle exploration of what had taken place before that request, elicited the information that this guy had become angry about something his son had said to him, and had hurled an object across the room. Narrowly missing one grandchild.
He had no concept of how his own behavior had precipitated the request to stay away - he was too busy feeling righteously indignant about being denied access to his beloved grandchildren.
I asked him, "Does your son have the right to his feelings?"
He replied, "Of course he does!" (frowning at me, for the ridiculousness of the question.)
I asked, "How did you feel when your father became angry and threw things around?"
He looked at me, not wanting to reply - he can't lie in response to that sort of direct question.
Finally, grudgingly, "I hated it. I was afraid of him."
I asked, "Is it possible that your son is feeling that same way about you and your anger?"
Long pause. Really long pause. Then, "Absolutely."
He seemed deflated. I suggested he call his son, make an amend, and take it from there.
After saying goodbye to this gentleman, I couldn't help but relate to the way he had conveniently erased his own unacceptable behavior from his short-term memory, and was only concentrating upon the way he felt his son had wronged him - asking him to stay away. Before Al-Anon, this is just how I operated. It was what kept me from achieving what I wanted most: intimacy with others - close loving friendships, and a healthy marriage.
"We are quick enough at perceiving and weighing what we suffer from others, but we mind not what others suffer from us."
Monday, December 28, 2009
"Everything that happens to me as a person, everything that involves my relations with my group, can be ironed out by applying the Al-Anon principles. This lifts all discussion far above the level of personalities and brings about harmonious solutions."
I have found this to be true in all areas of my life. Recently I received an email from an individual who can be somewhat abrasive, but also capable of great kindness and generosity - a prickly sort of person. Before Al-Anon, I'd not have been able to see past the spiky safety barrier, to the fearful person crouched behind it, longing for friendship and connection, but unable to come out from behind their defenses. I'd have seen the defenses as the person, rather than a symptom of their consuming fear.
Through Al-Anon, I have learned that if I put principles above personalitites, I can accept others as they are, without feeling the need to tell them how to improve. I've long since lost that arrogant belief that the world should march to the beat of my personal drum. I've come to understand that much of what bothers me about other people, had/has more to do with my own shortcomings and inability to accept, than any deficiencies on their part.
Where once I searched for reasons to exclude or reject others, (because they didn't measure up to my arbitrary standards, or had hurt my feelings in some way, deliberate or unintended - I too, was a very prickly person at one time) now I find myself searching for ways to include, to welcome, and to give comfort and affectionate support. I no longer act upon my first reactive response. I allow myself to feel it, try not to judge myself for having had it, but I don't take it as the only possible response. I wait it out. I reconsider. I examine my motives. I ask myself: Is this kind? Is this necessary? Would I wish to be treated this way?
This seismic change in me, is a direct result of working to put into practise in my life, the Twelve Steps and Traditions, and the wisdom contained therein.
I've learned that when my response is lightning fast negativity, or offense taken, or judgement of the other, that's my character defects at work. When I take a moment or two to let those initial reactions subside, I'm making room for love and acceptance.
God's love. This is a never-ending spring. I can pour it over those with whom I come into daily contact, and get myself soaked in it, in the process. Of such choices, is serenity composed.
"Principles above personalities" has, over the years I've been in 12-Step, evolved from a dimly perceived, vague sort of concept, into a crystal-clear plan for living. I choose it each time I bite back a sharp rejoinder: wave another driver into the space opened in front of me in traffic: take a service committment: make a program call: take a deep breath and say something humorous instead of grumbling: make eye contact with a stranger and smile, instead of hastily averting my gaze.
I'm given dozens of these choices in a day. I pray to see them as opportunities to spread love, respect for others, and connection.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
"God helps those who help themselves."
I've been thinking about this a lot lately, with all the negativity we've run across since we decided to sell our house and move to the city. I've learned in Al-Anon that whenever I substitute someone else's judgement for my own, I will regret it. That lesson has made it possible for me to make choices and work to implement them, regardless of who is saying what to me. Time and again, I've had almost everyone I talk to, flatly telling me that whatever it is I'm going to do, won't work. I've learned to smile politely, say something noncommittal, and keep going.
I try to be open and aware of the cues from my Higher Power - when I'm on the right path, things slide into place with ease, and amazing speed. Which isn't to say that I haven't done hours, days, weeks of preparation work beforehand. That is the part that the naysayers don't see, or chose to ignore: the hours of slog and grind behind the successful outcome.
I know that if I do the work, pay attention to the signals from my HP, adapt and strive to always be making smarter choices, I will succeed. It's that simple. And that difficult. But as an old friend used to say, "What else have you got to do?"
Friday, December 25, 2009
I grew up in a household where dogs weren't even allowed into the livingroom, and behavior of this sort would have been considered very bad form. The first time our little dog stood up looking to get in on the ripping action, and my spouse offered him an edge to rip, I said, "Oh, don't let him do that!"
They looked at me, mystified, and asked, "Why not?" I replied something about how he'd start ripping up newspapers and other papers. My spouse said firmly that the dog was perfectly aware of which papers were made to rip and which weren't, and they'd prove it to me.
A newspaper was fetched, and edge of it offered to the dog. The dog sniffed it, looked at him, and shoved the newspaper aside, looking for wrapping paper beneath it. They offered him a few sheets of computer paper - same result, he had no interest whatsoever, he wanted some more of that stuff we got to rip. To this day, he has never ripped anything but wrapping paper. I have always considered dogs quite a bit more intelligent than most people give them credit for, but that surprised even me.
After coffee and gifts, we did a few hours of relaxed packing. All the pictures are down from the walls, the decorative bowls, etc, vanished into boxes. The house begins to feel as if we really are going in six days.
Then we got cleaned up, cooked our contribution to the dinner, and off we went to the Alano Club. It was wonderful; I enjoyed myself hugely. I ran into a few folks I haven't seen in a while, and received some great warm affectionate hugs. I had serious and silly conversations, ate until I couldn't eat another bite, and felt at peace and so blessed.
I went out to visit the two huge dogs hanging out on the back deck with the smokers. I've gotten so accustomed to 10 & 20 pound dogs, that I'd forgotten just how big an 80 pound dog is. One of them mashed her huge head into my thigh and wagged her entire body while I gently whacked her sides with open hands - she was pushing so hard she made me stagger backwards a bit. I adore big ol' friendly dogs. I think it's one of life's greatest pleasures to share some affection with a trusting dog, to whom I may be a complete stranger, but who senses my devotion for them, and in turn, is delighted to have a mutual admiration moment with me.
At one point in the evening, I sat at our table, gazing around the room, thinking about how almost everyone in the room, had received the precious gift of sobriety through the Twelve Steps of this amazing and life-changing program. People who might, in the ordinary course of life, never spend time together, were gathered this evening in celebration not only of the holiday, but also for having been given a second chance at life. When the grace was said by an AA member before the meal, there was a resounding, heartfelt "A-men" that resonated in my chest.
Keep coming back, it works.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
I'm grateful for Al-Anon, and all the people over the years who have given of their experience, strength, and hope so freely, to keep this incredible fellowship strong and growing. I'm grateful for my sponsor, and my sponsees. I'm grateful when some small thing I've said has lit the way for another program member, in the same way my path has been lit by the comments and sharings I've heard. I'd still be stumbling around in the dark, cursing, were it not for this blessed, simple-and-yet-excruciatingly-demanding program of Al-Anon.
I'm grateful for all the recovery bloggers who share themselves for the rest of us, and for those who read my blog, and leave little gifts of themselves in comments - you mean a lot to me, all of you.
God bless you, keep you safe, and give you a holiday full of pleasant memories.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The meeting on Monday was a Christmas candlelight meeting - a custom at quite a few meetings in that city, during the holiday season.
I can honestly say that this was the very first time in all my years of attending Al-Anon meetings, that I've gone to the meeting in a positive frame of mind, and left feeling brought down. I found it depressing. Out of 25 or so people attending, there were only a couple of members who when they spoke, shared their experience, strength and hope - the rest were unremittingly negative. I sat and listened to a litany of complaint, blaming, angry ranting, pessimistic projections about how awful it was going to be on the day, cynicism...I felt myself slowly being dragged down to the level of the general mood in the room. After an hour and a half, with 10 or so members still left to speak, I quietly excused myself to the gentleman next to me, and slipped out the door. I had to get out of there. I walked out to my car feeling unsettled, and mildly depressed. I drove back to my hotel room wondering what effect that meeting would have upon a newcomer to Al-Anon.
I suppose I'm much more accustomed to Christmas meetings in which members discuss the ways they get through what can be a difficult time of year with their sanity intact, by using the tools of Al-Anon. I've heard people share about ways they take a few minutes to regroup when they feel challenged, perhaps nipping upstairs to read a page in their ODAT, then taking a few deep breaths and going back to the family gathering, or calling a program friend to share a quick, rueful laugh about the ways Christmas, and family, can challenge even the strongest program.
I'm more used to members offering what has worked for them at this difficult time of year, so that I've gone home from my Christmas meetings feeling revitalised, having heard useful suggestions for coping with a stressful situation in an Al-Anon way. I've heard quiet gratitude, and loud laughter. I've heard holiday stories told to illustrate the way Al-Anon has made it possible for Christmas to be joyful again. I've told my own turkey story, (which is too icky to be shared here, but if you truly want to be grossed out, you can email me, and I'll share it with you) and heard a zillion others. I've always, and I am not exaggerating for effect, always, left a Christmas Al-Anon meeting feeling happy, peaceful, and full of serenity.
I felt sad that this was so lacking from the meeting I attended in the city. What help are we to the other members of an Al-Anon group, if we only complain and blame? They, and we, can get that negativity anywhere and everywhere. Program is for "...solutions that lead to serenity."
I drove back to my hotel, took my little dog for the last walk of the day, then sat in my room and prayed a heartfelt prayer that the members of that group would be granted serenity and peace this Christmas.
I drifted off to sleep bathed in gratitude for the positive attitudes, help, and support I've received from Al-Anon, in the years I've been a member. I know I tend to repeat myself about this, but it's a huge part of my life, this gratitude. I remember very well the angry, resentful, defensive, deeply unhappy person I was before program, and I know that I am who I am today, only because of 12-Step, and my Higher Power.
Monday, December 21, 2009
We have the ability to make each other laugh, and that has never faltered, through good times and bad, financial struggles and times of plenty. I treasure that.
I pray that whenever I begin to be caught up in taking their inventory, God will turn my focus to my own shortcomings.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Today, I'm going to do my yoga exercises, walk the dogs, and then pack. I've been talked into letting go of the humungous steel desk I've had for the last 10 years. My spouse has moved that sucker twice, and couldn't face moving it again: it weighs a ton, and is a pain to manhandle through doorways, being 6'x3' of rock-solid construction. I bought a folding table for temporary use.
I will be offline from Jan 1st to the 3rd, when the internet connection should be up and running again. From now until then, my posting may continue to be sporadic, but I'll try to get to it when I can.
Today, I'm feeling excited at the banquet of Al-Anon meetings the city offers; all those choices, all that recovery, all that wisdom! What a treat, and a blessing, and a delight that prospect is.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
I'm feeling calm about the move, and ready to go. I've wanted this ever since we first moved out of the city because of my partner's work - we went where we were sent, but I have always wished we didn't have to go . People who love small towns just can't understand why anyone would prefer the city - over and over I've heard, "But the traffic!"
I learned how to drive in city traffic in rush hour, my very first lesson. The instructor took me out right into the heat and noise and rush of it, and when I said in fear and trembling, "Can't I start on a quieter street?" replied firmly that this is what I was going to be exposed to, so I'd better get used to it, and learn how to deal with it. Because of him, city traffic has never intimidated me, whether I'm in small cities, or major centres with what a small-town friend describes as "sixteen lanes of traffic going in forty-five directions."
I've lived away from the city for about 14 years now, and always wanted to be back, and soon, I will be. I'm grateful for all the experiences I've had in the two small towns where we've lived, and for the people I've met there. But I am also deeply grateful to be going home.
Monday, December 14, 2009
"...answers came not from books, but from mutual caring and thinking out loud with someone you felt comfortable with."
This has been one of the most helpful teachings of 12-Step - learning to reason things out with someone else. When I'm inside my head, I have only myself, and old critical, parental voices as my guides, and they have both been proven to have faulty judgement, as both can be too obsessed with listing off my shortcomings, real and imagined, or berating me for mistakes past, present, and not made yet, to be of any help in making decisions.
Time and again I've found myself expounding to my sponsor or a program friend, and glanced up from my examination of my hands, (a habit I have when deep in thought) to see them demonstrating the unmistakeable signs of being engaged in a heroic struggle to maintain their composure, and not laugh. Biting of lips, strange breathing, compulsive swallowing, all indications of the same fight, and nowadays, just seeing those signs makes me start laughing.
At one time, I'd have felt offended, but now I'm well-enough acquainted with my own insane thinking, to grasp the plain truth that there are times when it's just plain funny that I can imbue trifles with such import, and then spend hours repeatedly picking them over, when I have the alternative choice of enjoying my life.
An AA friend jokes that he used to spend time with his sponsor doing the mental equivalent of bashing himself in the forehead with a length of 2x4, and then complaining to his sponsor of the resulting swelling, bruising, and pain. His sponsor would sit and watch this, saying at intervals, "You could always put the board down, you're the one holding it..." and my friend would argue that no, no, his sponsor didn't understand, WHACK! he needed to do this in order to think, WHACK! and couldn't his sponsor find a way to help him make this less painful?
His sponsor would reply that he couldn't; when you verbally and emotionally abuse yourself, it's going to be painful, and that's just the way it goes, no way to make abuse feel good. There's the option of not being abusive, of course, why not try that one?
I get such a great mental image when my friend shares this, because I did that same thing for years before Al-Anon, bashing and smashing at myself with emotionally abusive thought patterns, and then wondering why I felt depressed and hopeless.
I felt depressed and hopeless because I was always telling myself what a stupid, useless, ugly, unlovable, waste of space I was - I had incorporated into my own thinking, the verbal abuse which began from an outside source in childhood. Before Al-Anon, I'd never questioned this.
Thinking out loud, I'll often hear myself say something, and immediately realise how demented it sounds. Unspoken, but continually revolving in my internal dialogue, it sounds quite plausible.
Reasoning things out with someone else is helpful, instructive, educating, and kind. That's another concept I found new and interesting - kindness to myself. I had to learn to refrain from saying mean things to myself: it doesn't help, it only creates further misery. Put down the mental 2x4, and talk to a trusted listener - someone who won't give advice, but who will point out the bits that jump out at them as
Sunday, December 13, 2009
I have completely lost any shyness about approaching strangers. I can walk up to anyone, anytime, anywhere, and open a conversation. I will often find myself out in public, moved to speak to someone near me, and they will take the opportunity to pour out their feelings into my willing ear. I don't know how they recognise me as a safe person with whom they can share this, but they do. I used to be surprised when this happened, but now I just accept that this is part of my life.
At the airport yesterday, I felt moved to speak to a woman washing her hands in the sink next to me. She shared with me a sad situation which was happening in her life, and we spent a few minutes talking. We said goodbye, and went our different ways. I went back to stand at the Arrivals gate, thinking of the way my Higher Power offers me the precious gift of the trust of strangers, the chance to engage and perhaps offer some small comfort, and how humbling this is. I feel that what is happening isn't about me at all - it's about God working through me. I'm touched on a deep personal level when this happens, and never lose the sense of wonder at the way two strangers can connect on a strong emotional level, if both people are open, and willing to take the chance.
I learned that in 12-Step. I learned that through sharing, and listening to other people's sharings, at meetings.
I have gone from feeling like a misfit and an outcast, to this place in my life - that is the miracle, and the blessing, of Al-Anon.
I'll leave you today with a great picture - our friend is in the shower right now, singing at the top of his lungs, and sitting outside the bathroom door, singing along at the top of his lungs, is our little male dog.
Friday, December 11, 2009
He once helped my spouse do some renovation work on a place we owned. I'd be working by myself in another room, and couldn't help but laugh, listening to the two of them. They would alternate between impassioned arguments over the proper way to install whatever it was, and uncontrollable laughing fits.
I once told them that when they were arguing, they sounded like an old married couple. In perfect unison, they each said quickly, "I'm the man!"
I can't think of this friend without smiling - I'm grateful to be given the gift of a visit from him.
Tonight, I'm feeling very tired from all the driving around, running around, phone calls, paperwork, etc, involved in selling this house. I'm on autopilot, and actually drifted off while sitting at my computer, with my little dog warm on my lap. I closed my eyes "for a moment," and jolted awake a minute or so later. Being this tired makes me worry less - I can't bring myself to expend energy I don't have, on things I cannot change. So in that way, plodding along through a miasma of fatigue can be a positive.
Keeps me in the moment, rather than having to say "God grant me serenity," I'm yawning hugely, and repeating a different mantra: "Oh, I'm so tired..."
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
I've also been playing with Google Earth, using it as a way to get another look at houses. I've already had one surprise - a fully renovated, and updated ranch-style house cleverly photographed, so that the houses on either side weren't visible. On Google Earth, it looked a bit like a mini-dachshund squeezed in between two Great Danes - a ranch style house with two story monsters on either side. It's a fascinating indication of how much tweaking is possible, to make something look like that which it is not.
Today, I had a newcomer come over for a visit with me and my dogs - it was great fun. My little female sized her up instantly, and within 30 seconds, was up on her lap, and then in her arms, being cradled like a baby. She stayed there the entire time, which is a little unusual for her, she's still a bit hesitant with strangers. I think she felt the visitor's need for dog-love, so lavished that upon her, as dogs so willingly do, asking nothing in return. My other little dog did his bit, entertaining her with displays of his ferociousness when it comes to beating the dickens out of a stuffed toy. We laughed at the way he would come into the room with a different toy, and then stand and wait until he had our full attention, before commencing his performance.
I had wondered, as I drove over to pick her up, if we'd have trouble finding things to talk about, but that wasn't the case - she got into the car, we started to talk, and we didn't stop until I dropped her back off at home again, hours later. I really enjoyed her company, she's a hoot, and her love for animals is a beautiful sight.
I had a great day today, and I hope you all did, too. God Bless.
I've had wonderful periods where I've managed to let go of worry and just float serenely through my life, and it's given me a taste of how life can feel, when I'm not obsessing and fretting. (I want more of that.)
Yesterday morning, we were preparing to go to the bank. I made some comment to my spouse, and was answered with, "You're just looking for something to worry about." I replied with some heat, "No I'm not!" and then went into another room to do whatever, and began to think about my response - I know I only ever respond that way, when the other person's remark has been accurate. That comment got me thinking, and I decided to pay close attention to my day, and the worries therein.
We were successful at the bank, and were not even out of the parking lot onto the street, before I said something along the lines of, "I'm feeling a bit anxious about not having heard from anyone wanting to do the house inspection for the sale..."
I heard myself, and realised that I had removed one topic, "bank" and immediately slotted another, "buyer's house inspection," into place, with not a moment's peace in between them.
I watched myself do this one more time that day, and wondered, how much reality the worrying could have, if I can slot one topic out, and slot another in, without missing a step?
I realised that the topics are irrelevant, they seem to be completely interchangeable when I'm in this mode. I had always believed that the worries were relevant, and I just needed to let go of thinking about whatever topic was on my mind, as in, just let go of worrying about such and such. Yesterday, watching myself, I realised that when life is changing around me, even if I'm the one who has instigated the changes, I move into worry mode, and the topics are immaterial, it's the worrying itself which is my comfort zone during these periods.
(This may sound self-evident to you, but believe me, I was gobsmacked to discover it.)
Each one of the worries I'd listed off to my spouse, was listed back to me as completely beyond my control. I know that, so what is this all about? I believe it's about always having gone through times of change in my life, with a big knot of fear and worry in my gut, and being so accustomed to that fluttery awful stressful feeling, that I do not even question it anymore - that's just how I feel during these times.
I love this program; without it, I'd never have set myself the task yesterday of paying attention to my internal dialogue, in order to see if I could see any patterns. I'd never have realised that in times of stress, it isn't that I worry, and I don't like worrying, it's that worrying during times of stress feels right, feels comfortable, feels like an old sweater I put on against the cold draft of change.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Some folks who've lived here all their lives, don't think this town gets any less sun than anyplace else - this is staggering, as the federal website for weather states this place is the second rainiest of 100 cities studied over a period of 30 years!
When discussing this with my spouse, they made the point that if you haven't lived anywhere else, this is normal weather.
That got me thinking about the ways in which we learn to tolerate conditions, and "normalise" them. Since we decided to move, we've had people ask us in all seriousness what exactly is it that we dislike about the climate? (After being asked that for the twentieth time, my souse replied pleasantly, "Oh, you know: the spring, the summer, the fall, the winter.") We've seen people take offense at the suggestion that this climate leaves something to be desired: the same people who, on another day, will bend one's ear with their own weather complaints.
I've been seeing a lot of parallels with my own thinking in times past - refusal to accept reality, in favour of turning my face away, and telling myself it isn't that bad, this is just the way life is.
The weather here is that bad. The town sits in a valley, and gets socked in with cloud cover, year round. One can drive up and over the pass, and it will be sunny on the other side of the mountain. I've been entertaining myself looking at the highway cameras for the city we're moving to, and it will be beaming sunshine over there, while we sit under a cloud of grey. I can't wait to move.
Before we'd made the decision to relocate, I had pretty much resigned myself to not complaining, trying to be positive. Now that the decision is made, and I can see an end to living here, I'm no longer repressing my feelings about the climate in this town. I'm realising just how negatively it has affected me.
This has been a pattern for me all my life - tolerate the intolerable while stuffing my true feelings about it, until such time as I decide to stop - then the reality of it pours over me, and I wonder how on earth I stood it for so long? One way, was to substitute other people's judgment for my own. I permitted others to tell me that it wasn't so bad, and tried to force myself to believe it. After all, we'd bought a house here, we had to stay, right?
I'd just learn to live with it, that's all, other people did. Until a night about two months ago, when we were having a really intimate discussion, and the truth of my feelings about living here burst out, and surprised us both. We discussed it over a week or so, and then decided to call the realtor, put the house on the market, sell up, and move.
Yesterday, we accepted an offer on the house, subject to a home inspection. Today, the sun is shining, like a promise. My little dogs were lying in patches of sun on the kitchen floor, while I stood gazing out the window, overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Yes, but it's what I'm thinking about myself. In self-obsession, I'm on a negative path, which spirals ever downward - I've never yet surfaced from 4 hours of self-obsession feeling refreshed or energised. Self-obsession focuses only on the negatives in my life, and has running through it, a strong vein of resentment, frustration, anger, and self-pity.
In contrast, self-examination does leave me feeling more positive and hopeful. I've got the experience of my years in Al-Anon, to remind myself, that if I can set aside all my judgements about my own behavior or thinking, and just see it for what it is, without having to lash or shame myself for it, I can let go of what doesn't work, keep what works, and plow forward on my great adventure.
When I let go of shame about my character defects, I can share them with my sponsees, and perhaps allow them to realise that what they are thinking/feeling/wanting is only their human frailties, not evil and contemptible.
When I'm not obsessing about myself, I can share myself freely with others. I can give the gift of my experience, strength, and hope. I can offer my love to the members of my Al-Anon groups, and to the larger world outside them.
I know it sounds like a gooey greeting card to say this, but love really does grow as we share it. There is always enough to go around - a limitless supply - the very act of giving love replenishes the spring.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
I'm well aware of man's inhumanity to man, and to his fellow creatures on the earth, I don't need a daily reminder via my tv. I've pretty much stopped admitting to this non-watching of the news, because I decided years ago that if one more person asked in amazement, "Don't you want to be informed?" I'd start screaming.
No, I don't want to be informed of the latest rapes, murders, thefts, muggings, beatings, deadly car crashes, wars, abuses, or any of the other millions of horrific actions people choose to take on a daily basis. I can't do a damn thing about any of it, so I don't want to hear about it. It's all completely beyond my control; a steady diet of the terrible things people do only depresses me, and triggers my negative thinking. I start to view the world, and mankind, as hopelessly evil and corrupt. If that's the case, then what's the use of any of my small effort? It's a teaspoon to an ocean. Etc, etc, until I'm in such a state of gloom, that it takes concerted effort to climb back out of the pit.
Now and then, I will have a conversation with someone who is determined to talk about some horror from the news, and who wants to describe it to me in full gory detail. I've learned to say -politely - that I don't want to hear about it, please.
I've moved far and away past the point of caring if others think I'm wierd for not watching the news, or reading the paper. I had a conversation with someone last night, who said that I should watch the news "so I knew what people are capable of."
I learned that in my childhood; it's not a lesson one is likely to forget. Daily reminders of it aren't good for me, they take me down a road I do not wish to travel.
I've worked to develop a more positive attitude about life. Watching the news makes this positive attitude impossible for me to sustain, so I don't watch the news. It's a simple fix. Sometimes life really is that easy, but I complicate it unnecessarily, because I just cannot accept that the solution has been sitting there in front of me the entire time.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
She gazed at me for a moment, mouth pursed, brow furrowed, before she burst out laughing - this had truly never entered her head as a option. When she calmed down from her laughing fit, she asked half-jokingly, "Will I ever be normal?"
I asked her, "Who cares? Why strive for conformity, or "normality," when instead, you can strive to be the best version of yourself, with all your attendant quirks and interesting personality traits? We don't love you for your proximity to an artificial baseline of behavior, decreed as "normal;" we love you for the delightful difference of you."
She grinned at me, saying "Can you repeat that in one-syllable words, please? (She likes to puncture my pomposity, this friend)
She went on to say thoughtfully, "I like that, the delightful difference of me."
In my journey in 12-Step, when I have tried to force myself into an arbitrary category, I've ended up bruised around the edges, because there are all these bits of me that do not fit, and cannot be squashed into that tiny spot of "acceptably normal." I spent too many years feeling like some wierdo misfit, because I couldn't make myself feel or think or want what I believed I was supposed to.
Today, I'm working towards not trying to fit myself into any standard but the one with my name on it. The one that I've designed, with the help of Al-Anon, and my Higher Power.
Now if I can just reach a place where I'm willing to let each and every other person on the face of God's green earth do the same, with no input from me, that would be Heaven, don't you think?
Sunday, November 29, 2009
So it goes.
I'm going to write, and try to let go of how long or how often; I have always been my harshest taskmaster. If it's only a paragraph, well, that's what it's going to be that day.
The first half of the first sentence in today's reading in Hope for Today runs as follows:
"I was practically consumed with frustration and anger..." This is an accurate description of who I was, when I came into Al-Anon. It's hard to recall what that felt like, because I've changed so much.
This wonderful program has given me a life I'd have never thought possible, with the miseries of my childhood behind me. I am living proof of the fact that what is promised to us in the closing is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth;
"If you try to keep an open mind you will find help. You will come to realize that there is no situation too difficult to be bettered and no unhappiness too great to be lessened."
As a newcomer, I had my doubts about that last bit, because I thought I'd had a far worse time of it than anyone else at the table, and in my childhood, perhaps I did, but my first sponsor taught me that pain is relative. Each person's pain is agonising for them.
I had to take quite a bit on faith when I was new to program, but for some reason, I could trust my sponsor enough to believe her when she said I would get better if I just kept trying. And part of trying was to work to wrest my attitude from the overwhelmingly negative co-ordinates I'd had it set at for most of my life, to a more positive aspect. Gratitude is self-perpetuating - the more we have, the more we notice; the more we notice, the more gratitude we have.
At first, I could only list a few items on my gratitude list - the love of my dog, food, shelter, work. The basics. As time went on, my list became more detailed, and I even found myself feeling grateful to the people who had caused so much of my childhood misery, for things like: teaching me to love classical music. Teaching me that prejudice is wrong. Teaching me to be responsible to the animals in my care. The dog had to be fed, and her outside area cleaned up, her water freshened, before we sat down to eat. She was dependent upon us for everything, so we had to look after her properly, and before we looked after our own needs.
I began to let go of my black-and-white thinking, which had made me have to demonise them completely. I still don't think they had the right to physically abuse me, but I can see them as flawed and deeply unhappy human beings, instead of monsters. As long as I saw them as monsters, I couldn't get past my own rage. When I began to see them as people stuck in their own awful misery, I could begin to forgive. I forgave for my sake, not theirs. I forgave so that I could step out of that fire of anger which was consuming me, and have a life.
I have Al-Anon to thank for that, and I am full to bursting with gratitude for the life I have now - it's a beautiful thing.
Keep an open mind, you will find help.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Friday, November 27, 2009
This morning, I realise that quite apart from my distress at animals being mistreated, the issue being raised is trust. Whenever it is discovered that the guards of the henhouse have long snouts and bushy tails peeking out from beneath their feathers, if I'm not careful, I can begin to extrapolate from that one issue of untrustworthiness, to viewing the world as a whole, through a miasma of dubiety.
Who can we trust to care for animals, if not the people who work at the Humane Society? I know I'd like to believe that anyone who works at a place with that name, would have the care of the creatures dependent upon them, uppermost in their minds and hearts.
Our society operates largely on trust - we make daily assumptions as to the way the world is being run, and finding out that these assumptions are mistaken, is unnerving. If I'm not careful, this can start my mind off on an old, old mental loop, which has as its main structure, the declaration "You can't trust anybody!" After a few hundred repititions of this particular loop, I will be feeling anxious, and a thousand times more distrustful than I was at the start - this way of thinking is self-perpetuating.
I know it isn't true; I have people in my life that I give as much trust as I am capable of at this point in my recovery, and that is gallons more than the grudging teaspoon I could give years back when I was relatively new to program. I know there are people I can trust with my heart, and my life, and they will not fail me. I mustn't paint the entire world with the same dark paintbrush. It just blocks the light and obscures my view.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
When I say it, I mean: to deliberately choose to think only of all the aspects of my life for which I feel gratitude, and when I wander off course, as I will do, into thinking about other things, to wrest myself back to it, and to force myself to think only of my gratitude list.
This sounds painfully obvious, and it is, but it's also a reality that escaped me for all the years of my life before program. I walked around feeling miserable, depressed, angry, frustrated, and all the time, the tape that stimulated those feelings played on a non-stop loop inside my head.
Learning that I could change what I was thinking, and thereby change my mood, was a world-altering event for me.
I have learned that when I practise gratitude, I am happy. Period.
How to do this? Pay attention to my internal dialogue, and when I start to think negatively, stop, remind myself of this truth, and choose to think of that which gives me hope, gives me pleasure, gives me strength, gives me faith.
Choose to think.
Negative thinking can be satisfying in a horrid sort of way: "I knew that yada yada would happen!" When I'm in that frame of mind, all I want is to be right, I don't care if being right also makes me miserable. In that instant, being right is more important than anything else. Why is this?
I don't know, and I've reached a point in my life where why something happens is far less relevant than the result, and how to effect a different result.
I can watch my mood shifting, slowly at first, I grant you, because a body at rest tends to remain at rest, and my heavier moods are just that - heavy, and hard to shift. But if I put my whole self into it, and really push gratitude, momentum begins to work, and pretty soon I'm feeling giddy with the delight of having seen program work for me, one more time.
I'm tremendously grateful. I woke up grumpy today, got a message from our realtor that made me even more grumpy, and then was standing looking at my little dog, and she did her happy dance, asking to be picked up. That gleeful little wiggle was enough to remind me that I've got a choice - I can push gratitude, and within a very short time, feel as I do writing this - hugely grateful for all my blessings.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I don't happen to agree with this. I believe that venting of anger is a taboo, and like most other taboos, breaking it the first time carries the greatest weight, and is likely to be accompanied by feelings of guilt.
If we continue to break it, time and again, it loses any power to inform our thinking or control our behavior. We move along the continuum, from remorse and shame at the start, through the doing of it for the satisfaction and power to manipulate, until eventually it becomes habitual.
People who are angry all the time are exhausting company - they require that we be always on guard, so as not to set them off. I had a girlfriend when I lived in the city, whose significant other was a ranter. He was a talented artist, but he was angry all the time, and felt no compunction about expressing his rage. Someone was always pissing him off. He loved to rant about the government - federal and local - that was one of his favourites, because there was so much scope.
He was vociferous in his descriptions of the manner in which other people had failed to meet his standards of conduct. He ranted about the annoying tendency of mechanical objects to break down, wear out, and require repair.
I used to sit in silent wincing while he harangued us, wondering if he thought we wanted to be battered by his opinions, or was he so caught up in the venting of his rage, that we were just acoustical elements in the room?
Anger is a feeling, it's not a right or an entitlement. Pumping our anger out with no regard to those around us is abusive. There is a vast gulf between discussing our anger, the reasons for it, and the healthy ways to deal with it, with our sponsor or a program friend, and just dumping it like a pot of boiling acid over whomever happens to be in the vicinity.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
When I continue to pretend, nothing changes. I must be willing to suffer the consequences of speaking up. I can say what I have to without harsh words or character assassination. I can speak as kindly and with as much care for the other's feelings as is possible, without diluting my message to the point where it's unrecognisable.
If I want change, I must be ready to make those changes myself.
Waiting and hoping that the alcoholic will change, is an exercise in self-delusion.
We teach people how to treat us. I've had the uncomfortable realisation this past while, that I've been less than honest about my true feelings with an alcoholic - I was still people-pleasing. I allowed behaviors to go by unchallenged, and uncommented.
Now that I am speaking up more often, the alcoholic is feeling that I'm changing the rules late in the game. I can't help that - their feelings are their business. As long as I am saying what I need to say respectfully, I'm not responsible for how they choose to deal with it.
Beforehand, I ask God for guidance, and afterwards, I ask Him for comfort.
Monday, November 23, 2009
When first faced with this Step, I had visions of flaying myself in front of other people, the same way I did inside my head. It's not about self-castigation, although I can get lost down that sideroad quite easily if I'm in HALT, or stressed out.
It's about honesty - examining my motives without the rose-colored glasses I'm tempted to don, when viewing my own behavior. I can always find a reason for which it makes perfect sense that I behaved that way; what I need to keep in the forefront of my mind, is that what I describe as "perfect sense" may, when viewed objectively, not be so clear-cut, or so defensible.
In my early twenties, I had a friend who loved to debate. I'd make some wildly sweeping remark, and he'd look at me for a moment, then command, "Argue your point!" Meaning, don't just plunk down that nicely polished finished result of a statement: show me how you got from A to B, and be prepared to have some good bulwarks supporting that judgemental pronouncement, or be swept away downstream with the force of his side of the argument. He'd never let me get away with anything; I learned to temper my statements in his presence.
My first sponsor also did this - she called me to account, and left me no wiggle-room. I had days where I hated her for that. When I had more years of recovery, I confessed that feeling to her, and she fell about laughing - she'd known it all the time. She told me I had a way of pressing my lips together and narrowing my eyes that was a clear indication that she was infuriating me. She would know she was hitting home with whatever observations she was making, by the level of my annoyance. She joked it was like having one of those "you are HERE" signs one finds in malls, with arrows pointing to various destinations.
I was a well-defended individual when I entered Al-Anon; finding the way to my inner self was no easy task, and some days, I despaired of ever reaching my goal of rigorous honesty with myself.
I can't kid myself to the same extent anymore, and some days, I miss being able to, I won't deny it. Life was easier when my behavior was the fault of someone else. When the only person responsible for my behavior is me, I have nowhere to hide from myself or others. I'm out there without the mask of pretense, or the cloak of self-justification.
Why do so many alcoholics seem to feel supremely justified in complaining about how other AA members are working their program? These complaints are often
Presenting complaints as concern for newcomers gives them plausible deniability - who could possibly be offended at the taking of someone else's inventory, when it stems from the best of all possible motives?
Perhaps a phrase you use grates heavily upon my nerves. It appears to be a small step for some people, to move from: "That phrase irritates me and I can't relate to it." to "The use of that phrase is "watering down" or "misinterpreting" AA, and therefore is wrong, and therefore you shouldn't use it, because you are putting newcomers at risk. Because you are willing to water down AA and put newcomers at risk, I am completely justified in feeling anger and resentment towards you. Because I feel anger and resentment towards you, I am 100% justified in taking your inventory, and stamping you REJECTED. Because I reject you, I feel no need to question myself when I find you irritating. "
To a non-alcoholic, this sort of reasoning is
Aren't we meant to take no inventory but our own?
Who decides what is watering down AA, and what is adding to it?
Who gets the final vote on what is permissable to say at a meeting?
Alcoholics are control freaks, and this nonsense seems just another way to sidestep a personal inventory for the pleasure of taking someone else's. If truly trying to work an honest program, why not pay closer attention to the myriad ways in which artifical categories of "Us" and "Them" can be created, even inside a 12-Step group, and strive to not be the one doing the sorting?
Is it "sharing our experience strength and hope" to rail against what other alcoholics are doing incorrectly according to one's personal rules?
Is God working in our lives when we look for ways to exlude and condemn?
Life is too short for this - if someone at your meeting irritates you, why not see it as God offering you a beautiful opportunity to learn patience, tolerance, and love for your fellow human beings, even the ones who don't behave according to your personal manner book. Stop and take the time to wonder just how irritating you may be to sit in a meeting with.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
That quote from Georgia Okeefe has been resonating in my head today. At one of the meetings this week, it became clear to me that a newcomer who is also relatively new to town, is feeling desperately lonely and isolated.
I can feel God nudging me toward her, with me half-heartedly resisting, because I'm "too busy," even as another part of my mind is perfectly aware that I am going to call her and invite her over to meet my dogs, and have a coffee and a chat. I'd mentioned my dogs after the meeting, and her face lit up and she asked what kind? When I told her, she made that sound we dog-lovers make at the very mention of a breed we adore: aawwww!
God keeps making His point to me today, with little reminder memories of the offers of friendship extended towards me when I was at my most despairing. Back then I didn't have the nerve or the self-esteem to call anyone, and would have shrivelled and died on the spot rather than admit that I was anything but "oh, fine!"
There were some Al-Anon women who paid zero attention to my facade of fine-ness, and kept on inviting me to socialise with them, whether for small intimate chats in the garden with a coffee and a treat, or bigger pot-luck dinners - they included me. They shared their time with me, and that sharing of time was a blessing beyond my ability to thank them for, at the time.
They took the time to welcome me, to make me laugh; their sharing of themselves gave me strength, to go back home and continue to deal with the active alcoholism with which I lived then. Just knowing that someone truly saw me, and cared enough to call and invite me over/along was a huge boost to my shaky self-image.
Making someone feel welcomed takes time, and a small amount of effort. I pray that I never forget the way I was welcomed and given comfort in Al-Anon meetings, and outside of them, in social gatherings. I pray that when I hear someone in need of simple human companionship, I don't turn away, telling myself that "someone else is bound to call them, I don't need to..." I pray that when I have been blessed with an abundance of dog-love, and a lonely newcomer makes a comment about how much she misses having an animal, I have sufficient generosity of spirit to share them with her. After all, God has shared them with me.
We all need comforting - sometimes that consists of conversation with someone who knows what you are going through, while you sit in pleasant surroundings, hugging an armful of small warm dog.
Friday, November 20, 2009
"When given the occasion to hear or speak an uncomfotable reality, I have choices. I can hear it and grow, I can share it and grow, or I can ignore it in favor of maintaining my comfort zone. The truth merely provides me with an opportunity for growth. The rest is up to me."
Before Al-Anon, I practised selective listening, and just wouldn't hear an uncomfortable truth about myself. The odd time when the speaker said it loudly enough, and in close enough proximity for me to be unable to not hear it, I turned my face away, and dismissed or minimised. I couldn't deal with any suggestion that I wasn't perfect, because I knew just how imperfect I truly was. I feared myself flawed in some fundamental fashion.
These days, I am well aware that I am flawed, and in full possession of the usual human frailties, but this knowledge is no longer reason to turn from the truth in fear and trembling that I wll be found out.
I've shared of myself at the tables of Al-Anon, and been accepted and loved in spite of my faults and foibles and character defects. When I speak to program friends about my character defects, we can laugh at the essential silliness of the human ego, and the posturing we all adopt in an effort to impress.
Laughter is a solid foundation - pretending is a balance beam. I've had enough of standing on one foot windmilling wildly with my arms, trying to stay up there. I can't sit down, I can't recline, I can't get comfortable in any way - I want the safeguard and serenity of solid ground. To step down, I need to take the ever-present guiding hand of my Higher Power, who will not only help me dismount, but will steady me until I regain my equilibrium.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Too much time and space between me and Al-Anon, in the form of missed meetings, or un-read literature, and my grasp on my serenity begins to diminish. It will be almost imperceptible at first, my downward movement, but were I to continue to miss meetings, I'd soon be zipping along at a speed to rival those poor souls in the ubiquitous reality! caught on tape! tv shows, who miss their footing at the crest of the mountain, and make the trip back down using the back of their head, and one elbow, instead of their skis.
Working 12-Step can feel like pushing a 57 Buick uphill while wearing rollerblades - that sucker is heavy, and what if we get to the top of this hill, only to find another, further, hill past that?
That's why we do it in pairs (sponsor/sponsee) and in groups - sufficient numbers with their shoulder to the back bumper, the side windows, the central pillar of that leviathan, and it will be gliding along like ball bearings on silk - but only as long as enough people are pushing. We can each take a rest now and then, but if we all take a rest at the same time, we will find ourselves moving in the opposite direction from the one in which we've aimed ourselves.
I have nights where I can almost convince myself that I'd rather lie on the couch with my little dog asleep on my chest, her exhalations tickling my neck, her soft snores making me smile, than haul myself into an upright position, get ready, and go to my Al-Anon meeting. Almost convince myself, but not quite. There is margin for error in that argument. I may not feel like putting my shoulder to the bumper of that thing, but who knows who will be at the meeting, and desperate for the one offhand comment of mine, through which my Higher Power and theirs, will speak?
I go for myself, and my serenity, and I go for the others at the table with me. I go because I gain so much, and now that my life has reached a place where it's a pleasant glide most of the time, I go because I hope to give back what was given to me.
Tonight I made the effort to sincerely compliment a member who grates on me a bit (reminds me too much of the aspects of myself that grate upon me) and it felt wonderful. As soon as I'd said it - and meant it, it was nothing but the absolute truth - my resentment dissipated, and I felt calm and serene.
I love Al-Anon.
"Al-Anon is an honest, sharing program. Looking at the part honesty and sharing played in my life opened me to certain realisations. When I'm uncommunicative or dishonest in my interactions, I set myself apart and feel rejected. Conversely, open, truthful communication nurtures feelings of trust, and encourages ne to participate fully in life.
However, as I begin to change my old habits, fear of rejection sometimes tempts me to respond in old ways."
Given my childhood, it is no surprise that fear of rejection and abandonment would be a major force driving many of my life choices before Al-Anon. Rejection by a parent in early childhood leaves a child with a terror that they are somehow "wrong" in their very being - worthless, unlovable.
Through Al-Anon, I have come to understand that for much of my adult life, I was in full panicked flight from the brutalities and loneliness of my childhood. I was afraid of people: of their judgements of me: fearful that I was not good enough: fearful that they would be able to see through my facade to the mess of a person inside.
I was agonisingly lonely, but I didn't know how to begin to trust people. I couldn't share of myself with another human being, because I was a captive of my own fear and distrust. I wore an emotional masquerade of dishonesty. I never told anyone the truth about my past; instead I invented a happy family. I felt the truth would set me apart, and I wanted more than anything to blend in to the background. I wanted to be unseen. At the same time, I moved through my life desparate to be noticed, and loved. I truly did not comprehend that my dishonesty was what kept me apart and lonely.
Dishonesty was such a deeply ingrained habit, that it required a spiritual awakening for me to be able to begin to answer questions about myself with the truth, rather than what I thought the questioner might wish to hear. I had lied about my feelings, my opinions, my ideas, my desires. I was a chameleon, taking on the protective coloration of resemblance to whomever I happened to be with at the time.
Occasionally, I will still fall into the first level of dishonesty - remaining silent when all of my spirit is protesting, because I wish to please the other.
I've adopted some self-preservation tools to deal with situations in which I'd have lied, in the past. When asked a question I do not wish to answer, I can sidestep with some noncomittal reply, or just state that I do not have an opinion worth sharing. (It's not often that I don't have an opinion; an opinion worth sharing is a horse of a different color.)
I can say that I'm not comfortable being asked that question, if that is the case. I can say that I'm not sure what I think, and I'll get back to the person when I am. I can remain silent, and just smile nicely. I can take a deep breath, stop to consider, so that I may frame my reply in the kindest of all possible terms while still being honest, and then speak.
There are several requirements that must be met before I will share some of the more tender aspects of myself - I need to have had the experience of having shared the lighter parts of me, and not been shamed or judged by my listener. I need to know that even if this person fails me or betrays me, I will survive - I have my Higher Power in whom I can trust implicitly, and I have myself - I have learned to trust myself.
I'm still a cautious sort of person when it comes to friendships, and perhaps I will continue to be that way to some degree. I don't trust easily, and I'm more careful than most people about revealing myself. But compared to who I was when I came into Al-Anon, I'm positively extravagant with myself and my sharing. It's a good thing.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
"If I have made myself a part of an Al-Anon group to get help, wouldn't I be defeating myself if I allowed what we call personality clashes to interfere with my getting the full benefit of the program?"
Most of us, when we've been in program for a while, understand that "personal progress for the greatest number depends upon unity," and that this means we need to work to leave our ego at the door of the meeting room, and walk in prepared to be accepting and tolerant of all around the table.
That is not always an easy task - it can be laborious. But it's the proverbial labour of love. We need to let go of our judgements of other people, and see them as a child of God, seeking comfort and recovery, just as we are. We need to either ignore, or argue back against, those mental criticisms of others which arise so easily when we are new to program.
If a new person is rude or prickly, I work to rise above my momentary impatience and intolerance, try to put myself in their place, recall the terror and shame I felt when I was new, let go of my ego, (which is most likely harrumphing back in the corner, muttering a variety of outraged phrases..."Well! How dare he/she! What a thing to say! Unbelievable!") strive to see the person behind the protective facade, and be welcoming because I want to, regardless of how spiny they may appear.
Once in a very long while, there will be a person who is in program for a long time, but who never chooses to practise "obedience to the unenforceable" and they may become a disruptive and divisive influence in the group. This is happening at a meeting here in town, and it's very painful for all involved. Attendance at the meeting is falling off, newcomers come to a few meetings, and never come back, the one member is rude to others inside meetings, and uses their share time to berate the other members for their perceived faults....
Which brings me to my next point - just what is the chairperson supposed to do in a situation of this sort?
When I am chairing the meeting, this person is relatively well-behaved. I believe this is a result of my having ever-so-gently confronted the unacceptable behavior, with reminders that we are here for the good of us all, and that we do not criticise or attack other people at the table.
It's an unfortunate reality of life that some folks are bullies, and if left to their own devices and desires, their behavior only worsens with time. That's what is taking place at this meeting - being permitted to be rude inside the meeting, has only made this person more comfortable with being rude inside the meeting.
No-one can force anyone else to behave with consideration and respect. This meeting may end up disbanding, and regrouping at another venue, or it may limp along becoming more and more unsettling, or it may resolve itself in some way I cannot imagine.
All I can do is detach, and try to understand what lesson is being offered for me to learn in all of this.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Today, while washing the kitchen floor for the zillionth time this week, I was thinking about patience, and how the lack of it has been one of my most painful character defects. Most of us are an intriguing mix of patience and agitation. Engrossed in one of my hobbies, I have endless patience, for the minutest details.
My other mad love, gardening, is also not something one can rush - a garden grows in God's time. I'm merely making it a slightly easier for some plants, by removing the ones which would smother all others in their rampant embrace - weeds.
I once sat in an open AA meeting, back east, and listened to a speaker talk about who was in charge that day, the adult - who could reason things out, accept setbacks without complaint, manifest tolerance, acceptance, and love for others - or the baby - who wanted whatever it was right this minute, and would flail his arms, scream, and kick, in an effort to force his will upon those around him.
That image has stayed with me - I've seen the baby in others, and I've seen the baby in myself - demanding instant gratification, and making life miserable if we don't get it.
I have had it demonstrated to me time and again that my vision is limited - I can only see so far ahead of myself - I've only got the low-beams. My Higher Power has the high-beams. He sees the dangers which lurk just out of my frame of reference, and I need to have the patience and the trust to accept this. When I'm wanting, but not getting, I need to turn it over. I need to ask, and then go on with my life, without continually turning to look and see how He's coming along with that request of mine.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Now, I look forward to having company, especially program people. I know the conversation will enlighten and entertain me, we will be courteous and respectful of each other, we will share our experience strength and hope, and best of all, we will laugh until we can't see straight. And all without one drop of a mood altering substance, just decaff coffee and homemade peanut butter cookies.
God has been good to me; He's granted me many blessings. The company of 12-Step people is just one of them.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
"We could all make good progress if only we would cultivate the knack of listening - uncritically - to everything we hear at a meeting, or from an Al-Anon friend."
Many of us, (and I include myself in this category) come to Al-Anon completely oblivious to the hundreds of messages we receive daily, from our internal dialogue. It takes effort and determination to learn to be aware of that nattering voice, (or voices) and not just take what it's saying as truth. I think we need to learn to listen critically to our internal dialogue, and uncritically to meeting shares and Al-Anon friends.
How on earth does one go about doing this? First we need to become aware that we have an internal dialogue. If we've never stopped to consider it, it's usually happening half-hidden from us. We will be aware of it now and again, but most of it takes place as behind a sheer curtain, with vague movement and shadow, but not clearly seen, or easily understood.
My first sponsor had me carry a notepad and a pen around on a day I was at home alone, and jot down everything I thought in bullet form. It went something like this:
-dog needs out.
-need buy d.food
-porch board still loose
-break neck on that
-a--hole husband never fixes anything around here
-me fool marry him
-take meat out of freezer
and on and on it went, with most of it alternating between character assassination of my ex, and bashing of myself, with plenty of negative generalisations and depression mixed in - a viciously toxic stew. (When I next met with my sponsor, and we went over it, I felt hideously ashamed and embarassed, but she read it and laughed in recognition and gratitude - she recalled very clearly when the inside of her head had looked and sounded like that.)
For whatever reason, that one day doing that little exercise jump-started my ability to hear my internal dialogue. I'd still have long periods where I wasn't aware of it, and so was acting on those old messages rather than the new wisdom of 12-Step, but as my yoga tape says at one point, "..slowly, slowly, you begin to open up, and you can reach further."
I learned that some voices seem to be hardwired in - the parental ones - they haven't been silenced in 22 years of working my program, but they've retreated to the back room now, and only shout out occasionally, when I'm feeling stressed or anxious, and I can choose to detach from, or if I'm really lucky, laugh at, what they're saying. I can drown them out by saying the Serenity Prayer over and over, or a slogan, or a reminder from a program friend, or a prayer. I no longer go through my life with that strong chorus of negativity bellowing into my inner ear, poisoning my days and depressing my joy in living.
I've learned that when I share with my Al-Anon group something that one of my parental voices has said to me, and they all howl with laughter, this shared laughter weakens the power of that voice.
I've learned that when I work to close that backroom door, and listen uncritically to sharing at a meeting, I open myself to growth, peace, and serenity. I've heard gems of wisdom which have shoved me forward in a burst of change, from people to whom I'd never have paid the slightest attention, before Al-Anon. I don't build those artificial barriers between me and another person anymore. I don't care how you dress, what you drive, how you style your hair, or where you live. You are one of God's children, and we all have value and worth.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
"Troubles grow bigger as we spend more time thinking about them."
I've sat in many an Al-Anon meeting, in which any mention of obsessing brings groans and sighs of agreement from the rest of the people at the table.
We can all relate. Obsessive thinking seems to be a common character trait among Al-Anon members. We can move through great long stretches of our lives like zombies in a B-movie: eyes blank, expression vacant, while all the time, we are engaged in a furiously concentrated mental loop which never solves a damn thing, but ever ramps up our anxiety, frustration and fear.
I've gotten more skilled at observing the early signs of this in my thinking, but there will most likely always be times when I find to my disgust that I've been doing this again for the last 3 hours. The trick is to realise this, and stop without simply transferring onto a different loop in which I give myself royal hell for obsessing.
I've had days where I've had to blast music for hours, music which I cannot help but sing along to - that will get me outside my head. (You know the kind, songs you know by heart, and could sing perfectly with no musical accompanyment whatsoever; they're burned into your memory from a time when you put a song on "repeat" and played it 3000 times in a row, driving your parents or anyone else within earshot to screaming madness.)
Whatever works. Hard physical exercise helps my antsiness, but doesn't work for the mental loops. I've had days where I've read every reading on a topic, in every daily reader that I own, then gone online and read blogs, then called a friend, and still cannot get off that damn loop. That's when I remember that I have one resource which never fails me - God. I don't know if I have some strange idea that I need to try all human methods first before "bothering" God with my obsessing, or if it's just the control freak aspect of my nature wanting to do it "my way," on those days.
If I'm fortunate, I will catch myself dipping a toe in that pond, yank it back, turn smartly on my heel, and walk away, asking as I go, that God grant me release from my obsession. I like those times - recovery then seems like a smooth and level path, clearly signposted, with great scenery. The trick is to love and respect myself under both circumstances. God does.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
That was one of the first lessons I didn't want to learn in Al-Anon - I can't change anyone but myself. I have to accept the other person "as is." I can speak up regarding behavior I find unacceptable, and I can remove myself from an unacceptable situation, other than that, I am powerless - I cannot force the other person to behave differently.
In friendship, if we are not willing to accept "as is," we can be in a state of ongoing exasperation, judging harshly for their failure to meet our expectations, or for behaving differently than we would choose to. I've had to let go of friendships when I sadly realised that my friend couldn't allow me to think from a separate viewpoint. When new to program, I had a friend who would make statements, and then finish off with "...right?" To begin with, if I didn't agree, I'd say so. I quickly learned that wasn't worth the hassle, it was easier to sidestep her with a noncommittal remark. After a short while, she caught on to that, and she wouldn't accept those - her insecurities demanded complete agreement. I used to arrive back at home after visiting with her, and feel exhausted. I was in Al-Anon for quite a few years before it dawned upon me why I found this friend's company so tiring - it was because she couldn't allow me to be myself, with my own opinions, personality quirks, and human frailties. When I was with her, I felt evaluated and reproved. That understanding made it possible for me to choose to let the friendship go. I felt a strange mixture of sadness and relief. This guided me to pay closer attention to when I may be doing this same thing to a friend - requiring that they agree with me about whatever it is I'm feeling het up. I also had to seek out the reasons for which I'd allow myself to become involved with a person who couldn't accept me "as is." If I'm in a conversation, and I begin to feel irritated because the other person doesn't agree with me, I now know to stop talking, sit back, and listen carefully. I don't want my own ego to be creating barriers between me and another human being. I want to be accepting.
Monday, November 9, 2009
I found this enormously helpful. (Thankyou, Mitch.)
I will be forever grateful to Al-Anon, for having made me teachable. When I am offered the precious gift of a suggestion about how I might deepen my understanding, of 12-Step, and of myself, I am well-disposed to listen, and to try putting it into practise.
My little blurb on my home page about "feel free to write to me" isn't just lip service - this has been my recurring experience in 12-Step - my Higher Power offering me a solution, through the words of a fellow member.
When I came into program, if you didn't fit my narrow definition of "normal" I'd shut you out. I may have been outwardly courteous, because I'm in that age group - we were taught to be polite to strangers - but inwardly, I'd be writing off anything said to me, because look who was saying it. I wanted to reject you first, before you got a chance to reject me. That felt safer. It was a lonely way to live, and I missed a lot of wisdom I could have learned from. I'm trying to make up for that now.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
I didn't like the idea of reasoning things out with someone else; my ego was sorely offended at the mere hint of my own reasoning powers being unreliable. No matter that my own reasoning had led me into a marriage with an alcoholic, who was the male version of the adult who had battered me so severely in my childhood. My ex battered with words rather than his fists, but he kept me in the same state of reduction.
My first sponsor once said, (kindly but with a hint of something else beneath) "If you can stop being offended long enough to see clearly, you might be able to change your behavior, and steer around this obstacle in future."
Stop being offended? How dare she suggest I was offended? Why, I found that thoroughly offensive of her!
I recall looking at her rather sheepishly, and she looking back at me with such affectionate humour in her gaze, it brought the sting of tears to my eyes.
In this way did I slowly learn to listen to what another member had to offer me. I don't have to substitute their judgement for my own, but if I don't utilise the collected wisdom of my group and of Al-Anon, by reaching out when I am stymied, I shortchange my recovery. I almost guarantee my continued misery.
I was anxious all day yesterday, and finally called a program friend, who offered me ways to see my problem that had escaped me in my own obsessive pondering.
What a gift this program is, so freely and generously given.
I've lived most of my life in fear - as a child, and as an adult - sitting in the bottom of the closet inside my head, quivering with foreboding, waiting for that door to swing open to reveal....
...I'm not sure what, but I just know it's going to be ugly and painful.
I've wasted great stretches of my life in the bottom of that proverbial closet, too riveted by fear to be able to think with any rationality, vibrating like a tuning fork to the single note of panic. On my particular road in life, the deepest rut, and the one into which I can fall with the slightest of lapses of attention, is - fear. I can slip it on like a worn old coat from a hook beside the door, when I step out to face the world, and returning from the outside, I can step into it in the same way I would some ancient, comfortable, but dispreputable footwear meant for indoor use only - the garments of fear are always there waiting for me to choose them. Before Al-Anon, I wasn't aware that I had a choice as to whether I wore them or not. I believed, without ever having stopped to consider it, that this was my lot in life - to live with a permanent knot of fear chewing at my gut.
I can recall feeling pure fury the first time I heard the phrase "The opposite of fear is faith." Oh, right! And it's just that simple, too, just put down my fear and pick up my faith, sure, no problem. Except that for me, fear was so inextricably entangled and enmeshed in my experience of life as an unsafe and dangerous environment, that I couldn't see how faith could be attainable for anyone with half a brain. My terrors were not imaginings, they were real possibilities. I'd seen what life can do to those who are weak or even inattentive; I wasn't going to relax my vigilance for even a nanosecond.
I sometimes think of my first sponsor as ever-so-gently, but inexorably, pulling open my terror-stricken steely grasp, finger by finger, all the time speaking softly and lovingly of how much better it would be when I let go, and let God. I wanted to believe her, oh how I wanted to believe her! I wanted to live as she described life to me - doing my part, and then turning the rest over to my Higher Power to deal with, going about my day safe in the knowledge that He was looking out for me, but I just couldn't get there.
For me, fear feels like an old friend, one I know intimately, and don't like very much, but almost feel obliged to move over and allow to share my seat, if for no other reason than our long acquaintance. It can be quite the effort to muster my resolution enough to say, "Sorry, no room here!"
Some days the only way I can avoid sharing my seat with fear is to go in, kneel down, and pray to God to make the seat narrower.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
This powerful reaction to music, is a gift from God that I cherish. I know that there are people who don't have this - I've had friends for whom music never rises above the level of "nice." They can take it or leave it - go for a month without using their cd player.
I find this amazing. I need music. It feeds my artistic creativity. It allows me to believe in the beauty of the human spirit, when doubts assail me. Music can carry me when I am stumbling and tripping over the reality of what people are capable of doing to each other.
There have been many times in my life when the only way I have been able to feel my Creator, was through music opening the route in to where I live, behind my defenses. Music can blast through the obstacles of disquiet and skepticism.
I have the strongest reaction to classical, but I love all music. I'm impatient with musical snobbery - it feels like another way to create those false categories of "us" and "them."
There have been periods in my life when the only real pleasure I've had, has been music. People will test and disappoint us, but people can be a conduit for our Higher Power through music. I can recall a very dark period of my life, when I was living in a basement apartment in a major city to which I'd recently moved. I knew no-one there, (this was before Al-Anon) and the loneliness was overwhelming. All that kept me going, some long sleepless nights, was music - it was my connection to humanity. That apartment was a recipe for depression - new, but dark and gloomy. I hated it, I hated the city, I hated myself...some nights, I'd lie in bed with my headphones on, feeling so hopeless at the start of a well-loved piece of classical, and by the last chords, I would be calmed, restored, and finally able to sleep.
Music is yet another aspect of life for which I am humbly grateful.