Monday, March 9, 2009

So, Just How Do I "Detach," Anyway?

Detachment in Al-Anon is a concept which can be horrendously confusing and problematic for many of us. What is detachment? Why should we detach? What do we achieve when we detach? How does detachment look from the outside? How does it feel from the inside?

I'll start with my idea of what detachment is, and is not.
Put very simply, detachment is - the ability to maintain my own mood, regardless of the moods of those around me. This means that if I've spent the day feeling gleeful and giddy and full of appreciation for life, but the alcoholic arrives home in a temper, and furious: I am truly detached when I can feel compassion for his/her bad day, without losing my good mood.

"How on earth do I do that?" newcomers wail - "You don't know what he's like when he's mad, he stomps and rants and says horrible things..."
For many of us, our moods may begin within us, but they are fed or starved, by the input of others. We need to learn to put a boundary in place, to stop that open connection. When I lived with active alcoholism, pre-Al-Anon, when the alcoholic would begin to verbally abuse me, I'd feel the need to defend myself, with the same level of anger he was hurling at me, fight back, stick up for myself, not allow him to say those things....all of those choices on my part left the connection to him and his bad mood open.
I was reacting, not responding - my heart would be pounding like crazy, my hands would be shaking, and I'd be in tears, furious and despairing that once again, he'd done this to me.

Al-Anon showed me that he wasn't doing it to me, I was making the choice to engage.

"What?" I hear some of you cry, "What else can I do when he/she is having a temper tantrum and screaming abuse?"
Detach. Close the connection. Turn off the hose that fuels the fire. Don't react, respond. The two most useful phrases I learned in program, as a way to respond in that situation, were:
"Oh, yeah." (said with mild interest) and, "You could be right."

The very first time I had the presence of mind to remember to use one, my former husband had just finished a long involved rant detailing my possible origin, my personality defects, my uselessness, my stupidity, etc, and when he finally wound down, and stared belligerently at me, waiting for a shrieking reply, I said, "Well, you could be right."

It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. It stopped him cold. He stared at me, with his mouth half-open, absolutely astonished.

He tried again, in even more detail.

I said it again, "You could be right."

I watched him deflate before my eyes. I could see him realise that something had changed within me. He turned and went off to watch tv and drink some more. I sat in my kitchen, shaking, but exhilarated. Oh my goodness, this program stuff actually worked!
And more to the point, I still had my self-respect, because I hadn't sunk to his level of verbal abuse.

No comments:

Post a Comment