Thursday, October 29, 2009

Asking For What We Need.

My little female dog is a lover of close physical contact and snuggling. When she wants this from me, she will come to wherever I am, and ask for it. She has a certain silly dance she does when she wants to be cuddled, and I can never resist her. I'll scoop her up, put her on my lap inside my sweater, and she will settle in with a sigh of contentment.

Dogs are uncomplicated that way - when we've been living with them for a short period of time, we pretty much figure out how to communicate, and they let us know when they have a want or a need, and ask for us to fill it.

Humans can be a puzzle, especially when the person doesn't know themselves what it is they want or need. Or when their needs and wants seem to be in direct conflict with our own - then what do we do? If you are like most of us when we came into Al-Anon, we always put the other first, not hard to do when faced with the strength of the alcoholic ego sweeping all before it. Anyone who has lived with alcoholism for any length of time can know that feeling of "Anything to keep the peace." I know I was so shut off that I'd lost sight of the importance of meeting my own needs in life, as well as being a source of comfort and solace to others. I wouldn't allow anyone close enough to be a source of comfort and solace to me. I didn't think I needed it, I was tough. I thought. Truly, I was just numb. The only feeling I had was anger. I used to shake with rage.

From Hope for Today, page 159:

"I rarely cried while I was growing up in my alcoholic family. I was sure it was a sign of weakness. However, my emotions came as a package. When I turned off one feeling, I also shut off all the others."

I shut off all but anger - I was consumed with it, and had been from the time I was a child. Children know, when they are being physically abused, that this is not right, or fair, and ongoing abuse lights a terrible rage within, which if not dealt with, will ravage them as an adult.

The only way for me to let go of my fury, was to talk about some of what had been done to me, to a person who would listen while I ranted and railed against my tormentor - for me, this was my first sponsor. It was a long and arduous process to work my way past the animosity to the pain below. I was like the writer in the earlier quote - I never cried, I couldn't. I might have stinging eyes, or a lump in my throat, but I couldn't weep, even if I'd wanted to, and living with active alcoholism, I wasn't sure I did.

My sponsor kept asking me how I'd felt as a child, and I kept sidestepping with bland phrases along the lines of, "Well, I didn't like it, of course..." One day she said to me, quietly, and with feeling, "You will never get anywhere until you let yourself know what you felt back then."

Let myself know? What was she talking about? That was one of those comments which continue to rise in the mind, refusing to be pushed away, bobbing to the surface like a damn rubber ducky in the bathtub. One can either expend a fair amount of energy holding it below the surface, or let go, and watch it rise to sit directly in the path of our gaze, gently moving with the water's swell. What one cannot do, is ignore it.

For me, there was no quick relief, it took years of working the Steps - slowly working my way down through my defenses, through the anger and the resentment to the pain beneath.

The bewildered agony I had felt as a child, molded me into the adult I had become. Under all my rage and resentment was a gnawing, confused, agony of soul. God was my comfort and my solace in that time of excavating the past. God working through my sponsor. The kindness in her eyes could cause me an actual physical pain in my chest; I didn't know how to receive kindness, I felt anxious and undeserving. My sponsor used to reach out and hold my hand with hers, and say softly, "Just sit with it. You're an adult, and you're safe now. Trust God."

I feel with all my earthly self, that "mere words cannot express" my gratitude for all that this program, and the people in it, have given me. God bless you and keep you.


  1. I don't think I felt much as a child. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and wondering why I was being tested by God all the time. It didn't matter what I felt, as long as I survived, so I did my best to stop feeling.