Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why Should I?

"But why should I be the one to change? Shouldn't it be the alcoholic who changes? Why me?"

"Why you? Because you can't change other people."

I fought that truth for a long time.

I accepted many other truths Al-Anon offered, but that one - I just did not want to believe that "... all my efforts had been for naught, that I'd been doomed to failure before I've ever started, that it had been completely hopeless all along, that ..."
My first sponsor interrupted this litany of misery, to ask me, "Is there any other way you can look at this?"

We had many of these conversations sitting at her kitchen table; I did a lot of staring out the window at the trees, when I didn't want to make eye contact. That question, as did so many of her questions early on, brought me to a confused, somewhat resentful, silence. I hadn't a clue where she was heading with that question, and felt miffed that she had interrupted me while I was in full, self-pitying flow.

She smiled at me, and asked, in her crisp British accent, "How about viewing it as a gift of freedom?"

A gift? A gift?

This woman, to whom I was entrusting my most personal thoughts and feelings, was, obviously, barking mad. It was the only conclusion I was able to reach at the time.

I replied stiffly that I didn't quite understand how alcoholism could be viewed as a gift of freedom. I can just see myself, bristling at any suggestion that my thinking might be flawed, or confused, or self-defeating - I took offense very easily back then. I often drove home from these sessions with my first sponsor with nothing in my mind but anger and indignation -  she had said this, and that, and didn't have any sympathy!

The latter was true enough, sympathy she didn't have; empathy she dished out in generous helpings. When my self-pity and martyrdom receded enough that I once again began to be able to register anything apart from my all-consuming problems, I understood that she lived in much the same circumstances I did, but with considerably more peace and serenity.

Back to this "gift" nonsense. I sat in silence while my sponsor explained that what I could see as a gift of freedom, was the understanding that I couldn't change anyone but myself. Since that was the case, and it was an exercise in futility, I could stop trying to change my alcoholic first husband, and instead, learn to live my life fully and serenely. Wasn't that wonderful?

I eyed her dubiously, and made some sort of accepting murmuring noise, which, in hindsight, she must have recognised by my rigid posture and tight-lipped expression, that I didn't believe, or accept, for a nanosecond.

My desperation kept me coming back to Al-Anon meetings, and reading Al-Anon literature, and eventually, my desire for recovery overwhelmed my resistance, and I accepted that I couldn't change anyone but myself.

It is a gift of freedom - I let things go which would have obsessed me to the exclusion of all else, which would have caused me hours, days, weeks of angry chewing-over.

I can't change the alcoholic. I can't change other people. So, let it go, then. Instead, I can choose to play in my garden, paint, sew, walk the dogs, read a good book, spend time with friends, work upon changing myself.

Don't take even one or two steps down that lonely road - notice it as I'm passing, but shrug and keep walking towards my serenity - that's my goal.


  1. Such an excellent topic! It is exhausting to try to change someone else...to find myself over-explaining, trying to get through and make my point crystal clear. What a relief when I can view this burden as an unnecessary waste of my life energy!!! I know this, and yet I forget it time and again. I need to read this post regularly to remind myself :)

    Thanks, Cheryl!


  2. I realize that I can't change anyone else. And with sponsees, I have to let them find their way back to working the steps without trying to pull them back. I gently remind them to keep moving forward, but ultimately I can't make them do the work. I have learned to let them go as well until they are ready to move forward.