Thursday, January 13, 2011

Arguments and Self-Control.

I was reminded recently, of a tip my first sponsor gave to me, when I begged her for a way to avoid getting caught up in the endless, ridiculous, upsetting arguments my first husband so loved. She called it "ten-thousand counting." One thousand,  two thousand, three thousand, etc, counted off silently inside one's head, until that first rush of angry desire to respond in kind passed away, and sanity reasserted itself. In effect, what I was doing, was waiting out my own emotional reactions.

Another tip, was the novel idea that I "didn't have to attend every argument to which I was invited." When the alcoholic flung angry accusations, I didn't have to defend myelf. When slighting statements regarding my character and personality were made, I didn't have to argue that they weren't true. I could say one of those marvellous little phrases she taught:

"You could be right."
"Oh yeah." (said not in a challenging tone, but in the tone one uses when bored senseless, but feeling the need to make some sort of response to prove we are still awake)

Later in program, I learned to use "broken record" - one statement, repeated and repeated, as many times as required, until the listener hears us - this may take a while. It's very effective, because it doesn't allow the argumentative one to haul us down one of those side roads.

I have found self-control can be a matter of a second's choice to keep my mouth firmly closed, regardless of how overwhelming is my desire to open it. I have found it helpful to stay silent long enough to consider my motive in speaking - am I offering information, setting a boundary, or giving in to a desire to control?

I heard someone in a meeting joke that he was amazed how every year, when he turned to January 1st, in One Day At A Time In Al-Anon, and Courage to Change, the daily Al-Anon reading books, he was astounded to discover that somehow, his Higher Power had rewritten the darn things, because he was utterly convinced he'd never read that passage in all the years he'd had the book....

I find these little books of great help, because they remind me of program wisdom at times when I cannot recall it on my own. "Ten-thousand counting," followed by the polite excusing of myself, and the reading of some Al-Anon literature, teaches me self-control. I'm a work in progress, and always will be; I've come to terms with that. I try not to berate myself (don't always manage that, either) when I realise I've done it again, whatever "it" is. I work for forgiveness of myself, and pray for awareness and acceptance, so that next time, my action is a healthy one.

Now and then, my little dog will be unable to resist chewing just the outer edge of a piece of paper left within her reach, into a soggy mess.  I will come back into a room, glance over at her, see her sitting, head drooping, the picture of guilty misery, and that's how I know that she's been naughty. Chewing a piece of paper is pretty mild in the list of dog sins; I don't know if her previous owner chastised her for paper chewing too severely, or why she seems so distressed afterwards - I never catch her at it, and am no good at disciplining her anyway, because I love her so. I can't bear to upset her tiny loving self. I clear it up, while she sighs heavily, and can't make eye contact, silly creature.

I wonder why she does it, when she seems to feel so bad about it afterwards? Perhaps for the same reason I've done the things I knew I was better off not doing: being unable or unwilling to resist the urge. I pray for the strength and self-control to resist the urgings of my lesser self, and for tolerance of the alcoholic, so that I do not take their illness personally.


  1. It is tempting to buy into the arguments and blame that my alcoholics can dish out. I realize that I will never beat them at what they do best. It is futile. So I keep silent, restrain my tongue and realize as you wrote here, it may not be about me at all. Thanks for the "ten thousand and counting" tip. That is a good one.

  2. Another tip, was the novel idea that I "didn't have to attend every argument to which I was invited."

    I love this!!! I have been getting a tremendous amount of invitations lately, and am afraid I have not always declined gracefully :(


  3. There is so much good stuff here. I love the 10,000 and counting suggestion too. I have found the serenity that the program offers and over the years I am less willing to give it away. I consider myself self-ish that way. Boundaries saved my life and helped me to find a backbone. Really good stuff today.


  4. I silently like to repeat the phrase I heard when I first entered Alanon...
    What you think of me is none of my business.
    The counting is a good tool I will have to add it to the ole box.

  5. Thank you, I will not play the game. I will apply the several examples you described to those who try me so.
    For whatever reason, I have continuously felt I must defend myself. For example, when I point out to someone who created their own problem, it was due to their own lack of action, they come back at me, pour out some justification, and then insist that I am being antagonistic. I will then fall into the emotional trap of this person’s denial and then I feel I have to defend myself. Especially when dealing with an unreasonable persons demand or point of view. No more arguing or discussions of futility.