Sunday, March 20, 2011

Am I Looking For Guidance, Or Sympathy?

How can I tell? In this, as in so much of Al-Anon, I need to stop and consider my motives. What is it that I'm hoping to receive, when I place this phone call, or open this conversation? In the past, what I wanted, was sympathy, and advice I could ignore. I felt that if someone cared about me, they'd offer me advice. I didn't want to take it, but I still wanted them to put the effort into the offering.

Also, sympathy. I loved it when someone would coo, "Oh, your poor thing, how do you put up with that?"

So when I was very new to Al-Anon, and would call my new sponsor, expecting her to give lashings of sympathy, and instead she'd suggest that I consider my powerlessness, and try turning it over to my Higher Power, I would feel frustrated, and angry. Furiously angry. I'd fall silent on the phone, stewing and fuming, and she'd let the silence extend for a while, then ask, "What are you feeling right now?" and I, of course, would respond brightly with, "Oh, I'm fine!" because I sure as heck wasn't going to tell her how offended I was by her response.

She would ask "Fine? You don't sound fine, you sound angry." And then somehow, instead of a nice satisfying (to me at the time) conversation about what a creep my alcoholic was, and what a great martyr I was, we'd be engaged in a discussion about my response to her suggestions, and why did that make me so angry, what was it that I thought she was supposed to give me, that I wasn't getting? Had I called her because I was looking for guidance, or for another reason? Did I want help, or did I want to continue in the same awful state I'd been in for so many years?

I used to come away from conversations with her feeling a mix of frustration, fury, bruised entitlement, and the dim realisation that she could help me, were I to keep trying. At the beginning of my time in Al-Anon, I didn't do what was suggested because I believed in it, so much as because she believed in it, and so did the other people in my meeting group. And I was desperate. So I would hang up the phone, and go do what she'd told me to do, whether it was to pray to a Higher Power I didn't yet recognise, or work my program in some other way.

From my present perspective, I marvel at my sponsor's patience with the childish, stubborn, self-pitying person I was at that time in my life. I was a sarcastic, chronic complainer. All of those character defects were closely tied, to my inability to love or value myself. Through my sponsor's willingness to work with me, I learned that putting the program into practise, could revolutionise my life.
I learned that were I to behave differently, my self-image would also change. This may sound like pretty basic reality to some of you, but for me, it was a revelation.

When I could rise above my own wants, and give of myself to another, I felt good in a way I'd never been able to achieve before Al-Anon. This is one of the basic tenets of 12 Step - when we share with another, we receive an amazing gift ourselves.

When I treated the alcoholic and myself with kindness and dignity, I felt like a good person, and that was new to me, to feel that way. I could respect myself when I used the tools of progam to deal with his acting out. The very first time I refused to respond to his rudeness and unkindness with like behavior, and instead, tried another way, I was astounded to discover that it worked. And worked very well, too.

When I was new to Al-Anon, I justified my own behavior, by pointing to the behavior of someone else - they "made me do it, by making me so angry!" "They hurt my feelings, so I hurt theirs in return." This kind of behavior may have afforded me momentary satisfaction, but somewhere deep inside, I knew it wasn't a good or loving or kind way to behave, and when I acted that way, it only added to my negative self-image.

In order to be able to love myself, I need to act in a loving way towards myself, and those around me. When I can let go of the little thoughtlessness, or perhaps unkindness someone may direct at me, I don't take it on and stew over it. I see it, I recognise it, I decide if I need to adjust my boundaries with that person, or whether I can let it pass by, unremarked upon. I choose to concentrate on that which is good in my day, because when I do, my spirit fills with gratitude, and I feel calm, centered, and serene.

I cannot change other people; I can change myself. Let it begin with me.


  1. Thank you for this wonderful post.
    Self pity was part of the victim personae that is so difficult for me to see out of some days.
    One day at a time

  2. I can have some self-pity for about 30 minutes and then it is time to move on and get to gratitude. Great post.