"The question is not what a man can scorn, or disparage, or find fault with, but what he can love, and value, and appreciate."
Many of us have had so many years of frustration with someone's drinking by the time we hit the rooms of Al-Anon, that it can be quite the project to begin "loving, valuing and appreciating" our alcoholics.
We may treat our partner with a scornful disdain, while complaining that they no longer give us the affection we need and want. Someone once asked me, after I'd been complaining about the way I was treated by my first husband, "How do you treat him? With respect?"
I fell silent, unable to reply in the affirmative. I had lost all respect for him, with my loss of trust in him. I was new enough to Al-Anon to still be quite skilled at dismissing anything which didn't fit my world view, but that was one of those questions that would not be dismissed, it kept arising in my internal dialogue.
When working my first Step Four, I had to admit that I treated my first husband with contempt, disdain, rudeness, and cruelty, while at the same time complaining of the way he treated me. We were horrible to each other, it was just that his nastiness was delivered at the top of his voice, and mine came in quiet cutting remarks dropped into silences.
I could not begin to grow until I was able to admit where I was at the moment. All of my blaming and demonising of him may have satisfied the more childish element of my character, but it gave me no peace, and negatively affected my self-respect.
I have become a person I can love and respect, through my slow (so slow!) willingness to see my own character defects as affecting my experience in the world. If I am disagreeable, I will most likely be lonesome, because who wants to be around a chronic complainer who is full of scorn for the things others treasure?
When my husband was graduating from college, I somehow ended up sitting in the audience beside a woman who leant over and tried to fill my ear with disparaging remarks about the college, the courses, the instructors, the students...she was the girlfriend of a man who'd been in one of my husband's courses, and who he'd tried to avoid, because this man and his girlfriend shared a worldview unremittingly negative.
Before Al-Anon, I considered happy people to be fools who either didn't understand the realities of human life, or lucky bastards who had somehow escaped what the rest of us had suffered. It was unimaginable to me that anyone could suffer, and come through that suffering with an ability to "love, value, and appreciate."
From Courage to Change, page 148:
"After so many disappointments, it seemed too painful to continue to hope. We shut our hearts and minds to our dreams, and stopped expecting to find happiness. We weren't happy, but at least we wouldn't be let down anymore."
We may start out using a negative attitude as a way to protect our inner selves from the blows of disappointment, but it can become habitual, and then we're in real trouble, because our inner dialogue stops offering us the positive side, and we forget that there is one.
The reading goes on:
"I will not let fear of disappointment prevent me from enjoying this day. I have a great capacity for happiness."
I have found this to be nothing but the pure truth. I do have a great capacity for happiness, and that's a glorious thing.