Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Demands.

One of my character defects is stubbornness.

I've managed, as a result of years of hard work in Al-Anon, to be able to recognise when I'm feeling intransigent, and most often, why. I can understand what motivates the desire to persist, or resist, and what I'm going to gain, or lose, if I continue along that path.

Before program, I could be so single-minded that I can recall a friend saying to me, "You're relentless." It was neither an observation, nor a compliment. It was more a sighing acceptance of a disturbing reality. I was relentless. Once I'd made up my mind that I wanted something, I was determined to make it happen, and I was willing to plow over anyone who got in my way. I had a chip on my shoulder of mammoth proportions because of the abuse in my childhood, and I felt that the world owed me. I believed that I deserved to get what I wanted now, damn it!

That attitude kept me in my first marriage to the drinking alcoholic, trying with all my power to make him stop drinking. The only trouble with that being, he wasn't ready to, and he didn't want to stop drinking. He's still drinking now, and I've been through another, longer, second marriage.

It took all the combined wisdom of the members of my home group in Al-Anon, all those years ago, to help me to understand that it didn't matter what I wanted. I'd go to my sponsor, or call her, and I'd whine and rant and rave about how much I wanted him to stop drinking, and she'd let me finish, and then she'd say, "It doesn't matter what you want, if he doesn't want to quit. It doesn't matter. Do you hear me, it doesn't matter what you want him to do, YOU CANNOT MAKE HIM DO IT!!!"

I'd sit there feeling dogged determination rising in my chest, and I'd think to myself, "Oh yes it does, and oh yes I can." I just needed to try harder, use a different approach, make more of an effort. I turned myself inside out trying to please him so he'd quit drinking. That was unsuccessful.

I poured guilt over his head about what he wasn't doing for the kids from his first marriage, I pointed out all of his character defects, I was unkind. He laughed at me.

I was adamant that he was going to quit, and I was going to make him. Well, I didn't, and he didn't.

I finally had to admit defeat. I expected to feel shame, embarrassment, guilt and sorrow when I at last accepted that I couldn't "save" him from his addiction. To my astonishment, what I felt was relief.

I stopped demanding that he quit drinking, and I began setting boundaries for his behavior, stating clearly that were he to do ______, I would do ________.  Then he would test the boundary, I'd follow through, and the bad behavior would stop, when he realised I meant what I said. Eventually, when it truly sunk in to me that I couldn't change his behavior, I decided that I had to leave the marriage, and did just that, only to go on a few years later to marry a sober but not-in-recovery alcoholic who was a picture-perfect illustration of what is meant by a "dry drunk."

If there is one lesson I have learned in Al-Anon which has stood me in good stead over the years, it is that demanding doesn't work. I don't have the right to demand that someone else change to my specifications, and I don't need to get worked up if someone makes demands of me. I can say politely that I don't respond to demands, and let it go. I don't have to change their thinking, I only have to respond in a reasonable way to what may seem an unreasonable demand, and that is the extent of my responsibility in the matter.

I'm not anyone's Higher Power, and it's not up to me to make sure that they do this or that. I can offer my experience strength and hope, and let the results go. That's true freedom.





Friday, December 27, 2013

Refusing Negativity.

In the laundry room this morning, we met up with one of the residents. This person is unfailingly polite, but their attitude is overwhelmingly negative. If one suggests that the day promises to be a beauty, this individual will unfailingly find some negative aspect upon which to comment - "It's supposed to rain later," or "It might look nice, but it's probably cold," or some other remark full of doom, gloom or depression.

I feel for this poor miserable soul, unable to take any delight in life. I recall all to clearly just how dismal the world appeared to me before my attitude change in Al-Anon. When it was first suggested to me that I had a choice with regard to my attitude, I thought the speaker a hopeless Pollyanna. I believed that those of who saw the world through an unremittingly negative filter were the realists of life, and those who were cheerful were na├»ve. After all, with all that I'd been through as a small child, how could I be expected to have a positive attitude?

I encountered almost those very words in a recent conversation with one of my sisters. I was talking to her about how much more satisfying life is, when one has a positive attitude, and works to practise gratitude for one's blessings, rather than seek to find all that life is supposedly missing. She sighed heavily, and said, "Yes, but with our childhoods, how can you have a positive attitude?" She hasn't lived with her adoptive parents (the three of us were all adopted separately, that was the policy back then) for 40 years, yet she is still using them as reason for her largely negative attitude. I will occasionally get the shivers talking with her, and it's only because in her I see who I would have been without the changed attitude I learned in Al-Anon. I am so hugely grateful for all those who patiently repeated themselves as I tried my best to prove them wrong in their cheerful outlook.

I have been given such enormous blessings in my life, and one of the greatest of those is love, the love of my delightful Robert, whose patience, tolerance, and humour make him such a treat. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to come home to an empty apartment after surgery. I know my friends would have rallied around to help me, but I was lucky beyond words, I had a man whom I adore, who loves me the same way, and just being able to spend more time with him made me feel better physically. The body-mind connection is a mystical one.

Program has allowed me to deal with cancer by living one day at a time, and not terrifying myself with possibilities. It will be what it will be. My faith makes me willing to accept and to be grateful. There are no guarantees in life. I'm happy and serene today, and that's enough.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

You Can't Walk in Sand Without Leaving Footprints.

I have two sisters, both older than I. One, M, is two years my senior, the other, G, is four years older. M and I get along well. Although she's never had experience with program or 12-Step of any kind, with her life experience, she's evolved into someone who can question her own responses, ponder her own behavior, and be firmly on the side of improved communication.

G reminds me very much of myself before Al-Anon. I offended very easily, I was rigid in my thinking, and I was determined to "win" any conflicts or hassles in which I became involved. My way was not only the correct way, it was the one and only way. I will occasionally cast my mind back to the younger me, and feel empathy for those who had to deal with that prickly, mutinous, sullen and immature woman.

One of Al-Anon's greatest lessons is that I cannot change another person. No amount of heckling, badgering, whining, manipulating, wheedling or pressure is going to affect a permanent change in the thinking or behavior of any other human on this planet.

I can only change myself.  My only sphere of true influence lies within my own skull. The mind of any other person is only available to me as that person chooses to share themselves. I have no way of knowing whether or not that sharing is conscious, true or honest.

I've always loved the music of Tom Petty, and in the chorus of "The Waiting" he sings:

"...The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you get one more yard
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part..."

I cannot have a relationship all my own way, no more than I could walk in sand without leaving my footprints. With my oldest sister, all I can do is do my best. When I feel the need to set a boundary, I make the effort to be as kind as is humanly possible in the way I state my need for respect. After that, I have to wait. I wait for her response, or lack of same. I let her, and her response go, as far as I'm able at that point.

These days, I'm fairly skilled at letting go of what I cannot control. If it's beyond me, I can see that with clarity, so I try not to let it eat at me. When I'm trying to let go, and can't manage it, I ask my Higher Power for help. My prayers for assistance seem to have simplified down to one sentence:

"Please help me with this."

I no longer specify how I  want to be helped, or when, or where. I just ask for the help, and then let that go, too. I've grown old enough now to have a wonderfully clarified sense of just how little I know about life and its mysteries. Suffice it that I've experienced them, I don't have a burning need to explain them anymore, not to myself, nor to anyone else.

All I have to offer is my love, my humour, and occasionally, the little bits of wisdom I've gained from this marvellous program. That and my gratitude; it overflows this earthly container on an hourly basis.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Holiday Season Thoughts.

If the only gift that you are able to give your family members this year is tolerance, you will be giving generously indeed. Tolerance allows us to accept with good grace, that which in the past, may have caused us to gnash our teeth and pass judgement.

When I am given a choice between kindness and any other response, I strive always for kindness - to those who are lonely, wanting a little human contact to make their lives feel less empty, and to those who are insecure, and with the insecurity, may act in a way that would once have irritated or offended me.

Can I spare, from all that has been poured so generously into my life, love to share with others? Can I seek to console, to greet, to make another person laugh with a joking comment upon our shared condition of travellers during this manic time of year?

Can I agree to help when it would be easier to make an excuse? Can I give a little more of myself, my time, my caring, than I might otherwise?

How can I be the human embodiment of Spirit this season?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Surgical Staples Out This Morning - Facets of Gratitude.

Apart from some serious back problems as the result of an accident many years ago, I have been blessed with good health. One of the strangest aspects of the cancer diagnosis, was the fact that I'd had no symptoms, and believed myself to be in the best possible health except for my back. It was decidedly strange to find out I had a cancerous tumour growing inside me. But I had much to be grateful for - a screening test had caught the tumour at a very early stage, and it appeared not to have metastasized, according to the staging tests available.

I'd taken my favourite Al-Anon daily reader, "Courage to Change" into the hospital with me,  and on the second day after surgery, I lay there and read every one of the 13 pages under the topic of "gratitude", because I was having a hard time feeling any. I was sick after surgery, with my stomach producing bile overtime, not having had any food for about 3 days by then, and the food offered as a fluid diet was, not to exaggerate, disgusting. I do not understand how hospital food can be so atrocious, but had it not been for Robert bringing me yoghurt and real chamomile tea, I'd have been subsisting on the cup of food replacement which was on each meal tray, as it was the most appetising thing available. How any dietician could consider instant pudding, sickeningly sweet and lumpy, to be food for a person who has just survived major surgery, is utterly beyond me.

The food, however, was my only complaint. The nurses were kind, funny, caring, and knowledgeable, the surgeon worked his magic, and the entire thing was covered by my medical plan.

My 26 surgical staples were removed this morning at my GP's office in a matter of ten or so minutes, then we came home, and I was taken out for lunch by a good friend who'd driven down to the city.
Examining my scar (still with the staples) the other day, I was idly musing that were it horizontal rather than vertical, I'd have a good start on the front grille of a '54 Buick.

Today, I'm feeling grateful. I had lots of program friends come to visit in the hospital while I was there, and coming home to my beloved Robert was a gift indeed. Now I have to await the pathology report to find out if the lymph nodes were clean, or if further treatment is recommended. Either way, life is good, the sun is beaming and it's a lovely mild day in December. Bless you all.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Home Again

I got home yesterday around noon, but went pretty much straight to bed, feeling utterly exhausted from just the trip home. I have a pretty impressive scar about 8" long, and am held together by staples, which actually looks rather barbaric. I'm not in too much pain now, but am still taking painkillers every 3-4 hours.

Walking from the hospital doors the ten feet to where Robert had stopped the car, I was overcome with gratitude for the sweet smell of fresh air. One never smells fresh air in a hospital anymore, it's all recycled and cleaned and swept and sterilised. It was wonderful to be out among daily life again.

I'll write more as I am able, thank you to those of you who've sent good wishes.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

One Week Before Surgery

As of today, there are only 7 days remaining before I go in to hospital for cancer surgery. This morning, Robert and I were up early to attend the "pre-admission clinic" at which I had to have blood drawn, get an EKG, talk to a pharmacist, get a chest x-ray, and sign consent forms. The actual tests took up at most 15-20 minutes, the rest of the hour and forty minutes was spent waiting. I was deeply grateful for the comfort and solace of Robert, who had reminded me to bring a book to read, and who was able to keep me laughing at myself and my own impatience with the process.

Patience is not my strong suit: any patience I do possess is hard-won through my years of working the Al-Anon program, and can desert me at stressful moments. Having to sit through redundant sessions during which I'm told the same information which my surgeon's office has already given to me by email, (twice now) does not show me at my best. I was as polite as I was able, but poor Robert had to sit and listen while I quietly nattered to him about how irritating it all was. He's incredibly patient, loving, and a source of humour and joy. 

Tonight is the last meeting of my home group which I'll be able to attend for a couple of weeks after surgery. I'm looking forward to it. This group has quite a few wickedly funny members who can get the rest of the group howling with laughter, and laughter has always my best medicine.

(After giving it some thought, I've decided not to attend the meeting tonight, only because my doctor warned me that were I to catch a cold or the flu before surgery, it would have to be postponed, and that would be ghastly,  as it is, we've been waiting four months since the cancer diagnosis, I want the operation to be done and over with. The room in which our group meets is small, with little or no air circulation, and is close-packed with people by the time the meeting begins. All it would take would be one person with an active cold or flu, and I could get ill. So, regretfully, I've decided to stay home. I called my sponsor, who is in the peak of health, and we agreed to meet tomorrow afternoon.)

I apologise for being so remiss about posting in the last while, but I'll keep you updated, and Robert has agreed to write a post letting you know how I am after surgery. I'll also try to write a few more times before I go in to hospital next Thursday, Dec 5th. My surgery will be at about 11:30 that morning.

Today, as I struggled with my impatience and irritation at the excruciatingly slow and time-wasting process of pre-admission, I was dismayed to realise how strong emotion or stress can make me feel as though I've backslid enormously in my ability to practise program principles. I've been a member of this life-changing program for 29 years. Apart from the stress of leaving a long-term marriage to the alcoholic, when I finally faced the reality that the marriage had been moribund for many years, and I was just not accepting that truth, my life has been fairly stress-free for a long time. I've had family and friends supporting, encouraging and loving me, and until Aug 10th, was in a state of blissful ignorance in my new love with Robert.

I believe it is to his credit that the shock of the diagnosis didn't make him hesitate or falter for a moment in his commitment to me, and to our relationship. I get tears rush to my eyes when I consider what a tower of strength and love he has been for me,  while I've been coping with hearing that I have cancer, testing to stage the tumour, and the emotional turmoil of living with a tumour growing inside me, until the surgery to remove it.

 Robert is the man I've always wanted, and had begun to believe didn't exist. His  decency and trustworthiness, wicked humour, intelligence and thoughtfulness, and generosity with himself and his love for me, have been a gift beyond measure. I thank my Higher Power every day for the incredible wonder of Robert in my life. He has made having cancer bearable, with his ability to make me laugh at anything, and I do mean anything.  At other times in my life I might have found some of his cancer jokes shocking in their directness, but in this period of my life, they have been a cool draft of sense and honesty, and have made me laugh until my stomach hurts.

I am so grateful for the fact that with him, I can be completely myself, at no time do I feel as though I have to censor myself in order to be acceptable to him. I know that he doesn't judge me, as I don't judge him. We just love each other, and feel gratitude for the wonder of it all.

I'm off to do some painting, it calms and relaxes me, allowing me to coast along creating in peace.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Geographical Cures

When you move and are excited, believing that your new living space is going to be vastly superior to your last, and then discover that you feel pretty much exactly the same in the new one that you felt in the old, there's a chance you are trying what 12-Step calls a "geographical cure." (Moving, either houses, apartments, or to another city in another part of the country, in the hopes that the very act of moving will effect a long-lasting, overwhelming change in feelings, attitudes, actions, beliefs.)

This was one of the most difficult concepts for me to grasp in Al-Anon - "Happiness is an inside job, we give it to ourselves." Our culture is always trying, through the medium of advertising, to suggest that happiness is to be found in a tropical vacation, a sea cruise, a new car, new furniture, new clothing, a new pen, a new breakfast cereal.

Those of us who have swallowed the cultural messages without question, can find ourselves at the point of having achieved the position for which we were striving, whether than be professionally, socially, or in the purchase of a house, only to find ourselves feeling the same again, once the momentary excitement wears off. What then?

Step Eleven. "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and the power to carry that out."

This step can be perplexing for those of us who come into program as I did, believing ourselves to be either agnostic or atheist; how could I seek that for which I couldn't find belief? My first sponsor had a phrase she'd quote, which never failed to set my teeth on edge: "It's not "believe that you may seek," it's "seek that you may believe." I wasn't sure what that meant, but was too proud to ask for details.

I had been raised with a punishing deity, and had decided while quite young, that I wasn't going to give another thought to someone who sounded so much like an avenging out-of-control parent - smiting, turning people into pillars of salt, threatening to cut children in half - I was receiving enough violence from the adults in my life, why did I need an imaginary comptroller to be issuing even more rules and regulations?

It wasn't until my first marriage, when I'd be out walking my dog, and talking angrily to my HP, asking, "What do you want from me?" while at home, my alcoholic husband slowly drank himself into insensibility, that it dawned on me one day to wonder just of whom was I asking that question?

That's when I realised that I believed in something, and what could be harmed by my doing some seeking to try and achieve clarification.

My belief is neither here nor there for you, as yours is not for me; what matters is that we grasp that we are not the ultimate authority on all things, and humble ourselves, to listen and learn from the wisdom of others who've gone before us on this path.

I was most dismissive of the idea that with all my moving I was trying to effect a geographical cure; I always had an excellent reason why my present abode was completely impossible. But in Al-Anon I learned that wherever I go, I take myself with me, and if I'm not willing to spend time and energy improving myself, I will be continually looking outside myself for answers, and finding none.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

CYA, and Awfulising.

An aspect of modern medicine that I've found increasingly distressing, having been at the receiving end several times over the years, is the practise of many doctors to give one the worst possible scenario or outcome of whatever it may be that they are diagnosing us with. In this way do they "indicate the desire to document one's lack of culpability for foreseeable negative outcomes" or, to put it another way, "make sure that they cannot be blamed or criticized later for something."

I understand that this may be a result of increased litigation when things go wrong, and that it's most likely only fair to be honest about possibilities, but what I find disturbing, is this being done at the early stages of diagnosis, before tests such as CT scans, MRI, ultrasound, etc.

3 times in the last 3 months people I know have received an initial diagnosis which has scared them witless with the severity, only to be told after the testing is completed, that it's not nearly as bad as first thought.

So I wonder, what is gained by terrifying anyone with the possibilities of the worst possible outcome?
What good does it do to tell a person who has just suffered a spinal injury in an accident, that they may never walk again? Couldn't this wait until testing has proven the spinal damage to be that extensive and permanent?  Is it really necessary to give that information to someone whose spinal canal is still so swollen from the accident that no real long-term information can be gleaned until the swelling subsides?

What good is accomplished by telling a newly diagnosed cancer patient that they may have to have disfiguring surgery, before testing to stage the cancer tumour has begun?

My first sponsor called this "awfulising" and warned against it in all areas of life. She would interrupt me when I was engaged in a bout of awfulising, and state firmly that what might happen was beyond my control, I could do nothing whatsoever to change the outcome, why was I torturing myself with various ghastly possibilities? What did I get from doing this?

I used to quote the hoary old phrase "Expect the worst, and one might be pleasantly surprised" not knowing that by expecting the worst, I was robbing today of its pleasure, to try to arm myself against what a tomorrow might never bring.

Had I not had 29 years of membership in Al-Anon, the two months since my diagnosis with cancer would have been a very different experience. I'd have worried, fretted, agonised, stressed, and kept myself in a fever of fear and terror, continually presenting myself with hideous scenarios of what was going to happen to me in cancer treatment. Because I've had the years in 12-Step, I knew and know, enough to let that behavior go as a waste of precious time. I can push the reality out of my mind, and enjoy the moment. I can laugh helplessly with my beloved partner or another friend, I can work as a sponsor for those who seek my assistance, I can feel heartfelt and powerful gratitude for the wonders of my life today.

One sponsee used to try to have "what if" conversations with me, in which she would invent terrible outcomes for the alcoholic, and feel almost as much agony in the contemplation of those imaginations as she would have had they taken place. I finally declared that "what if" conversations were now off-limits, and I wasn't going to have one more of them with her. Her response, after a moment of silence, was an endearing giggle. This woman is newish to program, but her sense of humour is a gift and a treat. I admire her for it; by the time I came into Al-Anon, my sense of humour was long gone. I was completely unable to laugh at my own insanity. I took myself far too seriously, and wanted everyone else to do the same.

We know that we are getting somewhere in working this program when we can begin to truly laugh at the nuttiness of our old thinking. When we can stop wanting others to sit silently while we catalogue our woes, and then tell us how well we are doing in shouldering our burdens, when we can honestly take an interest in another person, rather than pretending to do so in order to have them listen to us, we are beginning to grow.

Awfulising is self-defeating, tedious, tiresome, and boring for the listener. Who wants to hear a litany of complaint or negativity? How are we sharing experience, strength and hope? That's the question of the day.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

It's A Great Life If You Don't Weaken.

A week ago, a very dear friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. I'm shocked, in the same way that I was shocked when I received my own diagnosis. This is the woman I turned to when I put down the phone after having been told that my friend had died in May, 2012. I remember dialling her number, blinking hard to try to clear my vision from the flood of tears. I spoke with her for only a moment, and she came right over. We went out and walked for a long time.  I sobbed helplessly and she comforted me, in her soft and loving way. I don't know what I would have done without her, both then, and when I left the marriage after 17 years.

When I was frightened and anxious, her strength, humour and support were a blessing I clung to. When life has been going well, her delight in my good fortune has been an added fillip to my gratitude.

I recall the very first time I met her. I was new to the city, and to the Al-Anon group meeting. She smiled at me, and nodded, a tiny movement of her head that somehow made me feel welcome and contented. I liked her immediately. She's about the same size I am, small, slim, and beautiful.  Her spirit, great kindness, and wicked sense of humour, make her delightful company.

I count her as one of my dearest friends, and I wish that we lived in the same city so that I could be there for her the way that she has unhesitatingly been there for me. I hope to drive up for a visit before I go for surgery in early December.

Another very close female friend has been told that she is facing possible health problems, and I feel so helpless. I talk to her, look at her beloved face and wish that I could do something, anything, to make it better, but I am only a fellow traveller along a frightening road. Illness is something we much each muddle through as best we can, even with the help of those who love us, we cannot do what isn't humanly possible. We can't turn back the clock to an earlier, more light-hearted time, when serious illness was a possibility we thought of, if we thought of it at all, as something perhaps to be faced many years in the future, not now, when we're still healthy. Or so we thought.

Since my diagnosis on Aug 10th, I've known 3 other women facing serious illnesses. I feel old today. I have nothing to offer but my own faith, and attempts to give loving support.

I'm going to go debone some chicken, and then work on my painting. I'm feeling the need for some creative time to counteract this morning's sadness. This too shall pass.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Second Opinion

When I worked in police Victim Services, I was told during training, "When you go out on a call, never ignore your gut instinct. Don't try to talk yourself out of it. If you get a weird, uncomfortable, or anxious feeling in a situation, make an excuse, and leave immediately. Pay attention to your feelings. These things don't happen for no reason; that instinct twisting your stomach into a knot is originating somewhere, you aren't imagining it, you're picking something up, whether or not you are able to articulate just what that something may be. Get out of there!"

Working with that wisdom, I finally stopped trying to talk myself out of the discomfort I was feeling about the first surgeon I saw regarding my cancer. I'd been trying to rationalise and dismiss my bad feelings for a few weeks before I remembered that training talk, and thought, "I'm getting this feeling for a reason." I called my GP and asked for a second opinion.

I went on Monday to see the new surgeon, and both Robert and I liked him immediately. He was calm, relaxed, had studied my file, (unlike the first surgeon, who couldn't even tell me if the cancer had metastasized without looking up my file on his computer, it didn't occur to him that I might care to have that information, strangely enough) made eye contact with me, answered every question I had (and I had many unanswered questions from my 3 meetings with the first surgeon) and didn't give me that same feeling of wanting to get me out of the office as quickly as possible, so as to go on to the next appointment. After the physical exam, he said that he believed the cancer to be of an earlier stage, (he's been in his specialty for many years, with an excellent reputation) and he didn't believe I needed either radiation, or the radical surgery I'd been told was necessary to save my life.

So I've been spared pre-operative radiation, and the surgery I'm facing on Dec 5th will be as minimal as possible, to achieve the desired results.

Talking with Robert afterwards, we agreed that this guy inspires confidence, and we're feeling much less frightened by the prospect of surgery.

I've slept better since then, as well.

When I realised that I was once again trying to talk myself out of my gut instinct, I said a quiet prayer of thanks for all the wisdom that has been so generously shared with me over the years, both in program and outside.

May you have a pleasing and serene day, I know I'm going to.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Taking Responsibility For Ourselves.

Before Al-Anon, I had confused ideas about personal responsibility; I was so accustomed to feeling like a victim, that I was wary of the prospect of taking full responsibility for my own choices and decisions. I wasn't sure I was willing, or able, to let go of blaming other people for the way my life went. I can still recall walking my dog and talking angrily to a Higher Power that I didn't think I believed in, asking resentfully, "What do you want from me?"

I thought that I had been given "a rough row to hoe" and saw no way whatsoever in which my own choices contributed to my misery. It was all being done to me, and I was helpless. When my first sponsor began to try to show me the ways in which I made my own life unhappy by my thought patterns and my choices, I was furiously resistant. Even then, I dimly understood that if I was doing it, I could stop doing it, and in that process, I was going to lose the alcoholic as scapegoat.

For many years, I blamed the abuse I'd suffered as a child, for my behavior and attitudes.  My sponsor patiently reiterated the idea that this may have been the starting point, but if I remain stuck at root causes, I cannot live a full and rewarding life.  Were I to refuse to move beyond that starting point because I didn't want to give up blaming, I am the only one to suffer the consequences.

I'd be the one forever telling the story of my victimhood, keeping myself freshly outraged, not allowing time to do its healing work, continually looking for reinforcement of that story.

"Nobody can keep me down without my consent." Oh how I hated that phrase, when I was still wrapped in the self-indulgent cocoon of reliving past sorrows and creating new problems for myself.
I had to be willing to let go of hearing other people murmur commiseration for how hard my life was. I wanted attention, and didn't know any other way of getting it than complaining about my lot in life. I didn't understand that long-lasting friendships are not based on complaint, and that expecting other people to endlessly listen and support me while I inflated my minor problems into mountains which left me immobile, was not going to get me the attention I desired.

I remember hearing the phrase "Give what you want to get." That means if I want good friends, I need to be a good friend first. Most people can only handle a small amount of listening to complaint before they begin to cringe when they see our number come up on call display, or stop answering completely. We need to comprehend that others are not bottomless wells for our use. Other members of Al-Anon are people, they are not a resource to feed an endless self-pitying lament.

If I'm having a rough day, I can stop, thank my HP for all of the many things for which I'm grateful, and look for something humorous with which I can describe my day to a program friend, so that we are both laughing, and I'm still getting what I need in terms of loving support.

Before making a call, I can ask myself, do I really need to lay this all out on another person, or can I seek comfort from my Higher Power, read some literature, change my attitude?

My attitude after 29 years in program has changed to such a great extent that even while dealing with cancer, I am able to laugh helplessly over life's, and my own, silliness.

I go for a second opinion today, I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What Do I Have To Offer?

In Al-Anon, a sponsor can be of invaluable help. For those of us who start out with firmly closed minds and determined ideas, a sponsor can, with a combination of direct speaking, humour and encouragement, create a safe enough environment that we can begin to step out from behind our social mask of "Oh, fine thank you!" to reveal the true feelings we carry. These may include rage, fear, frustration, loneliness, or despair that we will ever attain the serenity about which we hear so much.

When I was first asked to sponsor someone, I was terrified; I couldn't see what on earth she thought I had to give. I still often felt like I was barely managing to maintain my newfound serenity. When I asked her, a long time later, it turned out that she liked my ability to laugh. She felt as though she'd lost her sense of humour completely, and she wanted it back more than anything else she could imagine; she wanted to be able to howl with laughter. This member felt that she'd evolved into a dry and serious woman who could barely muster a fake chuckle, and she wanted to be able to laugh until her eyes were wet, and her stomach muscles hurt. She remembered laughing like that in childhood, and early adulthood, before her marriage to an alcoholic. The constant financial problems, other stresses, strains and heartbreak, had slowly eroded her ability to find humour in everyday life.

When I hear those who have a strong program declare that they don't sponsor, because they don't belive they've got anything to give to a sponsee, I will sometimes tell them this story. Perhaps they have the idea that they need to be deeply involved in Al-Anon, with many years of experience, and lofty things to share at meetings, before they will be of value as a sponsor. For me, it was my ability to see the humour in the small things we observe, the silly choices we can make, the ironies of our behavior, that were attractive to my first sponsee. She wanted to hang out with someone who laughed often, in the hopes that she'd be able to regain her sense of humour, and she did. We used to have long involved philosophical discussions punctuated by helpless laughing fits. She told me many times over the years that it was my ability to laugh at my own craziness which made it possible for her to loosen her iron grip on her self-control, and let go of her desire to be perfect.

So please, don't refuse to sponsor because you don't think you've got anything to offer - what you have in abundance, may be just what another member so desperately needs.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Perspective

Yesterday morning, back home from the surgeon's office, with the good news of the positive prognosis about my cancer in mind, I sat down at my computer and composed a few emails to friends and family. I was feeling quite emotional; I took off my glasses to wipe a few stray tears, and when I went to put them back on, one leg broke at the hinge, rendering them impossible to wear.

Now, I am legally blind without my glasses, which means I can't see the end of my nose clearly without them, have worn them since I was six years old, and they are rather like a security blanket for me. In the past when I've broken glasses, or lost a contact lens, I've felt anxious and unsettled until I could get a replacement.

But yesterday, I sat and looked at the two pieces, and thought, "My cancer hasn't metastasized, so what if my glasses have broken?" I went into the bathroom and put in my contact lenses, then went looking for the reading glasses I use when I'm wearing my contacts. I found them in my purse, took them out of their case to put on, opened the legs, and the same leg as on my glasses promptly fell apart.

I burst out laughing, and said aloud to myself and my Higher Power, "Oh who cares!" I went downstairs to my partner, and he offered his spare pair of reading glasses, which are the same strength as mine, and I could once again see clearly for reading.

We went out for Chinese food before my meeting, and my fortune cookie read: "All facets of your life are looking up."

I told this story at my meeting last night, and when I got to the part about my fortune cookie, the room exploded into laughter.

Perspective is a wonderful thing. There was a time in my life when having both my regular glasses and my reading glasses break on the same day would have caused me to feel annoyed, frustrated, and as if the world were conspiring against me. I took this sort of normal happening personally, and felt anger and intense frustration when life didn't go the way I believed it should. Al-Anon has helped me to learn that things may happen, but how I feel about the happenings is entirely and solely my choice.

I found this concept almost impossible to believe when new to program, I thought how I felt was just how I felt, it was a long hard haul uphill to grasp the reality that I didn't have to live my life with all those old, habitual attitudes choking my response to life, until all I could feel was anger and negativity.

In the old days, I would have thought, "Isn't that just the way it always goes, I've got cancer, and now I'm going to have to buy new glasses to the tune of $___!" And then when the reading glasses fell apart a few minutes later, I'd have thought "Why does this crap always happen to me? Why can't I ever get a break?"

Yesterday, I thought, "Oh so what, who cares!" I felt almost giddy with the wonderful realisation that my cancer hasn't metastasized, and in spite of having to have radiation and surgery, I am going to have more time with my wonderfully funny, intelligent, loving R, more time to share with my family and friends. Having a life-threatening illness concentrates the mind in an unusual way, and makes a person appreciate all the glories and marvels which surround us on a daily basis, have we only the vision and clarity to see them.

Bless you all for your words of support, I wish you a good belly-laugh today. The sun is just coming up this morning, and it's a beautiful day again.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Prognosis

Excellent news - I'm just home from the doctor's - the initial tumour appears to be the only one, no sign of metastasis, and it's an early stage tumour, so with luck, and some radiation to shrink it before surgery, I will get an operation in November for the removal, and life will continue with my wonderful, funny, adored partner, loving friends, and caring family.

It's an indication of my changed state of mind because of Al-Anon, that I can state with no hesitation today that life is good, cancer notwithstanding.

I'm feeling rather lightheaded with this good news, I wish for all of you a gleeful satisfying day!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Changed Attitudes Can Aid Recovery.

One thing I find most noticeable, as I go through this business of diagnosis, testing to stage the tumour, and then waiting for the results (I find out what's facing me this Thursday, the 10th of October, almost 2 months after having been diagnosed with cancer.) is that my essential daily mood has been, with a few exceptions, relatively unchanged.

I have had moments of fear and despair, I've had moments of a pure clean anger at the timing of all this - meeting the man who is the love of my life, and 3 months later being diagnosed with cancer -  but on the whole, I have been able to maintain my joy in living, and my delight in the friends and family who add so much to my life.

Nothing has changed there, I'm still waking up feeling gleeful at the start of a new day, and I can still spend time with friends having laughing fits over not very much. My attitude towards life has been irrevocably changed, so that in spite of what would have seemed tragedy to me, when I was new to Al-Anon, I can let go of that which is beyond my control (the cancer) let go of spending hours days or weeks obsessing about the fairness or unfairness of it all, let go of worrying stressing and fussing, and allow myself to be in the same peaceful state of serenity I felt,before having been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

I thank my Higher Power on an hourly basis for R, who is a delight and a treasure, with his warm,  supportive love, and who can make me howl with laughter, regardless of topic. I'm grateful for my sponsor, who is always there to listen, and to give my thinking a little tweak in the right direction when required. I'm grateful for my friends, who have spoken loudly of their love for me, and who make me feel like I'm wrapped in a wide-spread circle of caring.

Most of all, I'm grateful for Al-Anon, which has changed my attitudes to such an enormous extent. Had this happened before my time in program, I'd be in a very different headspace, - I'd be suffering, self-pitying, mournful, and defeated.

It's through dedicated effort to "work my program" that I've been able to face this life hurdle with my serenity largely intact, and my humour untouched. Bless you all for your support.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Waiting, or Living?

So much of my life was spent waiting, rather than living. As a child, I waited to be adopted, believing that when I was adopted, I would finally be happy, secure in a family of my own, loved, free of the fear and anxiety I felt being moved from pillar to post, one foster home after another. Back then, 50 years ago now, a child was moved from a foster home if it was felt that he or she was becoming too attached to the foster parent. This is an excellent way to create an adult incapable of commitment, for fear that the loved one will be snatched away, just as every person one dared to care for as a child was snatched away.

When finally adopted at the age of six, I realised very quickly that my new home was not going to be much of an improvement on the foster homes, because my adopted mother was a woman so full of rage and fear that she was unable to nurture or love a child. She used physical force to get her point across, and beat me regularly. I settled down to wait until I was sixteen, and could leave home.

 (It wasn't until I was an adult, sitting in the kitchen one day with my first husband's youngest daughter upon my lap, chatting to me about a movie she'd seen, and playing with my then waist-length hair, that it struck me how frail and delicate she was - her hands and wrists were tiny. I'd been told for many years that the beatings I suffered were my own fault, that I had caused them through my own choices. I took that information and internalised it, accepted it in some internal measuring place we all have. It wasn't until that day in my kitchen, that it struck me all at once - I had been about the size of the little girl in my arms,  and there was no way a child that age or size could have "deserved" the beatings that were administered to me. I just wasn't that "bad.")

When I left my adoptive home I quickly became involved with a raging alcoholic - my first husband. For ten years I hoped that he would change, and waited for things to improve, so I could be happy. It didn't happen, and I left that marriage no happier than I'd entered.

My second husband was a sober alcoholic, but not in recovery. His ego was the size of a mastodon, and I was miserable in that marriage, too. I had figured out very quickly, when he moved me to a town in which he'd lived before, where he felt comfortable and I knew no-one, that he didn't care how I felt, as long as he was content. I tried to work my Al-Anon program and accept my lot in life, but I had the feeling that there must be more to life, and to a relationship.

When I left that marriage a year and 3 months ago, I grieved for my little dog, whom I'd had for six years, but had to give back to the breeder. I knew I'd never be able to afford to look after her the way she deserved, since I was going to be living on a disability pension. I grieved for her, and for the death of my dear friend, who had died a few months prior to my leaving.

During that marriage, I had learned to find happiness in my friendships and my siblings, in gardening and art., but on some level, I was still waiting.

Alone, and once again living in the city I love and where I feel at home, I had begun to find a real happiness, and life was a wonderful adventure. I met Robert after almost a year, and we became first friends, and then as we realised how well matched we are, more than friends. I found myself eagerly anticipating the next time we got together, for the conversation was wide-ranging, our interests intersected in plants and gardening, and other areas of life, and we can make each other howl with laughter. I slowly, ever-so-slowly, allowed him access to the part of my character which had before then been closed away for over 50 years - my deepest feelings. I trust him completely, and it's an astounding feeling, this amazing trust. I had stopped waiting, because life had given me everything about which I'd dreamed.

We had 3 months of bliss uninterrupted, then I was diagnosed with cancer. I began once again to wait, but the waiting was of a very different kind this time around, because I have a partner who waits with me, for the tests to take place, and soon, for the results of the tests. I'll know on Oct 10th exactly what it is that I am facing, whether surgery is an option, or if the prognosis is grim. This time, I have only been waiting for short periods of time before I've pushed that thinking right out of my head, and gone back to dealing with the glorious delight of daily life in a relationship with a man I'm crazy in love with, who loves me. Somehow, even facing the most frightening possibility of my life, I am waking up full of joy and delight, turning to catch sight of my beloved's sleepy face on the pillow beside me, and greeting him with a bursting affection.

I'm waiting for the results of the tests, but I am also living in a way unknown to me before now, and this I wouldn't give up for a clean bill of health. I'll take it all, good and not-so-great, because all of it makes up my life, and life is good.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mood Swings.

Today started out well, then I was sitting here doing some unpicking of a waistband on a pair of pants I'm altering, because they've gotten too big for me, and began thinking about my partner and I collecting seeds for the rooftop terrace garden, and wondered if I'll even be around next year to garden. Within a short time, my mood has darkened considerably, and I've gone from feeling fairly cheerful and positive to a much more negative frame of mind. I'm wondering if there is any point in doing some of the future planning I've been doing - will I be alive to do these things I'm discussing with friends and family?

I was diagnosed on August 12th, it's now September 21st, and the waiting to get all the tests done in order to stage the tumour, and being told nothing whatsoever until they are all completed, is beginning to wear upon me. I'm trying with all of my might to accept the waiting period as just something which must be endured, and I'll find out when I find out, and not before, but some part of me is straining at the bit and wanting to scream, "Just tell me how far gone the bloody cancer is, will you?"

Patience has never been my strong suit, and waiting to find out something like this is trying beyond anything I've ever gone through. Most of the time, I can manage to push the wanting to know out of my consciousness, and go on with the next thing, but some days, days like today, it fills my worldview and leaves me feeling unable to cope. I want to collapse weeping in someone's arms, but as a friend who had cancer a few years ago said to me on Wednesday, "They're all so down about it that you feel like you have to stay cheerful for their sake, it leaves you feeling terribly alone."

That it does. My partner lost a family member to cancer a couple of years ago, so I have been feeling uncomfortable talking to him about it. My friends keep telling me how strong I am, how brave, etc, which leaves me feeling like I'm getting an unspoken message that this is how they want me to be, so that I feel stifled about revealing myself to them; where can I go to howl and cry and rage against this quirk of my fate? I feel alone in a way I wouldn't have expected. My sponsor has said several times that she's "proud of me for the way I'm handling it." That sets me up to feel that if I were to collapse into weeping the way I sometimes want to, I would be disappointing her. So I don't feel as though I can go to her when it threatens to overwhelm me.

I haven't felt this alone in a long, long time. I realise that partly, it is because no-one who hasn't had cancer can ever truly understand the way it feels, and partly, it is my own inability to reveal myself to other people past a certain point.

Today, I'm struggling.

Later:
I decided to speak to my partner, Robert about how I was feeling, because being the sensitive man that he is, he knew I wasn't doing well, and asked outright what was going on. It was an enormous relief to be able to get it all out over a period of several hours. At one point, we stood in the kitchen locked in an embrace while I wept into his shirt. There is nothing so comforting as loving arms holding us tightly.
He told me that he doesn't want me trying to protect his feelings by not telling him what's going on with me. He suggested that I call my sponsor, so I did, and was honest with her about my difficulties revealing my feelings to her, and was told lovingly that she is proud of me whether I'm doing well, or as I am today, being swept around in eddies and whirlpools of emotion.

So it all comes down to my own expectations of myself, which I've projected onto the people who love me - an old behavior pattern to which I've regressed somewhat, during this difficult time. I'm feeling much better this evening, am going to have something to eat, get some sleep, and go to church in the morning, and to see my sponsor in the afternoon.

Thank you to those of you who have written in support of me, I'm deeply grateful.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Things NOT to Say To A Friend Newly Diagnosed With Cancer.

"You haven't mentioned dying, are you in denial?"

This was said by a woman who I'd thought was intelligent and sensitive, but when she came out with that comment, I was momentarily speechless.

"If you want to stay healthy, don't repress your feelings, that leads to illness which degenerates to cancer."

Oh, I see, the cancer is my own fault, and preventable, if only I hadn't repressed my feelings. Gee, wish I'd known that earlier.

"My sister's cousin's mother's uncle's girlfriend had that, and it was no big deal."

Well, I guess I should be able to breeze through it too, then.

I saw my doctor yesterday, and was telling him some of the astounding comments I've received, and that I planned to write a book with the same title as this blog post, and he assured me that he'd purchase a copy.

In truth, most of my friends have rallied around with great support, and my partner is a gift from my Higher Power with his steadfast love, and ability to make me laugh so hard I can't see straight. I'm still waiting for the last test needed to stage the tumour, and then for a visit with the surgeon to find out what sort of horrors will be visited upon me by the medical profession.

My mental state is good, when I'm not hearing versions of the above nonsense. Please, don't say things like this to a friend with cancer, it doesn't help even remotely, and saying, "You're handling it so well!" is akin to saying, "Whatever you do, don't break down in front of me." Sometimes, all we want is to be able to say exactly how we feel, without feeling judged.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Emotional Exhaustion

When my dear friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer a year ago this past April, and I went to see him twice a day in the hospital over the few weeks between his diagnosis and death, I made a concerted effort to be positive, make him laugh, be sensitive of his state of mind, and let him set the duration of the visits.

 I'd walk out of his hospital room, make it only a few strides down the hallway, and feel the tears and grief wash over me in a tidal wave. But in his presence, I kept it together, and I did that for his sake, because I was sure he had enough to deal with, without having to comfort me.

I had been procrastinating about telling his lifelong partner about my cancer diagnosis, because I dreaded his response. It's all still raw and new for him, and he's still struggling with the loss of the love of his life. My own partner has been gently pushing me to let him know, asking would my friend want to have the news, or prefer ignorance? I knew I should tell him, but for both his sake and my own, I kept putting it off for one more day.

2 days ago, I finally told him, and just now received an email from him which brought the hot sting of tears to my eyes; his pain came through so clearly in his loving response. It's agonising to listen to, and feel the pain, of those who love me ,as they fight their way through their fears and distress about the diagnosis.

Yesterday another friend asked rather bluntly whether I was thinking about the possibility of dying, or was I in denial about that?

I'm finding it exhausting to deal with all of the powerful emotions being expressed to me. about me.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Obstacles to Growth

When new to program, the idea that it was not possible, or even my place, to change another person's behavior to suit me, was one of the most difficult for me to grasp. I wanted. And when I wanted, I thought I could make another person give me what it was I wanted, through the use of manipulation, guile, reasoning, or demands, whatever I believed would work.

Letting go was so far beyond me that I first dismissed it as nonsense, then when I began dimly to understand that it was truly desirable, I despaired of ever understanding how to go about doing it. What did this mysterious "letting go" involve? How did I let go? What did letting go look like?

From the viewpoint of 29 years in Al-Anon as of this month, I can state that learning to let go was the best lesson that program has taught me. I don't have anything that consumes me anymore. Life is an easy, peaceful ride nowadays. Even a diagnosis of cancer wasn't able to unbalance me for more than a few weeks, before the knowledge and the understanding I've learned in Al-Anon reasserted itself, and my state of mind has come back around to one of joyful delight in life.

The cancer diagnosis caused me to revert for the first week to a fearful state of mind, but that passed fairly quickly, then I was angry for a few days or another week, then I let it all go.

This may sound a little strange, but I can't be bothered giving it any more head room. I don't want to be the person I once was, consumed with fear, anger, resentment, and self-pity. I'd rather be happy and serene, and the only way to achieve that, is to let go. Let everything go.

Apart from my deciding upon which treatments I am willing to undergo when and if they are offered to me, the cancer is completely beyond my control.

I like to be happy, and happiness is within my control. My partner is a source of delight and comfort, with his steadfast love, and wickedly funny sense of humour - I want to enjoy him with the same abandoned glee I did before the diagnosis, and I can, if I let go.

It's an easy choice.

I'm up to go to church this morning;  the gathering of  people, the minister's messages which always sound like 12-Step wisdom, and the glorious feeling of my Higher Power there with me, fill me to bursting with joy and serenity.

I wish for you, a day of letting go. It's an astounding feeling.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Perfectionism - How Much Is Enough?


A reader has asked me to share on the topics: "I do enough," and "dealing with chronic pain."

I can relate well to both of these, as I have had back pain for about 25 years, as the result of an injury sustained at work, and more recently, I've had to struggle against my early training in being a rabid perfectionist.

I was talking to a program friend the other day about perfectionism, because I've noticed that in dealing with the cancer diagnosis, if I'm not careful, I can get caught up in the "right way" to manage my feelings and thoughts regarding the situation I'm facing. Before Al-Anon, I was a person hiding my true feelings behind the mask of "Oh, fine thank you," and it's been rather alarming to discover just how quickly I have wanted to revert to this behavior since the diagnosis. Part of this is a response to the pain in the faces of the people I love, when the cancer is mentioned, partly it's my pride -  wanting to deal with this "well" - either way, it would keep me isolated and alone, were I not to recognise that's what I'm up to, and work to be mindful of my own behavior.

I've had to make a conscious choice to answer honestly, when asked how I'm doing, how I'm feeling, how am I handling this, or any one of the ways in which friends and family offer me the chance to unburden myself.  I've had times when I wanted very badly to respond with the "I'm fine" reply, because that would save us both the discomfort of honesty. It can be quite the struggle to admit that I'm feeling exhausted by the myriad of tests to stage the tumour, the stress of waiting to find out if it has metastasized, and what sort of surgery, and/or long-term outlook I'm facing.

It is disconcerting to recognise and admit to my fears. At the same time, my relationship with my partner is a delight and a joy - he can always make me laugh, and gives of himself so generously, being a support and an encouragement when I'm feeling weak, tired, or just flagging from the stress of it all.

I spoke to a cancer survivor, and one thing she repeated several times was, " Let other people help you, they want to do it, allow them the room and the chance." I've been independent; I believe it will help me with achieving humility, to learn to accept help graciously, and without the frustration of wanting to do it myself.

I need to relearn how to accept that whatever I've managed to accomplish in a day is "enough." When I do this, I give myself room to be out-of-sorts, tired, unwilling, or even lazy, that crime of my childhood. One could be anything but lazy; doing nothing was completely unacceptable in my childhood home. If sitting, one couldn't just sit and cogitate, one had to be doing something with one's hands, sewing or embroidery, painting or reading, something. One couldn't just be.

When I was a kid, I used to like to sit on her bed with our Border Collie, but wasn't give the peace to just sit and pet her, or sit quietly beside her. So I'd get the dog's brush and use it on her silky hair, because that was considered "doing something" and meant I could spend time enjoying her company.

My partner and I like to sit on the rooftop terrace and admire our pots of flowers. I'm always entertained if another resident comes out and asks, "What are you two doing?"  I will sometimes reply "Nothing at all." I find it enormously satisfying to be able to say that.

In dealing with chronic pain, acceptance of my limitations is the key. Admitting to the pain is another. My back always hurts, it's a matter of hurting a bit less or a bit more, but the pain has been a constant companion for many years. I've discovered that being involved in something which catches and holds my interest will allow me to detach from the physical sensation, and push it from my conscious awareness. It won't be until I stop for a short pause or rest, that I will realise that my back is hurting, and it's time to stop for the day. This works for me, whether the activity is gardening (I don't do any heavy digging or lifting) sewing, painting, whatever I like to do.

My Higher Power is continually finding new ways to teach me patience.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Accepting My Feelings

At dinner earlier this week, I was talking to my partner, struggling to express the confused turmoil of emotion which had been roiling inside me all day, and he was listening carefully and lovingly, reflecting back to me the reality that I am going to feel whatever I feel, and that's going to be the way of it, and if friends or family have trouble with my being less of a rock of support for them, well, so be it.

My sponsor called shortly after the end of that conversation, and I was telling her some of the ideas which had been crashing through my brain that day, and she said bluntly, "You're not accepting your feelings."

It was as though a load had been lifted from my shoulders the instant after she'd said it - I knew it was true, and that this is what my partner had been trying to tell me, although more gently, not so directly. My sponsor and I have been through enough together, that she knows she can slap whatever it is down on the table between us, and I might startle a bit at the impact, but I will be able to hear it, recognise it, appreciate it.

All day that day I had been fighting my feelings, and it made my life unmanageable. I was fighting against the grief and sorrow of the cancer diagnosis, the fear and the sense of loss. My partner and I had barely 3 months together before we found out I have cancer - it seems agonisingly unfair to have met the love of my life and 3 months later be diagnosed with cancer.

Because like it or not, cancer changes everything. Suddenly our lives are filled with doctor's visits, phone calls from doctor's offices booking tests to stage the tumour, and what seem like endless conversations about cancer, with friends, sponsees, my sponsor, family members, it goes on and on and on, and I feel like I am forgetting what it was like to live a life without people crying about me when they talk to me,  and conversations about the cancer.

This morning, I woke up feeling desolate, and that moved into anger - I stood in my kitchen and wept helplessly as a furious anger swept through me. I haven't cried much since being diagnosed because I don't want to cry. I will allow myself a few tears here and there, but I haven't really cried, not the kind of abandoned sobbing I did when my friend died last May. I'm beginning to realise that I may need to allow myself that kind of weeping because I am grieving, I'm grieving the purity of the relationship with my partner before cancer intervened, I'm grieving my health, I'm grieving ordinary life.

Not much of help here today, I'm afraid. Bless you all for your support and kindness.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Awake at 4 am, thinking.

I woke up just now out of a sound sleep, and lay there remembering the visit to the surgeon this afternoon. He seems to think I have an early tumour, but over the next 4-6  weeks I will be getting tested - an ultrasound, an MRI, a CT scan, etc, in an effort to stage the tumour, and find out how advanced the cancer is.

If it has spread; I may require radiation; if it hasn't metastasized, surgery will be enough.

When I got up out of bed a little while ago, my partner awoke and asked sleepily if I was okay, and did I want to talk about it? I sat on his side of the bed and we talked a little bit, and he made me burst out laughing with a silly joke.

Then I came here to my computer, and read a few emails from family and close friends to whom I'd sent the news earlier this evening, and found myself in tears, reading the loving words. I am fortunate indeed not to be having to walk this path alone. I have the love, companionship and humour of my partner to keep me balanced and sane, and good friends who love me. I have the Al-Anon program to help me through the more difficult aspects of this journey, and I have a loving Higher Power who has blessed me with all these people - a man who loves me whole-heartedly and without reservation, who has made his commitment to me crystal clear, and friends who have done the same.

I cannot imagine what it would have been like to try to endure this sort of experience before Al-Anon, when I was still such an angry, resentful, self-pitying and self-absorbed woman. I wouldn't have been able to deal with it, and the rage and anger would have been terrible.

Today, when we got back from the appointment with the surgeon, my partner and I went for a lovely walk in the large city park just blocks from here, then had an ice-cream cone, and a stroll home, secure in the comfort and love between us.

I am powerfully grateful for the people in my life, and the love and caring they give so generously to me. I am grateful that I can feel that love, that my own character defects no longer get in the way of my being able to accept love, or believe that I deserve it, which was the case before program.

I am grateful that all I have to do is ask, "Please help me with this, God" and I will be given comfort to soothe me, and to quiet my restless, questioning mind.

Thank you to all who have written messages of help and support, it means a lot. Bless you.



Friday, August 16, 2013

Other People's Reactions

One of the most difficult aspects of having received a cancer diagnosis, I'm finding, is the having to inform friends and family. Last night was the meeting of my home group - my sponsor was chairing, and we'd agreed yesterday afternoon, when we met, that it would be a lot easier for me to speak about it at the start of my sharing, rather than have to tell each person individually. I warned her that at the end of the meeting, I was going to quickly say goodbye and shoot out the door as quickly as I was able, so as not to have to deal with all the reactions.

I didn't manage very well, because no sooner had the serenity prayer been said, than I was engulfed in a hug from a woman I know well, who started weeping on my shoulder. I calmed her down, said goodbye, and tried to head for the exit, but was grabbed from behind by another woman who wanted to hug me and began to cry, and then another and... by the time I reached the doorway, I was feeling exhausted by the emotion and the people wanting me to soothe and comfort them, in their pain, about my health.

When just before the doorway, I was grabbed by someone who would fall into the category, "Although you may not like all of us, you'll love us in a very special way" I had had enough. I ducked her clutching arms and burst out into the hallway, up the few steps, through the outside doors, and into the fresh, cool night air.

I felt used up, stressed out, and wanted nothing more than to go home to my partner's love and comfort. By the time I arrived at his place, and he met me with open arms, I was teary-eyed with frustration and emotional exhaustion. I stood with my face pressed against his chest and him giving me soft kisses on the top of my head, and said grumpily, "They acted like I was being taken out to be hanged in the morning!"

I don't recall how he replied, but it wasn't long before I'd regained myself, and the evening went on as usual, in comfort, love, acceptance, and fun. He's such a treat to be with.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Health News Update

On this past Monday, I was diagnosed with cancer. The tumour is small, 2cm, .79 of an inch, and was caught as a result of routine screening finding an anomaly, so I underwent further testing, which revealed the cancer.

In truth, I knew it was cancer by the reaction of the doctor doing the testing, he exclaimed, "Oh no, look at that!" when he saw it on the screen, and then both he and the nurse present fell ominously silent. Before then, they had been joking a bit, and being a little silly with me, but as soon as he saw the "growth" (as they called it at the time,) his demeanor, and that of his nurse, changed completely.

I then had to wait for a week until the biopsy results came in. My partner went into the room with me to get the results from my family doctor, and looked as though he'd been hit by a truck, but when we walked out into the hallway of the medical building, drew me into the warm loving circle of his arms, and whispered his love for me.

For the rest of that day, I felt furiously angry and resentful - how unfair is it, to have met the love of my life 3 months ago, and now receive a cancer diagnosis?

By the next morning, my natural cheerfulness had reasserted itself, like one of those bathtub toys that will only stay submerged under the water if held there, as soon as one lets go, up they pop to ride the surface.

That's just how it's been for me; I have let this go, because it is completely, utterly, beyond my control. As soon as I made the choice to let go and give it all over to my Higher Power, my usual mindset returned. I spent far too many years steeped in anger and self-pity and resentment to be willing to let anything take me back to that miserable state of mind.

I don't want to be unhappy, and I don't have to be, even with cancer, if I choose not to be. I will most likely have times of tears, but I don't have to allow this to drag me into daily sorrow and anger - I have a partner who is a gift and a delight, and I want to be able to enjoy him wholeheartedly. I want to be able to do all the things that bring me joy, and do them with a light heart, and that requires that I let go of the cancer, turn it over, and release it. I will make decisions as I'm faced with them, but I will not let this define me.

I thank my Higher Power with a grateful heart, for all my years in Al-Anon, 29 next month - they make this possible.

Bless you and thank you for your supportive comments and letters.  I'll keep you in the information loop, among my usual hit and miss posting on here.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Health News

I will be updating this blog as of this evening, I have a sponsee who reads it with whom I need to talk first.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Humour and Gratitude

I'm hoping I can get in to see my doctor today to get the results of my biopsy. I'm feeling calm and relaxed this morning; I had a good sleep. Al-Anon has been a blessing to me; when I'm willing to do my part, it works during even the most stressful times in life. This is out of my control - I have a choice as to whether or not I spend my time chewing over the possibilities, or whether I let go, and decide to enjoy myself regardless.

Time spent with my partner yesterday was a peaceful and fulfilling part of my day - his love is a joy, and he makes me laugh. At dinner yesterday, after I'd been talking about some airheaded thing I'd done, he leaned towards me, straightfaced and serious, and asked, "Now that we're a team, do you think we could share the brain cell?"

I howled with delight. He grinned at me, and I was washed with a wave of gratitude for his presence in my life. I've been looking for a man like this all my adult life. He's gentle and kind, with a strength of character developed through his own sufferings; he's also wickedly funny, thoughtful, insightful and hugely supportive.

One of my adoptive parents was British, and she used the phrase "rub along together" to describe a state of contented enjoyment of each other's company - my partner and I rub along together very well. I've never felt the desire to get away by myself, that I felt with each of the two alcoholics who were my earlier long-term relationships - this man is the best companion a woman could wish for, and I find him enormously attractive. We each have our own pursuits, and when we get together again afterwards, I feel gratitude and delight in his company; he's fun. He's also a mad gardener, and has increased my stock of house plants exponentially.

I'd rather concentrate on those parts of my life which bring me joy and peace, than fulminate in a closed loop upon that which is beyond my power to control. I've done so much of that kind of obsessing in my life, and it's a terrible way to pass the time, because it's futile, and it winds me up from a beginning state of mildly upset, to a state of frantic frustration and overwhelming compulsion - I don't want to live like that ever again.

It works if we work it. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Forcing Patience

Patience was not one of my character assets, when I was new to program. I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it - usually "yesterday, already."

I have learned patience, and it seems to have naturally developed further through diligent practise of the Al-Anon program. I no longer feel the incessant nag of wanting, which used to echo through my head like a loud motorcycle roaring up the road. But this has been tested lately, waiting for the results of my biopsy. I missed the doctor's call yesterday, because I was away from home at my partner's place. I also missed the call from a local surgeons office, informing me that I have an appointment booked as of August 20th.

I can let go of what I cannot control, so waiting over the weekend to get the results is no worse than waiting for the 1-2 weeks I believed I'd still have to wait to hear. It is what it is.

What I've had to work to control, is internet-trolling for information regarding the possibilities facing me. It's not a good idea at this point, because my mind wants, like a contrary horse, to go down the gloomiest road, and I don't want to travel that path again, thank you. I travelled that path and only that path, for most of my childhood and adult life, and it makes for an unhappy and depressed state. I don't want to torture myself with imaginings.

Last night I awoke out of a sound sleep, and my mind immediately began to present me with horrors of one sort or another. I got up, got a book, and read for a good two hours before I could fall back asleep, and that was only possible through my repeating like a mantra, "God, please help me with this." I fell asleep with the sting of tears in my eyes, and a lump in my throat, and the fear held just enough at bay to allow me sleep. That's what this program does - before Al-Anon, sleep would have been utterly impossible.

I'm house-sitting for the next ten days for a friend who is on vacation. Her little dog is a pleasant companion, but I miss my partner's strength, courage, and support.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Limits, Surrender, and Letting Go.

I have been working with a sponsee for the last few months, who has been the most difficult person I've ever sponsored. We've had many of those circular conversations which result when someone is so focused upon one subject that "all roads lead to Rome." We've gone around and around and around until my patience has been exhausted, and I've had to say "I have nothing else to offer today, you might find it helpful to read some program literature and talk to your Higher Power, I'm going to get off the phone now."

Yesterday this sponsee called to say that at the last meeting of my home group, she'd gone up to a newcomer who was in terrible pain and said something distinctly judgemental and unkind. I was taken aback and flummoxed; what was the point of this? I listened to the rationalisations, the justifications and the excuses, and then suggested that it had been none of her business, and she had violated the spirit of Al-Anon by saying something unkind to a woman who had been suffering, and who had attended a meeting in search of help.

An Al-Anon meeting is meant to be a safe place for all of us, why on earth this sponsee would have decided to go up to a woman who was in obvious pain and sorrow, and choose to say something mean, is beyond my understanding. I have had other times when I've felt that I'm being of no help to this woman. I seem to have nothing to say which is of any use to her, and we cover the same ground repeatedly. I wonder if our personalities are so diametrically opposed, that I am more of a hindrance than a help. Nothing I offer seems to even register upon her, it's as though I'm speaking to someone who is so turned inward that she is deaf to any input from outside herself.
I continue to repeat basic principles, only to have them challenged and argued about, and hearing one more time, "Yes, but what if...."

This sponsee is still ferociously fighting Step One: "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable."

She has not even begun to consider surrender. 

I know that I was this way when I was new to Al-Anon, and I believe that I must have driven my first sponsor up the wall with my stubborn refusal to surrender, and my complete unwillingness to even consider letting go. It wasn't that I was in opposition to the principles of the program; I was terrified. I couldn't begin to imagine what it would feel like to surrender and let go. I'd spent so much of my life up to that point with an iron grip on the few things I felt I could hold onto, and the rest was just a whirling miasma of fear, dread, anger and resentment. I was a mess, as this sponsee is a mess, and not only that, but I was bound and determined that nobody was going to change my thinking.

I'll never forget one conversation with my first sponsor, in which she said to me with some exasperation,  "You're like a drowning victim, going down for the third time, blindly refusing to be rescued, because you're still convinced that you can do it on your own!"

I recall quite clearly, looking at her in surprise, wondering, "Is that really how I look to her?" Which thought kept coming back to me over the next little while, until finally I asked her, "Do you think I'm stubborn?" She looked at me in astonishment for a moment, and then fell into one of those completely helpless uncontrollable laughing fits. She was overcome, howling, taking off her glasses to wipe her streaming eyes, finally subsiding into  "Oh dear. Oh goodness, that was priceless."
When she finally managed to regain the power of speech she said to me with great affection that I was without doubt the most pigheaded sponsee she had ever worked with.

I was hugely offended, and she could see it in my face, she knew me well by that point, but I think she'd reached the place where I am now with this sponsee - all effort spent, nothing else to give, and uncaring of how she looked or sounded, she had done her best, and it was all that she could do. The rest was up to me.

Fortunately, I decided that I would prove her wrong, and began the task of forcing myself to consider an alternate opinion to my solidly constructed, opaque beliefs. I learnt in spite of myself the glorious freedom possible with surrender and letting go, and it has made my life a thing unrecognisable to that woman of almost 29 years past.

God grant me the strength to carry on with this sponsee in loving kindness, with no judgement.



Friday, August 2, 2013

Faith and Trust

Yesterday I had a medical screening procedure which discovered a growth, which will have to be removed, and I'll be waiting for a couple of weeks to find out whether the biopsies taken yesterday prove it to be cancerous or benign.

It's an interesting position in which to find oneself, at this stage of recovery. I'll have been a member of Al-Anon for 29 years as of next month, and I'm a very changed person from the frightened and desperate woman who first walked into an Al-Anon meeting all those years ago. Now I have a strong faith in my Higher Power, and I'm deeply grateful for the loving support of my friends, family, and partner.

In the past, my response to a situation of this type would have been to tell no-one about it, to pretend that all was normal and fine, and to just go on as usual, carrying the weight of the knowledge alone. I can still have trouble reaching out to say, "I'm a little nervous and apprehensive, will you comfort me?" but I have one or two people with whom I can bare my soul completely, and know that they will hear me, and be there for me. Truth is, there are more people than I've listed, who would be willing to be there for me, it's just that I'm not good at being vulnerable. It can still feel like weakness to say "I'm frightened" and the old tapes in my head are all about not burdening other people with news of this kind, and keeping a stiff upper lip, etc.

I wrote to my family members before I had a chance to rationalise that it would be better to tell them later, and so far, I've heard back from my brother, who wrote a loving and kind email containing a silly family joke to make me laugh. I'm still waiting to hear back from my sisters and other friends.

I have the odd moment in which the fear will, as I wrote to one good friend, "grab me by the throat and give me a good shake" but I understand with crystal clarity that this is all out of my control, all I can do is the next thing which needs to be done, work my program to the best of my ability, have faith that I will be given the strength to get through whatever happens, and feel intense gratitude for all of the wonderful loving people in my life.

Most of all I feel huge gratitude for my partner; he drove me to the hospital yesterday, picked me up after the procedure, took me home, put me to bed, and looked after me with cups of tea and things to eat, and great helpings of love and support - he's a gift from my Higher Power, and I love him.

Life is good. It's all in our attitude.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Isolation

I was raised in an adoptive home with people who did not have much of a social life - we lived in a small town, but we may as well have lived out in the bush, for the amount of social interaction that we were exposed to in that house. We lived a fairly isolated life, and once those doors were closed and locked, that was it. People didn't come to visit without advance notice, and a fair amount of planning. It was a "closed system:"

"A closed system is one that does not accept information from its environment. External factors are not welcome and it governs itself from within itself allowing no interactions."
                                                                      (definition from Ask.com)

That seems an excellent description of what happens to us when we isolate. We don't accept any information from our environment, and we allow no interactions.

Why did I do this? Because I was fearful.  To begin with, I was afraid of what people might think of me, of being judged and found wanting. Then as I became more trusting of the people in my early Al-Anon groups, it became more about not wanting to have to change my thinking. I was still firmly ensconced in the position that any problems were caused by the alcoholics in my life, and there was no room in my frame of reference for the understanding that even without those particular alcoholics, much of my thinking was self-defeating and negative.

Changing my thinking could be painful, difficult, and bring up feelings with which I would rather not have to deal.

I liken it to days such as today, when my back problems are making themselves felt. I awoke stiff and sore, uncomfortable with movement even though sitting still is equally as painful. I know that when I get up out of this chair and go to have a hot shower before church, I will feel better, the hot water will loosen my muscles, and the movements, stretching and bending required to shower and get dressed will help.  But overcoming the inertia, to stand up and move around, when I'm feeling like this, requires an effort of will, and a belief that I will feel better if I do this.

Just as in program, I must make the effort to change my thinking, trust in my Higher Power to help and guide me, and believe that the effort will bring rewards, both immediate, and long-lasting. It may be painful, frustrating and difficult to begin with, but if I perservere, soon I will be out in the sunshine walking to church, looking forward to giggling with my friends, and feeling hugely grateful for the love and serenity in my life.

But none of that good stuff will happen if I don't get up out of this chair, open the door to my apartment, and go out to greet this day.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Get A Grip

This morning I returned a call received the other day, from a nurse working for a screening program - I've been told I need a test, the same test that started it all off for my friend, who died a year ago this past May.  Thus far, I've been calm and relaxed about it, but this morning, when I called the number and listened while the automated voicemail gave directions about what I should do, I felt the first rise of unease - not a lot, not a great sweeping rush of it, just a momentary shiver running through me.

In Al-Anon, I learned what a waste of time it is to worry, and on the whole, I don't indulge in that mental torture of self. But this test was the beginning of the end for my friend, so I'm not surprised that I have the occasional thought trying to force its way into the forefront of my consciousness.

But I've also had ample life experience of hours, days, weeks, spent in fearful anticipation of "evils which never arrived," and I know what a pointless exercise it is to project the object of my fear onto the wall, and then tell myself frightening stories about it, when I could be enjoying my life. All I have is this moment, and it's my choice how I spend it. So,  I choose enjoyment.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

"...Tried To Carry This Message To Others..."

There is only so much of me to go around. When I left my ex, I changed my cell phone number, and when he somehow obtained it and began to call me, rather than get a new cell phone number, I chose to get a landline. When I leave home, and anyone calls me, they get voicemail, and the next time I'm back at home, I return the call. It's not possible to reach me at every hour of the day or night by telephone. There's a certain glorious feeling of freedom when I'm with my sweetheart at his place, and I know that no-one can get in touch with me. For the same reason, I don't take my laptop to his place, because emails can wait for a reply, also.

Some of my sponsees are chained to their phones, and find it irritating in the extreme that I am not instantly and always available. I understand this, but I've learned over my years of sponsoring that I'm not indispensable to anyone - it can actually be helpful to a sponsee  to not be able to reach me, and as a result, for them to choose to call another program member for support. It's not healthy for me, or for them, if they consider me their sole source of support. I like us to have a weekly meeting for working through the Steps together, and I will take whichever calls I am able, when I'm at home. When I'm out, I'm free of any feelings of responsibility for, or to, my sponsees. I give what I can, and that's enough.

This blog is another way I practise Step 12 in my program. Some periods of my life, I write on an almost daily basis, other times, not so often, but I do what I can, and try to discipline myself, without
turning it into a millstone around my neck. I will now and then receive a thank you letter from a reader which will bring a lump to my throat, because their words take me back to the time when I was new to this wonderful program, and just beginning my journey to recovery. I am powerfully grateful to my Higher Power for the love, acceptance and joy I have been given in my life, and for the ability to be of some use.

I can only do what I can do, and lately, my sweetheart has been getting the lion's share of my free time. It's still new and still amazing to me that we can get along in such peaceful serenity, livened by dashes of humour, and sprinkled with grace.

I hope that you are having a calm and satisfying weekend. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

One Year Ago - Taking That Leap of Faith

When, exactly one year ago today, I decided to leave my marriage of 17 years, I chose to move back to this small capital city (where I lived for many years before my marriage,) in which I've always felt at home.

I recall when I first saw it, at the end of a long weekend spent with good friends at a beach about 4 hours drive north - I was enchanted by the old buildings, the small size, and the feeling that I'd finally found that for which I'd been searching during all the many moves from one place to another - a city to call home. My love for it has never wavered, and during the years of my marriage, when we always lived somewhere else, at the insistence of my ex-husband, I felt a never-ending longing to return to this city; it has been my home whether I've lived here or elsewhere.

So much has changed in this first year of being single again after so many long years spent trying to make a marriage with a sober-but-not-in-recovery alcoholic work. I entered that marriage with a great naivete, believing that because he'd been sober for 8 years when we met, he was "cured." I was disabused of that notion pretty quickly, but lived in hope for a long time. It was only when I was reeling from the sudden illness and death of my beloved friend that I was able to admit to myself, my Higher Power and another human being - friends in program - that I had given all to that relationship that I was willing to give. I was finally able to admit to myself just how abusive he was to me, and that he had no interest in changing or improving the way he behaved.

If there was going to be change, it was only going to come from and through me. When I asked for guidance, what I received was the feeling that it was my destiny to move on in my life without him, to strike out on my own.

So I gave two dear friends some of my possessions to keep for me, loaded up my car, and drove home to this clean and lovely city beside the sea. One year ago at 10:50pm, I was sitting in the kitchen of a local Transition House, speaking to a counsellor about the many years of verbal and emotional abuse I'd suffered in that marriage. I'd spent so much time and effort minimising, that it was hard to hear some of that behavior labelled "abusive" but with a little time and distance, I was able to admit the true depths of my unhappiness.

I was out on my own for about 4-5 months before I one day realised that in that marriage, I'd always felt like a bad person.

I spent many months working a very intense fourth step about the marriage, with my new sponsor, who incidentally was at my very first Al-Anon meeting 28 years ago. We worked though a lot of old guilt and old feelings that I think were the reason I stayed so long with a man who treated me so poorly. He was, like many unrecovered alcoholics, an expert manipulator, and guilt was his main weapon. As I once heard an old AA guy say, "The rocks in his head fit the holes in mine."

I loved living alone, the peace and serenity of it was balm to my soul, and I became ever closer to my Higher Power. About two months ago, I met a wonderful man, and we began as friends, sitting drinking tea and talking, talking, talking for hours about everything and anything, and laughing. He has program experience, a very 12-Step attitude to life, and a powerful gratitude, which is very attractive to me. It became clear fairly quickly that something more than friendship was growing between us, and I can still be amazed by the acceptance I feel for, and from, him. We get along astoundingly well, and the time spent in his company is a gift and a pleasure.  He made my birthday 4 days ago the best birthday I've had in a very long time; we went out to dinner with my sponsor, and had a wonderful time eating and laughing and enjoying each other.

I feel a comfort in his presence, and he brings me great joy with his humour and his loving gentle ways. It's a wonder, to be in love at my age of 56, and in love with a decent man I can respect and trust. God has been so good to me, all I had to do was listen for his guidance, and then follow it by taking that leap of faith out into the unknown, believing that I would be looked after. Life is good.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Selfcare

A reader has asked me for some input on self-care.

When introduced to "HALT" (Hungry/Angry/Lonely/Tired) in Al-Anon, I had no way of understanding what was being offered to me. I thought I was being told how to behave in a more responsible and mature way by not indulging in conflict under those circumstances; I couldn't begin to grasp the wisdom contained in that little shorthand formula.

Over time, I have gained an understanding of just how vulnerable I am in any of those conditions, and how easily able to be manipulated. I didn't believe, at first, that being hungry, angry, lonely or tired could make much difference as long as I were more aware. Over time, I've come around to the opposing viewpoint on this - I now know that being in any one of those states reduces my ability to put my awareness to good use, because it will override my higher learning, and bring me down to a more primitive level of functioning, one in which I am far more likely to react, rather than respond.

Self-care means that I need to look after not only my mental self, but that my physical being is also of importance, if I am to fully benefit from the gifts of this program. I need regular meals, a good night's sleep, friends with whom to talk, laugh, and share, and I need to make sure that I am not indulging in people-pleasing to the extent that I am feeling angry, but am not admitting or identifying this emotion honestly to myself, or to another.

When I feel hunger pangs, it's not self-care to think, "I'll eat later." If I'm too fatigued to cook, there are many healthy things I can eat which don't require much time or effort, but will restore my energy, and maintain my health.

When I'm feeling angry, it's not self-care to tell myself, "It doesn't matter." That's very different from "How Important Is It?" The former is negating my feelings, the latter asks me to balance them against the rest of the equation.

When I'm lonely, and I do nothing to relieve my loneliness, I'm not practising self-care. A short phone call may be all I'm in need of, to remember that I'm not alone in my journey, and I have many loving, caring people who will happily give me a little of their time to cheer me up, and remind me of program.

When I'm tired, driving myself to accomplish more in this day is not self-care. It's not laziness to rest when I need rest, or sleep when sleep is what I require - my Higher Power has granted me relative health, and for that I'm grateful, but I need to give this corporal body the same attention that I would give any machine in my care. When the vacuum overheats, I shut it off and allow it to cool down, I don't try to keep on vacuuming until the motor blows. Yet how many times have I tried to drive myself past overwhelming fatigue, determined to conquer the annoying needs of this body which carries me around?

Self-care is not selfishness, it's good sense, and it feels good to give ourselves some pampering and loving.