Monday, March 30, 2009

Rejection, and Control

At times, dealing with an alcoholic is like trying to capture smoke with our hand - it billows out of our grasp, and wafts away in the cold night air.

The resistance of an alcoholic is like no other - we are presented with a smooth, bland, featureless wall of indifference, and understand that we are speaking to a mind firmly closed and barred against us. We are refused entry, and refused with a coldness which can leave us shivering in pain and sorrow.

All the understanding in the world about their pain, shame and  misery, does not make it one jot easier to be facing that wall, with our dreadful feelings of futility and powerlessness.

I have a choice, I can stand pounding on the wall and insisting that I be given entry, or I can turn to someone who has never yet refused me comfort - my Higher Power. I can go find my little dog, who is always welcoming, and will emerge sleepily from her nest of blanket on the couch to lick my face, and snuggle into my sweater.

I can choose to seek love from someone who is able and willing to give it, rather than continue to try to force my will upon the alcoholic, who for whatever reason, has shut me out. Much as I may find it painful and infuriating to be rejected, the other person has the right to behave however they choose, whether kind or unkind, and I am far better served by acceptance, and going elsewhere, than by trying to make them talk or listen to me.

Acceptance is not always a serene and peaceful alternative, it can also be a painful choice. I want to live in reality. This means accepting the limits of those I love, and facing the truth about their, and my, human frailties.

Love is love, it matters not from whom it flows, it feels the same. I can call an Al-Anon friend, I can hug my dog, I can seek out my Higher Power. Or, I can stand weeping and wailing and wallowing in self-pity. (I've done the latter many times, until I tired of it.) Part of working our program, is deciding to do things differently, just to see if maybe all the people at the meeting are telling us the truth after all. As I've heard a million times in 12-step: If I make the same choices I've always made, I will get the same results I've always gotten. I am the only way who can choose differently for my life.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Listen and Learn

I love this slogan. It speaks to the part of me that can be judgemental, unaccepting, or critical. I was raised in a family with a very critical worldview. Everyone was measured, and either accepted or dismissed, based upon certain criteria such as education, financial stability, place in society. People were either above us, to be fawned over, or below us, to be objects of contempt. Because I was adopted, and had some vague idea of my origins, I had a suspicion that I belonged in the second group, and felt ashamed in my deepest inner self.

Al-Anon, in contrast, teaches that each of us is worthy, and each of us has something valuable, meaningful, and helpful to share.

People with whom I might never spend time outside of meeting rooms, can be the very ones who express a thought which gives the lens through which I see life, a sharp twist. Suddenly, the foreground of the picture blurs, some part of the background comes into sharp focus, and I gasp to realise what is revealed.

I have had this happen repeatedly in meetings. I don't know if it is the fact that we have so little in common that makes their sharing so powerful in its ability to illuminate, or just how this works; I only know it does.

I'm so grateful for this. It has taught me to listen uncritically. I can do the sorting-through later on, right now, sitting at the table, I keep an open mind. When a thought is handed to me, looking like a muddy stone, I accept it with appreciation, and sit shining it up on my shirt, just in case it happens to be a treasure. As it so often is.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I suffer from this; at times, to a ridiculous degree. I will go out to eat with a friend, have a craving for a salad, then allow myself to be talked into sharing an order of something I never eat - deep-fried whatever - that I don't want, and won't enjoy.

Why do I do this? With some people, I find it easy to say, "I don't like such-and-such" - those are the people whose response to that statement will be, "Oh, ok." It's the pressurers I have such a hard time resisting. The manipulators.

The ones who make repeated wistful comments about how they just love deep-fried whatever, but a full order is too big, and wouldn't I like to share it with them, I can eat salad anytime, and deep-fried whatever is so good...I'm well aware of the expected response, and I'll start to feel myself caving.

I'll try to withstand it by stating my yearning for a salad several times, but reiterated plaintive remarks chip away at my resolve. I begin rationalising, "Oh it's only this one time, and the other person really wants this, and how important is it, and why be selfish, and it's only one meal..." and before I know it, they are happily eating something dripping with grease, while I eat the tiny bit of vegetable (put on the plate purely as decoration,) and wonder why on earth I agreed to this?

I find it immensely difficult to stand my ground with some people. I can withstand outright bullying with greater ease than soft pleading. Why is this? I believe because bullying demands, and I can see the demand for what it is, and refuse with no feelings of guilt. (Or very few.)

Manipulators plead and wheedle, play on my guilt feelings, and imply, "You can please me, and be a good friend, by giving me what I want." (A friend's young son once offered me the piece of cheese from his sandwich, with the remark, "I think I'd like you, if you eat this for me." The same basic message, just more upfront.)
What is this really kind of self-abnegation really about? Why would I agree to eat something I don't like? I believe it has to do with my ego, and the other person offering me two reflections of myself, one is generous and self-sacrificing, and a good friend, the other is selfish and greedy, and a bad friend. (I'm exaggerating for effect here, but this is how manipulation works.)

If I am having a good day, I can detach from either of those choices, and choose my own self-image. Days like that, I'm impervious to manipulation, because I recognise it for what it is. On my bad days, when I'm in HALT, or not feeling well, or out-of-sorts for whatever reason, my self-image tends to be a bit shakier, and my desire for approval is much stronger.
12-step helps me to be willing to investigate these aspects of my character, share them with another person, and with any luck, have a good laugh about it.
I can use my sponsor's reply for most requests - "I'll have to get back to you on that." It gives me breathing room, without someone's hopeful gaze affecting my reasoning process. But that doesn't work very well in a restaurant situation, so what are my choices?

I can be aware that this person is someone who is skilled at manipulating me. Call them on it. If I'm not comfortable doing that - pay attention; try to stand my ground, and ignore the clamorings of my ego. If I cave, accept my frailties, and try for a better result next time. That's all I can do, and that's enough.

Alcoholism Is A Disease

We can feel resistant to this fact, because we have so much accumulated anger, and resentments, old and new, all seething and bubbling within. I know I felt aggrieved at the suggestion that my alcoholics were suffering from a disease, because it felt like that "let them off the hook" for all their ghastly behavior.
Then I came across this line in the ODAT, page 58:

"When I ask: "Why does he drink when he knows it damages him and his family?" I really mean: "How can he justify what he is doing?" implying a condemnation I have no right to make.

Ouch. That was one of those stickleburr thoughts from program, it glued itself into my brain, and just couldn't be pulled free. I'd catch myself thinking along my usual condemnatory lines, and into my head would pop that line from the book again. I felt quite annoyed, as it made it impossible for me to feel the same self-righteous indignation and contempt, which had previously bolstered my arguments against the alcoholics.

I justified my own unacceptable behavior by pointing to theirs.

When I surrendered to the truth that they were suffering from an addiction that they had no more control over, than I did with cigarettes, I began to feel compassion. That was very painful. My sponsor, who also smoked, asked me once how I felt when someone, anyone, suggested I needed to quit smoking. I replied that I was immediately overwhelmed with a (sulkily) powerful desire for a cigarette.

She asked, could it then be possible that my extensive sermons upon why the alcoholic should quit drinking, inspired the same result? So wasn't I then, actually achieving the opposite of what I'd intended with my preaching? If all my yarping just made them want to drink, what was the point?

I felt irritated with her for that observation, but the next time I was moved to begin my usual rant, I thought of her comment, and stopped, because really, what was the point? We were well aware of all that I was about to say, I'd said it so many times already; they could most likely recite it along with me, word-for-word. I stopped, sighed, smiled, and said nothing.

In such small increments, do we learn to work our program.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Working The Program

What does this mean? I like the explanation from the ODAT book, page 45:

"What does working the program mean? It means to attend meetings faithfully, to read some Al-Anon literature every day, and to apply what we learn to our everyday living. And very important, it means sharing with others what we are learning and using, and accepting with an open mind what they share with us."


"I will not look to others to do my work for me while I'm "too busy" or "too tired" to do my reading and attend meetings and keep in touch with my fellow members. Al-Anon can do much for me, but I must help, too."

I learned to force myself to attend my meetings, no matter how tired I was, and even if I felt I should be doing something else instead - I sometimes felt as though I had to get behind myself and shove myself out the door towards the car. I might be moaning quietly with exhaustion, and cursing the traffic, but I was heading towards my meeting, and no matter how debilitated I may have felt when I started the drive, by the time I was pulling into the parking lot of whatever church, I would already be feeling better, just knowing what was ahead.

Experience had taught me, even at that early stage - when I went to a meeting, it helped me. I felt better. I would be walking back out to my car after the meeting ended, feeling calmed: empowered to face another day. I slept more peacefully; I awoke the next morning with hope instead of despair.

I also learned to read my daily reading book each morning with my first coffee, so that my (slowly awakening) mind was flooded with 12-step philosophy to sweeten my day. When life was stressing me, and I began to feel that knot of tension roiling in my stomach, I learned to get my book and search the index for whatever topic seemed to fit my present anxiety, read one or two, or sometimes all, of those readings, and calm myself that way. There were instances when that didn't work for me, I had waited too long, and had wound myself up too far for reading to help.

I learned to pick up the phone and go down the call list, starting with those I'd talked to in the past, and if none of those people were available, to call the next person, even if I'd never spoken to them outside a meeting. If they were on the list, they were willing to take calls - when I was frenzied, I just wanted a person to talk to, who it was didn't matter, as long as they were in Al-Anon.

I learned that 12-step is like anything else in life - we must practise, in order to become skilled. That means we do it willingly, accepting that we will make a mess of it the first few times, then we will gain some confidence and it will be tidier and neater, and soon, almost before we realise, it will be our new habit. When that happens, we will gain the serenity we are promised.

For me, working my program was like parallel parking - I couldn't believe I'd ever learn how to get my large car into that very small space - I had to take it on faith that if I followed the instructions, paid attention to what I was doing, and practised, I could. I do it now, without really thinking about it, because I have practised it to the point where it's second nature. Program, too, can very quickly become blissful habit.

We get out of life, and out of 12-step, just as much as we are willing to put in.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Letting Go of The Outcome

A family member has to go to civil court tomorrow, to present a case against a deadbeat customer.  I have long since turned over the outcome of this to God - back when they first filed the papers, I think I let go of the outcome. They are worrying, trying to prepare for all eventualities, and trying to consider every possible question the judge might ask.

I am so grateful for Al-Anon, I could never have sailed through this sort of situation with such ease and serenity, were I left to my own devices, with no program tools. On the contrary, I'd have driven us both insane worrying. I probably wouldn't have been able to sleep, and I'd have resented anyone who could. I'd have been on that gerbil wheel day and night.

This court case has allowed me to see just how far I've come in the program, and in my recovery, because I'm so calm and relaxed about it. I have no control over the judge, and stressing myself halfway to insanity ahead of time, isn't going to change that.

The outcome is up to God. I trust His decision. What a wonderful feeling. I can go on with my daily life, and have faith that it will work out as it is intended to. No help from me required. I can go work in my garden, or on the stained glass on my workbench, and let the rest go.

I realised this morning, I have achieved a level of freedom in Al-Anon, I wouldn't have thought possible for someone with my personality, and behavior patterns.

Keep coming back, it works! (If you work it.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why Is Step Four So Frightening?

Why do so many of us, when facing our first "searching and fearless moral inventory," find the mere idea unnerving? Why is the concept of looking clearly at ourselves, with no justifying, no rationalising, such a daunting prospect?

I heard at a meeting recently, "I'm afraid I'll find out I'm not a nice person."

Isn't that true for most of us? We're terrified that if we dig around within, we will find only rot - extensive decay, and things unrecognisable as human, with a stench powerful enough to peel wallpaper. (Reminds me of a bachelor friend, who, when asked what a questionable container in his fridge held, replied, "Don't throw that out, that's my science project! I'm growing blue fur.")

Aren't we terrified that our core beliefs in our own intrinsic lack of worth, will only be strengthened and proven, if we do a Step 4? Don't we carry a quiet terror that all the horrid verbal abuse heaped upon us over the years may be true, and that this will become evident to "ourselves, to God and to another human being" when we move further along in the process, to Step 5?

We may have been unkind, we may even have said or done that for which we now feel ashamed, but we aren't evil, and we won't find out that we aren't nice people. On the contrary, considering the fear and trembling with which many of us approached our first moral inventory, we come out the other side breathing a huge sigh of alleviation, laughing a bit in giddy relief.

We discover that we've been bound and triggered by our pasts; we've made choices we can now understand, worked against us. We've been impatient, we've been angry, we've been childish, we've been a myriad of character defects, but we've still been only human, with all the attendant human frailties.

Al-Anon is teaching us to love ourselves, in our entirety: not just the small acceptable pieces we are willing to display in the front parlour, where nobody sits, but also the ratty old pieces worn to a fade by years of overuse, on the back porch, where the dog sleeps.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Belief in God, part 2.

The first daily reading book I encountered in Al-Anon, was the ODAT - One Day At A Time. I still find this book a wonderful resource. It's a bit more direct than some of the later daily readers, so I've heard it described as "harsh," but I am very fond of it, both for that directness, and for the many hours of solace it has given to me. I was looking for a specific quote about faith, and found it in this book:

"Short arm needs man to reach to Heaven, so ready is Heaven to stoop to him."
Francis Thompson

What a comforting thought. I don't need a ladder truck, arm extensions, special handles, all I need is my own (admittedly) short arms. Each one of us has arms long enough to reach to our Higher Power, because God is so willing to reach any distance to meet us.

I started out in life, being frightened of a God who was punitive, unforgiving, and would roast me in the fires of damnation forever, for my sins. I can recall even as a child, wondering what on earth kinds of sins I could have committed that were anything like the ones being committed against me on a daily basis. Because of that, I rejected God utterly - slammed the door to my heart firmly closed, and then plastered it over - you couldn't even tell there used to be a door there. I was an atheist from quite a young age.

When I came to 12-step, the spiritual aspect of it was the most difficult for me to accept, as it meant opening my mind and heart to a God I didn't believe in. My sponsor suggested I try to pray anyway, to "act as if," and see what happened. For a long time - nothing. And then one day, I was granted serenity when I prayed for it, and nothing has ever been the same since.

When I am about to undertake something - large or small, part of daily life, or life-changing event - I don't fear the way I once did. I have that base serenity and belief to build upon, and nothing in life is ever quite so terrifying, when I know that all I have to do is reach out, and God will be there to comfort, and console, and encourage, and sustain me.

My first sponsor once said to me, in exasperation, "Do you think God has brought you all this way safely, just to open the window and hurl you out now?" I burst out laughing, and the thought stayed with me. I used it to remind myself that I was safe, when fear began that predatory circling.

God has always been there; I was the one who turned my face away.

Belief in God

Because of Al-Anon, I was finally able to quit smoking. I was a very heavy smoker, and had started at the age of 12, so I'd been poisoning myself for years by the time I came to 12-step. I'd tried to quit numerous times on my own, but had never managed to stay quit, and I suffered terribly from the cravings.
I'd been in Al-Anon for about 10 years or so, (I can be a slow learner) when I suddenly thought to ask my Higher Power for help in quitting smoking. I went to bed every night for a month or so, and prayed fervently (begged, truly) to be granted the strength to quit.

One morning when I arose, I said, "I'm quitting tomorrow."
And I did. I just stopped cold turkey, and it was as though I'd never smoked, because I didn't suffer for one moment from cravings. God granted me release from my addiction to nicotine.

I've told this story at meetings, as an illustration of the incredible gifts we receive, when we just - ask. Turn it over. I'd struggled most of my life to gain freedom from smoking, and overnight, God gave me what I couldn't give myself in all those years of struggle and effort.

As you may imagine, this gift was a huge leap forward for me, in my understanding of the power of God, and His willingness to help us, if we only seek Him.

We have an amazing source of guidance, power, serenity, and love - and all we have to do, is reach towards it. But reach, we must. We are given free will, and as long as we are bound and determined to muddle through under our own power, God isn't going to force us to accept help. I think of Him as a loving presence standing beside me, watching me fight with the packaging of my life lessons, muttering and grumbling to myself as I pull, and turn, and tug, and rip, until finally I fling it down, surrender, and ask, "Can you please help me with this?"

This is a lesson I seem to need to relearn, at regular intervals.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

No, You Don't Understand...

Yes, I do understand, I just don't agree with what you are saying. There are those among us who will argue endlessly when the other person disagrees - we feel compelled to change their minds, and as we see it, educate them. We're so convinced of our own rightness, we can't believe anyone could disagree, if we just explain it properly.

From Courage to Change, page 29:

"Sometimes the only way I can determine whether I'm simply expressing my feelings is by noticing how many times I say the same thing. If I mention something that is on my mind and then let it go no matter what response I get, I am speaking sincerely. If I repeatedly make similar suggestions, or ask prodding questions again and again, I am probably trying to control. If I am satisfied only when the other person responds in a way I consider desirable - agrees with what I'm saying or takes my advice - I know I've lost my focus."

I love that reading, because it was, and still is, a touchstone for me, in trying to recognise my own controlling behaviors. I will catch myself, about to repeat myself, when an alcoholic has responded to my first statement/question/suggestion, with what I consider the "incorrect" response - ie, not the reply I was angling for.

The reading goes on to say:

"I am learning to be honest with myself. I will not use my recovery as an excuse to justify my efforts to change other people's thinking. Trying to control other people only gets me in trouble."

In the past, I let great spans of my precious life drift past me unnoticed, while I was engaged in a futile attempt to change an alcoholic's thinking. I don't want to waste any more of my life in that pointless endeavor.

To achieve this, I need to be honest with myself about my own motives, and not play that self-deceptive game of, "I was only..."
Right. We both know perfectly well what I was "only" doing. I was only trying to make the alcoholic adopt my way of seeing the situation. I was only trying to guilt-trip them into doing it my way. I was only telling them how superior my view of whatever is. I was only trying to control.

When I feel that familiar rise of irritation in my chest, I can stop, take a deep breath, ask my Higher Power for help, and let it go. Close my mouth firmly, and use it to smile instead of yarp.

My reward for this effort? Feeling better about myself.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Self-Worth, and Guilt

I was raised to believe that in order to have value, I had to produce tangible results every day. Work, food, art, cleaning,  the result wasn't nearly as important as producing a result. One must be able, at the end of the day, to point to one's accomplishments, in order to have "earned" one's rest. This may sound like a positive belief, but for those of us who are co-dependent, (and as a program friend jokes, believe in "everything in excess") this is an exhausting way to live.

We cannot just be.

Even in times of illness, we struggle to achieve daily tasks, in order to waylay the crushing guilt which ensues when we do not. Because that's the other half of this life philosophy - guilt. Guilt is a ferocious taskmaster. Guilt stands at our back and feeds us a steady stream of nasty little insults and comments, telling us we are lazy, worthless, stupid...I don't need to list them off, most of you can recite them right along with me, I'm sure.

Al-Anon was the first place in my life where I encountered the concept that I had worth simply by existing. I didn't see how that was possible - if that were true, I could still be a good person even if my house was a complete mess! What a concept!

I have had to work my program diligently, to achieve some freedom from this incessant measuring of myself. I was invariably coming up short in one area, therefore dismissing myself as generally unworthy, because I strove for perfection.

I can never attain perfection. Admitting that fact, was the dropping of a burden I had carried all my life. I now allow myself to have days in which I announce that I am "doing nothing" that day. I give myself permission to have days to just float around and be myself. I don't accomplish a darn thing, and I'm getting better at shushing the guilt voices. Some days I can shut them up completely, some days I can only get them down to a murmur. I'm working on it.

Progress, not perfection.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


When I was new to 12-step, and people around the tables spoke of being grateful, I smiled and nodded, but inwardly, I considered them a few herbs short of a spice rack. I was convinced they had to be, no-one in their right mind could be grateful for the kind of life I was leading at the time. I was so consumed with rage and self-pity, there was no room for even a drop of gratitude, let alone the great sloppy amounts they seemed to be feeling. I didn't really truly grasp the point of working to feel grateful, either, that seemed nonsensical. You either feel grateful or you don't, why fake it?

I didn't understand that what I was trying to do, was unseize my attitude, so I could shift it a few degrees in another direction. Gratitude is the penetrating oil that gets in between the pieces of our hearts that have been seized in anger and in pain, and makes it possible to begin slowly, painstakingly, working them loose.

I was one of those annoying sponsees who can't take anything on faith, I wanted to be given a good reason to do whatever was being suggested to me. I wanted to know why I should do this foolish-sounding thing. I was profoundly resistant to taking suggestions from anyone. I look back in wonder at the patience and loving support of the people in those first meetings I attended, and feel enormous gratitude now. But then, I found it ludicrous to hear that I needed to muster some gratitude. I was at such a low point that I couldn't think of a darn thing for which I could feel gratitude.

One of the dictionary definitions for gratitude is "recognition."
I like that. I had things to be grateful for all along, I just didn't recognise them. I was too busy focussing on my misery, and the alcoholic, to be able to see. I walked blindly past, wringing my hands, fuming and moaning, unable to recognise those gifts in my life.

I had to start on a pretty basic level, making gratitude lists - I don't have family to be grateful for, ok then, I made my group my extended family, and was grateful for them. I'd pushed most of my friends away over the years of living with alcohol and abuse; program allowed me to begin re-establishing some of those connections. I was grateful for my dog. I was grateful for my art. I was grateful to live where I did...once the seized pieces of one's heart begin to move infinitesimally, they seem to carry their own momentum, and liberal applications of more gratitude breaks us wide open.

An open heart surrenders and accepts. That way lies wisdom, and peace. Serenity.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What Are My Motives?

As "families and friends of alcoholics" we learn to become adept manipulators. We undertake to plan for all eventualities in the hopes of heading them off; we scheme and strive for control. Sneakily. Since most of us, on some inner level, realise that this manipulation is not an honest or forthright way to deal with other people, we drape it in long, involved rationalisations. We explain that we have only the alcoholic's best interests at heart, we are pure as the driven snow in that regard, and it simply makes sense for this to be this way, it isn't because we want it for ourselves, heavens no, we are selfless as a saint. We justifiy our own behavior with reasons multitudinous and inventive.

Most of us have become so hardened in these defensive positions, we are able to spout this chicanery, while wearing an expression of injured innocence. Rarely have I seen anyone leap to admit their own character defects - for most of us, it's a slow dawning, and we fight it every step of the way, whining in protest, and searching frantically for some other way out of the pit we have dug for ourselves.

When we do decide to face this reality, of our own controlling natures, it can be almost impossible to catch ourselves at it, because we've gotten so good at the rationalisations. How do we know when we are trying to control? I have two questions I ask of myself:

- What are my motives?
- What do I hope to accomplish by saying this?

Am I speaking in an attempt to exchange information, clarify my position, or state my feelings?

Or is this the first step in a circular maneuver, where I'm starting out at one side, and slowly working my way around to the other, pretending I'm only out for a casual stroll, all the while with a fixed destination in mind?

Examining my motives has become easier over the years, as I've seen the positive results of working my program this way. Newcomers may have to take this one on faith for a time, because human nature seems to be such, that we are far more skilled at self-deception, than honest self-examination.

That is why we are encouraged to get a sponsor, and to "reason things out with someone else." It's always easier to see where the other person is kidding themselves - our own rationalisations are things of beauty to our ears.

Monday, March 16, 2009


From: Hope for Today, page 36: "This slogan is intended to help me think before I act, making sure my actions are wll thought out, not impulsive, compulsive, or reactive. I need to remember, though, that the slogan is not "Think, think, think, think!"
"Think" is an invitation for clarity, not endless rumination. God, help me to think, but not too much!"

I have spent a sizable portion of my life either leaping into action so as not to feel a feeling, or suffocating any possibility of action, in a quagmire of convoluted and circular thinking. I not only did autopsies on past events, I did them on a cellular level. I got down in there with the electron microscope, convinced that were the magnification only high enough, I'd find an answer to my questions.

(What usually happened, is what always seems to happen when I watch a video on YouTube - I watch the first, and some reference in that, causes me to do a search on a second topic, and from there, a third and fourth and fifth...perfect example - tonight I started out viewing a video clip of the comic Russell Peters, and ended up watching Secretariat win the Kentucky Derby..don't ask me how I got there from here...)

I'd search and search, trying to make sense of something that has no sense in it whatsoever - addiction. I had lived my life with the firm belief that if I just armed myself with enough information, and relied upon my intelligence, I would find solutions to any problem in my life. Alcoholism was merely another challenge. Once I began attending meetings, I also began to compile information about addiction from every source I could find, and what I found, after all my searching and reading and pondering was: it didn't help.

My intelligence, my ability to think, to gather information and sort, categorise, classify, was useless in the face of the alcoholic's disease. My brain was, in fact, my own worst enemy, since it locked on to the topic and ground away unstoppably until I felt as if I were going quietly mad.

So, I've had to learn to use this slogan in a very specific fashion. I use it when my emotions run high, and I'm feeling that old familiar desire to do something, anything, to give myself the illusion that I'm "fixing this." I use it when I'm feeling compelled to immediate action; I've learned that short of medical emergency, or a black bear in the back garden, very few things in life require instantaneous responses.

I don't use it as proof that 12-step gives me free rein, to drive not only myself, but anyone foolish enough to lend an ear, right around the bend, with microscopic scrutiny as to "what he meant when he said blah blah blah..."

As a program friend once commented to me: "Why would you want to try to figure out what's going on inside the alcoholic's head? He can't even stand being in there, and it's his head, why do you think he drinks so much?"

Let Go and Let God.

I like this slogan. I like it for what it means to me, and for what it promises to me, and for the immense safety it contains for me. When I first began to attend meetings, I was willing to listen, only because I'd been brought to my knees by the alcoholic's drinking. But I did not believe in God, a Higher Power, or any of that bosh, thankyou no thankyou. I was quite proud of my atheism, I saw it as the reasoned decision of a sane mind, unswayed by centuries of oogly-googly stuff and nonsense. (Typing that makes me smile, just thinking of how determined I was to go it alone. I was doing a terrible job of it, but hey, I was doing it myself.)

I slowly began to be able to grasp the concept of "letting go" but I became hopelessly stuck on everything after the "and." Then I went across the country to visit my sister, and new as I was to program, realised that she was an alcoholic. On the return trip, I was driving through the mountains, all that spectacular beauty, and the closer I got to home, the more dread I felt - I knew full well what it was going to be like to be back in the marital home, and I felt as though I just couldn't bear it after a time away.

I began to pray to a God I didn't believe in, and I had my first spiritual awakening - I felt it wash down over me like a warm wave, removing all my fear and dread, and leaving me completely at peace, in a way I had never felt. I came to believe at that moment. I realised that I had only to ask, and I would receive help from my Higher Power. I felt a calm certainty that I would be able to manage whatever life threw at me, because I had this source of strength and succor to which I could turn.

Now don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying that this spiritual awakening took place, and it was all hearts and singing birds and prancing through a field of daisies afterwards - life goes on, even after a spiritual awakening, but for me, it has never gone on in quite the same way as before. There's a certain frenzied anguish that has been removed from me, and a type of calm that I can relax into, like falling backwards onto a down quilt - I'm still falling backwards, but my landing is cushioned.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Forgiving is Not Condoning.

I don't know how many times I've sat in an Al-Anon meeting, and heard someone say, "I just can't forgive them, for this or that reason." When I started this 12-step journey, I believed that if I were to say: "I forgive my childhood batterer," I was, in effect, stating: "What she did was acceptable." I saw condoning as an intrinsic element of forgiveness. I couldn't see how the two could be separated, they were so intertwined in my thinking.

As has so often been the case, it was a little offhand comment which started the arduous process of disentanglement. A friend in art school, himself a victim of emotional abuse in his younger years, (born gay into a very wealthy Chinese family, he was the modern-day equivalent of a remittance man, supported in style over here, so his family in China wouldn't lose face) was trying to console me after one of my occasional family encounters, and said "Happy people don't behave that way."

Simple. Clear. Obvious. (Wilson was wise far beyond his years.) Two decades or so later on in my life, I recalled this comment, during a conversation about the batterer with my sponsor, and I repeated it with almost a feeling of wonderment. Up until that moment, I honestly do not believe I had ever tried to place myself in the batterer's shoes instead of my own - I only ever seen her as unrepentantly evil. I decided I was going to at least open my mind to the possibility that she was a deeply unhappy person, and see if I could find anything to support this in my memories.

I tried to rexamine my childhood through an Al-Anon filter, praying for guidance, and the ability to see with clarity. (I'm condensing the process for the sake of brevity, this took several years to accomplish, because it was painful to let go of the rigid thinking which got me out of my childhood with my sanity intact.)

I came out of the other side of this, with an understanding that what I'd been trying to ahieve, was to see her from the viewpoint of an adult living in a place of safety.
Up until then, she'd always been a raging whirlwind, seen only by the terrified upward gaze of a cringing child, catching glimpses through arms held up to protect my face.

I gained significant understanding of what drove her, of what she felt she had lost early on and could never hope to regain (a younger sister dying at the age of 7 from diptheria, and it being made abundantly clear to the surviving child that both parents wished she had died and the sister had lived, and other traumas in her childhood during the war)

Understanding allowed me to reach a place of forgiveness. Not condoning. Not excusing. Forgiving. Until I forgave, I couldn't cut the ties between my adult self, and that tiny quaking child I had been. Until I forgave, I was tethered to my past misery by a slender cord of anger and resentment.

Forgiveness allowed me to feel peace. Yes, I suffered what I did, but now I see the past as "a far distant country" I once visited, not as a monster waiting under the bed to leap out and get me by the ankle.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Anger, And Trust.

Untreated alcoholism destroys intimacy - it's that simple.

When we've been let down enough times, even the most co-dependent of us will lose trust in the drinker; restoring trust can be a mammoth undertaking. Some of us learn to live with a level of distrust which would appear psychotic to a person not in a relationship with an alcoholic. The alcoholic promises, and we smile, and nod, and agree, but to ourselves, mutter, "Right. That's likely."
Or worse, we believe them. We believe them, we put our faith in the event taking place, and when it doesn't, we are outraged and infuriated all over again - how dare they break their promise?
It can take a fair bit of "reasoning things out with someone else" to recognise our own patterns in this area, as they can be so deeply ingrained, we act them out almost by rote.

I've had a tendency to act out the following:
-decide I want the alcoholic to do a specific thing.
- approach them and ask if they will do this thing.
-meet their initial resistance with a dozen well-argued reasons why they should do this thing.(I've thought this all out ahead of time, they're only hearing it for the first time, so I'm at an advantage here.)
-extract a promise that they will do this thing, in fact, hound them until they agree.

Many of you will be able to see the outcome of this a mile away: they don't do it, I become angry.

Who is at fault? This depends who you ask, (and I'm not just joking around here, we can view this sort of encounter very differently, when we have some program time behind us.)

When I was new to Al-Anon, had I been presented with that scenario, I may have felt a touch of unease upon reaching the bit about hounding the alcoholic into agreement, but it would have seemed fairly clear to me that they bore sole responsibility.
 They made a promise and didn't keep it, right? Well, yes, that's true, but it was a promise extracted under duress.

When we aren't demonising the drinker, we can see that self-image and self-esteem are battered almost beyond recognition for them, and many are people-pleasers just as we are. Part of addiction is the inability to deal with conflict or stress - and we, as co-dependents, can be excellent manipulators.

I am a stubborn creature, and get me fixated on an outcome, and I will move heaven and earth to achieve it. This isn't a character defect unless I am using it for all the wrong reasons, such as getting my own way. When I am determined to get my own way, I am a freight train of "You should's" and "I want you to's" and I barrel over my alcoholics at full speed, and carry them along with me, on the cowcatcher. I know darn well they don't want to do whatever it is, and I think I also know darn well that they aren't going to do it, so just what am I playing at here?

I set myself up to be angry. I set myself up to carry an expectation which will result in disappointment, hurt feelings, and distress on both sides.

I need to be more honest about my part in this scenario - and be willing to take "no" for an answer. That's being respectful.

Step Four - And The Point Of This Is?

Step Four: Made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.

Those of us who have had our lives ravaged by someone else's drinking, are often very well defended emotionally. We have so many ways of deflecting, denying, and avoiding, that the road to our internal self is akin to a luxury car commercial - great swooping turns, it's always moonlight, and it's a "professional driver on a closed course."

Step Four is about setting off down that road in daylight, for a change, and with a companion - our sponsor.

We come into our first meetings with so much resistance accumulated, our minds slam shut like clapping hands, the minute any suggestion is made that we bear any responsibility for our own misery. I was fine, thankyou very much, just tell me how to make the drinker stop drinking, and I'm outta here.

I heard this nonsense about taking my own inventory with disbelief - what did that have to do with making the drinker quit?
I can take no credit for my initial learning on this step, it happened in spite of me. I was lucky enough to have a sponsor who could dodge around the end of my barricades like one of those cars at a railway crossing, plant herself in the middle of the road, and hold up a sign reading, "Realisation Ahead - Slow down! Pay attention!"

That woman offended my pride so many times, I lost count after a while. But something in me hungered for change and growth, and also, she made me laugh so hard at myself, I'd be sitting at her kitchen table clutching my stomach and barely able to talk.
I slowly learned that I could use Step 4 as leverage to open my own defenses enough to slip inside, and walk around, picking up the odd wierd-looking thing, and saying "Oh. Oh my. Well, isn't that strange. Hmm. I didn't know this was in here, that's for sure. What is that?" Having my sponsor beside me on these initial forays, kept me feeling safe, ordinary, and only human.
I learned that I wouldn't vanish in a puff of smoke if I said "I was in the wrong."

I learned that the more I discovered about my own mental workings, the easier it became for me to effect change in my life.
I learned that the more I understood myself, the more compassion and understanding I felt for all of humanity, alcoholics included.
I learned that I had reached my early thirties without ever having matured in many areas of my personality - in some areas, I was still stamping my foot and screaming "No! No! NO! It's not fair!"
And it wasn't fair, and it still isn't fair, but "fair" is a fantasy in life. Fair is for sports, and portion sizes at the dinner table; anywhere else in life, if we are insisting on "fair" before we will accept it, we will go to our deathbed resisting.

Step Four felt so strange when I started trying to practise it, and has become of one of my favourite steps over the years. (Favourite doesn't mean I love it at all times, there have been plenty of times I've cursed it with great heat and inventiveness. Favourite means I see the value, and treasure the outcome - the process, not so much some days.)
Step Four I had to take on trust, from those in my meetings who personified the change I was so desperate to achieve.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Obsessive Thinking, Part 2 - Running on the Gerbil Wheel is Not What Your Doctor meant by: "Get more exercise."

I've got a couple of shorthand ways to describe obsessing - "foxhunting" is one, and "on the gerbil wheel" is another. The latter came about when I was visiting a friend, whose kids had a gerbil, and while we talked, the gerbil was on the wheel in his cage, running for all he was worth. "Look at him," my friend commented - "he really thinks he's getting somewhere!"
I answered, "I can relate to that, I do the mental equivalent."
We grinned at each other, then said, in perfect unison: "Obsessing!"

When one is in public, and wants to share, without giving anyone in the immediate vicinity clues as to just what is being discussed, these little shorthand terms come in handy.
So we meet and ask each other, "What have you been up to?" and sometimes the reply is: "Foxhunting." Or, "Oh, not so good, I've been on the gerbil wheel, for 3 days straight!"

"Gerbilling" just seems such a perfect way to describe the process; all that mad exertion and energy expenditure, and when we climb off, finally, haggard, and gasping for breath, where are we? In the same damn place we were, when we first climbed on. What a colossal and futile time-waster "gerbilling" is: not to mention how it saps our morale, and poisons our moods.

We have a choice, we always have a choice, whether we see it or not. We choose to climb on in the first place, and when we're in full stride, we have nothing keeping us on it, but our own decision to stay there. I can see, in hindsight, that I used the gerbil wheel as a way to give myself the illusion that I was making progress, (just as the gerbil may believe that if he just ramps it up a notch, he may step off into a superior cage, maybe with a little girl gerbil, or some different seeds to eat.)

Unlike the gerbil, we've got opposable thumbs, we can climb down off the gerbil wheel, go over, open the cage door and walk out into freedom. Some days, freedom is just too alarming and overwhelming, when we are new to it. So we go back into the cage and pull the door to for a while longer, it's safe in there. Constricting, boring, but safe. We climb on the wheel and take ourselves for a manaical run at top speed, until we feel sufficiently wearied, and are willing to dismount and try some other form of cerebral exercise.

Such as working our program.

Obsessive Thinking

One question I've heard repeatedly from sponsees, is, "How do I stop thinking about this stuff? It's driving me crazy, I go around and around and around and just get more and more upset, but I don't know how to stop!"

It makes me shudder, to remember just how out of control my thinking was, when I was new to 12-step. I could start out in a relatively pleasant mood, then a stray thought would wander across my mental landscape, and I'd be off in pursuit like a pack of hounds after a fox. And chase it I would, over the proverbial hill and dale, through forests, streams, thickets, wheatfields, across four-lane highways, back into the fields, staggering down the valley on legs shaking from exhaustion, still drawn inexorably to follow, by my own compulsive nature.

I would wake up thinking about something, chase it all day long, then collapse into bed at night, still on that same subject. It was an appalling way to live.

I've developed several ways to deal with this aspect of myself, and as I've slowly gained some control, I find it becomes less of a struggle, most times, to get myself off one subject and onto another.

First, I had to become aware of my internal dialogue. The parental tapes that stop and start, the voices chiding me for my imperfections, my own voice yarping away about what someone else is doing/not doing. A friend calls it "the stories I'm telling myself." I love that. My stories used to be great sweeping dramas along the lines of "Gone With The Wind" - now they tend to be more in the "3-page, ironically-rueful-commentary-on-human-silliness" category.

So, ok, now I'm more aware of my internal dialogue, now what?
Practise what was taught to me as, "thought-stopping." This means that the minute the fox comes out from his burrow, and looks like he's going to start trotting away, I turn myself ruthlessly in the opposite direction, and begin to admire cloud formation, and the treeline. I don't check back over my shoulder with quick glances "just to see what he's doing," I don't pretend that I'm not going to run, all the while retying my shoelaces "just in case."

I force myself to think of something different. I love gardening - all righty then, I start planning what I'm going to do when the too-many plants I've got ordered start arriving.

Where should I put that plant? I could put it beside the delphiniums, but they get so tall they might shade it, so I could put it in the other garden beside the rudbeckia, but they reseed like crazy, and could choke it out...

My thinking may be just as obsessive, but I'm obsessing over a topic that doesn't cause me pain and suffering; on the contrary, it gives me hours of pleasure. (Mad gardeners are more socially acceptable than foxhunters, anyway. Marginally.)

I may have to force myself off the one topic, onto the other, a dozen times before I'm eventually successful in rerouting my thinking, but I've learned to just keep at it, and eventually, I will realise I've been lost in happy delirium over my garden for half an hour, the fox has disappeared, and I'm safe once more.

Thought-stopping - it works, I promise. It will most likely feel awkward and foolish the first few times you try it, but like most things in life, if we just keep at it, we start to gain some measure of skill, our self-esteem rises, and we like ourselves more. And that's always a good thing.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What Detachment Isn't.

- Icy silence, with either a refusal to make eye contact at all, or much pointed glaring.
- Deliberate and calculated disregard of the ordinary courtesies of daily life.
- Punishing the alcoholic for their behaviour when intoxicated, by withdrawal of our affections during periods of sobriety.

Many of us, as spouses or family members of an alcoholic, have done all of these, and more, in our attempts to mold the behaviour of the drinker. We have felt self-righteous: convinced that we are in the right, and feeling smug condemnation towards the alcoholic for their actions. (I will never forget my first sponsor saying to me, "Self-righteousness is delicious." She didn't say I was being self-righteous, she just tossed that comment out when I was, and it landed there, and I looked at it, and felt quite put out by that remark. Like all effectual sponsor remarks, it sticks in the head like a burr in your t-shirt, and you can't get it out, and it pokes at you forever after.)

We've tried our own version of behavior modification, and none of it, none of it, has had the slightest effect upon the drinking. It has, however, slowly turned us from temperate people, into those rather wild-eyed souls spoken of, in the Al-Anon welcome:

" Our thinking becomes distorted by trying to force solutions, and we beome irritable and unreasonable without knowing it."

We are angry. Furiously angry. Pissed off (at the world, the alcoholic, God, other people, ourselves,) about the situation in which we find ourselves. Because of this enormous rage and resentment, the whole idea of "detachment with love" can be just one more of those premises which cause us to snort with disgust and impatience. "Why should we?" we want to know. It can feel like just one more of those bits of ourselves we are chopping off and handing over to the drinker, and the disease, with no hope of ever getting anything in return We may carry the despairing belief, that at some point, we will chop off the last piece, and...disappear?
We are so mired in what program calls "short-supply thinking," we see everything in terms of - how much is this going to cost me, and what will I get for it?

Al-Anon teaches that if we are to truly change, we must take a leap of faith, and make choices because they are the right choices to make, and then let go of the outcome.
This means detaching with love, regardless of how the drinker may have transgressed against us.

That transpires when we are granted the clarity of vision to discern the following: when we choose the cold, hard, angry path, we live a cold, hard, angry life.

From COURAGE to CHANGE, page 100;

"The unconditional love I receive in Al-Anon helps me to rediscover what love is. As I learn that I am consistently lovable regardless of my strengths and limitations, I begin to see something consistently lovable in others, even those who suffer from an unlovable disease."

Monday, March 9, 2009

So, Just How Do I "Detach," Anyway?

Detachment in Al-Anon is a concept which can be horrendously confusing and problematic for many of us. What is detachment? Why should we detach? What do we achieve when we detach? How does detachment look from the outside? How does it feel from the inside?

I'll start with my idea of what detachment is, and is not.
Put very simply, detachment is - the ability to maintain my own mood, regardless of the moods of those around me. This means that if I've spent the day feeling gleeful and giddy and full of appreciation for life, but the alcoholic arrives home in a temper, and furious: I am truly detached when I can feel compassion for his/her bad day, without losing my good mood.

"How on earth do I do that?" newcomers wail - "You don't know what he's like when he's mad, he stomps and rants and says horrible things..."
For many of us, our moods may begin within us, but they are fed or starved, by the input of others. We need to learn to put a boundary in place, to stop that open connection. When I lived with active alcoholism, pre-Al-Anon, when the alcoholic would begin to verbally abuse me, I'd feel the need to defend myself, with the same level of anger he was hurling at me, fight back, stick up for myself, not allow him to say those things....all of those choices on my part left the connection to him and his bad mood open.
I was reacting, not responding - my heart would be pounding like crazy, my hands would be shaking, and I'd be in tears, furious and despairing that once again, he'd done this to me.

Al-Anon showed me that he wasn't doing it to me, I was making the choice to engage.

"What?" I hear some of you cry, "What else can I do when he/she is having a temper tantrum and screaming abuse?"
Detach. Close the connection. Turn off the hose that fuels the fire. Don't react, respond. The two most useful phrases I learned in program, as a way to respond in that situation, were:
"Oh, yeah." (said with mild interest) and, "You could be right."

The very first time I had the presence of mind to remember to use one, my former husband had just finished a long involved rant detailing my possible origin, my personality defects, my uselessness, my stupidity, etc, and when he finally wound down, and stared belligerently at me, waiting for a shrieking reply, I said, "Well, you could be right."

It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. It stopped him cold. He stared at me, with his mouth half-open, absolutely astonished.

He tried again, in even more detail.

I said it again, "You could be right."

I watched him deflate before my eyes. I could see him realise that something had changed within me. He turned and went off to watch tv and drink some more. I sat in my kitchen, shaking, but exhilarated. Oh my goodness, this program stuff actually worked!
And more to the point, I still had my self-respect, because I hadn't sunk to his level of verbal abuse.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Changing My Attitude

If there's one thing I've learned in Al-Anon, it's that my first take on a situation is not necessarily the correct one. Given half a chance, my ego will present me with a carefully constructed ediface of rationalisations and co-dependent thinking, which leaves me all but blameless, and the other person, or persons, taking the fall. And it can requre considerable excavating, and effort spent "reasoning things out with someone else," before I can even begin to glimpse my part in the problem.
Without help from another program member, my ego will be nattering away to me, completely absolving me of any responsibility, and loading the other person like a pack mule, until they are staggering and gasping under the burden, and I'm swanning around with a small paper bag as my part of the load.
Occasionally, I will choose a non-program person with whom to reason it out, and this can be gratifying for a while, because most folks not in 12-step, or otherwise enlightened by life and experience, or study, will agree wholeheartedly that of course, it's obviously the fault of anyone but the one complaining to them. That's the meaning of "moral support" to most of us who aren't involved in taking our own inventory.
But the fun of that palls pretty quickly. Al-Anon has ruined it for me. I listen to the other person telling me all the ways I'm right, and I think to myself, well, that's not really true...when I hear myself think that, I know I'm ready to start the dig. I seek out a program friend, and start the process of "reasoning things out."
For those of you not familiar with this, here's how it often works for me:
I state my case, which usually starts out, as I mentioned, with me as close to inculpable, as humanly possible.
My friend or sponsor listens, validates this, then promptly pushes that nonsense to the back of the table, clearing a space on which to work. They then begin the real endeavor, by offering several ways of looking at the situation which often had: entered my head, and been booted right out again by my ego, or had been refused entrance in the first place, regardless of how loudly they knocked.
Some program friends will offer a possiblity as gently as they'd handle a precious piece of bone china, with lots of padding to insulate it, as they hand it over.
Some just smack it down on the table like a ruler - whack! and sit there smiling sweetly, waiting for my reply.
Truly? I prefer the latter, it expedites the process considerably.
When I was new to 12-step, I preferred the softer, kinder approach, because my ego was so tender and easily bruised.
Nowadays, I find the reasoning process with a gentler friend can evolve to into hilarious conversations, with them offering me the same sorts of suggestions as my ego does, and me arguing strenuously against them, in a sort of wierd positions-reversed dialogue, which might sound quite bonkers to anyone not in program:

Them: Well, maybe you did that because you felt they'd hurt you, and you were just wanting to let them know that.

Me: Nope. I was getting a dig in.

Them: Maybe you didn't realise how that would sound, though.

Me: Nope, I knew perfectly well, and I said it anyway.

Them: I'm sure you didn't really mean it.

Me: Yes I did.

So the gentler way can also be very effective in letting myself in on how and where and why I've erred.
Then I can do a step 10; make amends, clear the air, restore peace and tranquillity, and move on with my day/week/life.
Because I may not be looking too closely at what's in that little paper bag I talked about, but I'm telling you, you carry it for a while, and that sucker weighs a ton.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Who Really Knows Me?

Before Al-Anon, I was one of those people with whom it is impossible to get any closer than surface level, because below the surface is a seething rage.  When I'm stressed. I am absolutely masterful at diversion through humour. I had to be in 12-Step for a long time before I realised how I have always used humour to keep people away from my inner self. I also discovered early in life that most people love to talk about themselves, so if I asked specific questions: "How's work going with that problem you mentioned last time we talked?" I could usually get them so focused on their own life, that they wouldn't notice I wasn't giving them any information about me.

This was a very efficient way to keep myself feeling so alone, it was like living life with a glass wall between me and other people.
I was so afraid of being thought "less than" - less than perfect, less than capable, less than efficient, less than in control, that I was willing to live my life in a freezing isolation rather than admit to not being perfect in all areas.

Since I've been in program, I have learned the hard lesson that if I want to feel better, not only do I have to work my program, but I have to speak up. It may cause me to wiggle and squirm with discomfort to admit to what is going on with me, but once I do speak up, I receive comfort. The initial comfort is just the enormous one of having said it to another person.

"Step 5 - Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs."

When I was new to Al-Anon, I had quite the speed-bump of resentment over the wording of this step; that last word just stuck in my craw - wrongs? wrongs? As far as I was concerned, it was the alcoholic who was doing all the wrongs, and I was the innocent victim of said evils. I had to learn to admit that I was equally at fault in my own way, and that this did not make me a bad person, it made me a misguided one. I had to be willing to speak to another human being about my own frailties and character defects, as that was the only way to release my immense shame about not being perfect, and receive that warm soothing balm of comfort from my Higher Power, and my meeting group. Once I could speak with my head up, looking around the table, rather than staring at my hands clasped in my lap, I began to see heads nodding in acknowledgment, recognition, agreement, and that helped me to learn that I wasn't a terrrible human being. I was a confused and lonely and distressed (and furious) one.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Asking for Help

From COURAGE to CHANGE, page 66:

"Al-Anon has helped me realise that no one readily knows what is in my heart, mind, and soul. I can't expect my needs to be met, unless I first explain what those needs are."

Our culture does not support this viewpoint. On the contrary, we grow up expecting other people to know what we want, to somehow be able to reach into our minds and lift out just exactly what it is we are wishing for in our relationships, and then proceed to provide that for us. How many times have we said ourselves, or heard someone else say: "If she/he really loved me, they'd know what I want?" This is nonsense of the highest order, but its nonsense presented to us at every turn in those vehicles of culture; music, literature, movies.

This expectation, that other people should know what our wants and needs are, is, I believe, responsible for an endless amount of suffering in relationships. We feel as if a spoken need is somehow not as meaningful as one magically divined. If we have to tell the other person, we may feel aggrieved, or resentful.

Would we sit at the breakfast table, and expect the other people sitting with us, to know that we'd like to be passed the butter? Would we state to our closest friends: "He should know that I want the butter, without me having to ask; if I have to ask, it's not the same!" Would we sit there, with our toast growing cold, pouting and becoming livid with rage and resentment because the other person continued eating, and even smiled affectionately at us, all without passing the butter?

Yet this is precisely what so many of us do when it comes to our emotional needs - walk around with expectations that our partners/friends/family should know what we want, and rush to provide it, without us ever having to speak a word. It should all roll out at our feet like a magic carpet in a Disney film.

Al-Anon presents us with a novel approach - if we want something, ask for it! I still find this troublesome at times, I still have to fight that deeply ingrained belief that I shouldn't have to ask. But if I don't ask, I have zero hope of receiving. If I don't ask, I don't get.

And sometimes when I do ask, I don't get, because the answer is "No." But that's another subject entirely.

And now I'm off to a friend's luncheon celebration, which I am going to attend, because he asked me if I would.
See? It's easy, when you get the hang of it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Um...Is That A Good Thing?

Yesterday, I ran into a woman I've known for about 8 years, but haven't seen in some time. We chatted for a while, then as she was making those "getting ready to detach from this conversation" moves - (patting her pockets for her car keys, zipping up her jacket) - she said to me, "You never change." Now, ordinarily, this wouldn't have registered much, but in light of my life in the last week, it was rather disconcerting. This feeling must have registered on my face, because she began immediately saying "Oh, I mean in a good way!" I smiled insincerely, but when she walked off, I immediately began obsessing over it. How could never changing be a good thing? In program terms, it sure isn't. Is this a message from my HP, to which I need to pay close attention? What did she mean by that? What do you mean by that, God? Why would you send her to me with this message? Did you send her to me with this message?

All my back and forth with it was exhausting and inconclusive, as these things always are - I'm the sort of person who wants some concrete proof before I'm willing to accept something, and, well, life and God don't give concrete proof, you "gotta take it on faith, man." as a friend of my youth used to say.

When I'm feeling relaxed and comfortable in my own skin, and my own recovery, I'm open and willing to consider just about anything halfways reasonable, (even if only for a short time, before deciding, nope, that doesn't fit with the program) - but let me be in a place where I'm anxious and wobbly and indecisive and (operative word coming up) afraid, and any suggestion, regardless how mild, that I'm not perfect just as I am, meets a barricade built up of all kinds of crazed and co-dependent thinking. You might have one of those barricades yourself; in my case, all the thinking seems to start off with two words - "Yes, but.."
For me, "Yes, but" means I haven't any open-ness to that suggestion whatsoever. "Yes, but" means I am dismissing it out of hand, shooting it out of the sky, long before it gets close enough for me to distinguish whether it's an eagle come to attack me, or a lark, to sing.

I've learned in Al-Anon, that whatever I am most resistant to hearing/seeing is that which I am most in need of studying carefully, for in it, lies a gift from my Higher Power. If I can overcome my own character defects long enough to take it on faith, and open the door wide enough to get a good look at it, instead of convincing myself that I can see it perfectly well through the peephole, if it would just back up as far as the street, a nice safe distance away.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Just For Today - And Tomorrow, and The Next Day...

I usually start my day here at the computer, reading my emails, then reading a couple of 12-step blogs I follow, then reading each of the two Al-Anon daily reading books I keep close at hand, and writing about program to friends in 12-step. This morning, neither reading spoke to me strongly, so I did what I do in that case: closed my eyes, opened a book at random, and read that page.

Oh my.

The writer is speaking about using the wallet card "Just For Today," as a way to get through the day in a job she hates, specifically the line "Just for today ...I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I had to keep it up for a lifetime."
From HOPE FOR TODAY, page 218: "After listening carefully to fellow member's comments, I realised that if I continued to do something day after day, year after year, then essentially, I was keeping it up for a lifetime. Perhaps I should be appalled by my acceptance of an unacceptable situation. Getting through temporary difficulties by reminding myself they are short-lived is not the same thing as continuing to suffer with hopeless resignation that "this is as good as it gets."

That "hopeless resignation" stung. Yowsa. I can relate to some of that. Plod, plod, plod, through whatever it happens to be, head down, just forcing myself through...these behaviours are so engrained in me, they're like my default mode. I can revert to using them, whenever I'm sufficiently miserable, and not paying attention. This is my "ism." Don't make a fuss, don't speak up, don't protest, just smile, smile, smile, and let that river of shit wash over my head, and try to hold my breath for an extended period of time.

Inside, I'm angry, I'm frustrated, I'm full of rage and resentment, but outside, I'm (apparently) calm and smiling. Is this what the program means, when it talks about letting go? In my case, I don't believe it is. I believe I've been using one of the tools of 12-step, to make the unacceptable bearable enough, that I can just barely, with no clearance whatsoever on either side, squeeze myself through. Wincing, grimacing, up on my tiptoes, is this working my program?

I think I've been doing a bit too much of the "take what you like and leave the rest" and it hasn't served me well. Time for some "fearless and moral inventory." In order to find out where I need to work towards change, I need to know just where I am right this minute.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Coping Mechanisms - Free To Good Home.

Woke up this morning feeling much calmer and more relaxed, a direct result, I believe, of sharing at my meeting last night, and writing to a program friend. I got a reply from the latter, with a suggestion that I not make any impulsive decisions. (More on impulsive decisions later on in this.)

And, like a bad horror movie, this morning, the cow has my face. (talk about providing someone with a good straight line) What I mean by that, is: today, I realise that what I was hit with so forcibly the other night, was my own coping mechanism of accepting unacceptable behaviour so as not to cause conflict. Once again in my life, using it may have made life a bit more comfortable in the short run, but in the long run, it creates far more problems, and it slowly nibbles away at my self-esteem. I sacrifice my self-esteem for a peaceful life, and so I won't be rejected.

From COURAGE TO CHANGE, page 361:

"Here's one of the most useful lessons I've learned in Al-Anon: If I don't want to be a doormat, I have to get up off the floor. In other words, although I can't control what other people say, do, or think, I am responsible for my choices.

Looking back I can accept that plenty of unacceptable behaviour was directed at me, but I was the one who sat and took it, and often came back for more. I was a willing participant in a dance that required two partners. I felt like a victim, but in many ways, I was a volunteer."

Being a volunteer for unacceptable behaviour is absolutely a pattern in my life. I no longer volunteer for major abuse, but I most certainly volunteer to accept minor - snarky sarcasm that hurts me, belittling comments, "jokes" that are nothing of the kind.
I'm not sure why, but this is an area in which I have trouble establishing, and maintaining, boundaries - "jokes." Just let someone close to me give a nasty comment that label, and I will somehow find a way to choke that sucker down, try to smile or raise a laugh, and, make excuses for the person who's just said it. They don't have to defend themselves, I do it for them - she's just tired, he had a rough day.
So what if she is/he did, does it then follow that I must accept any amount of minor verbal abuse because of it? I believe this stems from my fear of being seen as "too sensitive" or "over-reacting" or "not having the maturity to have a sense of humour about my own faults."
Instead of contorting myself, making allowances for people who are abusing me, my time would be better spent, being kinder to the person with whom I spend 24 hours a day - myself.
Which means I must be willing to do the small, tiresome piece-work of program, the speaking up each and every time, the dealing with my fears of rejection, accepting them, asking my HP for help with it, and stating my boundaries once again, calmly and courteously, every single time it happens, so the other person (and I,) can recognise a change for the better. I get out of 12-step just exactly and precisely what I put into it.

If I work it half-heartedly, and only under duress, I will get a half-hearted recovery.

I want full-hearted recovery. I want all of my self-respect intact. Only I can make that happen. Onwards and upwards! Life is a carnival!