Thursday, April 30, 2009


From Hope For Today, page 121:

"The Serenity Prayer leads me toward harmony with myself - which is what serenity means to me."

I love that. I have always been deeply affected by music, so I like that metaphor. Serenity as harmony, rather than the discordant sounds of obsessive thinking, co-dependent logic, resentment, and frustration, all vying for supremacy in a disordered mind - banging away like a toddler with a wooden spoon whaling on a pot. It's noise, but it sure isn't music!

Serenity is like a beautiful violin solo; evoking emotion, yet calming, and deeply satisfying. I have only to choose to listen to it - that harmony is available to me any time, any place, under any circumstances. God is always with me.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


My dictionary defines self-pity as:

"...a self-indulgent attitude concerning one's own difficulties, hardships..."

For me, the paramount word in that sentence, is "self-indulgent." Now, when I was new to program, the idea that my hours of self-pity were self-indulgent, was met with great resentment and annoyance on my part. I was owed. I didn't have the best of childhoods, so I carried into adulthood, a greivance against the world, and measured everything against my twisted internal logic. Any hint of criticism, no matter how constructive, and I was immediately flooded with rage, my ability to listen was impaired, and I would spend hours, and sometimes days, wallowing in self-pity.

I couldn't understand why I was so unhappy.

I had an attitude of entitlement, and a belief in my own victimhood. By the time I reached maturity, (I use that word only to describe my physical self, because I was very immature emotionally and spiritually) my victimhood had hardened into a resistant habit.

This is why a spiritual awakening was so important for me, it was the only way to break the shell of that habit, and allow some fresh thinking and possibility, into a part of myself that was a solid immovable barrier of old angers and resentments. I hid behind that barrier for many years, and it was quite frightening to contemplate being without it, as it is with any habit we've used for protection of our innermost selves.

Nowadays, self-pity is akin to an overly rich dessert, it may taste like heaven, but the aftereffects are unpleasant - a queasy feeling, and a wish that I hadn't had quite so much of it in one serving.

I prefer the feelings I get when I work my program: serenity, a calm certainty that my Higher Power has things well in hand, and a willingness to admit to my own faults and human frailties. I can laugh at my more childish aspects, and the way my thinking is still sometimes that of a fractious six-year-old. I can "reason things out with someone else," knowing that my sponsor won't allow me to slip a big plate of self-pity onto the table, without raising a quizzical eyebrow.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I realise how far I have come in Al-Anon, when I read a blog in which contempt is expressed towards the alcoholic, and feel saddened by it. I recall that place all too well. I felt enormous contempt for my ex when I entered 12-step, and expressed it to him and to anyone else who would listen, at any and every opportunity. I believed I had the right to feel that way, after all, look at what he'd done to me!

I was so far down my own road to insanity, that it hadn't occurred to me that perhaps demonstrating contempt wasn't the way to motivate him to want to quit drinking. (Would I want to give up an anaesthetic substance myself, if I were faced with contempt from the person who professed to love me most, every time I surfaced from my stupor, shaking and sick?)

I believed, because I was a scorekeeper, that because he'd inflicted this much pain upon me, I was allowed to show this much rage and contempt towards him. It was blow-for-blow, emotionally, and it was a downward spiral of wretchedness.

I had many conversations with my sponsor, (and I've had about the same number with various sponsees) regarding the concept that perhaps keeping track of, and then retaliating for, all of the pain we felt was "the alcoholic's fault," wasn't the best expenditure of our energy.

My sponsor asked me, time and again, did I really want to be a person who was daily steeped in a bath of contempt and resentment; I was marinating myself in those negative emotions, and what did I think the effect was upon me?

I had no idea, I'd never considered that. I'd also never considered the fact that this was a choice I was making. I didn't see it that way - he hurt me, I was hurt, I lashed out - that was normal, wasn't it? It was normal for how I was raised, at least.

It was a long, hard haul up the mountain, to reach a place from which I could see with clarity, my limited viewpoint, and comprehend that alternatives were available to me. I could live with active drinking, and not lose my serenity? I could live with verbal abuse, and not be affected by it? I could reach a place of compassion for the alcoholic?

I had to take all that on faith, because it all sounded thoroughly unlikely. But I will never forget standing in my kitchen, and the alcoholic was trying to apologise, and for the very first time in the marriage, I could feel sorrow for his torment, instead of resentment for my own. I could see the person behind the shaking wreck. I could state my feelings calmly, with no attempt to manipulate or guilt-trip. I could say it, and let it go, and go on with my day, instead of chewing it over endlessly.

We didn't stay together, but when we did part, it was on loving terms, and the last time I saw him, we had a good laugh together, and a warm conversation, and thanked each other for the love and the time we'd each given. It was a peaceful resolution, and for that, I'm truly grateful.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Yes, But...

From the ODAT, page 200:

"A phrase that turns up quite often in Al-Anon meetings is "Yes, but..."

Member A is explaining how an Al-Anon idea can be applied to B's problem. B, interrupting, says, "Yes, but..." and proceeds to show how different her case is, how much worse than others, and that it couldn't possibly be solved by anything as simple as applying a Step or a slogan, for example."

We've all been on the receiving end of this little conversational diverter, and most of us have used it - as a way to garner sympathy, rationalise, and justify. When I've used it, I'm usually giving token credit to whatever the other person has said - "Ye-e-e-ss," (usually in a doubtful or dissmissive tone) and then stating what I really think - "but..." (much more firmly enunciated.)

Every one of us needs a safe place, where we can speak without interruption, and be heard. This is why newcomers to Al-Anon are given a fair amount of leeway when it comes to their sharing. As we regain our sanity in 12-step, it is to be hoped that we will self-regulate. This is not always the case. So what are our choices, when a sponsee, or fellow program member, asks for help, then when we offer it, dismisses it with those two words? I suppose it depends upon one's level of patience. I don't have a lot of patience with chronic complainers. It's such a waste of time and energy. (I know this with absolute certainty, because I was one.)

We all suffer, and our suffering is relative. We can become almost comfortable in our own misery, and vent just enough, to allow us to continue in an untenable situation. We can take advantage of the good nature of our fellow program members, making them suffer through repeated recitals of our troubles. (I know I did this.) I was fortunate enough to have a sponsor who became tired of this coping mechanism of mine, and began to call me on it.

I'd phone her, moan and groan about how awful my life was, she'd offer suggestions, and I'd meet them all with "Yes, but..." until one day, she said, in exasperation, "Did you just call to complain?" (longish pause) I answered, reluctantly, "Yes."
We both started to laugh, and were soon having a discussion I've never forgotten, in which she explained to me that I was always making choices, and choosing to complain, kept me locked inside my misery.

I've learned to pay attention to what I'm thinking, and saying, for therein lie clues to my recovery, and how I'm working it, or some days, not working it. If I hear myself saying, "Yes, but..." I can stop, and think - what am I sidestepping? What am I trying not to hear? My first sponsor trained me to pause, take back any protests, and instead, say, "Thankyou for that, I'll give it some thought."

And then do so.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Being Right.

I had a fascinatingly maddening conversation with a government employee yesterday, who was so fixated upon being right, that anything I said fell upon deaf ears, she just kept repeating her statement that "No-one in this office would have said that."

It didn't matter that she wasn't present at the original conversation, didn't know for certain what had been said, she made a statement, and then became "the immovable object" in pursuit of support for the position she'd taken. I'd forgotten what this sort of conversation was like - I haven't had one in a long time. (I haven't had a new sponsee in a while, I guess.) The original reason for her call seemed to have been lost, she was completely focused upon trying to force me to agree that she was right, and I was wrong. I sidestepped it all, got off the phone and thought:

"That's exactly who I was, before Al-Anon."

It took me back. I remember that feeling of having to be right; once I'd made a statement, feeling that I had to defend it no matter how ridiculous it became as the other person explored it. I recall very well that rigid determination to make the other person wrong, and myself right.

In retrospect, I believe that I took that sort of stand because I had so little belief in myself. Any questioning of me, my thinking, my beliefs, or my philosophy of life, felt terribly threatening and hostile. There was no room in my world for any other viewpoint than my own; other ways of seeing felt like an attack, instead of an alternative.

This is one of the blessings of 12-step for me - being able to sit quietly, relaxed and engaged, as another person, (or many other people, if I'm at a meeting,) presents their view of a situation. I've grown so far in this regard; rather than sitting stiffly in my chair, arms and legs crossed, mind closed, locked, and reinforced, I am able to receive those different opinions, and examine each one closely before deciding if they offer me a helpful recourse.

I've learned that other people's opinions can be a gift from my Higher Power; that I can get along quite happily with someone who has the opposite view of a large portion of life. I can utilise those opposite views to temper my own. I no longer have to be right. I don't have to have an opinion on everything, I can say, with no shame or embarassment, "I don't know what I think about that."

I can say, and mean, "You could be right." I can speak my piece, and then sit back, and let the other person disagree vehemently, without feeling attacked. Perhaps they will make the one point which suddenly illuminates for me, an area that was always in the shadows, and I will have an awakening as a result of that shared light. I can "Listen and Learn."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Low Tolerance For Frustration

I've noticed that many of us in 12-step, whether AA or Al-Anon, have a very low tolerance for frustration. We will try a couple of different avenues to effect a result, then throw whatever it is down in frustration, exclaiming that it's impossible, and we can't do it!

I've seen this happen with my sponsees, and I was very much that way, when I started in Al-Anon. I would talk myself out of doing whatever it was, if I didn't get instant results. I have had to learn that I cannot always see my way through a problem, in a glorious burst of insight lighting the way - sometimes it's more a matter of my nibbling a bit around the edges of the obstruction, until I'm reaching the stage of feeling frustrated, then put it down, consider that a "good enough" attempt, let it go, and work on something else. Or relax, put it out of my mind, and give myself a little reward for the effort. Eventually, there is nothing left to nibble, the barrier has been removed, my path becomes clear, and I can gallop to the finish line, with a rush of satisfied accomplishment.

In order to reach this stage of growth, I have had to let go of my desire for perfection. The program teaches us "progress, not perfection." I have had to learn that frustration is not a "bad" feeling, it's an indicator. Frustration is a sign to me that I am seeking to force a solution. This is true in all areas of my life, whether I'm trying to force two pieces of a "some assembly required" item together, and becoming maddened by their refusal to click into place, or wanting my way in a conflict with an alcoholic.

I can take a deep breath, put the object of my frustration aside, go for a dog walk with my friend and laugh myself silly over our stubborn natures, then arrive home in a wonderful mood, pick the item up again just to examine closely, and realise - I had one piece backwards! Or agree to disagree with the alcoholic, and go work in my garden, only to be granted an insight which changes my entire attitude, so that the next time we talk, I can open the exchange with an amend for my obstinacy.

I no longer refuse to start a project, for fear I won't be able to stand the frustration level I may feel during it. I may procrastinate a bit, but I welcome the chance to learn, and to practise my program.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Can't I Just...

A friend used to love the show "Murphy Brown." I was at this friend's house once when it was on, and heard a line that has stayed with me ever since. One of the characters was trying to encourage Murphy to attend a work function with him, and she, dreading the very idea of it, asked plaintively:
"Can't I just stay home and pound my thumb with a hammer?"

I was fairly new to Al-Anon at the time, but that line seemed to sum up what I'd spent an awful lot of my life doing - refusing to go out somewhere because I might not enjoy myself (for whatever reason, just generally anticipating discomfort or misery) and instead, staying home to a misery with which I was intimately comfortable - worrying about how much the alcoholic was drinking, worrying about finances, worrying about whatever that day's obsession happened to be. Driving myself quietly insane with my own self-abuse. Pounding my thumb with a hammer, until I was shrieking from the pain of it, but never stopping to consider if perhaps I had a choice of doing something else instead?

That line has become a joke in my home group, as it fits with the concept of 12-step "tools," and is such a perfect description of the way we as co-dependents, are the architects of much of our own suffering. The alcholic isn't the one wielding the hammer, we have it in our sweaty grasp. If we find ourselves rummaging around looking for the hammer, we can stop and call an Al-Anon friend, and deal with our difficulties that way. We can reason things out with someone else, we can read some literature, we can pray.

We have a choice, and we can sometimes choose to fall back into our old ways, and give our thumb a few good whacks, before deciding that we had forgotten just how painful that method of dealing with life is, putting the hammer down, and sighing with relief.

Al-Anon is a program of self-love. No hammers required.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Home from our overnight trip, and I'm too tired to do much writing, but I like this, from today's page (110) in the ODAT:

"Al-Anon is for people - people who have a problem they want to solve by sharing their experiences, strengths and hopes with other people. The more varied the experience, the greater the strength and hope."

That's 12-step - each of us, regardless of our place in society, has equal value inside the meeting rooms. Any one of us, may make the one comment which resonates with a desperate member of the group, as the helpful thought he or she can cling to, in the week to come.

If we keep an open mind, we will find help.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Thought For The Day.

From Hope For Today, page 109:

"I can't turn something over until I truly own it."

Friday, April 17, 2009

What Temperature Is Your Silence?

In the home of my childhood, silence was ominous. Silence was an icy blanket of dread that settled over my shoulders and sent chills down my spine. Silence filled me with foreboding. Silence was the harbinger of pain. I feared it with a terror that sent me under the covers of my bed to shake and...wait. I knew what was coming, and as a small child, I was completely helpless to stop it.

My first husband was a man who may have had many faults, but a cold silence used to express displeasure was not one of them - he was a bellower. I had to be in program for quite a while before it dawned on me that I was in the same place as I'd been in my childhood, in those hours spent waiting for him to come home from a bender - frightened and shaking. Fearing his death from drinking and driving. Fearing his arrest. Fearing he'd kill someone else in his drunken stupor. Fearing his arrival home, and all the attendant shrieking abuse.
I'd escaped my childhood home, only to find myself living in another one where fear was my dominant emotion.

I have an alcoholic in my life now who uses silence and freezing me out to demonstrate displeasure. I don't fear this person, but I don't like the behavior.

In 12-step, I have come to understand that silence can take many forms. Silence can be a peaceful harmony, or a rejection, depending upon the temperature. Two people can be together in a peaceful, warm silence.

Dogs can teach us about companionable silence - the comfort of a shared space. If they are small enough, the comfort of a warm body draped across one's lap, trustfully sound asleep.

Or, silence can be used as a powerful tool of manipulation.
I have a sponsee who is very good at icy silences; it can be unsettling for me, to see how much displeasure she can radiate, just sitting there. A cold silence still has the power to remind me of past fears; I can find myself wanting to fill it with words.

It's been a learning experience for both of us - teaching her she cannot manipulate me with her silences, and me, to wait them out, secure in the knowledge that I'm an adult now, and therefore, safe in silence. If I remain calm, work my program, and give her the space and time she needs, we can move through that silence, and come out the other side unscathed.

God gives us the sponsees we need as we move through our own recovery. In sponsorship, the lessons flow both ways. That's the miracle of 12-step.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs.

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 believed this step was about admitting my wrongs to another person, and to a degree, this is true. But this step also addresses one of my foibles - self-deception.

In my perceptions of others, I am usually close to the mark. Never have I been as astounded by the discovery of someone else's true nature, as I have been by my own self-deceptions.

For all our adroitness, we humans can be almost transparent in our manoeuverings. We've all been in the position of listening to a friend or colleague tell us something patently untrue about their nature: been dumbfounded at their ability to fool themselves into believing that nonsense. How many of us have been willing to face our own ability to dissimulate?

If I adhere to my old convictions, I am standing in my own way. If I cannot admit to myself the exact nature of my wrongs, I am the only one who isn't aware of them. Those closest to me would easily be able to list my faults.

When I did my first step 5, I was terrified that admitting my faults to another human being would bring shame upon me. I was taken aback to discover that my sponsor already knew all about my character defects, could, in fact, discuss them at some length. She may not have been aware of my wrongs as far as what I did, but she absolutely knew how I thought, and even how I might be feeling as a result of that thinking.

This was a hugely freeing lesson - that I needn't try to disguise myself. It's an exercise in futility, takes up far too much of my energy, and wastes time I could spend upon my recovery. I still use humour when I'm nervous or uncomfortable, but I use it for a different reason - to share joy in life, rather than to hide behind. Shared laughter brings us closer to others. Program keeps us safe, even in that proximity.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Higher Power's Sense of Humour.

I recently almost stopped myself, but didn't, from saying to a smoker in the family, "I haven't had bronchitis since I quit smoking." This may sound fairly innocuous, a piece of information being exchanged, but we both knew I was telling them that they should quit, too. (Can you see this coming? I promptly woke up the very next morning with a roaring cold, and the start of bronchitis. I believe this to be my Higher Power's sense of humour, a gentle admonition about just who is in charge, here.)

I've been trying not to make this sort of controlling comment, but the odd time, I'm not able to resist. The momentary satisfaction will occasionally seem to be worth it, irrespective of the foreknowledge that I'm going to feel guilty for having made it, have to take a step 10, admit my wrong, and make an amend.

When I smoked, all this sort of remark ever accomplished, was to awaken a fierce desire for a cirgarette. I know it's counterproductive, I know it's pointless, why do I do it?

I do it because I'm a control freak. I'm a control freak in recovery, but that is who I am, and I need to be ever vigilant against that reality of my character. If I'm not paying attention, and working my program, I revert with stunning speed to behaving like a person I don't wish to be.

I'd forgotten just how miserable a case of bronchitis is. Next time I'm tempted to make one of those controlling comments about  smoking, I'm going to remember this, and think twice.

My Higher Power's sense of humour can be a little...pointed.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Complete Honesty

From the ODAT, page 105:

"Knowing that only complete honesty will bring me to self-understanding, I pray that my Higher Power will help me guard against deceiving myself."

When I came into Al-Anon, I was very skilled at self-deception. I had a convoluted rationalisation for each of my behaviors, and all roads led back to the alcoholic. If only he would not do this, then I wouldn't need to do that.

Complete honesty can be excruciating, since it requires that we let go of our justifications for what we do, and admit that we are making choices.

For me, humour smooths the way. Life, and some of my own thinking, becomes funnier the longer I'm in 12-step. I've sat at meeting tables, spoken whatever was on my mind, (sometimes thinking it was quite meaningful,) and had the disconcerting response of everyone at the table bursting into laughter.

The first few times this happened, I was mortally offended. This must have been obvious to the other members, as some were quick to reassure me that they were laughing only because they too had experienced "that sort of insane thinking."

Insane thinking? (that was an idea whose time had come.) Until then, I hadn't ever considered that my thinking was anything but "normal" or "reasonable," it was the drinker who was insane. Al-Anon was offering me a message I wasn't certain I wanted to accept - that I was also bonkers, in my own way.

Complete honesty requires several things from me:

- acceptance of the likelihood that I can be/may be/am, mistaken in how I see a situation, or myself.
- willingness to at least entertain the idea, that doing it differently doesn't negate me as a person.
- belief that if I am honest, I open myself to the possibility of change, and with change, relief.

Looking back, I can say that complete honesty in my 4th steps, has allowed me to uncover aspects of my character which have made me cringe in shame and embarassment. I have also discovered things of which I can feel proud, and satisfied. It's a mixed bag. I want to be able to see all of myself, not just the latter.

Talking to program people about my own character defects, has given us some of the best laughing fits I've ever had in my life. That's a bonus I'd never have considered, when I started this recovery journey.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


From ODAT, page 103:

"Despair - how many of us suffer from it! Yet we do not realise that it is purely the absence of faith. We cannot despair as long as we are willing to turn to God for help in our extremity. When we are troubled, and can't see a way out, it is only because we imagine that all solutions depend on us. We must remind ourselves that our human wisdom and ingenuity have often failed to bring the hoped-for results."

Before Al-Anon, I spent most of my life feeling trapped - in an abusive childhood, and then in my first marriage. As a child, yes, I was at the mercy of the adults, but when I became an adult myself, that feeling of trapped despair was an illusion. My absence of faith coloured my ability to see my life with any clarity.

Faith requires effort in the beginning. Later, we may have times where it's an effortless joy, but for many of us, we must do the laborious slog to arrive at that place of ease. This entails reading the literature, getting a sponsor, reaching out to others, working the steps, and practising these principles in all our affairs.

Those of us who have felt the hand of our Higher Power working in our lives, may have times where we falter and stumble, but what we have, that newcomers may not, is the experience of God's grace along our journey.

We may feel distant from Him at times, but we know that's a false impression. He hasn't moved away, we've just built up an obstruction between us - perhaps a fabrication constructed of our willfullness. Past failures, using our own methods, can sometimes recede so far into memory that they are temporarily irretrievable. In that state of forgetting just how awful it was before 12-step, we may slip into the deep rut of old habits, and backslide into the grey dusk of despair.

We may need to do this repeatedly, in order to truly grasp the depths of our own powerlessness.

Faith is not something we are granted, it is hard work. We need only be willing to do the work.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


When I lived with active alcoholism, my feelings were just too painful, too much of the time. I learned to shut myself down, and become comfortably numb. I had a little mantra I used to say over and over, in times of pain - "it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter..." I became so proficient at this, it was like flipping a switch - click! all feelings shut down.

This worked to protect me from the pain, but it also stopped me from feeling much else, as one cannot pick and choose when using this form of self-preservation, or at least, I never could. The joyful, positive feelings went, along with the painful ones. I was numb.

Being so good at this, made it possible for me to accept a great deal of unacceptable behavior from the alcoholic - from my vantage point of today, I'm amazed at the verbal and emotional abuse I tolerated. If you don't feel much of anything, nothing does matter.

When I began to work my program, I began to feel my feelings, and it was awful, I'd lost touch with how painful it can be, being human. I'd also lost touch with joy, gratitude, and glee. I had forgotten how much fun being alive can be.

Nowadays, I have times I feel the same way I imagine my dogs do, when they are leaping around with joy on a sunny day - bursting with joy at the sheer pleasure of being alive. I have 12-step to thank for this.

I wish you a gleeful day today.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Keeping Score

I used to be a rabid scorekeeper - every harsh word, every sharp look, every injustice, was hauled out regularly, chewed over, and spat out at the alcoholics in my life. I didn't know any other way to live.

Now, I do know another way to live. Now, if I scorekeep, I am doing it by choice, and I have no excuse. I have no reason to continue bad habits, except laziness, and the occasional burst of hurt feelings I use for justification.

From ODAT, page 231:

"Storing up grievances is more than a waste of time; it's a waste of life that could be lived to greater satisfaction. If I keep a record of oppressions and indignitites, I am restoring them to painful reality."

I don't want to "restore them to painful reality." I've already lived through them once, and been hurt, do I truly want to keep on hurting myself, by having them ready to hand, in the forefront of my mind? I used them as a weapon, to wound the alcoholics with their recital, but I can't do that, without causing myself a repeat injury. There's a name for that - martyrdom. I spent almost my entire first marriage in a state of martyrdom, and it was a deep misery.

"The horror of that moment," the King said, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," said the Queen, "if you don't make a memorandum of it."
(Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking Glass)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Twelve Steps.

From ODAT, page 96:

"The Steps are like a medicine that many of us won't bother to take, although we know they can heal us from the sickness of despair, frustration, resentment and self-pity."

I like this medicine analogy - it reminds me of the way most people used to take antibiotics - they never finished out the prescription, just took them for long enough to feel better, and then quit. For many people, Step 4 seems to be the one pill they just can't face swallowing.

I've seen this time and again, in the program. People will come into the meetings in an awful state, brought to their knees by someone else's drinking. They will show up every week, but only just long enough to feel a bit better, then they stop attending, and I won't see them for six months or so. When they begin to feel that churning wretchedness again, they will start showing up at meetings, and the pattern repeats.

They never progress past a certain point of health, because they don't like taking the medicine. I used to judge these poor souls harshly when I was a newcomer myself, and clinging to program with all my might. Now, I feel compassion, and try to offer a warm welcome when I do see them at meetings. Perhaps, one day, they'll get tired of living with a low-grade fever of misery and anguish, and decide that this time, they are going to swallow all of the medicine, and truly recover.

I can encourage them, I can rave about how well the medicine has worked for me, but I can't force them to take it - we are each free to choose. I'm grateful for my first sponsor, who used to hand me my medicine, and grin at me, while waiting for me to take it. There were quite a few times that I pretended to take it while she was watching, but when I got home, I'd spit it out, because I didn't need that. I was too new to 12-step to realise that it was obvious I hadn't taken it, next time we spoke, and she'd call me on it each and every time - that woman had eyes in the back of her head, and a sharp tongue. She also had the one attribute that could get through to me - a wickedly funny, ironic view of life and human nature.

For me, humour was, and still is, the "spoonful of sugar," which makes some of the medicine of 12-step, more palatable.

Monday, April 6, 2009


I have learned that I am most in need of paying close attention to a suggestion, when I find myself starting sentences (either aloud, or in my internal dialogue) with, "Well, that's because..." or some variation thereof. As soon as I catch myself being resistant, that's a touchstone for me. I'm not often mulish over a suggestion that bears no real relation to my behavior - it's the ones that are spot-on that get my back up.

I've learned in Al-Anon - when I feel that stubborn desire to argue, or push a thought or idea back away from me, it's because I'm uncomfortable. And why am I uncomfortable? Most likely, because I recognise truth when I hear it, and it's something I need to examine and accept, for the health of my recovery.

I have that human frailty, of wanting to believe that I'm always right, and don't need any more work. My kneejerk reaction to criticism, justified or otherwise, is that no, I'm a finished product now. (Those of you who are howling with laughter, please keep your voices down...) But working my program allows me to just sit quietly, in silence, and wait that feeling out.

I've learned that if I do, the next response is more open-minded and accepting, and I will be able to hear what's being said to me. I had this experience just recently with an email from a friend - I felt great resistance to his ideas, even though I'd asked for his input. So I didn't reply immediately. I left it to percolate, and this morning, reading it with my Al-Anon filter firmly in place, I can see that he has a point. I can see wisdom in his thoughtful writing. I can see my part in the situation I'd described to him.

We are surrounded by wisdom and gentle guidance in 12-step - experience, strength and hope. In my recovery, I've made the greatest gains, when I can get out of my own way.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

What, I Don't Need My Full Body Armour For This?

Out yesterday looking for a vehicle to replace mine - I'd seen a "pre-owned" (love those euphemisms) I was interested in the day before, came home, researched it, found out the blue book value, the blue book on mine for a trade-in, and went back the next day when the lot was open.

I was all ready to do battle, I was prepared. Only there was no battle. The price they offered for mine was reasonable, the price they asked for theirs was reasonable, and the entire negotiation was conducted amidst uncontrollable laughter. For some reason, we were all on the top of our game with witty banter, and there were a few times when we were all laughing so hard we were wiping our eyes and gasping for breath.

It was the most fun I've ever had, car shopping. I attribute this to 12-step. I researched, did my part, then turned it over. And because I turned it over to my Higher Power, I was relaxed, and accepting. I wasn't feeling as if I had to defend myself against rapacious car salesmen out to empty my pockets. I could see them as guys doing a job. I didn't have that hostile aggressive attitude, which allowed them to relax, and be who they were. I had no expectations. I'd spent most of the day playing in my garden, I'd walked the dogs with a good friend; I was bursting with the joy of living.
It's magical, the way life can be, if we work this program. We can begin to relax and be open to enjoyment in areas that used to rank right up there, as the highest stressors in our lives.

When I let go of the outcome, I'm continually impressed and amazed at how well life turns out. My Higher Power works my life out in ways that I could never have imagined possible, and He does it with such grace and beauty.

I'm feeling grateful today. And, it's sunny again. What more could anyone ask for?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Damage That We Do

I was out in my garden most of the day today. (Yesterday as of 9 minutes ago) The weather was spectacular: warm and sunny, so I was in heaven, weeding, planning, admiring, and laughing at the dogs. They've got spring fever, and would suddenly accelerate, from a sedate walk to a galloping blur, for the sheer joy of running.

Later on in the day, I realised that the knuckle of my right pinky was very sore, and when I looked at it, it was quite inflamed and an interesting shade of purplish red. I'd been so focused on my weeding, I hadn't noticed that I'd hurt it. In terms of injury, it's minimal, but it got me thinking of how it could be a metaphor for my life before Al-Anon.

In my obsessive determination to reach the goal I had in sight, I was heedless of the bruising I inflicted. Later, I would be aware of the pain, but at the time, I was oblivious. Nothing mattered but achieving my goal. That kind of personal determination can be a character asset, in the proper circumstances. Incorrectly used, it's a recipe for pain.

Today, I was using it to dig out buttercups from between the garden edging and sidewalk; when I was finished, I felt considerable satisfaction.

I'm much more balanced, now that I use my program tools to redirect my energy, into channels where my personality traits can be a powerful force for good, rather than a whirlwind causing major damage.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Keep An Open Mind

The Al-Anon closing contains this sentence:

"If you try to keep an open mind, you will find help."

As I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I grew up in an environment saturated in criticism and judgement, and I internalised those ways of viewing the world and my fellow humans. I had a critic inside my head, keeping a running commentary, all negative, of everyone, and everything, I encountered in a day. My first sponsor suggested that I keep a notebook for a week or so, and write down each and every critical thought I had in that time. I was resistant, (and critical of her suggestions) so I decided instead to try to be aware of my internal dialogue, instead of writing it all down.

I was shocked. Gobsmacked, to realise how negative I was. My first awareness was of driving to work the next day, seeing a pedestrian waiting at a crosswalk, and thinking derisively, "Nice hair!" Ooh, that sort of jolted me, but I put it down to morning grumpiness. I arrived at work, having had critical and negative thoughts about every second driver along the route, spent the day being irritated and critical with 3/4, (no, be honest, more like 9/10ths,) of my co-workers, then drove back home and commenced feeling critical of the alcoholic.

I didn't need a week of keeping track, for the lesson to be rammed home - a couple of days was sufficient. I had spent my life up to that point, deciding how everyone should behave, then inwardly chastising and judging them, for not abiding by my precepts. I was a control freak. I am a recovering control freak. Control freaks tend not to be the most openminded of persons.

So, what does it mean for me, to "keep an open mind?" I see this as:

- When I'm in an Al-Anon meeting, striving to listen with my internal critic bound, gagged, and shut in a soundproof room. I can let her out later, but for the sake of my spirit, while I'm in the meeting, she's not welcome. I never know when God is going to offer me a treasure in the words of another; I want to be paying attention.
- When my sponsor is offering me suggestions, if I feel resistant or critical, either admitting this immediately, to lesson the power of my resistance, or going away and praying for guidance, and not pretending I didn't hear the reply.
- When an alcoholic is testing my patience, asking myself if perhaps it is that my patience is in short supply, and not that they're being more irritating than usual.
- Accepting that there are more ways of doing things than my way, and that my way may not even be the best way. (gasp)
- Learning that life, and my Higher Power, offer me lessons all day long in being open-minded; I can choose to accept them, or turn away.
- In times of conflict or stress, reminding myself that: I am not necessarily right. I may be right, I could be right, but unlike gravity, it isn't a law of Nature that I am invariably right.

Keeping an open mind means I am receptive to joy from unexpected places. I feel much more of a connection to people I meet in a day, and to my Higher Power.
I'm happier. Those around me are happier. I become a welcoming, loving, accepting companion. I become approachable. I become teachable.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Serenity Snippets

That rather cutesy phrase was coined by a program friend, to describe those moments when life offers us a reality check about how far we've come in Al-Anon. I had a serenity snippet today - went to meet a friend for our weekly lunch. She's coming from work, and doesn't always get away right on time, so I am usually there ahead of her. Today, I was talking to the waitress about the wierd weather we've been having, and a lady at the next table joined in with a funny comment. The waitress went off to deal with other customers, and this customer and I had a wonderful time entertaining each other with stories about weather, and a wide-ranging conversation about everything from what makes marriage work on a long-term basis, to the price of gas. (You're familiar with those sorts of conversations - later on, you think, how did we get onto that subject, anyway?)

She finally said she had to be going, and when I asked her for the time, we'd been happily talking for an hour. I realised that either my friend or I had gotten the day wrong, whatever, I'd find out tonight at the Al-Anon meeting.

Before program, I'd never have been able to enjoy that encounter with a complete stranger to that extent, I'd have been antsy, impatient, worrying, and quite possibly, feeling insulted or rejected by my friend's non-appearance.

Today, I take life much more "as it comes," and if I'm offered pleasure from a different source, I accept it gratefully, and have a nice splash around in it.

The customer and I agreed that we'd had great fun together, and parted smiling and happy.

That's my serenity snippet for today.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Live and Let Live.

I like the phrase describing the second half of this slogan, found in one of the daily readers - "a generous tolerance."

There were many times in my early recovery, when I had to stop, close my eyes, take a deep breath, and remind myself of this concept, before continuing a conversation with an alcoholic. After so many years spent trying to change them, learning to develop a "generous tolerance" towards them was an idea I found problematic. I was dubious about the effectiveness of it, and I was troubled by my own internal, critical voice, getting in the way when I tried.

I had days, when all I could manage to do, was repeat the serenity prayer like a mantra, and plod through, hoping the day would come to an end before my patience was exhausted.

Much to my surprise, working to develop a "generous tolerance" toward the alcoholics, had unexpected benefits elsewhere in my tolerance seemed to expand exponentially the more I practised it.

The harder I worked the second half of this slogan: "...and Let Live" the easier the first half became: "Live..." My generous tolerance began to extend to myself, and with it came an enjoyment of life I hadn't felt in a very long time. Allowing others to live as they pleased, with no advice, admonishments, criticism, or directions from me, somehow allowed me to feel freer, and less constrained about the way I lived my own life.

This slogan is shorthand for an entire philosophy of life. A "generous tolerance" is a powerful tool of Al-Anon, and like all the program tools, works best, when well-polished from daily use.