Friday, May 29, 2009

Alcoholism Is A Disease - part 2.

When I lived with active alcoholism, I was angry all of the time. I awoke angry, I stomped and seethed throughout my day, I went to bed angry. I probably was livid in my sleep.

When acceptance was suggested to me, as a coping mechanism I hadn't yet tried, I didn't want to do it. I felt as though that would be allowing the alcoholic to "put one over on me." I felt frustration, believing I would, in essence, be granting him permission for all of the behaviors I hated and resented.

From the ODAT, page 76:

"Acceptance and surrender are the two attitudes that open all doors to us in the Al-Anon way of living. Yet they are the most difficult for many of us to acquire. No matter how badly we think life has beaten us, we still cling to the idea that acceptance and surrender are a kind of hopeless giving-in, a weakness of character. Not so! Acceptance means simply admitting there are things we cannot change. Accepting them puts an end to our futile struggles and frees our thought and energy to work on things that can be changed. Surrender means relinquishing our self-will and accepting God's will and His help."

I believe acceptance became possible for me, when I truly saw just how much of my life I'd wasted, focusing upon whether or not the alcoholic was drinking/was going to drink/had been drinking/was thinking about drinking. I wanted out of that endless cycle of anger and resentment, and I wanted out now.

I didn't have the perspective to realise I was doing this for myself - that took far longer to accomplish - I had to take it on faith. I had to decide that any gains or losses felt by the alcoholic, must be secondary and incidental, and were not my concern. I was my concern. I had to let go.

How did I let go? I was talking to a sponsee about this just the other day - what worked for me was thought-stopping. I had to learn to be aware of my internal dialogue, and when I caught myself starting down that road, I had to back up, and force myself to think of something else. I did this by reciting the Serenity Prayer, or one of the Slogans as a mantra, I did it by thinking of my garden, or a book I was reading, anything that was a positive in my life.

I had to do this repeatedly, until I became proficient at it. If you are new to 12-Step, what have you got to lose by trying to work the program? (Really trying, not just trying it half-heartedly a few times, then declaring it pointless and inaffective.) We don't have to be completely won over by all aspects of program in order to find help. I practised thought-stopping while still furious with the alcoholic.

Practise makes progress.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"Why?" Is Not Important.

I had internet problems all day, and now I'm almost too tired to think. So this is going to be a very short post.

Talking to a friend today, and the question of "Why does this happen?" kept being raised.

"Why?" may be interesting, it may even be helpful, under some circumstances. It can also be a procrastination device.

"When I understand why, then I'll work on acceptance." Right. Life never seems to be that neatly arranged - setting arbitrary limits for myself, is just making recovery more difficult to achieve.

"Why?" is irrelevant. It is what it is. I cannot change other people, and I cannot fix the past. Understanding doesn't make acceptance any easier. Some days, it goes down like whipped cream on chocolate pudding - with a smooth delicious coolness. Some days, it feels like chewing straw, and were it not for the fact that experience has taught me that it's worthwhile, I'd have second thoughts about choking it down.

So it goes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gossip - It's Corrosive.

I'm just getting to this now, at almost 10pm, because I went off for lunch with a group of friends. We went on a day trip, to the small fishing village in which I lived for 7 years. It was a gloriously sunny day, the food was incredible, the scenery stunning, and the laughter non-stop. We had a wonderful time.

The only part of the day which I didn't enjoy, was a short interlude in which one of the newer members of our group was gossiping about one of us who'd had to leave early - making a value judgement. No-one made any reply, the comments fell into one of those silences which naturally occur in conversation, and then we all sat there uncomfortably, until someone started up with rather strained small-talk, and the day continued.

Gossip is relentlessly negative. It's condemning, insulting, judgemental, and a waste of time and energy. I feel strongly enough about this, that I've been in the position of holding up a hand to stop someone mid-flow, and said, as kindly as I'm able, "I don't want to hear it, please."

It wasn't appropriate to make that statement today, for various reasons, and I didn't want to embarass the speaker, but I found it painful to listen to even a few sentences of gossip. It felt so mean. For me, it cast a pall upon the next few minutes of the day, and it brought me up short - I've gotten spoiled in 12-Step, not having to be exposed to gossip on a regular basis.

I also realised that it was startling because it was so unusual in this group of friends. Even though I'm the only one in 12-Step, these folks don't indulge in that sort of speculation and intrigue, and it was a jarring note on an otherwise lovely day.

I pondered it for a few moments, then made a decision to let it go, and accept, and dive back into the intense enjoyment of a marvellous lunch, and otherwise excellent conversation. I felt blessed. I still do.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dogs Aren't The Only Pack Animal.

I like being alone. I thoroughly enjoy my own company. I'm never bored, I can always find something with which to entertain myself, and I have a zillion projects waiting to be started. Given a choice, my first choice, my knee-jerk choice, is solitude. When I was married to an active drinker, I was unable to be alone in my own home, because it was always filled with groups of people partying, or people crashing on our couch, because they'd been kicked out of their own living quarters. I hated it, and what I hated most, apart from the constant drinking, was the inability to be alone. I felt like I could never relax.

That last sentence carries a major clue to my character at that time, before Al-Anon - I was unable to relax if I wasn't alone. I couldn't be comfortable in another person's company. The reasons for this began in my childhood. Other people weren't safe. I was only safe when I was alone. Other people were just a source of pain and misery. Their expectations, their mental and physical abuse - I learned very early on in life, that people could be cruel.

Al-Anon, and the people who truly embody and work the program, taught me that there are those who can be trusted. That may not sound like much to some of you reading this, but to me, that was a monumental discovery - it shifted my entire worldview a few degrees.

I've learned to be cautious, but open, to friendship offered. I've learned that inside a meeting, I can listen, and find comfort, enlightenment, and wisdom, even from those people I wouldn't be socialising with, in any other sphere of my life.

I've learned that at the best of times, other people can be an embodiment of my Higher Power's love.
That's progress.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Asking For Help.

I woke up this morning thinking about this, then found myself reading several of my favourite blogs only to find they'd posted on this very subject - kind of makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up when that happens - syncronicity.

I was, before 12-Step, a person who wanted to do it all by myself. I've had periods in my life when I think my Higher Power must have felt like any parent of a two year old does, watching them insist upon "I do it!" when it would be so much cleaner, tidier, faster to do it themselves, but how else do we learn? One of my major stumbling blocks when I was a newcomer, was in swallowing my pride and asking for help before I was hopelessly entangled. I still have (rarely, now) times I just cannot do it - my ego stands in my way.

My self-image was so shaky that I couldn't bear to admit to any weaknesses. I had the silly notion that were I not to admit to them, they'd be invisible to others. Now I realise they are glaringly visible, such is human nature, we see the shortcomings of others in neon display, it's our own we find strangely opaque.

But I do have one area of my life which I see with crystal clarity. Occasionally, I will have a newcomer try to suggest that because I have been around Al-Anon for a while, I'm an "expert." I hasten to disabuse them of this notion. I do not want that expectation hanging over my head, it's ghastly even to contemplate.  That way lies ego gratification - pontificating program, while not truly working it.

I strive for humility on a daily basis, because it's only when I am truly humble, that I am able to accept. When I accept, I learn the more challenging and onerous lessons. When I ask for help from a program friend, I am celebrating our shared humanity. When I ask for help from my Higher Power, I am admitting to the limits of my knowledge.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Letting Go - Of Old Behaviours.

This requires that we pay attention to our internal dialogue. I cannot change that of which I am unaware. If I don't recognise and understand my own thinking patterns, I will not be able to establish new ones.

I recognise what I call "the opening bars" of certain thinking patterns, which have kept me trapped in resentment, anger, frustration, and obsession. They often contain the words "always" and "never." In the past, I have been granted the ability to truly hear myself winding up, from a minor annoyance, to real anger - fear of some sort is always behind this. Fear of change, fear of loss: the fear doesn't matter, it's the fact of it. When I step back, detach from the emotion swirling in my head, and  make an effort to understand what's going on for me, I can see the fear motivating me.

I choose to find another way to deal with my fear. The old behaviours didn't work. They may have relieved the pressure somewhat, but the fear is still present, and without spiritual help, I will be stuck in an ever-repeating cycle.

I have discovered, through Al-Anon, that speaking of my fear seems to immediately deflate it. It goes from a huge thing over my head, casting an enormous shadow, down to a manageable size, just from the sharing of it. Often, it dissipates entirely, and I will find myself laughing to realise just how sunk in gloom I've been, over something which seems to have vanished when brought into the light of day, and held out for a friend to examine.

"I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."
Mark Twain

Saturday, May 23, 2009


My dictionary defines shame as:

"The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another."

This was not the case for me, when I came into Al-Anon. I didn't feel ashamed for what I did, I felt ashamed about who I was. I believed what I'd been told about myself in early childhood, when our sense of self is formed - that I was deeply flawed in my character: that I didn't deserve to live: that I was a bad person. Before Al-Anon, I just accepted these ideas as facts, without ever having challenged them, and I felt a deep sense of shame.

In Al-Anon, I was told that I have value simply because I exist. I don't have to prove my worthiness through people-pleasing, or striving to achieve what someone else wants from me - I am already worthy. I struggled mightily with this idea; it was utterly foreign to all that I had ever thought, (or accepted without thinking.) I had to take it on faith.

I am notoriously absentminded - before Al-Anon, I felt great shame about this. I saw it as careless, selfish, self-absorbed, inconsiderate; all manner of negative connotations, did I associate with this aspect of my character.

My first sponsor taught me to accept that if I don't make a note, I will most likely forget. Period. End of sentence. No need to add any negativity to this observation. Let the rest go. Let go of wanting to be one of those persons with a steel-trap memory, let go of berating myself for forgetting, let go of wanting to be that which I'm not.
And never will be. I'm an artist, and because of this, am often dreaming of the creation I am working on, or trying to figure out how to get a certain effect in the next project. This doesn't mean I have less value than someone capable of holding (and retrieving) their monthly schedule in their head - we are just different. One doesn't have to be "more," and the other "less."

The world needs the super-efficient, and the world needs artist/dreamers. We are all of value, we all matter. I don't need to feel shame for the way my Higher Power has made me.
Al-Anon has taught me to find humour in my absentmindedness, and to share the funny stories with those around me - we can always use a good laugh.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Very Firmly Closed Mind.

I have, many times, had the experience of watching a newcomer arrive in the group, stay long enough to get comfortable with coming to the meetings, and perhaps beginning to work the program, then one day they miss a meeting, and one doesn't see them again. I'll never forget one such woman, from many years ago, when I lived in the city. No matter what one suggested to her, as options for dealing with the alcoholic (try to detach, focus on herself, turn it over) her invariable reply was:
"It's a very good idea, but it wouldn't work for me."
If one pressed the issue by asking why it wouldn't work, she replied "It just wouldn't, I know it."

It's a strange reality in 12-Step, that we may learn a great deal from those who do not practise the program, as well as those that do - we can watch the former remain stuck in their quicksand of stress and despondency.

This woman modelled my own stubborn insularity. Had she not been a member of my home group for six months or so, I'd not have had the unsettling experience of realising how much we had in common in that area. I heard that phrase from her so often, I became hyper-aware of my own closed mind, and worked to pry it open, by whatever means possible. I would hear myself using my own version of "That wouldn't work for me."

From the ODAT, page 49:

"I must cling to this one thought: Al-Anon can change my life - if I give it a chance. If I take to myself each day even one small new idea, heard at a meeting or read in Al-Anon literature, I will make progress. Things may not work out as I want them to, but as my point of view changes, what I thought I wanted changes, too. My ultimate contentment does not depend on having things work out my way."

What I thought I wanted at the time, now seems limited and constrained. I have gained more that I ever would have thought possible for someone with my history, upbringing, background. All because I've worked to keep the door to my mind open far enough for new ideas to slip inside. Some arrive with much fanfare, and turn out to be "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Others turn sideways and sidle quietly in, to stand relatively unnoticed at first, but proving, over the long run, to be life-altering.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. ~Marcel Proust

Retreat, hell! We're just advancing in another direction. ~Oliver Prince Smith

A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying... that he is wiser today than he was yesterday. ~Alexander Pope

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Principles Above Personalities.

Yesterday, my neighbour arrived on my doorstep, with a jar of homemade jam, wanting to make an amend for her behavior last summer. She was very nervous, initially, as she most likely wasn't sure how I was going to respond. I felt such affection for her, as she stammered through her apology, and when she finished speaking, I thanked her very much, and asked if I could give her a hug? We had a nice warm hug, and then a great chat, standing on my front porch, laughing and playing with the dogs.

When I am able to maintain my own positive state of mind, regardless of the actions of other people, it is through working my program in one specific area - Principles Above Personalities. Before Al-Anon, I'd have held a grudge - with the wisdom I've gained in program, I let go of all of that sort of business as quickly as I am able, for my own sake. I no longer want to be poisoned by resentments and old angers. I want to live my life with as much positive energy as I can possibly muster. I want to be a force for love, forgiveness, warmth and acceptance, for myself, and for others.

When I practise Principles Above Personalities, I work through petty annoyances or irritations, and arrive at a place where I am able to see further than my own small circle of concern. I will not deny that there are still times when I have to ask my Higher Power for help to achieve this, because some people, (usually those with similar character issues to mine) are harder to let go of, than others.

When I practise these principles in all my affairs, I see what is possible with continuing effort on my part. This renews my committment, and demonstrates that with hard work, and the help of my Higher Power, I can achieve miracles of growth at which I'd have scoffed, when I was living my cynical depressed pre-Al-Anon life. I've become a believer. A happy believer. Just the sort of person who drove me crazy when I was in the depths of despair, because I thought they must be faking it, nobody could live in this world, and be that happy.

Monday, May 18, 2009


I spent all of yesterday outside in my garden - this is my idea of heaven on earth. Weeding, planting, digging, moving, organising, envisioning the beauty to come - I can spend all my waking hours in the garden, and when it finally becomes too dark to work outdoors, I come inside, kick off my shoes and feel: contentment.

Before Al-Anon, I don't think I'd ever experienced this manner of pervasive contentment. I had moments of happiness, of course, but I had no idea of how to give myself anything in the realm of sustained happiness.

Interestingly enough, I have my ex to thank, for my love of gardening. We had moved into a house with an enormous back yard, and he at once began to agitate for me to build a vegetable garden. What began as drudgery undertaken to quiet his nagging, very quickly turned into a passion. I loved it. I'd arrive home from a stressful day at work, quickly change into ratty old gardening clothes, and go out to play. I've never looked back. I've turned into one of those gardening fiends who has to receive discreet nudges from her spouse, in order to get shifted off the subject, when my listener's eyes begin to glaze over.

"How fair is a garden amid the trials and passions of existence." ~Benjamin Disraeli

I talk to my Higher Power when I'm in my garden; I feel close to Him there, whether I'm planting seeds, or engaged in a struggle to contain one of his creations. (Buttercups spring to mind, but even those rapacious weeds have silky, golden blooms to adorn them, and one can admire their persistence, if nothing else about them.)

Because of Al-Anon, when I'm in my garden, I am living in the present moment. I'm not worrying about the future, or reliving the past. I may be projecting flowers where right now is only foliage, but it's a kind of projection that creates happy expectations, instead of the other kind. I'm at peace. I'm imbued with contentment. I'm grateful.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Cooperating with God.

From Hope for Today, page 137:

"My Higher Power wants what's best for me. However, I need to want it, too."

Do I truly want what is best for me, or am I sunk in self-pity, and moping for that which has proven time and again to work against my spiritual growth?

Am I cooperating with God, cheerfully, and with a willing heart, or am I plodding along, head down, grudgingly agreeing that it might, just possibly, be a good idea if I do whatever He seems to be suggesting, but I'm sure it won't work out, and I hate having to do that, and it's so time-consuming, and I just know I'm going to feel discomfort and...

Am I open to a different way to view my world?

Am I able to hear constructive criticism from my sponsor, without leaping to defend my character defects?

My dictionary defines cooperation as:
"an act or instance of working or acting together for a common purpose or benefit"

For me, it needs to go a step further than just "working or acting together" with my Higher Power; I need to be working with a positive attitude. This isn't to say that I cannot learn even when I'm feeling sulky or self-absorbed, but when I am open to learning, open to "knowledge of His will for me," I can feel inbued with a joyfulness that is nowhere to be found, when I'm dragging my heels.

When I cooperate with God, I can feel my changed attitude aiding my recovery. Many years ago, long before I found Al-Anon, I had a friend who had a much more relaxed and open personality than I, and she used to say to me with a sigh, "Cheryl, you are way too tightly wrapped."

I wasn't sure what she meant by that at the time, and used to feel vaguely offended. Now, I think of that, and it makes me laugh.

Al-Anon, and my Higher Power, have taught me that I can be "loosely wrapped," and still be held together perfectly well.

Friday, May 15, 2009


While in the city, I went to a meeting last night, in the same church at which I used to attend a meeting, when I was very new to Al-Anon, over 20 years ago.

It felt quite nostalgic - open the door to the church extension building, walk down the three or four steps, through the double doors, down the hallway, and into the meeting room. I was early, so only 3 people were there, but it soon filled up, and there were about 12-14 members, including myself. (No, I didn't recognise anyone.) I was feeling a bit shy at first, but once the meeting began, the familiar words of the program soon set me at ease.

Once the members began to share, I found myself laughing - it was one of those wonderful meetings where everyone seems to have something helpful to say, and says it with humour. I laughed a lot, and enjoyed the meeting enormously.

For me, this is one of the wonders of 12-Step: I can attend a meeting where I don't know a soul, yet feel perfectly at home. When it's my turn to share, I can speak with relaxed confidence, and gain from the sharings of the others at the meeting. We can be strangers to each other, yet we have a connection in Al-Anon that transcends any differences which might separate us in daily life.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Submission Or Surrender?

From the ODAT, page 135:

"A long-time friend of AA, Dr Harry M. Tiebout, clarified brilliantly the difference between submission, and the surrender idea which is implied in Step One of the 12 Steps.
"In submission," he said, "an individual accepts reality consciously but not unconsciously. He accepts as a practical fact that he cannot at the moment conquer reality, but lurking in his subconscious is the feeling: "there'll come a day..." This is no real acceptance; the struggle is still going on. With this temporary yielding, tension continues. But when the ability to accept functions on the unconscious level as surrender, there is no residual battle; there is relaxation and freedom from strain and conflict."

I love that. I agree with the writer, I think it's a superb description of the difference between submission and surrender. When I submit, my wounded pride is in the forefront, and I submit only from my inability to master the situation.

When I surrender, I do so with good grace, with gratitude, with a sigh of relief. I accept reality for what it is, and stop struggling to orchestrate what I'd prefer it to be. I allow the universe to demonstrate to me how I can be part of the seamless flow, (and perhaps even enjoy the ride - what a surprise that was to me, I was so entrenched in my self-imposed misery,) instead of always thrashing and kicking and fighting to get off.

When I surrender. when I truly accept, life seems to accept me in return, and shower me with abundance.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Step Eleven.

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

In my early days in Al-Anon, this Step filled me with dread. My only experience with faith had been through the organised religion of my childhood. My memories of those 2 hours on Sunday mornings were of tedious monotony. I loathed church.

Because of this, I was very resistant to the spiritual aspects of program. I didn't believe in a Higher Power. I will always be grateful to the wisdom of 12-step; I was allowed to relax into "as we understood Him" and not feel as if I was always fighting off someone else's beliefs being foisted upon me. I could take what I liked and leave the rest.

I came to spirituality after I'd been in Al-Anon for quite a while. I prayed in desperation, to a Being I wasn't so sure I believed in, and my prayer was answered with a warm sense of peace which washed down over me like a wave, sweeping all of my pain, fears and worries away, leaving me serene.

(This didn't last, of course, since I gathered them all up a short while later, and commenced once again to carry them, bent under their weight, and complaining about the load.)

I had been permitted to arrive at my first spiritual awakening at my own speed, with no-one behind me shoving, directing or enforcing. No rules about what I had to say, no laws about where I could seek. Just a suggestion that I'd be better off if I took my ego out of the equation: "....praying only for the knowledge of His will for us..."

Al-Anon allows each of us, the space and time, to find our own way to God.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tradition One

Tradition One reads as follows:

"Our common welfare should come first, personal progress for the greatest number depends upon unity."

What does this mean to me? It means that when a member shares, and they seem to take forever to get to the point, or wander off-topic, instead of allowing impatience to block me from truly hearing what they have to say, in the spirit of unity, I strive to pay attention, and listen with respect. My Higher Power uses each of us to help the others in a meeting, no one person has any greater, or lesser value to the group. I learned this lesson fairly early on in my recovery - a member of the meeting, with whom I felt I had nothing in common, always seemed to say the one thing that stayed with me during the week.

When a member shares, and their anger provokes them to speak harshly or unkindly, I work to detach from any feelings they may have triggered, and treat them with the same consideration with which I treat everyone else in the group. (I may take them aside later, and gently ask that they try to please moderate their tone, and their attitude, for the sake of the rest of us.)

It means that I endeavor to "practise these principles in all our affairs" - outside of meetings, I try to put Tradition One into effect in all areas of my life - to show respect and courtesy to everyone I encounter.

Some days, I do not manage this very well. I may be showing courtesy outwardly, but my internal critic is alive and well, nattering away. Some days, it's all I can do to silence her; it takes a few Al-Anon readings, and some prayer and meditation.

I believe with all my heart that "personal progress for the greatest number depends upon unity." I see this in action every week, at my meetings. When we treat each other the way we'd like to be treated, we are then able to hear widely divergent views on a topic, and learn from each, even if only to gain a clarity about how we may disagree with that viewpoint.

Monday, May 11, 2009


One of the major lessons we learn in Al-Anon is: don't give advice. Don't tell other people what they "should" do about their problems. This was a major challenge for me - I was a control freak, I loved to tell other people what to do. The idea that I could be a warm and welcoming presence for another human being, just through active listening, and offering what had worked for me in that situation, (or what hadn't, sometimes that's even more useful) was perplexing to me. How could I be helpful if I didn't give advice? Wasn't that what a sponsee, or a fellow program member, was wanting?

No. Most decidedly not. And even in the odd instance when that may be the case, when someone is asking us to tell them what to do, it's even more imperative that we refrain. Giving advice gets in the way of that person's life lessons.

I had learned to listen when I worked on a crisis line, it just hadn't occured to me that this was a transferrable skill. (I was a very rigid individual when I joined 12-step - my life was very much marked out into sections, with little or no movement between the various compartments, and with my behavior being disparate, according to which section I happened to be in at the moment. Work. Social life. Home life. 3 dissimilar personas, same despondant person.)

For many of us, we have nowhere else in our lives where we can speak of our troubles, concerns, confusions, and not be swamped with "you should do..." from the listener. We need one safe place in which to be heard.

Now, this does not mean that our fellow program members, or our sponsors, are duty-bound to listen while we complain, whine, commit character assassination upon the alcoholic, or any other of the self-absorbed, self-pitying indulgences of which we may have become fond. My first sponsor would only listen to a very little of the above sort of thing, before stopping me to suggest, gently, or sharply, as the case demanded, that I turn my attention away from those negative pursuits, to that which might actually be of some use to me - working my program. She offended me mightily and often in the early days of my Al-Anon journey, but she had what I so desperately sought - peace of mind. Serenity. So I listened, albeit bristling with hurt feelings, and harrumphing not-quite-silently to myself. The woman was maddening, she wouldn't just tell me what to do. (That's what I thought I was going to receive, when I first attended meetings - instructions. Do this, and the alcoholic will quit drinking.)

I learned that when I was sincerely working out a problem, or trying to assimilate a new idea, my sponsor had endless patience. She gave me the precious gift of listening. I pass that on, in the time-honoured manner of 12-step - I give back, what I was, and am, so grateful to have received. I listen. I don't give advice. I offer my experience, strength, and hope.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

"The Wisdom To Know The Difference."

Most Al-Anon meetings I've attended, close with the first stanza of the Serenity Prayer:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference."

That last line takes quite a bit of mastering. If I don't have clarity about what is out of my control, I can expend enormous energy, (and develop a nasty little resentment) "tilting at windmills."

I shudder to recall the hours I've spent, plotting to change my ex-husband's alcoholic behavior, through various forms of manipulation and coercion. Here I am, all these years on, and as far as I am aware, he's still drinking. It's a disease. If the alcoholic themselves cannot change their own behavior, am I not arrogant in the extreme to imagine it within my powers? Can I change the course of a disease by browbeating the sufferer, blasting him or her with contemptuous assaults, and dissertations upon the low nature of his character?

Desperation can turn many of us into unpleasant company. We become "irritable and unreasonable without knowing it."

The Serenity Prayer offers us a shorthand method of reminding ourselves - we have limits, and we have choices. When we refuse to admit to our limits, we feel trapped and hopeless. It's an interesting paradox: accepting our limitations, opens before us, a vista of heretofore unseen possibilities. Our lives expand - from cramped obsession with the alcoholic, to satisfying abundance and variety - if only we are willing to accept.

Why do we ask God to grant us the wisdom to know the difference between our limits and our possibilities? I believe it's because most of us come into 12-step with our lives so compressed and compacted and minimised, we are unable to see the larger picture. We need help to remove our blinders of denial. We've worn them for so long, we're terrified at the prospect of removing them - what horror will be revealed?

We need our Higher Power to grant us wisdom, so that we may remove those blinders, and looking around us, blinking a bit at the brightness of the sunshine, see that which was always there, in our peripheral vision, hidden by our denial.

When I am granted the wisdom to know the difference, I do not waste my energy on a hopeless endeavor doomed to failure - I don't try to change another person. I turn my attention and my focus to my own character, and work upon that. It's always in need of maintenance - some major, some minor, but always sufficient to keep me well-occupied.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"I Didn't Like It When You..." - Setting Boundaries.

My ideas regarding just what this involves, have changed considerably, over the time I've been working 12-step. I started out seeing it as something I needed to do, in order to stop other people from taking advantage of me. I've slowly come to believe that I need to do it for that reason, yes, but I also need to be on top of this, in order to avoid my own bad habits of getting myself into emotional confusions.

As a co-dependent, my own triggers have caused me endless misery, and I would struggle and suffer and fume and fret, all the while thinking this was the fault of the other person. 12-step teaches me that I'm responsible for my own mental and emotional health, and if I don't want to get wet, I need to come in out of the rain. Standing outside in a bucketing downpour and railing at the clouds for soaking me, is a senseless waste of my time.

I've done the emotional equivalent a few too many times in my life. My desire to fix/help/solve/find a solution has caused me grief I needn't have felt, had I only been aware of the pre-storm smell of ozone. When I see the clouds slowly gathering and darkening, that is the time to set a boundary, excuse myself politely, and find shelter.

As a result of Al-Anon, I'm more likely to realise, at an earlier stage of a friendship, that this isn't healthy for me. I'm going through this right now, and I'm trying to stay open to it, instead of doing what I've chosen to do so many times in the past: deny the reality, make allowances for unacceptable behavior, because I'm uncomfortable, and my discomfort is such that I'd rather pretend it isn't happening, because if I admit it is, I have to take some kind of action.

I'm trying to accept reality, admit my feelings - some sadnesss, that this person whose company I enjoy, has problems/behaviors/beliefs to which I am unwilling to subject myself to regular exposure, because doing so triggers my own bad habits and thinking. It's like alcoholics not hanging out with friends who drink - it's not healthy, and it can undercut my serenity.

I need to set a boundary for myself, not the other person. I cannot change anyone but myself. I'm endeavoring to learn this lesson earlier in the process, so that I don't have to suffer so much when the inevitable happens, and my recovery demands detachment. I'm trying to be aware more of the time, because denial never, ever, works, on a long-term basis.

Friday, May 8, 2009


From the ODAT, page 129:

"Among the many gifts we are offered in Al-Anon is freedom. When we are new in Al-Anon, we are prisoners of our own confusion and despair. Working with the program offers us release as we learn to understand the true nature of our situation. The gifts of Al-Anon are not without a price tag: freedom, for example, can only be achieved by paying the price we call acceptance. If we can accept the First Step, we are set free from the need to control the alcoholic. If we can surrender to God's guidance, it will cost us our self-will, so precious to us who have always thought we could dominate. It is up to us to decide whether freedom from despair is worth all this. Most of us believe it is."

When I came into 12-step, I believed the exact opposite of that - I was of the opinion that freedom could only be achieved from a position of dominance. I had come out of my childhood with that belief, and carried it right into adulthood, so that I was always measuring, calculating, and maneuvering for position. I had a powerful need, of which I was unaware, to feel as if I was in control of all aspects of my life - the mere hint of someone else being in control made me crazy. I would get that awful panicked, trapped feeling I knew so well, and would then act out in some way, to relieve the claustrophobia.

I had a serious problem with authority. (Fortunately for me, I was also sufficiently frightened of consequences, so I merely seethed with resentment, and poisoned myself from the inside, rather than act upon my rather nasty fantasies of what I'd like to say to my supervisors. Instead, I'd go home and be mean to the alcoholic - that was safe, as he'd be so blotto he wouldn't remember it the next day. When, after quite some time in Al-Anon, I tried to make an amend to him for this behaviour, I had the disconcerting experience of having him find the entire process comical. I made the amend anyway - talking over his attempts to stifle his uncontrollable laughter - for my peace of mind.)

But I'm digressing. What the above reading means to me, is this: If I want, I must give.

If I want peace, I must give my program away to others. If I want growth, I must give up my belief in my own "rightness." If I want serenity, I must give up self-will, and be open to my Higher Power. If I want freedom, I must give up my need to control.

I had such a struggle with this concept, because it was my powerlessness in childhood that made the physical abuse possible. If I wanted freedom from my despair, I had to give up my certainty that there was only one way to define "powerless."

If I want real, lasting change, I must give up my safe misery. Did I consider this tradeoff worth it? I wasn't sure at the time I first began to try, but I had trust in my sponsor, and other members of Al-Anon, who promised me it was. I had faith in them, when I had no faith in the process, and wasn't even sure I believed in a Higher Power.

It worked. I was thrilled, amazed, and could dimly envision more of the same, if I continued to work my program. From my vantage point of today, years later, I feel such gratitude for those Al-Anon members, who "loved me in a very special way" when I could not love myself, or anyone else.

I'm grateful to think that I may be able to help others, the same way I was helped. God bless this wonderful program.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


I've never been a very good sleeper.  I'm subject to periods of insomnia, and when I'm going through one, as I am lately, nothing works. I was told years ago by a doctor, not to sleep late when I do get to sleep, finally, as that just interferes even more with the brain's sleep rhythms. So I get up at my usual waking time, but I'm exhausted and....grumpy. I'm in an extended HALT when I'm suffering from insomnia - my tolerance is down, my irritation is up, and I'm soooo tired.

I get good use of my program at these times. I have days where I'm a model of tongue-biting reason on the outside, while inside my head, I'm reciting a slogan, repeatedly, like a mantra.
I've learned that at times such as these, it's always a good idea to talk less, and listen more.

This too shall pass.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How Important Is It?

This slogan has been a lifeline for me. I was a grievous control freak when I came into Al-Anon. I micro-managed all aspects of my life, and tried to do the same to the alcoholics, my friends, my coworkers, my neighbours... I had the most well-trained dog of anyone I knew. (At the time, I felt very proud of that fact. Now, I see it somewhat differently; now, I don't consider it vitally important that my dogs leap to obey my every command at once. These days, as long as they have some manners, and are reasonably well-behaved, I can allow them to be dogs, and do those mysterious canine things they do - such as: each spring, sample a slug, just to see if it really is as distasteful as it proved to be last year.)

This slogan has helped me put life into perspective. My first sponsor used to ask - would I even remember whatever it was I was so fussed over, a month from now? Six months? A year? The answer always seemed to, I wouldn't. So, How Important Is It?

In retrospect, I can see that I was unable to assign various levels of importance, everything mattered equally. This makes for high anxiety, if every choice, every decision, is seen as "life and death."

How Important Is It? Most of the time, not very. Apart from the few serious choices we must make in life, most choices are of lesser importance than we might believe at the time. Most of my choices have been, anyway.

I like to ask my sponsees, "Are you going to be lying on your deathbed wishing you'd chosen differently in this matter?" This question usually provokes a startled look, and then laughter, it's so silly when framed that way.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Power of Language.

From Hope for Today, page 126:

"When I first heard the slogans at Al-Anon meetings, I considered them to be trite little cliches that couldn't possibly help anybody. they were far too simple to work, and I was far too sceptical to even attempt them. Then it dawned on me that had been using my own slogans all my life. Unfortunately, they were slogans of non-recovery. I'd said many of them daily, and I had grown up hearing most of them from alcoholic relatives. They included "you should know how I feel", "after all I've done for you", "if you really loved me", "damned if you do, damned if you don't", and "I hope you're happy now."

I had my own slogans when I came into Al-Anon, one of which was the utterly depressing "Life's a bitch, and then you die." I got that from my first alcoholic, my ex. A slightly more cheerful one that I still use, came from my adopted maternal grandfather: "It's a great life if you don't weaken."

Just like the person in the above reading, at first glance, I found the slogans impossibly simple, they didn't satisfy my rather confused belief that in order to be at all meaningful, philosophy must be convoluted. I was not only sceptical, I was scornful. Luckily for me, I was also desperate, and in my desperation, clutched at the bits of program which sprang easily to mind during stressful times.

I recall many an evening spent walking my dog, and repeating the first line of the Serenity Prayer almost as a mantra: "God grant me serenity." As I attended more meetings, I began to recall the odd Slogan, and use that as one of my oft-repeated reminders to myself that I could choose another path, and change my life.

Another line I really like from today's reading in HFT:

"Today I won't discount simplicity until I give it a decent try."

Monday, May 4, 2009


From Hope for Today, page 125:

"The process of making decisions sometimes causes me problems and gets me stuck. I want to make the "perfect"decision not only for the problem at hand, but also for any consequences that might arise from the original decision. I'll spend an inordinate amount of time thinking of dozens of hypothetical problems, some of them occurring 30 years down the road, which cannot be obliterated by one single "perfect" decision I might make today."

This describes the decision-making (don't want to call it a "technique" as that makes it sound measured, reasonable, and well-thought-out, and it was none of those, being motivated purely by fear) process I used before Al-Anon. I couldn't arrive at a conclusion on even the smallest of matters, because I would invariably be sidetracked by what might happen if I went that route. I'd spend hours trying to anticipate all possible ramifications, in the hopes that I might find the best of all possible solutions. I drove myself, and those around me, completely insane. It was much easier to just "go along to get along," as then the responsibility for the decision wasn't mine, and I could snipe from the sidelines, were it to prove a mistake. I was a seething mass of confusion and resentments. I wanted the autonomy to make my own decisions, without having to take the fall for them.

How did I learn to do things differently? One decision at a time. Praying for the guidance of my Higher Power, and then being willing to listen for, and act upon, that guidance, trusting that very few things in life are final, and that I can learn just as much from a mistaken decision as from a correct one.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Withstanding Manipulation.

Some of us, as co-dependents, are more than usually susceptible to the emotional manipulations of others - I know I am. I can give some thought to a matter, decide upon a course of action with which I feel comfortable, then inform the other what my decision is, with a short explanation, and do all this with a serenity and ease.

However, just let the other person start playing drama queen (or king, let's be fair, no sexism on this blog) and make sweeping statements about how they were "devastated" or "crushed" and I will feel the creeping guilties start to permeate my thinking.

That's when detachment is such a useful Al-Anon tool - I can step back from all the theatrics and melodrama, remind myself that before all the emotions were given free rein, I was quite relaxed about my choice.

My first sponsor used to say, dryly: "Devastated" is what happens after an earthquake;  the way you feel when someone says something you don't like - that's "upset." It's a good reminder for me - when the language is dramatic, I'm usually watching a performance. I don't have to buy into it. I can maintain my serenity, even in the face of a home-movie version of "Gone With The Wind."

Friday, May 1, 2009

Step 6

"Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character."

Some days, I am ready. I'll catch myself demonstrating one of my character defects for the billionth time, stop, sigh heavily, and ask God: "Can you please deal with this? My puny efforts have gone for naught."

I'm thoroughly wearied by a pattern of behavior/ stubborn refusal to hear/ assumption in advance of the facts, whatever it may be that I'm acting out. I understand the thinking behind it, how it may have worked for me in the past but is now, like a dog, sneaking up to stand right behind me, so when I turn to walk, I almost do a face-plant in an effort not to fall over it. I've tried and tried and tried to do things differently, but I'm failing miserably, and I'm getting frustrated. I need help, in the form of a small spiritual awakening, so that my attitude is forever shifted just slightly, and the next time the situation arises, I no longer view it in the same habitual fashion, and the trigger is...gone.

That's the best way I know, to describe how Step 6 works for me. I don't realise it has happened, until after the fact, when I will realise with some wonder and delight, that what used to get me steamed, leaves me detached.

Now, one caveat here - this only seems to take place after I have put in countless hours of slog, working my program. I will have to have been trying to change my attitude, struggling to rise above my baser nature, discussing my character defects in brutal honesty at meetings and with sponsees and my own sponsor. I will need to have been stopping and considering, time after time, just what exactly what am I about to say, and why? What are my motives? What do I hope to accomplish?

God has never done the prep work for me; I must be willing to do that which demonstrates my willingness. But when I have done my part, and receive that gift of having a character defect removed, what fills the empty spot is a delirious sort of joyful detachment.

Analysing Too Much.

I've always been one of those people who had the belief that if I just knew "why" something happened, I'd be able to accept it more easily. This never proves to be the case; when I know why, I only know why, it doesn't ease the pain one jot.

I've used this, in my recovery, to put off trying to accept whatever it may be, telling myself that once I figure out why, then I can work upon acceptance. This is pure unadulterated nonsense, and when I'm thinking with clarity and detachment, I can see that. But let me be in HALT, and my faulty logic can easily lead me astray. (A program friend recently remarked upon the way our faulty logic always seems to make perfect sense at the time - I believe this is why Al-Anon suggests we "reason things out with someone else" - so we have an objective listener - someone to raise an eyebrow, purse their lips, nod uncertainly, or if we are fortunate, say outright, "Bullshit!)

How can I tell whether or not my thinking is judicious? Write it down, leave it overnight, then go back and re-read it the next day. I find this works like a charm - the next day, I will bring up whatever I wrote, begin to read it, and find the preposterous thinking practically leaping off the page and giving me a good smack upside the head. I've had times, doing this, where I've even started to laugh, because whatever I wrote in the heat of the moment, was so...misguided. (Nice little euphemism for full-out co-dependent looniness.)

Sometimes the only way I can tell I've lost it, is in hindsight. Such is the power of our disease.