Friday, July 31, 2009

Step Five.

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

This Step requires serious, sustained effort. Most of us are not brought up to do this: rather, we learn by example to justify, to defend, and to argue for our own position. Admitting our wrongs can feel like a capitulation.

When I was trying to do this Step for the first time, my shame and self-loathing hindered and obstructed me at every turn. I found myself coming up with the most fascinatingly convoluted reasonings to justify past wrongs on my part, and at the urgings of my sponsor, wrote these down. I didn't try to do any editing, I just banged down on paper, the thoughts going through my head while I worked Step 5.

I would then put that paper away for a day or two or three, until I felt I had the energy to deal with it again. I'd take it out, read it, and because I'd had a space of time in which to forget some of what I'd written, the insanity of my thinking, and the obvious rationalisations and justifications would leap off the page at me - glaringly, blindingly, dazzlingly obvious.

I still use this technique, because it's still effective, to illuminate areas of my thinking not visible to me by any other means.

Step 5 doesn't ask us to do anything about our wrongs, it only asks us to admit them. As I've been in Al-Anon over the years, and gained in self-respect and self-love, I find this easier than it was at first, but there are still periods in which I feel as if the only way I can winkle out my true motives, is a morsel at a time, and only then with the help of my sponsor, or another program friend. I have a couple of excruciatingly honest program friends with whom I will "reason things out." I know that they will do it as gently as they are able, but they will not sacrifice honesty to my ego.

When I'm talking to one of them, and feel myself becoming defensive, I know we are getting somewhere, because I have learned that I only get defensive when there is a personal truth in what's being said to me. If it doesn't apply to me, it doesn't bother me to hear it. That's one of my touchstones in Step 5.

I thought I'd do Step 5 once, and be done with it. That's not how it works for me; seems like every new level of self-awareness I attain brings with it new realisations of wrongs I've done, and been unaware of as wrongs, before that moment. I'm comfortable with this knowledge. I'm even able to find this exciting - new vistas of possibility are revealed, with each of these new levels.

When I can detach from my ego, and just see myself as a regular person with the usual human faults and frailties, I can be more accepting of others - that's a bonus I hadn't expected, when I began working this Step.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Step Four.

"Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."

When I came into Al-Anon, I was skilled at taking the inventory of everyone around me: friends, strangers, coworkers, neighbours, casual acquaintances. I did not, however, turn that beam upon myself - I was too afraid to do so, for fear of the ugliness I might find there.

I was a vessel filled to the brim with a nasty soup of fear and shame. Just let anyone suggest that my motives were less than pure, or that my attitude was not the best it could be, and they'd be met with a storm of righteous indignation, and defensiveness.

I couldn't admit to my faults and frailties because I didn't have the awareness of my merits and virtues to balance them out. My first sponsor started me working Step Four by listing my positive character aspects first, and only. I tried for days, and would end up sitting with my pen, an empty sheet of paper, and my own mind completely stonewalling me.

Then one night at my home group meeting, the chair wanted to try an exercise - at the top of a piece of paper, we were to write: "I like (our name) because:" pass this to the person sitting to our left, and accept the page being passed from the person to our right. When our own page arrived back to us, having made the circuit of the group, we were instructed to fold it up, and read it later on at home.

I saw writing on my page, but hurriedly shoved it into my pocket, and when I arrived home, couldn't read it. I was too afraid. I called my sponsor, and asked if she would sit on the phone with me while I opened and read it. She quickly agreed. I unfolded that piece of paper, and slowly read what 11 women, who had known me for a couple of years at that point, had written about why they liked me. It was all positive. There were comments about my empathy, my kindness, my generosity, my sense of humour, my infectious laugh, my thoughtfulness.

I had tears streaming down my face as I read. It was such a hugely powerful exercise for me to read that others could so easily find these positive aspects of my character, when I could find none.

That was the lever that made it possible for me to begin to work Step Four.

Taking my inventory became less an exercise in fear and trembling, and more an archeological dig - a search for knowledge which would help me to understand myself, my motives, and how I operate. I'm comfortable with the idea that I have human faults and frailties, because I'm also comfortable with the idea that I have positive characteristics. The more often I take my own inventory, the less able I feel to take anyone else's.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


My friend who was ill with a brain tumour has died.

One of my closest and most loved friends drove an hour and a half from her town to mine, to give me the news in person. We went for lunch and spoke of our friend, grateful that at the end, she hadn't suffered, she just slipped quietly from coma into death.

The illness and death of people I love is one of "the things I cannot change" and either I find a way to acceptance, or I will be fighting against the natural progression of life, and that would be tilting at the most immense of windmills.

I wrote to a friend last night, and received the comfort I was seeking, and for that, I'm grateful - we cannot erase the pain life sends us, not for ourselves, and not for each other, but we can walk quietly beside each other when the path is most challenging, offering an arm when our friend stumbles, and being a comforting companion though the vicissitudes of our lives.

Step Three.

"Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him."

My first personal stumbling block of this Step, was the mention of God - I didn't believe in God. Through attending meetings, and seeing the serenity of long-time members, I grew to have a desire to believe, but no concept of how to get there from here. I'd call my sponsor when the rage and pain and grief became too much for me to handle on my own, and wail to her, "I can't take Step 3 because I don't believe in God!" And she would calmly say, "Why not pray as if you did?"

I found this suggestion utterly maddening at first, and would conclude the conversation politely, and fall backwards into my misery, desperate and hopeless. One day, for some reason, when she made that sugggestion, I thanked her, got off the phone, and began to pray to a God I didn't believe in. I didn't receive any reply that I could distinguish, but I did feel a tiny bit calmer. That was enough, I began to pray more often.

One day I was praying, saying the first line of the Serenity Prayer repeatedly, and all at once the most glorious sense of peace washed down over me, and for the first time in my life, I felt a calm serenity.

That was my first spiritual awakening, and when I think about it, the power of it never fails to move me. In one second, I went from a non-believer to a believer. Before Al-Anon, I'd secretly disparaged those who believed in a Higher Power, because in my cynicism, I didn't believe, and I was right about everything, so...

After a while in program, I still didn't believe, but I wanted to. I went from aetheism, to agnosticism, and there I stuck for a while, and I see now that I stuck there because I may have said I was willing, but I hadn't even begun to relax my desperate grasp upon my life and my will.

The day of my spiritual awakening, I was truly willing. I was plunking my burden down, and stepping back, saying, "Well, God, you may not want it, but I know I don't."

I was ready. All the meetings I'd attended, all the literature I'd read, all the conversations I'd had with other members, and my sponsor, all the prayers I'd spoken, had slowly, slowly, loosened my hold, until I could just open my hand and - let go.

I can still have days or moments where I will reach to snatch back my problem, wanting to be allowed to worry it over myself for a while, convinced that if I just look at if from enough different directions, I can find my own solution. Not often, because I have a long experience of the relief that comes with turning it over to God. The inexpressibly beautiful knowledge that I'm not alone. Help is only one prayer away.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Step Two.

"Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."

There's a certain arrogance in those of us who are control freaks - there has to be, otherwise we wouldn't be so convinced of our own rightness, and so determined to change the actions and thinking of other people. This arrogance is part of the "insanity" of which Al-Anon speaks. (As a program friend says, it's why business meetings can be so interesting, watching a table full of control freaks trying to achieve a result through consensus.)

One of the difficulties in treating true insanity, is the disbelief upon the part of the sufferer, that anything is wrong with them. Many of us, when new to program, are carrying that same stubborn belief that we are fine, it's the rest of the world, and chiefly the alcoholic, who demonstrate a problem. I believe that's why the word "insanity" is used in the 12-Steps of Al-Anon, because the founders truly believed that those of us who walk this path are occasionally dancing around the edges of that particular bonfire.

Before I can accept help, I must admit my need for it. Before I can admit my need for it, I must admit to my part in the craziness. We are all insane in our own way, and we all have insanity in common. I've sat in meetings and cringed in recognition, as a member describes a choice made in the heat of anger or resentment, which, when examined in a calmer moment, can be labelled nothing if not "insane."

It's a blessing of this program that no-one will force upon me, their own beliefs in a Higher Power - I'm free to find my own.
My "Power greater than myself" was, before my spiritual awakening, my Al-Anon group. We use whatever handholds work for us, as we scramble to pull ourselves up and out of the pit into which we have fallen.

I couldn't believe in a God, at first, and was grateful to hear that belief wasn't a prerequisite - when I walked through the door to a meeting, they'd pull up a chair for me, regardless of my spiritual beliefs, progress, or lack thereof. My program is entirely up to me, there are no tests to evaluate my advancement.

Even when I was very new to program, I could see how attending the meetings, even though I barely heard or grasped the program, had an immediate positive effect upon me and my coping abilities. That kept me coming back, for long enough, to learn enough, to be open to the idea of a spiritual awakening.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Step One.

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.

I've been asked by a sponsee recently, how did I know that my life was unmanageable? What does "unmanageable" mean?

I may define it as: chaotic, disorderly, or turbulent - we each have our own definition, because our lives, coping strategies, and definitions of success and serenity, differ.

I like this reading in Hope for Today, page 10:

"Like many children of alcoholics, I vowed I'd never drink like my father. Nevertheless, I do get drunk, only I get drunk on feelings. If not checked, my hurt, anger and fear can trigger a downward spiral that leaves me feeling completely unmanageable. I'm often unable to function as I allow my bad moods to drag me into a pit of depression. It's as if I'm an emotional drunk. I can't hold my feelings any more than an alcoholic can hold his or her liquor.
I use the First Step to accept that, just for today, i'm powerless by myself to stop these emotional binges once they gain momentum."

I think that's the best description I've ever heard of the way my feelings affect me, if allowed to run unchecked or unquestioned - an emotional binge. Just as the alcoholic does, I have a point at which I am still in control, and able to choose not to go that route. I can work my program to head off a binge. I can read Al-Anon literature, call my sponsor, meditate, and pray.

When I choose differently, and decide to allow myself to have an emotional binge, I do get drunk on my feelings, and I have about as much ability to think clearly as the alcholic does when under the influence. I make impulsive decisions, I cannot see my way to serenity, my thinking is black or white, my entire self is consumed by the heat of my feelings.

I too, have a hangover after an emotional binge. I feel self-disgust, embarassment and shame. I am faced with amends I need to make for my words or my actions while in the maelstrom of my feelings. I have to climb back upon my program, and set off at a slow and shaky pace down the familiar and safe road to serenity.

My life is unmanageable when I stand at the point of choice, and instead of admitting my powerless over my feelings, decide I can allow myself "just one" and then I'll stop. This is equally as ludicrous for me, as is "just one drink" for an alcoholic.

When I admit to my powerlessness - over my feelings, over an alcoholic, or anyone else, I am trusting my Higher Power to deal with it as He sees fit. I am choosing to admit that I have no control over any of it, that an emotional binge won't change anything, and the momentary satisfaction of the feelings will only mean I'll have to start all over again afterwards, from the exact same place in which I am standing now.
It's my choice how I spend my precious time - wallowing, or working my program. I choose serenity.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Interesting Site.

I found this site today:

and listened to a speaker while I was on the treadmill.

I really enjoyed being able to listen to 12-Step wisdom while doing something I find excruciatingly boring - walk in place on a treadmill. The hour seemed to whiz by, and I was in an excellent mood at the end.

Listen And Learn.

In MrSponsorPants' post on boundaries,
the sentence:
"Believe people when they show you who they are." reminded me of something very similar one member of the first Al-Anon meeting I ever attended used to say with some regularity:

"When people tell you who they are, pay attention!" At the time, I didn't understand what she was trying to convey, and then later on, even when I did, I still refused the message, as I was locked into trying to control the alcoholic.

When someone "tells me who they are," and I get that feeling of discomfort or aversion, I ignore that at my own risk. Every time I have done this, later on in the journey, I've wished I'd paid attention back at the starting gate, when they said, "Now look out, because if you get in my way, I'll run you over!" and I chose to take this as a joke, rather than a statement of fact.

I used to tell myself that I was being tolerant and accepting in these instances, but I think it's more likely that I'm avoiding dealing with the conflict sure to result if I say, "Being run over isn't acceptable to me, so I'll sit this one out, thanks."

If I'm having to set the same boundaries repeatedly, what does this tell me? If the person won't accept a "No thanks" and instead wheedles or tries to jolly me into changing my mind, what are they telling me about who they are?

If I catch myself continually engaged in a process of re-labelling another person's behavior to make it more palatable, what reality am I choosing to ignore?

"Listen And Learn."

This works for program, and it works for people, too. If we sit quietly and listen, they will tell us who they are, and then we can make a reasoned assessment as to whether we choose to have this person, and all the problems that may come with them, in our life.

Friday, July 24, 2009


If I don't get enough time to myself in a week, I begin to feel uneasy, claustrophobic, and hounded. My tolerance diminishes, and my irritation begins to ramp up. I need solitude - to process the day's happenings, to mull over new ideas, to meditate, to increase my conscious contact with the God of my understanding.

If I cannot find the time for those necessities, my judgement begins to slip. My character defects come to the fore, the fulcrum upon which my serenity balances begins to shift, and soon I'm tilting wildly to one side or the other, arms flailing, feeling like I'm in one of those log-rolling contests. Running like mad on a slippery surface, just trying to stay out of the water.

I then start to have one of those strange little experiences where my outsides and my insides are so far apart they might as well be taken from two dissimilar people. Inside, I will be a snarling mess of resentment, frustration, impatience, and self-pity - outside, I will be ( tightly controlled, thinly-veneered) courteous and agreeable. I cannot accomplish much useful in my recovery, if all my attention is diverted to an attempt to pretend to a graciousness I do not feel.

All of this can be attributed to one source - not enough solitude. When new to program, I accepted the suggestions of some other members that my desire for more solititude than the person making the suggestion needed, was "isolating," and tried very hard to be who I am not. I have prayed and meditated upon this aspect of my character repeatedly, and I've discovered that this is just how I am made - with a larger need for solitude than many other people.

I ignore this reality at the cost of my serenity. If, through people-pleasing, I agree to more social encounters than I can manage emotionally, I am not being true to my self, and I won't enjoy them. I don't need to feel less-than because of this, which I did most of my pre-program life, when I allowed others to define me, and suffered the consequences. I can be comfortable with my understanding of myself as a person who enjoys her own company, and needs a certain amount of it in a week, to feel relaxed and balanced, when in the company of others.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bear Buffet.

Elsewhere in this blog, I mentioned a phrase I quite like:
"Some days you eat the bear; some days, the bear eats you."

Today was a day during which the bear was dining upon me a morsel at a time - an ear at breakfast, then he went and had a bit of a nap. Came back mid-morning and gnawed off a hand, went for a swim....had a really good dinner on my left leg and half my torso, then off to his den for a good night's sleep.

I was so grateful it was a meeting night - my sponsor took one look at me, and grinned in empathethic communion, no words necessary. After the excellent meeting, I was restored in all my bits and pieces, ready for the next time I'm on the menu.
I don't know what I'd do without this wonderful program - scream a lot louder and disturb the birds, most likely.

Al-Anon allows me to know in my innermost soul that even bears get full at some point - this too shall pass.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Setting Boundaries, con't.

From The Forum, Sept 2000 p.28:

"You cannot set boundaries and take care of someone else's feelings at the same time."

One of the reasons that alcoholics and co-dependents are such a perfect fit, is that our character defects click together like tongue and groove panelling.

Your average healthy person would respond to the alcoholic's minor acting-out with a raised eyebrow, and a removal of themselves from the room (removing the audience has a definite cooling effect upon the performance) we, on the other hand, are much more likely to attempt to soothe, and smooth, and change, and ease, at whatever cost to ourselves. We want to achieve the impossible - set boundaries while taking care of the other person's feelings. We cannot do both. We must put ourselves, our sanity and serenity, first.

I've gone through various stages of boundary-setting. Initially when I'd try to set a boundary, if the other person responded with any negativity whatsoever, stated or imagined (I'd be examining their facial expression to see if I could garner any clues) I'd cave immediately, and then be furious with myself, resentful with them, and frustrated with what I saw as the shortcomings of this darn 12-Step program.

When I expounded upon those supposed shortcomings to my first sponsor, she dryly suggested that in order to see if something worked for me or not, I needed to give it more than 30 seconds, before taking it all back for fear I'd anger the alcoholic or upset a friend or acquaintance.

I then went through a stage of enjoying the anger that my setting a boundary would provoke from the alcoholic - it gave me a sensation of power. I was like 2 year old in an adult body - saying "NO!" just for the pleasure of it. The novelty of that soon wore off, and I was left with the same old problem - how to set boundaries so as not to upset the other person, but still achieve my goal of being treated decently.

I have had to accept that in some instances, this is just not possible.

In the best of all scenarios, the other person would listen carefully, then smiling, thank me, and promise to never deliberately trample my boundaries in future.

Right. (I can think of maybe two people who would be able to do that, and I'm not one of them. Maybe three. Two have been in 12-Step for twenty or so years, and the last is just an amazing human being, who has suffered so much pain and sorrow in her life that she is on another level from most of us when it comes to tolerance.)

In order to achieve a result, we may have to break long-standing habits of putting someone else's needs before our own. We have to summon from within ourselves, the necessary courage to say "No."

I was talking to an acquaintance yesterday about this very thing - she'd gotten herself into a situation which was causing her much stress and worry, all from not being able to say "No." She's very kind-hearted, and through wanting to be helpful, had allowed someone to take advantage of her kindness.

I taught her two sayings which have been enormously helpful to me when setting boundaries:

"I'll have to get back to you on that."

This gives me time to think, because my first instinct is always to say yes, wanting to be agreeable, and then later, upon thinking it through, wish I hadn't.

"That's not going to work for me."

This is just a longer, more polite way of saying "No." It's direct, but it softens the blow for some reason.

I don't need to explain why I won't do whatever it is, I don't need excuses, I don't need to justify. I have the right to refuse. I have the right to say, politely, "I feel as if you are trying to manipulate me into doing something I don't want to do."

This last statement can have the interesting effect of causing the manipulator to immediately reverse direction, and begin assuring me that of course I have the right not to do it, and they certainly would never try to make me do something I don't want to, and yada yada yada. That's fine too.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Itches and Scratches.

From the ODAT, page 202:

"Wanting to know why the alcoholic drinks or, when sober, why he does what he does, is "an itch for which there is no scratch."

That makes me laugh every time I read it.

I have a close relationship with that particular itch, it tormented me for the first 8 or so years of my marriage to the drinking alcoholic. I wanted to know why. I believed that if I knew why, (recite this along with me, I know you can) I'd be able to accept it more easily. Except that's not true, so all I'm doing when I ask that question, or set that condition, is putting a barrier between me and my recovery.

Other itches for which I have no scratch are:

Why can I remember some program tools when I'm stressed, but not others?

Why do I need to get some lessons repeatedly, before I can accept the truth they carry?

Why do people choose behavior that they know will bring an unwanted consequence?

Why do I continue to buy articles of clothing that need altering, when I know I'm never going to get around to doing it, so they just hang in my closet, unworn?

Why do dogs (and cats, when we had cats, they did this same thing) come though the dog/cat door into the house, look around, and then immediately go right back outside again? What were they looking for?

What's your itch for which there is no scratch?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Rigidity of Thinking.

From the ODAT, page 200:

"I will not resist the impact of a new idea. It may be just the one I've needed without being aware of it. I will make my mind more flexible and receptive to new points of view."

How do I do this? First, I need to be aware of my internal dialogue when I am feeling openminded and receptive, and then when I'm resistant, so I can recognise the thoughts that float through my head in both states, and the feelings that colour my thinking in each.

When I'm resistant, I'm usually thinking along the lines of "Yes, but..." or "That's not the case, here..." or simply "No!" My mind will present me with a multitude of gloriously reasoned nonsense to support my rigid position, and it will be topped with a dash of self-righteousness, or superiority, or smugness. I am quite convinced that I'm correct, and I have no time for alternate viewpoints. After all, I don't want to confuse the issue, now, do I?

My ex used the expression "my way or the highway" and I grew to hate it so much I'd be knashing my teeth down to little nubbins trying not to respond to such an obvious hook.

I learned from him - I learned how to be more open-minded, because I didn't want to be the sort of person who might not have been articulating or admitting to that, yet had it as a personal philosophy.

When I'm receptive, my viewpoint doesn't seem to matter so much, it's just a possibility, and what I'm being offered, is another possibility. I can accept the offering in a spirit of readiness to learn and grow. I can see it as a gift from my Higher Power. Not all of His gifts arrive with a label attached; with the odd one, it may take me years to ascertain its origin.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Nature Of My Faith.

MrSponsorPants has posted today upon faith, and it's an excellent reading - as always with his posts, thought-provoking:

Mr. SponsorPants

I read his post while waiting for the coffee to drip, and after I got a cup, went out and wandered my garden with it in hand, admiring the beauty, doing a bit of hybridising of daylilies, and all the while, thinking about my faith.

Just how do I discover what my unconscious beliefs about my Higher Power are?

I have "trust issues" - love that little phrase, it's such a tidy little packaging of what is in truth, a prodigious, ungainly, slovenly beast of a problem in my life. I've worked on my trust issues for most of the years that I've been in Al-Anon, and I have come to one recent conclusion: I cannot eradicate my personal experience and knowledge, of the horrors of which some human beings are capable.

I know it firsthand; I've been the object of the striking fist. When I was too small to defend myself, I was abused by those in control of my life at the time - birth parents, foster parents, adopted parents. It happened. I cannot, regardless of how much recovery I gain, change my past. My memories of childhood are what they are - fear and physical pain figure prominently in them. I will never have had a sunny, happy childhood.

I believe that for years in program, I laboured under the misconception that I could secure a certain level of recovery where I, too, could have a completely positive opinion of human nature, and until I attained that, I wasn't working my program enough/correctly/insert judgemental adjective.

This mirage I was aiming for, interfered with my recovery in ways I couldn't begin to grasp at the time, but which are now becoming evident.

I had accepted my past, I had forgiven, as much as I am able at this point, my abusers, what I hadn't accepted, was the fact that my experience was ineradicable. I am never going to not know what some people can do to those weaker than themselves.

I was trying to make myself over from the beginning, instead of starting from the day I was in. I was also trying to force myself to believe something I just did not believe - that all people are inherently good, and will act in positive ways, if only given the chance. I wrestled that demon for so many years, always losing, because where was I to put the reality of my own experiences?

When my trust issues reared their ugly heads, what was I to do with them? Try to pretend I didn't see those repulsive snouts peeking out from the shrubbery, or smell that beastly smell wafting on the wind?

Can I set aside this wierd prerequisite I've been carrying, this idea that until I achieve a 100% sunny opinion of other people, I'm not working my program properly? Where did I get this idea, anyway? No matter, I've got it, and I've only just become aware of it, so what am I to do with the damn thing?

Turn it over. Let it go. Put it down, and step back to get a better view of it.

Which brings me full circle to the nature of my faith. Maybe all these years that I've been praying for God to remove this knowledge which colours my view of human beings, it's been like praying to him to remove from me the memory of the fact that I once lived in another city - short of using catastrophic brain damage, or Alzheimers, to achieve that, just what do I expect from Him, anyway?

Even God cannot change the past, or our memories of it. All these years that I've been asking Him to do so, I've been putting a barrier between us, labelled "Expectation, without the fufillment of which, full access is denied."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Alcoholic Thinking - and Our own Form of Insanity

When I was married to my first husband, I used to get involved in long, convoluted arguments with him, which would range over about 16 different topics, and always end up with me feeling awful, and the original topic being left unresolved.

He had the ability to draw me in every time - I'd get caught up in defending myself or trying to "correct" his thinking - I couldn't detach enough to realise what insanity it was to discuss anything with him while he was under the influence.

Al-Anon taught me to stop for a moment, and really think about what I was doing - was this going to lead to a resolution?
What was I trying to achieve with my part in the argument? How did I expect to get anywhere talking with a person who was so intoxicated that he was in blackout, and wouldn't remember seeing me when he came home, let alone remember an argument we'd had?

I have the choice to engage, or disengage, in all my daily encounters with other human beings. I can keep my core self protected from the opinions of others, so that I'm making choices based on my philosophy of life, and my morals, rather than to please (or impress) anyone else.

I can behave in a way that allows me to maintain my self-respect, without trampling other's boundaries.

I can stop to ask myself: Is this a mature and courteous way to behave, or am I giving myself permission to act childishly because I'm offended, or feel slighted?

(A program friend calls some of her past behavior "cringe-worthy.")

Is fear driving my response? What are my motives?

I tell my sponsees: If you wouldn't want to admit to the motives behind your choices in a situation, to a person you admire and respect, you might want to rethink them. It's a good touchstone.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


From the ODAT, page 197:

"Complacency is an enemy, easy to recognise in others, but difficult to admit in ourselves. It is rarely listed among the major human faults, yet it can hinder us in every form of personal growth. Complacency simply means being sure we're right, taking it for granted that our view couldn't possibly be wrong. It means judging others by what we think is right. It blocks our understanding and kindness, and justifies qualitites in ourselves that we wouldn't find tolerable in others."

This little paragraph from today's reading carries enormous wisdom.

For me, complacency walks hand in hand with arrogance. If I have one, I have the other. Whenever I find myself thinking that I know how someone else should be behaving, I need to step back, detach from them and their choices, and turn that beam of judgement upon myself. I don't need to be unkind in my study of my character flaws, but I do need to be honest.

Complacency is never honest. Complacency hides the self behind a wall of self-satisfied, judgemental, rigidity. Complacency suggests that I am a finished project, with no further work to be done.

Just writing that line makes me smile, it's so far from the truth.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Serenity, con't.

From Hope for Today, page 196:

"Serenity isn't freedom from the storms of life. It's the calm in the middle of the storm, that gets me through. It's up to me to try to keep this calm, even when the storm gets worse."

One of the more difficult aspects of life, for me, is the sad reality that not everyone is as honest as might be wished. There are those who will lie, cheat and steal, with no compunction. We all have to deal with these people now and again - it can be quite distressing.

This happened today, and I was feeling down about it. A few hours later, the phone rang, and it was an old program friend from the town in which we used to live. We had a wonderful talk, both of us utterly delighted to be in touch again. It was uplifting, to hear her sounding so well and happy, and to exchange news about us and of course, our respective dogs.

When we were living in that small town, my husband's and my two dogs had come to the end of their lives, and we'd had to put them to sleep one month apart, at the grand old ages of 14 and 15 years. Our male dog had to be put down first, his heart was failing terribly. A month later, our female dog stopped eating completely, and we knew it was time to give her the gift of a good death.

I'd run into my friend in the grocery store parking lot, shortly after having to euthanise our old female dog, and her kindness undid me - I found myself sobbing uncontrollably as we spoke. (I'm tearing up as I write this; remembering our dogs always has that effect upon me, I loved them with all my heart, as I love every dog I've ever been owned by.)

I knew as a fellow dog owner, she understood the pain I was in. She later brought me some small gifts, the two little stuffed dogs pictured at the top of this post, which still sit on my jewellery box. Each time I see them, I think of our beloved dogs, and all the pleasure we had with them. I also think of my friend, and smile, for the joy of knowing there are such kindly loving people in the world.

When, several months later, she was forced to put her own elderly dog to sleep, I was able to be there for her while she wept, in that communion possible among those who have "given their heart to a dog to tear." (from a poem by Rudyard Kipling, full text at the bottom of this post)

After I hung the phone up, today, I took a moment to stop, and say, "Thankyou, God!"

Hearing from my friend really felt like a little gift from my Higher Power, to help me maintain my serenity in the face of having to deal with one of those less pleasant aspects of life.
I felt so clearly, the message of "See? There may be some of those around, but there are far, far, more of these...

The Power of the Dog


Rudyard Kipling

There is sorrow enough in the natural way

From men and women to fill our day;

And when we are certain of sorrow in store,

Why do we always arrange for more?

Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware

Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy

Love unflinching that cannot lie--

Perfect passsion and worship fed

By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.

Nevertheless it is hardly fair

To risk your heart to a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits

Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,

And the vet's unspoken prescription runs

To lethal chambers or loaded guns,

Then you will find--it's your own affair--

But ... you've given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,

With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)

When the spirit that answered your every mood

Is gone--wherever it goes--for good,

You will discover how much you care,

And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We've sorrow enough in the natural way,

When it comes to burying Christian clay.

Our loves are not given, but only lent,

At compound interest of cent per cent.

Though it is not always the case, I believe,

That the longer we've kept 'em, the more do we grieve:

For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,

A short-term loan is as bad as a long--

So why in--Heaven (before we are there)

Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

Monday, July 13, 2009

How Do I Deal With...

My desire for perfection in everything I do?

I was unaware of this character defect, before I joined Al-Anon; I believed I had exacting, but not unattainable, standards.

I look back to a pillow sham I once tried to make. I kept being irritated by the fact that it wasn't perfect, and ripping it out to redo. Before long, my pillow sham was a sad-looking rag of a thing, with so many holes in the material, from previous lines of stitching, that the fabric was essentially destroyed.

My first attempt was perfectly acceptable, since the imperfection was on the rear of the pillow sham, and would never be seen anyway. (Pillow shams aren't like pillow cases, they have a front and a back.)

By this point in my life, I'd been an experienced seamstress for many years. Most people wouldn't even have been able to see the imperfection that I thought I saw in the construction. I couldn't leave it alone, and say, "Good enough."

In my search for perfection, I destroyed the very thing I was trying to perfect.

That can be a metaphor for many areas of my life before Al-Anon. Anxiety drove me, and I couldn't leave well enough alone, I had to try "one more time."

In program, I have learned that I cannot do what isn't humanly possible. I may have to talk to myself as I'm doing whatever it is, reminding myself that my best effort is good enough, it's only a pillow sham/dog sweater/hemline adjustment/flower bed.

As I've been able to relax my impossible standards for myself, I've been able to relax my expectations of others, too. I can allow them to be human beings, with faults and frailties. I no longer need to have the best-trained dog of anyone I know - somewhat well-behaved is good enough.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Habits - Their Power Over Us.

I have come to see that many of my self-defeating behaviors are habits, rather than active choices. I don't sit down and decide that I'm going to fret and worry, or obsess and try to control - I'm like a car tire following the path of least resistance - a deeply worn rut in my personality.

If I don't use program to force myself up and out of the rut, I will continue in my old habits. An entire day will pass, and I will hardly notice, preoccupied as I am by that over which I have no control. Worry and negative beliefs will dominate my thinking.

If the habit is a particularly powerful one, and I'm in HALT - hungry, angry, lonely, tired - I may be travelling for miles in the rut before I am aware of the negative flavour of my reflections. That's the power of habit in human beings.

Habits, even "bad" habits, fill a need. If I want to replace a habit, I need to seek out the need it fills for me, and then find a way to fufill my need in a different, healthier, 12-Step way.

I'm going through a period of insomnia at the moment. When I'm exhausted, old habits strive to reassert themselves, and it can take all my effort just to hold them off with one hand, while I grasp Al-Anon literature with the other - I need to remind myself many times in a day to Let Go And Let God.

I'm finding exhaustion simplifies my life in one way - I don't have the energy to do much of anything but the basics. Life stripped down to the essence, as it is right now for me, becomes wonderfully simple. It's all a question of: do I have the energy for this? Working myself up over the doings of others requires more energy than I have to spare right now.

I've had a few incidents lately, which in the ordinary course, would have bothered me for quite some time. Fatigue has made it possible to give them a quick examination, then let them go as "not my problem."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Don't Project!

This is a handy little reminder to myself, not to be wasting my precious life always peering into the possibilities of the future.

I could die today - would I have wanted to spend my last day on earth worrying about what might happen six months from now? When I go back and revisit some of my biggest worries, they didn't come to pass. I've spent hours of my life in anxious dread because of my imaginings.

My first sponsor once asked: "Why is it that your thoughts of the future never seem to be positive anticipation?" She suggested that when I caught myself worrying about the future, I make a concerted effort to decide instead, that the best of all possible outcomes was equally as likely, and because of that, there was no point in me even considering anything that wasn't happening right now.

I pass this wisdom to my sponsees, saying, "Don't project! Stay in the moment. Life your life as it is happening, don't ignore your real life, in favour of what may never occur."

"If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today." ~E. Joseph Cossman

This day is my only concern. I can manage this day. If I'm finding it difficult, I can break it down into smaller increments, rather than strive to deal with it in its entirety. I can rest assured that I am safe, comfortable, and if I allow myself to be - happy.

Worrying for the future may give me the misconception of preparedness, but it's an illusion - so if I do this, I am using worry over an imagining, to sustain an illusion of control.

Circular reasoning; perfect insanity.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Soup Of The Day.

I find it interesting, the way my Higher Power seems to balance out blows to my ego, with warm encouragement. It reminds me of the way an old friend made soup - she'd be bent over with her head in the fridge, asking me, "Should I put some _____ into it?" I'd invariably reply, "It's your soup. You choose the ingredients; I'm not being blamed later for the fact that the lettuce wasn't a good idea!" It was one of those silly little rituals we both enjoyed.

Some days, I feel like my Higher Power is thinking - "Hmm, should I throw some of this into her day? Ahh, why not!' and in it goes.
"Little dash of this? Sure!"
"What's in this container? I think that's still good, what the heck, huck it in!"

And the flavour of my day is changing with each addition. Some taste wonderful, and go down easily, others, well, they could have stood being chopped a bit smaller, and still others, like cooked lettuce, one gulps and swallows, shuddering as it goes down, hoping it won't make a reappearance, and that it was a really minor ingredient.

My "soup" of the day can be anything from a cream of potato type of day - bland, no surprises, just comforting routine,
to mystery meat surprise: where I'm not positive I even recognise all of the ingredients, and some I know I've never tried before, but I work to keep an open mind.

I'm grateful to my Higher Power for giving me a day, and for not serving me the same soup every day - makes life challenging, and interesting. (And occasionally, gross.)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Challenges of Friendship.

My dictionary defines a friend as:

"a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard."

Before Al-Anon, I was unclear about what was expected of me as a friend, what I was required to give. I was very susceptible to pressure, cajoling, and guilt-trips. I wanted to be liked, so much so, that I would twist myself into knots trying to be likeable.

I wanted to be a "good person" and I would allow others to define what that meant for me. I couldn't handle any conflict, and would cave instantly at the slightest suggestion that a friend was annoyed with me. And then, because I hadn't been true to myself, my self-loathing would be increased.

I still find any conflict between a friend and myself painful. I also know that if I allow myself to be wheedled into doing that which I do not wish to do, later on, I'll be resentful. Much better to refuse at the start, and accept the momentary annoyance which may result. (I don't, however, always manage this.)

I'm going through an incident of this sort at the moment, where the person is pulling out all the stops in an effort to get their own way. This is someone with a very strong personality, and it's kind of like being outside in a force 10 gale - I have to cling tightly to 12-Step in order not to be blown away. I'm feeling very grateful that my home group meeting is tonight, because I need that comfort. My friend who is pressuring me, is going through some emotional hard times right now, so I'm trying to be firm in my boundary, but at the same time, loving and accepting of their frailties.

I'm grateful for my program friends, who can help me to find a way to resist the high winds of pressure.

I'm grateful for my Higher Power, who loves me as I am now, right this minute, with no adjustments, or changes. For Him, I am enough, and I'm worthy. I don't have to be a certain way to be lovable.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Walking the Dogs.

What to do when you don't know what to do?

-Walk the dogs.

What to do when life seems to be determined to bury you under a ton of crap, none of which is within your control?

-Walk the dogs.

When you are depressed, when you can't sleep, when life lessons all seem to be painful ones, when you feel almost psychotic from lack of sleep, when your tolerance level is exhausted, and all that's left is "act as if?"

-Walk the dogs.

Life goes on - no matter whether I'm feeling pain or sorrow or frustration or misery or joy or glee or delight, the dogs still need to be walked. My mental state isn't their problem. My worries are not their concern. This little piece of canine reality helps to ground me when I'm feeling anxious or unsettled - I must still walk the dogs.

I gather up the leashes and put on the collars amongst the wiggling tail-thrashing excited anticipation of - an hour of one foot in front of the other, until we're done.

Some days, that is how I have to get through the entire day from beginning to end - one foot in front of the other, until I'm done. My dogs don't care if I'm struggling with issues large or small, they want their walk, and they want it now, please.

Actually, it's more like pleasepleasepleaseplease-oh-please!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Active Listening

I was up very early (for me, at least) yesterday, out in the garden, digging and bagging plants. I had put an ad on freecycle, and received quite a few responses from people wanting daylilies.

When I first began to garden, I had the wonderful luck to be living just down the street from an elderly gentleman who was a mad gardener. He shared many plants with me, and taught me how to care for them. He was one of those rare wise souls we encounter, who enrich us with their kindness and generosity of spirit.

I always think of him when I'm digging plants to share with others. He had a thick Eastern European accent, and often had to stop and think, in order to translate his thoughts from his language of birth, into English. I remember another neighbour mentioning that she found it hard to be patient while he spoke, because he chose his words carefully, and there would sometimes be long pauses in his speech.

I was grateful for my years in Al-Anon - where I learned respectful, active listening - to keep me from interrupting my friend, or trying to rush him along to finish his thought. I could allow long pauses, and not find them irritating; we'd be drifting around my garden, or his, while we talked, and there was always a lovely flower or leaf to admire along the way. I learned so much about gardening, through being willing to listen while my friend ruminated aloud about this plant or that.

"Listen and Learn" is one of my favourite slogans, because I love to talk, and am good at making others laugh, so I can have a tendency to perform in this way, if my ego is given free rein.

From the ODAT, page 41:

"When I talk all the time, nothing new is being added to me."


"To absorb new ideas, I keep my lips closed and my ears open."

That's the opposite way round from the way I did it when I came into program.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cheerful Decisions - As Opposed To The Other Kind...

My home group meets in a church basement, and this time of year, it is absolutely stifling within that small room, especially if we get a good turnout.

I'm at that time in my life when I'm subject to "tropical moments" - in the space of about two seconds, I feel as though my head is going to explode from the heat, and that's in a room of reasonable temperature. In the meeting room, it's much worse, because the room is already suffocatingly hot.

I've been taking an ancient house fan to my meetings, but I purchased that thing almost 32 years ago - it still works, but not well. Last week, we bought an inexpensive tower fan for my workroom, and it is the most wonderful thing - it moves a lot of air.  At that evening's meeting, I asked if the meeting was interested in chipping in to buy one of these marvels, since everyone always thanks me for bringing the rather pitiful small fan.

Just as I'd finished asking, a newcomer spoke up about a much more serious concern, and I never did get an answer to my question. I meant to ask again at the end of the meeting, but it slipped my mind.

I decided to buy the fan anyway, and if no-one else wants to chip in, that's fine too - we'll all get the benefit of that deliciously cool air, and that's worth it to me. I'll just leave it in the trunk of my car, and take it out with my bookbag - it's nice and light.

Last night I was thinking about this sort of cheerful decision, and how before Al-Anon, I wouldn't have been able to make it.
The simple reality of what was at stake - cooling myself and my program friends - would have been lost, in the maelstrom of my expectations, and resentments - if no-one wants to help me pay for it, I just won't get it, and they can all suffer in that room, yada yada yada. Rather than ask again, or just decide to get the fan anyway, I'd have seethed and stewed over my suggestion not being received with the amount of interest I considered proper and fitting. I would have been so caught up in my own martyrdom, that I'd have lost sight of the end result - cool air. I would have "cut off my nose to spite my face."

Before Al-Anon, I made all my decisions on a cost-analysis basis: What do I get out of doing this? I was so hollowed out, as a result of all those years dealing of with active alcoholism, that I didn't have anything left for other people.

From the ODAT, page 303:

"We make a great many decsions - small day-to-day ones that are mere choices, all the way up to big resolutions that make important changes in our lives.
Little or big, they are better when we use whatever forethought the situation requires. If they are concerned with other people, it is well to include such ingredients as love, generosity, tolerance, and just plain kindness. Then we will make decisions we can live with comfortably."

I'm grateful to have become, through practise of this wonderful program, someone who can make cheerful decisions, with which I can live in perfect comfort.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Today's Quotation.

From the ODAT, page 186:

"God dwells wherever man lets Him in."

Martin Buber.

I love that idea - all that is required, is for me to invite my Higher Power in. If I allow it, I can have Him with me at all times.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Hating, and Weakness.

Cynicism, bitterness, hatred - all of these sap our strength, and our ability to deal with life. The objects of our hatred and bitterness aren't affected by it; we're the ones sitting in that acidic stewpot, slowing tanning our hearts to leather.

I couldn't see this for the longest time. I had some wierd, deep-seated belief, that keeping my hatred and bitterness alive was a way to resist, or fight back, against all that had been perpetuated against me.

Accepting the past, and letting go of it, felt like weakness. To my surprise, this turned out to be only possible from a position of strength. I had to have grown and matured a bit through working the 12 Steps, before I could begin to understand that my hatred was a continuation of the abuse.

I didn't live with those people anymore, but I might as well have, since through my hatred and bitterness towards them, I was keeping that terrible time freshly alive, and walking like a zombie through my present life, face turned always backwards, looking over my shoulder towards the past.

Al-Anon has taught me that I may be angered or distressed by the behavior of another human being, but I don't need to wallow in bitterness and hatred about it. I can take whatever action is within my power so as to maintain healthy boundaries, and I allow God to deal with all the rest of it.

It's not up to me to see that another human being receives their comeuppance, or karmic lesson. I want to be free of bitterness and hatred - that requires letting go of all that doesn't belong to me directly. That's my choice.

I heard in a meeting, when I was very new to Al-Anon, the phrase:

"Be where your hands are."

I loved this, it allowed me to grasp an area of 12-Step philosophy, in an easily-recalled reminder.

Where are my hands? In July 3, 2009. All right, that's where my mind will be, also.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Al-Anon Literature.

Today's reading in Hope for Today is about the use of Al-Anon books and pamphlets. I've always been a voracious reader, so I was thrilled to discover that Al-Anon had a small library of program publications. I found, and still find, the daily readers an invaluable resource.

I recall a newcomer saying to me, "I read the entire book last night, so now what?" about Courage to Change. I suggested that she try reading it as a daily practise, and spending some time studying the message, and giving it more than superficial thought. She stated firmly that she never read a book twice.

I couldn't help but laugh, and when she asked why, I went on to explain that I had read the book cover to cover many times, and then, in times of stress, searching the index for specific topics. I'd had to replace it once, as it had fallen apart, and with the quality of the binding on these little books, that takes some doing.

When I can't get to a meeting, when I can't reach my sponsor or a program friend, when I need some calm certainty to centre me, I reach for an Al-Anon book. I treasure my daily readers. I read a couple of the day's readings each morning, with my first coffee. It gives me a relaxed and balanced start to my day, and I can go out into my world fortified with the wisdom of program.

It doesn't seem to matter how many times I've read some of these readings, they are fresh and pertinent, each time I read them again. That's my Higher Power working.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Gift of Life.

I grew into adulthood a furiously angry and resentful person. I felt that life had ripped me off in all the ways that mattered - family, marriage, not being born rich...(I'm kidding about that last example..sort of.)

I was envious of those who I saw as having had an easier time in life, and no matter what gifts I received as part of my life, they weren't enough to satisfy that nameless desire for something more.

By the time I went to my first Al-Anon meeting, I'd reached a point in my first marriage, of being so emotionally shut down that I had no feelings, happy or sad. I had nothing left. No strength to withstand the travails of life, no joy to lighten my journey, no compassion for the burdens of others, it was all gone.

Anger had burnt me hollow, like a cheap chocolate Easter bunny. I felt about as fragile as one, too, as though one more life knock would bash me to pieces.

I will be forever grateful to the women at that first Al-Anon group I attended, for the experience, strength, hope, and love they gave so freely. They lived, some of them, with active alcoholism, yet they were able, through working this amazing program, to have hysterical laughing fits over their own insanity. I'll never forget the great shouts of laughter that resounded in that tiny room - from women who had sometimes had a pretty rough week. Somehow, through program, they could take that rough week, and fashion it into an example for this newcomer, that would make me laugh until my sides ached. I will always love those women. Each time I think of them, I can feel the smile taking over my face.

I've heard people speak in meetings, about recovering their lost selves - I needed something different, because I'd always been unhappy. Going back to who I'd been before the alcoholic, would have just been restoring a different sort of misery.

Al-Anon has given me my life, and allowed me to become the sort of person who finds pleasure in the daily round. I don't need things/money/other people's approval in order to feel whole. I have my Higher Power to fufill that spiritual need. I found him through this program, and the wonderful people who helped me learn how to work it, and for that, I am truly grateful.