Monday, August 31, 2009


Thanks to those who commented on yesterday's post - much appreciated.

My first sponsor used to joke, "Be careful with those little comments along the lines of "If only God would..." because sometimes he takes you at your word and does."

That's happened to me a few days ago, and it's been amazing. So much so, that for the first time in my life, I find myself with not much to say. This is a definite departure, because I've always been a talker. I've become far more comfortable in silence with my spouse, sponsees, etc, but have noticed that in some of my friendships, the other person seems to have expectations that I will entertain them, and this has felt more and more constricting.

Finding myself granted that for which I've always wished and prayed, I'm realising how in some instances I've used words as a shield to keep other people at a safe distance. All that talking can give the illusion of closeness, while in reality, inhibiting it.

It's strange, and new, and I love the feeling - and the fact that even after all my time in program, there are still such great vistas of possibility before me, if I continue to practise Al-Anon.

Tomorrow, I'm going to start on the Slogans.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


I've had what feels like another major leap forward in my recovery a few days ago, and at first, it left me feeling that what I was doing with this blog was just another form of talking too much, so I had decided to shut it down and delete it.

Today, while out in my garden, I was thinking about this, and asking for guidance, because apart from a momentary relief immediately after I made the first decision, I wasn't feeling like I'd made the right choice. On the contrary, it was niggling away at me, feeling almost like a service obligation I'd taken on, and was now trying to weasel out of.

I decided to go with "When in doubt, don't!" for the time being, and re-evaluate this periodically. I know that I have some recovery blogs which are very meaningful for me to read, and I keep them on my Favourites List, and read them every morning for my 12-Step input to start my day. Perhaps in time I will serve that same function for someone else. That needs to be enough.

I'm trying to be more aware of the messages I get from my Higher Power; they don't always arrive with great fanfare - often, they are spoken in a "still, small voice."

Hope you all had the glorious weather we did this weekend - at one point I went out to find both dogs belly-up under the mock orange bush, snoring a duet.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tradition Twelve.

"Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles above personalities."

I'm uncomfortable with people breaking this Tradition and publicly proclaiming their membership in 12-Step - we don't need spokespersons who may dissuade anyone from getting help. Those who do this, always seem to use "helping others" as a reason for doing it, but if you wish to be of service to others, there are many other acceptable ways to do so, and still be working inside the 12-Step framework. I wonder about those who may find the proclaimer abrasive or irritating - will this prohibit them from seeking help in 12-Step, now that they associate that individual with it?

I believe that anonymity is of paramount importance for the above reason, and for many others, such as protecting the sanctity of a meeting, so that those attending feel able to speak freely. Ultimately, this is beyond my control - I can only make sure that I preserve anonymity, I cannot force anyone else to do so. That's between them and their Higher Power, and not my business. I can attend to sweeping my own side of the street.

Many of us in 12-Step have powerful personalities, with sweeping likes and dislikes - this Tradition reminds us that we are gathered together for a common purpose, and we need to let those personalities be secondary to our principles.

Tradition Eleven.

"Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, TV and films. We need guard with special care the anonymity of all AA members."

I'm grateful to have learned fairly early on in my program journey, not to use quibbles about semantics as an avoidance mechanism. I recall a member at one meeting I'd occasionally attend, when I lived in the city - she would zero in on some small point, and belabor it; trying to follow her reasoning was like sitting on the beach watching a thick fog roll in.

I was reminded of this today, when typing this Tradition. I recalled her twenty-minute exposition on: "Why did the people who wrote the Traditions capitalise "TV?" The larger idea encapsulated by this Tradition escaped her entirely, she was completely hung up on that tiny detail. She almost always did this, regardless of the topic. She'd attend the meetings: when it was her turn to share, talk about the way a Step/Tradition/reading was worded: or if the topic was "trust," talk about what trust wasn't. The wisdom of program never seemed to touch her. When I was new to Al-Anon, I used to wonder - what could I learn from someone like that? In my arrogance, I'd have said: nothing.

My Higher Power has a sense of humour, he likes to show me the extremes of human behavior, and then grant me the ability to see myself in that person. There came a time when I was arguing a point with my sponsor, and suddenly could hear that I was doing the self-same thing as the woman at that meeting - completely losing sight of the bigger picture in my furious, protesting, focus upon minutia. It was a good lesson in humility and acceptance; I've never forgotten it.

I believe this Tradition makes it possible for Al-Anon never to be associated with any one spokesperson, and thereby avoid being associated with their politics, their behavior, their life choices... I believe we need to attract rather than promote, because when we promote, there is no way to keep our egos out of the picture. When we attempt to convert another to our way of thinking, it's common for the listener to feel resistance; if they seek us out under their own power, there isn't that mountain of resistance to climb before the message can be heard. If we as individuals were to become associated with Al-Anon in the public mind through promotion, what if some found us irritating or distasteful? If we just "rubbed them the wrong way?" Then Al-Anon itself would take on the taint of their dislike for us. This is to be avoided at all costs.

The second half of this Tradition is still vitally important - there may no longer be quite the social stigma attached to alcoholism that there was when AA was born, but it does still exist; for this reason, we protect the anonymity of the alcoholic.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tradition Ten

"The Al-Anon Family Groups have no opinion on outside issues; hence our name never be drawn into public controversy."

I love this Tradition, it makes it possible for us to be safely together in the meeting rooms regardless of our opinions on the rest of life. We don't discuss outside issues, so we don't suffer from the strife caused by differences between us. We concentrate on that which we have in common - our struggle with alcoholism, and the insanity which results.

Because Al-Anon has no public opinions, we attract anyone and everyone, regardless of their religion, political beliefs, or philosophy of life. We open our arms to all who are in need.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tradition Nine.

"Our groups, as such, ought never be organised, but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve."

It seems to be human nature to want to organise. We love to categorise and label; it gives many of us great satisfaction to have everything all tidily put away into neat little areas.

Al-Anon doesn't work that way. Somehow, in spite of the fact that there are no rules for attendance or conduct, no regulations by which we must abide, we manage to achieve the goal of recovery for each of us, without getting entangled in hierarchy or rank. No-one can be told what to do, or what not to do. We ask that the members respect each other, but we cannot force this. We don't expel those who don't show up at a meeting for six months.

It has always fascinated me the way meetings can be a beautifully balanced organism, but they can also always expand to enfold a new member.

We aren't responsible to our service boards or our committees, they are responsible to us. This is precisely opposite to how the rest of the world works, but the amazing result, is the miracle that is Twelve Step.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tradition Eight.

"Al-Anon Twelfth Step work should remain forever non-professional, but our service centres may employ special workers."

This Tradition embodies one of the most powerful precepts of 12-Step - that we are all equals. Inside the meeting rooms, all the ordinary means by which we categorise ourselves and others are set aside, so that we may flourish in a positive and accepting atmosphere.

If we were ever to allow Twelve Step work to be done by professionals, it would very quickly lose the immediacy and strength it has when done from love of ourselves and our fellow human beings.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tradition Seven.

"Every group ought to be full self-supporting, declining outside contributions."

I help to make my group self-supporting not only with my financial contributions, but with my service before a meeting, helping to set up, and afterwards, putting literature away, and tidying up. I make my group self-supporting when I welcome newcomers.

One of the main ways I make my group self-supporting, a way I hadn't thought of with regard to this Tradition, until a visiting Al-Anon member spoke about it, is - showing up faithfully for meetings. Unless I am ill or out of town, I am at that meeting. Nothing else comes first. I go when I am tired, out-of-sorts, grouchy, self-pitying, resentful, and I go when I am glowing with delight for life, gleeful, and full of serenity. I go for my own recovery, and I go for the recovery of anyone else who attends.

We never know when God is going to use us a conduit, to say the very thing to light the way for another struggling member. I cannot count the number of times over the years, that I've had people come up to me and talk about how when I said this-and-such, it really helped them. Invariably, I have no memory of having said it - I was just sharing whatever was on my mind, when it came around to my turn.

It works the same way in reverse - often, when I talk to another Al-Anon member about the one comment they made which really resonated for me, they will look blank, and then start to laugh, saying well, they're glad it helped, but they don't recall saying it.

My own belief on this score, is that we don't recall it because it's not coming from us - it's coming from our Higher Power using us, to get a message across to someone who needs it.

That can't happen if we're not at the meeting.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Perspective - Will This Be Funny Later?

We were out with the dogs last night, returning from a long walk on a beautiful evening. Walking towards us were two young teenage girls with a golden retriever - since every one of these dogs I've ever met has had a lovely gentle nature, I didn't cross to the other side of the busy street we were walking along. We met at a side street, and we began to cross, as they tried to turn right. Their dog was having none of it, she sat down and refused to move, and was staring fixedly at us, while they pulled and tugged on the leash, and exhorted her to move.

Then suddenly, she slipped her collar, and making straight for us, attacked our little female dog, who is all of 10 pounds. The attacker leapt upon her and took hold and would not be dislodged, while our dog screamed and snarled and writhed and peed in terror. I tried to grab her, while my companion grabbed for the other dog. No collar to take hold of, and grabbing skin had no effect - they tried pushing and hitting - nothing. They finally resorted to two controlled kicks, and that got her loose, so I could scoop up my little dog, still peeing, and clutch her in my arms.

The entire time this was happening, cars were whizzing by in the other lane - my fear was that the dogs would move sideways just enough to be hit. A 10-pound dog isn't likely to survive being hit by a car - I was terrified that I was going to see her killed right before my eyes, while I still had her on leash, and the leash around my wrist.

Once I had her safely in my arms, my fear turned to fury - I was livid, and spoke sharply to the girls, suggesting that they not walk the dog in future without the precaution of a collar she couldn't slip, and a muzzle.

My dog was unhurt, but covered in saliva, dirt, and dog urine. I also was covered in patches of dog urine, which believe me, is not a perfume you'd wish to be wearing - very strong. Even my sandals were wet with it - gak.

Once safely home and bathed, we were discussing it. I hadn't even realised they'd kicked the attacking dog; I was completely focussed on what I was doing. We asked each other the perspective question I like to use, when talking about this sort of thing - "Will this be funny later?" We agreed that the dog pee bit would be, so that was enough for us to be able to let go of the incident, and resume having a good evening.

I'm so grateful for Al-Anon - without it, I'd have been furious all night and perhaps for part of the next day - I'd have ranted and fumed. Because of the wise teachings of this program, I could try to find humour in the incident, and then Let It Go.

I sat on the couch later in the evening with my little dog asleep on my lap, and thanked God for keeping her safe. She's a comedian, my little one, and very dear to me.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tradition Six.

"Our Family Groups ought never endorse, finance, or lend our name to any outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary spiritual aim.
Although a seperate entity, we should always cooperate with Alcoholics Anonymous."

The wisdom of this Tradition is the recognition that, were we to begin endorsing, financing, or lending our name to any member's idea of a good cause, the problems that beset society as a whole - money, property and prestige - will worm their way into our groups and destroy them. The only way Al-Anon can remain unassailable, is to keep our focus direct, with nothing to distract us from "our primary spiritual aim."

I've sat in Al-Anon business meetings and felt uncomfortable, watching members engage in a power struggle over something as simple as whether or not to have a topic list. I shudder to imagine the arguments that would ensue, were we to trying to decide which cause to endorse. Makes my teeth stand on end just thinking about it.

Everyone has their own idea of where society could improve itself: where we should put our energies and our donations. I'm grateful that when I'm in an Al-Anon meeting, the only focus is recovery for each of us - none of those other issues which can prove so divisive are raised - it's a safe place for all of us, regardless of our politics or beliefs. I'm not asked to be for this, or against that. No-one is going to pressure me to their way of thinking, or ask for donations to good causes close to their hearts.

When I was living with active alcoholism, money was in short supply, and I often felt embarassed, when someone would come to the door for a charity, and I couldn't afford to donate. I'm glad that I didn't have to suffer that same embarassment inside the meetings.

I'm grateful for the second sentence in this Tradition - it reminds me to maintain my individuality, but to work in concert with the alcoholic - to cooperate. I needed that reminder when I was new to program, because I had so many old resentments toward the alcoholic. This Tradition taught me a new way to live - in harmony.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tradition Five.

"Each Al-Anon family group has but one purpose: to help families of alcoholics. We do this by practising the Twelve Steps of AA ourselves, by encouraging and understanding our alcoholic relatives, and by welcoming and giving comfort to families of alcoholics."

One purpose - to help. This is not achieved by lengthy discussions of how to make him or her stop drinking, nor by enthusiastic recitals of the latest outrages. A newcomer to our group, when it was her turn to share, asked in astonishment, "Do I understand you guys correctly, and we're not supposed to complain? What else are we here for?" I reminded her of that the other day, and she began to laugh, recalling her amazement, saying that she was so used to - and so good at - complaining, that she felt positively threatened and nervous at the idea of stopping.

At an open AA meeting I used to attend years back, when we lived in a very small town, one old-timer jokingly spoke of Al-Anon as: "Our Ladies Of Perpetual Resentment."

This made me laugh, because I absolutely was a member of the Ladies of Perpetual Resentment when I joined Al-Anon; resentment was my usual state of mind. So the suggestion that I try "understanding and encouraging" the alcoholic was mind-boggling. I recall thinking that I would have to fight my way through a pretty dense thicket of my own animosity to achieve that.

My sponsor explained that I could "welcome and give comfort to families of alcoholics" by making a point of speaking to newcomers after the meeting. I didn't have to have acres of wisdom to bestow; a warm hello, and perhaps a comment about how it was already helping me, and a hope extended that they'd keep coming back, was enough.

When I had more time in the program, agreeing to be added to the phone list was another way for me to pass on what had been so freely given to me. Al-Anon welcomed me, and gave me the comfort I so desperately sought - I work to be that same warm welcome, and comforting presence, for others new to Al-Anon.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tradition Four.

"Each group should be autonomous, except in matters affecting another group or Al-Anon or AA as a whole."

This has to be the Tradition about which I felt the most confusion - first there was that word with which I was unfamiliar, and then the idea being presented was...what? I thought I understood, but I wasn't sure. (I may have had a chaotic childhood, but I did learn some great things from the adults involved; one of these is - if you don't know, go look it up. Do some research.) My first trip was to the dictionary, which defines "autonomous" as "self-governing, independent." I then began to read everything I could find on the Fourth Tradition.

I expected to find long explanations, but what I read, time and again, was pretty simple. Each Al-Anon group should be self-managed as long as whatever choices we make don't reflect negatively back upon Al-Anon or AA.

This means we are free to run our meetings within a very loose framework - this is evidenced by the way one group will make up a topic list for an entire year ahead of time, another will put topics written on slips of paper into a hat, pull one, and that's the topic for the night, and yet another will throw it open each week for suggestions from the members. Each group evolves to have a singular feel, within the greater umbrella of "Al-Anon."

We stop to think, before making choices - both as individuals within the group, or with the group acting as a unit - is this choice going to be harmful to someone else? That someone else may be Al-Anon, AA, our group, or a family member or friend.

You will notice I didn't write "is this going to annoy" but rather "is this going to be harmful." There's a world of difference between the two. Our healthy choices in Al-Anon, when we first begin to make them, and sometimes even years later, may annoy our alcoholics, yet not be harmful to them.

This Tradition teaches me to pause and consider my actions for the effect they will have upon others, before I make them. Pausing, for me, is always a good thing, since I tend to be impulsive.

I need to be independent for my mental health, but I don't make life choices without giving thought to the way my interests may overlap the interests of my loved ones, my group,
Al-Anon, and AA as a whole.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tradition Three

"The relatives of alcoholics, when gathered together for mutual aid, may call themselves an Al-Anon Family Group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation. The only requirement for membership is that there be a problem of alcoholism in a relative or friend."

I like this Tradition, it keeps our program from being diluted or muddied. I like those last two words, "or friend." I appreciate the way we decide for ourselves if we fit that very loose criteria for membership. I am grateful that when I go to a meeting, no-one will try to force me to accept their  beliefs before I can be allowed into the group.

I have seen for myself what happens when we allow outside life to seep into our meetings - I once belonged to a group where one member encouraged other members to invest in a questionable financial scheme, with disastrous results - it turned out to be a pyramid scheme, and some lost almost all of their savings. It was horrendous. At the time, I was too new to program to be able to speak up, when this was first raised at a meeting, by the member involved - she had said she was having a potluck dinner at her house, for anyone interested in investing in blah blah blah.

If that happened today, I think I'd have no problem gently interrupting her, explaining this Tradition, and asking that she please not approach members of the Al-Anon group for this purpose. In retrospect, I have to wonder why the long-time members of that group didn't speak up about it. Fear, and people-pleasing, I guess.

Because of this experience, I feel quite strongly about the Third Tradition - I've seen the necessity for it, firsthand, and the unfortunate results when we don't abide by it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Tradition Two.

"For our group purpose there is but one authority - a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern."

This Tradition is another solid reminder about working together as a group, and a fellowship. God is our only authority, because He's the only one able to do the job without having it go to His head. Many of us in 12-Step have as a common character defect, the desire to control - so this Tradition makes very clear that trying to control inside the group or the fellowship, is counter-productive to our healing.

If I'm not comfortable with the direction in which a group is headed, I can ask for a group conscience, and speak up about it. But I'm not an "expert" because I've been in program for many years - I have no more and no less value to the group than the newcomer beside me, who may be at his or her first meeting.

I've had the experience, more than once, of listening to a newcomer, and having what they've said be the catalyst for a huge leap forward in my growth and understanding - that's the miracle of Al-Anon.

Nobody is the "boss" of a group - and the usual ways in which people divide themselves do not apply inside a meeting - wealth and privilege don't get us any closer to God - prayer and meditation do. A healthy group will resist attempts to control through group consciences. I've seen the odd attempt to manage or direct fall flat, through the rest of the group lovingly recognising and hearing the person, while gently ignoring the behavior, until the message comes across.

I use this Tradition in my family life - reminding myself that I am not the governing body of my household, either - just a "trusted servant."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tradition One

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

When new to program, I listened to the Traditions, but it wasn't until after I'd been a member of Al-Anon for a few years, gained some understanding, and had achieved some serenity, that I was able to focus upon them at all. Prior to that, I'd been lost in a welter of self-pitying misery.

Also, the group I attended at the time seldom had the Traditions as meeting topics, a fact I didn't realise until I started going to a different group that did.

Through Al-Anon, I've learned that I can can let the dissimilarity between another person and myself be interesting and amusing evidence of the wild variety in God's creations, rather than a point of conflict. I've learned that if I keep an open mind, that contrast can offer me the chance to understand the way the world looks to them, which can change the way it looks to me.

I've learned that my opinions can be in total opposition on just about every subject raised with another person, and I will still feel a strong bond of commonality and unity with them, because of our shared experiences with alcoholism. I don't have to agree with anything said, thought, or believed, in order to be helpful in Al-Anon.

Tradition One reminds me to give my opinion when asked, but not to get caught up in power struggles, or efforts to sway or persuade anyone to adopt my way of thinking. In order for Al-Anon to be a safe place for us all, I need to put my ego into my pocket, and zip it closed, when I walk through the door to the meeting. I've learned to bite my tongue, to agree gracefully, to speak my piece and then stop talking.

It used to feel so important to have others agree with my point of view; it's interesting to see how that has changed for me over the years. I've learned that my opinions are of little import inside a meeting room; what I have to offer that is of any real use, is my experience, strength and hope, in Al-Anon.

The unity of Al-Anon is what makes it possible for me to attend a meeting where everyone is a stranger to me, and still feel welcomed, and at home. I work to preserve the unity of my home group, so that we can all feel at home, old-timers and newcomers alike. That matters. What I happen to think personally about this or that, doesn't matter.

I will always be grateful to the women at the first meeting I ever attended - there wasn't one there that didn't have about 40 years on me, but they made me welcome, and they made me comfortable, and through that, I've gained so much. They loved me when I could not love myself. I want to extend that same loving unity to people I meet in Al-Anon, it's a beautiful feeling.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Emotion Is A Drunk Driver.

I tell my sponsees: "Emotion is an impaired driver. Don't let it get behind the wheel."

Never have I sat and reasoned things out with my sponsor or a program friend, prayed and meditated, then made a decision, and acted, only to feel the same regret and remorse I've felt about choices made while emotion was driving me.

When in the grip of emotion, our thinking is distorted, our judgement is clouded, and we can feel an almost overpowering need to "do something about it," in the mistaken belief that doing something will relieve the uncomfortable feeling, and balance will be restored.

I'll never forget sitting in a meeting many years ago, hearing a woman speak about walking out on her husband and infant daughter when in the grip of a strong emotion, and then never being able to find her way back, and when the emotion subsided, also never being able to understand what was so terrible that she discarded all that mattered to her, in service to the feeling she had at that time. It was eerie, listening to her speaking with mystification about a choice she herself had made.

I've thought of her many times since, when I've been feeling flung about by emotion, and it has helped me to wait out whatever it is, without taking any impulsive action. The longer I'm in program, the less I trust those emotions as chauffeurs, even if they are wearing the correct uniform, peaked cap and all, and stand holding the door of the vehicle open for me, inviting me to enter, so they can drive me away.

Gods sends us teachers when we need them most. That woman taught me to refuse the ride when emotion is the driver. I don't kid myself with little rationalisations about "We're only going for a scenic drive, and then we'll be right back." Sometimes those scenic drives end in us never making it back home.
Don't get into that car.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Ate something yesterday which didn't agree with me - will be back to writing again tomorrow - too ill again today.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Meeting In The City.

I went to an Al-Anon meeting while I was in the city; I like to do this, I always seem to come away with an altered perspective, from hearing new viewpoints and ways to work the program. I've been to this particular meeting several times in the past, and found it very different from my home group. It's a large meeting, and there's always lots of humour.

The topic was Step 8. I found it interesting to listen to people talk about how they'd managed to work their way into that state of mind described as "became willing to make amends to them all."

One woman spoke about how she started her list with quite a few people in the "when hell freezes over will I make amends" column, but as she progressed in her recovery, other people seemed to become so much more reasonable.

I also try, when I go down to the city, to meet and have coffee with an old friend. He's been in AA about 5 years longer than I've been in Al-Anon, and I love to see him healthy and happy and doing well - I knew him when he was drinking. He's a testament to the miracle of 12-Step, and is quite vocal on the subject.

At one point on the divided island highway, as we were all barrelling along at high speed, I found myself wondering how many of the drivers were trying to text while driving - makes my hair stand on end to imagine that possibility.

I'm grateful for my life, and as always, happy to be home again.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

No Posts Until Wed.

I'm off to the city for a few days, will post again Wed. Take care, all of you.

I'd just like to say how much I appreciate all of your support and thoughtful comments - it means a lot to me.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Step Twelve

"Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practise these principles in all our affairs."

We all have our own ways to carry the message. Some of us bring newcomers to meetings, so they can be exposed to our wonderful program. Some of us are great at post-meeting parking lot encounters. Some are good at desperation phone calls. That last one is my forte. My phone line is always open to those who are wrestling their demons, and need a warm, welcoming, calming voice at the other end of the line. I will talk to my sponsees, or anyone in program, for as long as they need to, to get themselves back on an even keel.

I know full well how it feels to be on the calling end of that encounter, and how hugely grateful I would be to the Al-Anon member that slowly helped me work my way around to feeling that maybe life wasn't so bad after all, and I could handle whatever the crisis was, if I took it in small manageable sections rather than facing it as a whole, and how some could, once they'd calmed me down, get me into a laughing fit over the very thing I'd felt completely unable to deal with, when I'd dialed their number. I'd put the phone back onto the receiver and feel....better.

That's the word I listen for, when I get one of these calls. At times, it comes after 15 minutes, other times, it might take an hour and a half. It's almost always accompanied by a gusty sigh, and with that, I know I've done my bit, they've got a good chunk of program wisdom to carry with them into the rest of their day, and we can say goodbye.

I once had an Al-Anon member make a snide comment about the fact that I don't bring newcomers to meetings, and how was I working my program if I didn't do that? I went home, called my sponsor, and asked her directly if she felt I was lacking in this area.

Wise woman that she was, she briskly disposed of that, saying God uses each of us as He sees fit, and we are not expected to go out and proslytise for 12-Step - it's attraction rather than promotion, and if we don't run into those in need in our daily lives, nowhere is it suggested that we go hunt them down and drag them in, like trophies to our program.

I felt better after I talked to her.

The second half of Step Twelve, "practise these principles in all our affairs." explains that the wisdom we learn in our meetings can be expanded to our lives at large, to help make the world a better place. Not because of any glory we will get from it; (and there have been instances when I have had to wrestle a part of myself to the floor, put a gag over her mouth, and sit firmly upon her, in order to be able to practise these principles in a part of my life) we do it because it's the right thing to do.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Step Eleven.

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

It was a long and perilous journey for me, to arrive not at a place from which I could meet my Higher Power, because He was always right there with me, but a place from which I could recognise my need for a connection with God. As long as I was bound and determined to achieve my own ends by my own means, I was consigned to a constant low-level misery, which ran in the background of my life like the hum of an appliance - so familiar, so "normal," that most times, it escaped my notice.

During times of stress, that sound would swell to a roar which drowned out all my attempts to muffle or silence it. Then,  life would settle back into the rut, and the misery would once again diminish to an almost-unheard level. I had no concept of how to deal with it, how to eradicate it, or even, most times, that it was there at all.

It was through working the Twelve Steps that I became aware of my hunger for a deeper meaning, and a spiritual life. I thought God could only be accessed through organised religion, with which I had no patience, having had a rather severe form rammed down my throat as a small child, with a side order of abuse.

My first sponsor suggested I try talking to God as I would to a close and valued friend. (I've written elsewhere on this blog about the evolution of my prayers.) I began in profound doubt, but was willing to try anything, so was willing to "act as if."

My spiritual awakening was instant and irrevocable. Once I believed, there was no going back to my original state. Which isn't to say I haven't railed and cursed at my Higher Power when His will runs directly counter to my own, or when those I love have been taken from me. But I know He hears me, understands me, forgives me, and loves me. I know that once I'm finished with my arguments or protestations, and I accept that this is His will, that I can then pray for "the power to carry that out." and it too, will be given to me. We aren't asked to carry that out alone, we are told that we have a source of strength and power with us always, just waiting to be accessed.

From As We Understood, page 200:

"When we turn to God, we find He has been facing us all the time."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Step Ten.

"Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it."

I love this Step - it keeps me honest. Currently honest. It allows me to avoid carrying a smothering encumbrance of guilt.

It has requirements - I need to examine my motives, and when I have been wrong, I need to admit to it. This is a necessity for both ends of the wrongs spectrum - large, and small. For it can be in the small, easily overlooked wrongs that my justification lies coiled, waiting to leap out and snare me. It's not much of a step from "small" to "inconsequential." Once I allow my ego to begin making those distinctions, I am on a collision course with my Higher Power, who, if I don't hear the message when it's given to me gently, will move on to the spiritual equivalent of belting my knee against the corner of my beautiful-but-sharp-cornered coffee table...


I'll be clutching myself, gasping from the pain, groaning aloud, wondering how on earth I managed to do that to myself. Again.
I can progress fairly quickly now, through outrage to ruefulness. If I move the desk chair out when I'm vacuuming, and don't bother to replace it, I'm going to pay the price later on, when my kneecap and the table collide.

My emotional life is equally as simple. If I don't continue to take personal inventory, and when I am wrong, promptly admit to it, I'm going to be sore as hell when the inevitable collision occurs. I don't do this spiritual tidying-up because I'm aiming for curb appeal for a house that is a wreck inside. I value my relationships with other people enough to be willing to admit to my part in our troubles, no matter how minor. I value my relationship with my Higher Power enough to want to be able to approach Him with honesty and self-awareness. Finally, I do it because I value myself enough, not to want to inflict needless pain upon myself.

Blaming the world for my spiritual unrest, or my misery, is like blaming the coffee table for my sore knee.

Working this Step can be a hard slog through my own rationalisations - I often need to reason things out with someone else. This only works if I am scrupulously honest about what my internal dialogue was at the time.

Once I arrive at what I did, then I can go to the person or persons, and make my amend, and regardless of the result, let it all go.

I was mentioning to a program friend recently that I wouldn't have thought it when I started doing this, but making the amend gives me the same result, whether its accepted or refused - I feel better. My conscience is clear, I can go on with my life, and leave the person I've made the amend to, to make their own choices. I don't have to beg them to accept it, I don't have to feel resentful if they don't.

My friend's father died this week, and my friend was telling me about talking with his siblings, and remembering some of their dad's favourite sayings. One was:

"If you've got a chip on your shoulder, it's usually a sign of nothing but wood further up."

Step Ten has removed the wood, and given me back my brain.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Step Nine.

"Made directs amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."

When I was doing this Step for the first time, my ego was telling me that almost everyone on my list was covered by the second part of the Step, so I didn't need to make amends to that person, or that person, or that person, or...anyone much, really!

I was very entertaining for my first sponsor. She was British, and didn't mince words. When I was finished my little recital, she looked me directly in the eye, smiled sweetly, and replied:

Considerably chagrined, I started again at the top of my list, and we picked out those I felt I could make an amend to immediately. That was followed by those I was afraid might reject my amend, so for those people, I needed to prepare myself - pray, and work to let go of the outcome.

That left a few (a small few) with whom I'd lost touch through one of us moving, or had been estranged from for so many years that the idea of contacting them filled me with dread.

The latter I set aside, and began making my amends. I was amazed at how many were accepted either with astonished laughter - I'd been worrying for years over that? Or a gracious thankyou for my having the courage to make the amend - that response invariably made tears spring to my eyes.

I always made it very clear at the start of the amend that I was not doing this in an effort to resurrect the relationship if the other person was not so inclined. I'd made my peace with that possibility, and in some cases, that's how it went. Others were willing to be friends again.

One met my amend with anger as fresh as the day I'd wronged them. That was excruciating, since I felt it necessary to sit and listen, without defending or rationalising or justifying. My amend was summarily rejected. I had to accept that I'd made my amend in good faith, and I needed to let go of the outcome; that's always in God's hands, not mine.

A few amends, I made with my sponsor standing in for the person I had wronged.

My amends to myself, I made sitting quietly at my kitchen table, during a time when I was home alone.

When I finished doing Step Nine, I was emotionally exhausted, and at the same time, strangely exhilarated - my guilt was gone. (I promptly began manufacturing some more, since I have that type of personality, and that's why I'm still in Al-Anon.)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Step Eight.

"Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all."
In this Step, I am being asked to be honest with myself about the harm that I have done in my life, and to work towards achieving willingness to make amends. When I did this for the first time, my list was exhaustive. All the guilt and grime and gunk - I wanted to be rid of all of it, so I scoured every inch of my memory. I made amends in person wherever possible, and when that wasn't, by phone call or by letter. Most of my amends were gracefully accepted. One in particular was very painfully refused, and that  brought me to a standstill for a while, as I dealt with my feelings surrounding that. My sponsor urged me on. With regard to people with whom I'd lost touch, I made amends with my sponsor standing in for the person.

When I finished, I was completely emptied out, and peaceful. This glorious feeling lasted for all of 5-10 seconds before my sponsor brought me rudely back to reality by asking a pointed question: Why was I not on my amends list? Did I not understand that if I didn't put myself on this list, I would continue to exhibit the same self-defeating behaviors which had caused me so much pain in the past?

She assigned me the monumental task of making up a list of all the ways I had harmed myself. I drove home feeling overwhelmed, and thoroughly annoyed with her, for not allowing me to bask in that great feeling for more than a nanosecond. Remembering that, I laugh - she had me dead to rights, and knew me well enough to perceive that if I didn't do this while still powerfully motivated, I might procrastinate for years.

This was one of the most intense times of self-examination I've ever experienced. It had been a formidable task to do Step Four - a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself; it was something else entirely to winkle out all the ways in which I'd harmed myself. Time and again, I saw that my harm to myself arose from my character defects. Pride, an inflated ego, fear, resentment, and many more, had motivated me to repeatedly choose the worst of all possible solutions to my past difficulties.

If I want to live free of guilt, remorse, or unease, I not only need to make better choices in my behaviors, I also need, when I mis-step, and harm another through sharp words or unkindness, to make amends for that.

Many years ago, I was in a fast-food restaurant, and spoke sharply to the counter person, who was mortified by my rudeness. I got my food, and went out to my car, where I unwrapped it, and could not take a bite. I could feel my Higher Power's presence, and knew what I had to do. I rewrapped the food, and going back into the restaurant, asked the boy if I could speak to him for a moment. He blanched, poor soul, but said yes, and walked down to the end of the counter so I could speak quietly to him. I apologised to him for my rudeness. His entire face lit up, and he accepted my amend with an eager kindness. We made eye contact for a moment, grinning at each other, then said goodbye, and off I went to happily devour my now-cold, but immeasurably delicious, food.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Step Seven.

"Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings."

I reached this Step, and the word "Humbly" brought me to a screeching halt. I couldn't get past it; it was a monumental roadblock to my progress.

I was stuck. On one word.

The very arrogance which was one of my worst character defects, now barred me from moving forward in my recovery, because it wouldn't allow me to consider choosing to be humble.

My definition of "humble" at that time was: obsequious, subservient, timid, servile.

My sponsor, God bless her, suggested that I pray for a different definiton of humble. I recall sitting in her kitchen, fiddling with the salt and pepper shakers as we spoke (I was a great fidgeter back then, it was an sign of my inner turmoil) and wondering, how would that help? She pointed out that it was my definition of the word that was interfering with my recovery, so, ask my Higher Power to give me a new definition!

Years later, she would laugh uncontrollably at the memory of the look on my face when she made this suggestion, and my terse reply of, "Sure; presto, chango!"

I went home and dutifully prayed for a new definition of "Humbly." One morning a week or so later, I woke up, and the first thought that went through my head was, "I'm allowing my shortcomings to be the reason I can't ask God to remove my shortcomings!" It made me laugh aloud to realise that. I decided that rather than pray for a new definiton of "humble," I needed to pray to be granted humility. If I couldn't get there on my own, I could be willing to be taken there in God's hands.

It worked. As always, when I am truly willing, miracles happen. Icefloes of long-held resentment melt and shift; rigid barricades to recovery crumble and fall. If I am on my knees (in reality, or just spiritually) and delighted with the feeling of willingness suffusing me, I am near to God, and I feel His presence.

From the ODAT, page 61:

"The attitude of true humility confers dignity and grace on us, and strengthens us to take intelligent spiritual action in solving our problems."

"...intelligent spiritual action..." - I love that.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Step Six.

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

What does it mean for me, to be "entirely ready?"

First, I need awareness of my character defects, and I gained this through doing a 4th Step, and then paying careful attention to my internal dialogue, both in times of tranquillity, and in moments of exasperation.

A program friend uses the phrase: "the stories that we tell ourselves" to describe the way our character defects affect our thinking. When I'm agitated, what story am I telling myself? Does it cast me as victim and the other person as villain? How feasible is this, and how much more probable, that we each have a part in the troubles, but that I'd rather believe myself blameless, as that requires no effort or action on my part?

I must be willing to give up whatever gratification my character defects have allowed me, for a new approach to dealing with life, and new compensations.
I must be willing to hold up a hand to my ego, as it stands at the forefront of my mind exhorting and defending, and detach from my feelings, to view my choices with as much objectivity as I can muster. If I can't muster any, or very little, and my ego is still bellowing and ranting, then I need to pick up the phone and call a program friend to reason things out.

I tell my sponsees, "If the program friend you call does nothing but agree with your viewpoint, then you need to find another person to call at those times, because it may be satisfying to hear it, but that agreement only strengthens your misery by reinforcing your defenses."

When we are new to 12-Step, and we try to deal with our egos on our own, it's like going up against a sumo wrestler, after we've done nothing to prepare but a week of stretching exercises - no contest. Splat. Ding. Belt goes to the big guy in the thong.

I'm entirely ready when I'm frustrated at my own craziness, when my obsessive mind is chewing the same ground endlessly, smoke pouring from the machinery, rattling and shaking, parts flying off and nearly taking the dog's head off as they go zinging into the stratosphere, when I just cannot do it on my own.

I'm ready when I'm on my knees, unable to rise, completely exhausted and beaten down, not by the alcoholics or by life, but by my own habitual responses - my character defects.

Then, and only then, in my case, (obduracy being one of my character defects, which I have in abundance) was I able to consider choosing to try an alternate way of dealing with my life.

I was entirely ready. I had hoped this would be a permanent state, but in all honesty, I'd have to call it semi-permanent, because if I'm in HALT, I'm more likely to revert to old habits. But now I can catch myself doing so, forgive myself, and change my attitude.

From the ODAT, page 172:

"If am truly willing, I will see them replaced gradually by impulses of a different quality, that I can live with, comfortably free from self-reproach."

Isn't that a beautiful concept? Living "...comfortably free from self-reproach." I want that. That sounds like ... serenity.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Life Lessons.

One of the rather more disconcerting ways my Higher Power has to ram a message home to me, is to present me with someone else behaving towards me, in a way I used to behave before learning a different way in Al-Anon. I've had this happen a few times in the last couple of years, dealing with one particular aspect of my personality, and every time, I cringe, because seeing it from the other side of the equation, is not pleasant.

I get a brutally clear understanding of what it must have been like to deal with me, for people in my life. I have a good program friend with whom I regularly "reason things out" and we managed to work through the fallout from this particular character defect, when I went to him after several years of being estranged (by my choice, he was always willing to talk) and made amends, which he had accepted not only graciously, but joyfully. He was delighted that I had made this leap forward in my compassion, ability to empathise, and understanding, and told me so.

I find him an invaluable resource when I'm on the receiving end of the same kind of behavior from others, as we can talk about how my doing what I did felt like for him, and how I feel experiencing it myself.

It's painful, but the lessons taught in this hard fashion are not ones I need to learn twice. I can be a slow learner in some ways, if willfullness and denial are operating in me, but these life lessons aren't the kind I am able to forget. Before I had my growth in this area, I judged other people very harshly in my fear, and I was a grudge-holder of monumental proportions.

When I talk to my friend, he says kindly, "I knew you were afraid, but I knew you were working your program, and I knew you'd grow through it sooner or later, and then we could talk again."

That brought a lump to my throat, and the sting of tears to my eyes, that even when I was shutting him out of my life all those years ago, he was preparing to welcome me back into his.

I didn't understand how he was able to do this, when he did it for me, but I understand now, because I can see where so much of what we all do is fear-based, and I can't hold it against another person that they act from fear. Paradoxically, I am becoming more accepting and more forgiving as I become better at setting and maintaining my boundaries . I am so grateful for Al-Anon, and the people I've come to know and love through this wonderful program.