Friday, October 30, 2009


From AA's Big Book, page 58:

""Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such infortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty."

I sat in my home group this week, and listened to one of these people. I've never, in all my years of program, seen anyone attend 2-3 meetings each week, and remain so untouched, and unchanged. I'll never forget the night I sat in a meeting and listened to this woman speak, after everyone else had spoken, on the topic "justifiying our own behavior" and got a cold shiver down my back as she said, with no apparent understanding of what she was saying, that she was grateful for her justifications, because they allowed her to behave however she liked, without having to worry about someone else's feelings. She'd been in Al-Anon, attending numerous meetings in a week, for 3 years by that time.

(It's probably not very politically correct of me to say this, but I see this woman as an object lesson of what happens when we cannot give up our self-deception to work an honest program.)

I've seen many people attend meetings long enough to realise that the next step necessary for their growth is to examine their own behavior in detail, and then they stop coming to meetings, and one never sees them again. They just cannot face it, for whatever reason.

I've seen people reach this point in recovery and run headfirst into the proverbial brick wall of their own defenses, and stay stuck there, trying to find a way to slide out, or by, or around. I've watched people try to bargain, reason, argue or barter their way out of doing a Step 4, and I've seen how their recovery is a truncated and measly thing because of it, allowing them just enough relief to make it possible to keep plodding along, tolerating their lives instead of living joyfully.

The Big Book of AA goes on to say:

“Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.”

I call that "a leap of faith." I throw myself off the mountain of my discontent with complete abandon, trusting God to catch me. I can stand at the edge and look down and wiggle and squirm and struggle and protest, but until I jump, I haven't jumped. I can make fake-out lunges, and tell myself I almost jumped. I can decide to go home and jump some other time. I can practise all manner of self-deception, and most likely, my friends in program will nod and agree that yes, I did almost jump, and not point out that no, it doesn't work that way, you have to actually leave solid ground for it to count as a jump. My sponsor will, though. She'll smile lovingly at me, and point out that we are up here, rather than down there, so all self-deception aside, I didn't jump, did I?

I'm so grateful that with the help of my first sponsor, and all my other program friends, I was able to let of my ego's need to steer, and be able to climb into the back seat and let God take over the wheel. Although, I must confess, even then, I did my share of back-seat driving. Until my sponsor suggested I try something novel - shutting up.

Just say yes to God, and whatever He offers. The catch to that being, He requires that I be honest with myself, and with Him, to demonstrate my willingness. Just as it works for alcoholics in AA, it works for us in Al-Anon, that half-measures avail us nothing, and we stand at a turning point. I love that: "complete abandon."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Asking For What We Need.

My little female dog is a lover of close physical contact and snuggling. When she wants this from me, she will come to wherever I am, and ask for it. She has a certain silly dance she does when she wants to be cuddled, and I can never resist her. I'll scoop her up, put her on my lap inside my sweater, and she will settle in with a sigh of contentment.

Dogs are uncomplicated that way - when we've been living with them for a short period of time, we pretty much figure out how to communicate, and they let us know when they have a want or a need, and ask for us to fill it.

Humans can be a puzzle, especially when the person doesn't know themselves what it is they want or need. Or when their needs and wants seem to be in direct conflict with our own - then what do we do? If you are like most of us when we came into Al-Anon, we always put the other first, not hard to do when faced with the strength of the alcoholic ego sweeping all before it. Anyone who has lived with alcoholism for any length of time can know that feeling of "Anything to keep the peace." I know I was so shut off that I'd lost sight of the importance of meeting my own needs in life, as well as being a source of comfort and solace to others. I wouldn't allow anyone close enough to be a source of comfort and solace to me. I didn't think I needed it, I was tough. I thought. Truly, I was just numb. The only feeling I had was anger. I used to shake with rage.

From Hope for Today, page 159:

"I rarely cried while I was growing up in my alcoholic family. I was sure it was a sign of weakness. However, my emotions came as a package. When I turned off one feeling, I also shut off all the others."

I shut off all but anger - I was consumed with it, and had been from the time I was a child. Children know, when they are being physically abused, that this is not right, or fair, and ongoing abuse lights a terrible rage within, which if not dealt with, will ravage them as an adult.

The only way for me to let go of my fury, was to talk about some of what had been done to me, to a person who would listen while I ranted and railed against my tormentor - for me, this was my first sponsor. It was a long and arduous process to work my way past the animosity to the pain below. I was like the writer in the earlier quote - I never cried, I couldn't. I might have stinging eyes, or a lump in my throat, but I couldn't weep, even if I'd wanted to, and living with active alcoholism, I wasn't sure I did.

My sponsor kept asking me how I'd felt as a child, and I kept sidestepping with bland phrases along the lines of, "Well, I didn't like it, of course..." One day she said to me, quietly, and with feeling, "You will never get anywhere until you let yourself know what you felt back then."

Let myself know? What was she talking about? That was one of those comments which continue to rise in the mind, refusing to be pushed away, bobbing to the surface like a damn rubber ducky in the bathtub. One can either expend a fair amount of energy holding it below the surface, or let go, and watch it rise to sit directly in the path of our gaze, gently moving with the water's swell. What one cannot do, is ignore it.

For me, there was no quick relief, it took years of working the Steps - slowly working my way down through my defenses, through the anger and the resentment to the pain beneath.

The bewildered agony I had felt as a child, molded me into the adult I had become. Under all my rage and resentment was a gnawing, confused, agony of soul. God was my comfort and my solace in that time of excavating the past. God working through my sponsor. The kindness in her eyes could cause me an actual physical pain in my chest; I didn't know how to receive kindness, I felt anxious and undeserving. My sponsor used to reach out and hold my hand with hers, and say softly, "Just sit with it. You're an adult, and you're safe now. Trust God."

I feel with all my earthly self, that "mere words cannot express" my gratitude for all that this program, and the people in it, have given me. God bless you and keep you.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Doom and Gloom.

I don't know if it's a result of my time in Al-Anon, but one thing which has become glaringly obvious to me in the last while, is the large number of people who have only negative responses to offer when I talk about my new adventure.

I've heard a wide variety of versions of this dirge of negativity. The same ones who assured us with great authority that we'd never be able to live successfully in a small town, are now assuring us that the only reason we've been so successful is that we live in a small town, and we will fail dismally in the city. We've been told that crime is rampant, taxes are higher, people are unfriendly, that our move is a bad idea for any number of reasons.

Why do people do this? What do they get out of it? It's not a response I understand, and I've had days where I've had to bite my tongue not to snap something smartaleck back to the naysayers. My spouse finds it amusing, and has started to keep an informal tally of positive to negative. They came home one day laughing, and told me that the very same friend who had predicted utter failure here, was now predicting utter failure in the city, for precisely the same reasons.

I've been surprised to discover how many program friends respond in this same way - my detachment skills have been getting a good workout lately.

I'm choosing to put my faith in God; He's got a better attitude about these things.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What An Apology Is Not.

Any sentence containing the word "but."

As in:
"I'm sorry about what happened earlier, but I don't know why you got so upset over something so small..."

I've heard it suggested that in any sentence broken into two clauses with the word "but" separating them, the truth comes in the second half, and everything before "but" is just window dressing and padding. I think that's probably true, most times. I also would point out that the person offering the alleged apology has not accepted responsibility, they've nicely sidestepped it by using the phrase "what happened earlier." When anyone tries to pass one of these off on me, as an apology, I will stop them, and ask, "What happened earlier?" If they've taken their own inventory, and have clarity as to where they went wrong, they can state this without long pauses for thought. If they haven't done so, and are only trying to make peace, they might respond with "You know..." In which case, I'll say pleasantly, "I'm not sure, why don't you enlighten me."

Before Al-Anon, any hint of apology would have me falling all over myself reassuring the other person that it was ok, I was fine, things were great - all done in service to the people-pleasing part of my character, which finds it so painful when someone is angry with me.

I have learned that it's not up to me to do the work for the other person. I try not to rush to forgive before the amend has been made, because this gets in the way of giving them the room to work an honest program. I try not to say it's all right when it isn't. I try to say what I feel, and what I think. (I'm a work in progress, in this area - people-pleasing is powerfully intertwined with my character.)

This may sound harsh; when I was new to Al-Anon, I wondered what was wrong with smoothing things over? Now, I understand that what I thought I was doing, and what I was actually accomplishing with my peacemaking efforts, were inconsistent.

I've spent years making allowances, and inventing excuses for unacceptable behavior, and all I've achieved in doing so, is to prolong the misery for everyone involved. I've made it possible for problems to go unresolved, because I've accepted what I never should have, in the name of "being nice."

We teach people how to treat us. It's my responsibility to speak up when I don't like the way I'm being treated. I cannot expect the other person to discern this through proximity, osmosis, or guesswork. Al-Anon taught me that I have the right to say "I don't like this - I don't want you to do this to me."

If I want a change, I must be willing to put in the, at times, incredibly tedious work of stating and restating my position - clearly, without heat or abuse. Just the facts, ma'am. I need to be consistent, even when I'm so fatigued I can barely think. If I let the alcoholic get away with it even one time, I'll pay for it later, in their renewed efforts to change the status quo back to a more self-serving place. So many times I have had to close my eyes, breathe deeply, and ask God for help to say whatever it is, again. And again. And again. Gak.

MrSponsorPants has a post today, with a great quote from his first sponsor as to the nature of the alcoholic ego:

Those of us intimately acquainted with an alcoholic can attest to the truth of that. A program friend jokes that every now and then, she wishes for a cattle prod, so she could just give one little teeny tiny zap with it - zzzzzt! Just to get their attention. I laugh each time she says it, because I can indentify so strongly with the feelings behind it.

No rest for the wicked; but hey, what about the rest of us?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Common Sayings.

"We're just like family."

To most people, that means the workplace/church/sports team/hobby club is a wonderful positive place. But not for all. Last night, my spouse and I were sprawled in the livingroom, totally done in after a day of working on the house, watching a home-renovation show. (One-track minds these days...) The crew kept saying that - "We're just like family!" After a while, my spouse turned to me, and grinning, said, "Well, if that's the case, I'm glad I don't work there!"

As the result of our childhoods, we both have stong negative associations with the word "family."

It caused me to think about how often we use that sort of shorthand communication in daily life, to express an involved concept, and just assume that our listener defines that phrase the same way and therefore, understands our meaning.

Al-Anon was the first place it was demonstrated to me, that this is a faulty assumption. Some of us are skilled at pretending, but the reality is a far distant place. If I don't check in with my listener, and allow room for their reality in our conversation, I may come away thinking that there's only one interpretation of our encounter, and they go thinking there's only the other, and the two bear no resemblance.

True communication requires that we allow the other to speak their truth, and endeavor to be sufficiently open-minded to hear it. I know I had a tendency to just dismiss whatever didn't fit my worldview, when I was new to program.

Al-Anon teaches me to accept that difference, honor it, and allow it to educate me. This does not mean that I'm required to shift my position with each wind that comes along; bending gently makes me stronger and more able to withstand those more powerful winds which would try to uproot me.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

If I'm Tired Enough, I Don't Worry.

One of the selling features for me with this house, was the incredible amount of natural light - each room has big windows on at least two walls. Even on the grayest of days, it's light inside. I've always loved that about it, but it makes window washing a day-long chore. Between that, and laundering window treatments, I'm feeling done in tonight. For some reason, I feel compelled to get this prep work done as quickly as possible.  It must be my Higher Power's nudging.

I read in the ODAT today about being aware of my finer qualities, as well as my shortcomings. I like that. Too much dwelling on what I don't like about myself, puts me into a negative frame of mind. An Al-Anon friend says: "What we feed, grows." I feel this is very true for me. If I feed negativity and self-dislike, I encourage it to grow from a small sprout, to an invasive plant, which sends out tendrils everywhere, tangling itself into all aspects of my daily life, and becoming more stubborn and resistant to uprooting.

Concentrating upon my shortcomings was habitual for me, for very many years. It has been no small task to try to shift my point of reference to a more pleasant view of myself. Habit prevails; let me work to achieve a habit of positivity.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Listening For God's Will.

From the ODAT, page 294:

"I may be ready to submit to God's guidance, I may humbly ask for it, but along with being willing I must coperate by doing my part. If I am truly receptive, He will make His will known to me step by step, each day, but I must carry it out.

Sometimes, I've asked for God's guidance, and been completely unwilling to hear the reply, because it may have been the opposite of what I'd hoped for. Al-Anon has taught me that if I fight my Higher Power's will, I invite frustration and misery into my life.

My ex used to play a game with his girls, where he'd gently put his hand on their chests, stretch his (rather long) arm to full extension, and then hold them out there, while they gamely tried with all their strength to push themselves closer. This game was always played with much wild giggling laughter - they just loved it, and would ask, "Daddy let's play the arm game!"

I've had times in my life where I feel like I've been out at the end of God's arm, being gently held back from whatever it was. But I wasn't laughing, and I wasn't enjoying myself; I was furiously sullen and resentful. I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it, and if life didn't go my way, I was a terrible sulker.

Al-Anon has taught me surrender to God's will, but it has also taught me to listen carefully for His guidance as to the work He wants me to do, to achieve my goal. He will help, but He isn't going to do it for me, while I lie around peeling grapes and giving orders.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Computer Withdrawals...

Just a quick note to say, I haven't been able to get to my blog for two days, since my computer was under a dropcloth while my workroom was being painted. It looks marvellous. I spent the last two days outdoors wrestling the gardens into a less jungle-like, more civilised-looking state.

I'll be back to posting again tomorrow, or maybe tonight after my meeting, if I have any energy left.

From the ODAT, page 293:

"God grant me the sense of proportion to judge the difference between an incident, and a crisis."

I've noticed that if I'm sufficiently fatigued, that becomes quite simple.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dealing With Difficult People.

I was thinking about this yesterday, but was so busy, I didn't get to my computer until after midnight, and then sat facing the monitor, yawning hugely, and finally realised if I did manage to compose a post, it would likely be garbled and confusing. I went to bed instead.

When I've had encounters with someone, and been faced with hostility or rudeness from them, the next time I approach that person, I will most likely be doing it with expectations of more of the same.

I'm trying to learn to do things differently. It can be a wierd high-wire walk, to let go of negative expectations, and allow for the possibility of a positive encounter, while at the same time, not allowing myself to be treated in an unacceptable manner.
There will always be those who cannot understand how their own hostility mandates their life experiences - I no longer see it as my job to inform them of this fact.  My job is to look after me, and to present to the world at large, the most positive, accepting, tolerant, and understanding face of which I am able.

When I was new in Al-Anon, and full of anger, I had a short fuse - I was easily provoked, and would seethe with resentment and fury, holding the other person accountable for my feelings. There were a lot of things about life that I felt should be changed, and I was vocal about it. I look back now, and think I must have been a bit of a bore, with all my ranting and raving about how things "should be."

Control freak is still my default mode, but I have the tools and experience in 12-Step, and the companionship of my group and my sponsor, to help me not have to live in that frustrating, lonely place.

Difficult people can still trigger me, but not with anywhere near the same intensity as before Al-Anon. Now, rather than having my entire week "ruined" by another's rudeness or intractibility, Iwork to detach, and ask myself, do I have a part in this? If I don't, I can speak up if I feel I need to, or keep quiet and allow it to pass by me.

I try very hard not to take other people's inventory, and to see their rudeness as their pain bursting through, rather than a deliberate attempt to hurt me. I do not always manage this, far from it at times.  I try to detach, to see past the sound and fury, to the person. I aim to be able to see them as a child of God, doing the best they know how at the time, just as the loving members of my first Al-Anon group were able to see past all my noise to the real, frightened me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Consequences Of Loving.

When I came into Al-Anon, I was so shut down and numbed out, the only emotion I was aware of feeling was anger. I was angry most of the time. When I wasn't angry, I felt nothing, just blanked out.

Through the grace of this program, I have slowly come to be able to feel all of the emotions with which God has blessed us. I've learned to love myself, and to take the terrifying risk of loving others, and have found a level and depth of joy in living I'd never have believed possible for someone with my history.

With this ability to love, comes the possibility of grief in loss. I'm trying hard not to project, but I've had a couple of conversations with my sponsor and other group members with whom I am close, about moving, and it's painful.

I'm grateful, wtih all my heart and soul, that I can say to these wonderful people who enrich my life: "I love you." If there is one lesson I have learned through the years, it is this: speak of your love. Tell the people who are a glorious addition to your life that you feel this way about them. Let your fellow travellers inside program, and out, know how much you appreciate their companionship and support, because we are fragile beings, and we cannot see around the corner to what lies ahead.

Never leave the house angry - you may not come home again, and you will have left a terrible grief behind you, and a regret for angry words which cannot be unspoken.

If you love another person, tell them often. Tell them why. I cannot count the times I have heard a survivor say, in sadness, "I never told her how much I liked her sense of humour/kindness to animals/love for nature. I wish I had, now."

Be lavish in your honest praise - we all need to hear about how we are appreciated for what we do, and for who we are.

My first sponsor said to me, in one of her rare serious moments, that love is a double-edged blade - slicing cleanly through to our essential beings, carrying tremendous joy, and excruciating pain. You cannot have one without the other.

I've lived a closed-down safe life, and now I'm living what is much better - in the precarious state of loving.

Monday, October 12, 2009

More On Boundaries.

From Hope for Today, page 206:

"With the help of my Higher Power and the Serenity Prayer, I've learned to distinguish between real and imagined threats."

I was talking to a program friend about this just the other day - how we are much less likely to assume that a comment is critical when we are in a state of balance. When my equilibrium is jeopardised because of stress, I'm reminded of that wonderful passage from Lewis Carroll's Through The Looking Glass :

"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else — if you run very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."
"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

When I'm stressed, I can feel like Alice, running with all-out effort, and confused as to why I'm not getting anywhere. In that state, an innocent or offhand observation from another person can feel like an attack. If I don't have good boundaries, and a way to process the information before responding, then almost before I know it, we will be engaged in (minor) conflict over not much. 

When I'm stressed, or in HALT, I'm less able to "distinguish between real and imagined threats." I may react to an innocent comment or question with defensiveness because I'm too tired to be able to think very clearly.  I have learned not to respond to defensiveness in kind, but to stop and state why I said what I did - "I didn't mean that to sound like a criticism, I was..." That simple sentence defuses the situation. Instead of criticising the other for being too stressed or tired to be able to distinguish real from imagined threats, we try to offer support and encouragement and explanation.

My first sponsor used to say that in any conflict, I had two choices: the first was to respond in a way to further my own character defects, and the second was to respond in a way to demonstrate my love. I try to be aware when I reach that point, and to choose the latter.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Why Do I Need A Sponsor?

I need a sponsor because I've developed coping mechanisms which very quickly will have me convinced that whatever it was I did/said/thought was perfectly and completely reasonable and acceptable under the circumstances, because -  any rational person would be feeling as I do, right?

When I go to my sponsor with this specious reasoning, she will kindly hear me out, then gently offer an alternative reasoning which will leave me not a millimetre of wiggle-room, and do it in such a way that invariably, I end up laughing at myself.

When I was new to program, I needed someone who was tough, and would listen to my torrent of complaint, and when I finished, look me straight in the eye, and say firmly, "Bollocks."

Some of us need that painful honesty - it's the only way to puncture our denial. I've seen what happens when people deliberately pick a sponsor who they know won't confront their self-deceptions or encourage them to work the Steps; they don't move past a certain level of understanding in the program. Perhaps they will stay stuck there for years on end, getting ever more frustrated, or perhaps they begin to miss meetings, and slip away from Al-Anon entirely.

I need a sponsor so that I can have the use of her experience in working the program,to see around corners which remain blind to me.

I need a sponsor so I have one person I can trust absolutely with all my "stuff," knowing she will never deliberately shame or embarass me. This isn't to say that I won't feel those emotions while working the Steps, I think that's a natural progression, as we work through them - we need to feel it, and then be able to move beyond it, in faith that God will carry us.

I need a sponsor to be my cheering section, on days when I'm tired and grumpy and feeling irritated and annoyed with myself for doing whatever it is again. On those days I need to hear someone tell me "But look at the incredible distance you've travelled - remember when you used to think this about that?" My sponsor helps to keep me motivated when I'm feeling frustrated with what I see as my lack of progress in one area. We are not always able to track our own progress accurately.

I need a sponsor to help me apply Al-Anon wisdom to all areas of my life, not merely those which pertain to the alcoholic directly. Some of us tend to have a narrow scope of vision when we're under stress - a sponsor helps to widen that.

I need a sponsor so that I have someone who loves me when I cannot love myself - this love proves to me that I am worth it - worth the striving, misdirection, and maddening vexation of trying to improve myself.

Friday, October 9, 2009


I've decided to move, and I've been thinking about wbat that means for me in terms of program - I'm going to have to start all over in the new city.

I shall miss my sponsor. I'm closer to her than I've ever been to another human being. I'm trying hard not to project, because I don't want the knowledge of the coming loss to colour my present enjoyment of life.

This sort of change is made much easier with the knowledge that the major events are in my Higher Power's hands. That allows me to do what I can do for my part, and let go of the rest. I've done this sort of move without faith, and with faith, and the latter is by far the better way to go about it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pain - It's All Relative, con't.

It appears that it was just the process which had my tooth all worked up and vociferous in complaint - a few industrial-strength anti- inflammatories from my dentist, and now I'm getting just the odd gentle twinge. Thanks to those who sent good wishes - it's comforting to read them.

We are renovating our bathroom. Yesterday, in the process of trying to remove the old bathtub,  it was discovered that whoever had built the wall to hold the shower line and head, had built it so close to the tub that it was almost impossible to get the tub out. It was wedged in so tightly that it took two hours to remove it - first using a reciprocating saw to remove the edge of 2x4 blocking it in at the outside edge, and then a crowbar to lever the tub out inch by inch. Not installing that wall correctly - not leaving clearance room for the tub of just 1/4" to 1/2" - made it a herculean struggle to do something which should have been easy. Usually once a tub is disconnected, it will lift right out.

Someone joked that it was a metaphor for life - control freaks who are convinced they know how to do something, (but don't) can make life incredibly troublesome for other people.

My first sponsor used to call that state of mind "arrogant ignorance." It's very seductive, and flattering for our ego, to believe that we know best. If we aren't brought up short by crisis or the wisdom of Al-Anon, most of us would continue trying to ram our point of view down the craw of all around us.

A newcomer to Al-Anon asks: "Who gets to decide who's right?"

That's a personal choice for each of us. We don't like that idea, when we are new to 12-Step; we want so badly to be right, and the drinker to be wrong. We can muster numerable facts to buttress our position - we can prove it! I used to list off a long line of this sort of proving argument, and my sponsor would wait until I ran down, then in response, say one word: "And?"

If I looked at her blankly, she'd elaborate:"What good has it done you, being right?"

I didn't want to let go of my belief that because I was right - the alcoholic should quit drinking - I could find a way to make it happen. For those of us raised to believe that hard work is rewarded with success, this is a rough reality to choke down. But refusing it keeps us stuck in that same cycle of behaviors with the alcoholic. They drink, we try to make them quit, they drink more, we try harder to make them quit, they drink even more.

When I began training my first dog, I quickly found that it does me no good to shame or chide a dog for a mistake - when I do that, their ears droop, they hunch down, they completely lose sight of what I was asking them to do, in their attempts to appease me. A rough or angry tone of voice interferes with the message. If I ignore their mistake, and instead give them another chance to do it correctly, so I can tell them how wonderful they are for having done it, that's powerfully effective.

Why did it take me another twenty years to apply this piece of wisdom elsewhere in my life - anger gets in the way, and is futile?
Why can it still sometimes be so hard for me to accept that it isn't my place to be training people?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pain - It's All Relative.

I had a crown put on a molar yesterday, and once the freezing wore off, suffered all the rest of the day, and into the night with severe pain. I'm going back to the dentist in a couple of hours.

I don't have much to say because of it. But the sun is shining, and apart from my tooth, life is good.

That's Al-Anon working in my life - I can see those blessings even with my face throbbing and pounding. I know I am blessed, this too shall pass, and I sincerely hope that no-one reading this has a toothache!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Whinging and Moaning.

I spent some time yesterday with a non-program person I hadn't seen in a while, and was surprised to realise just how much time this person spends complaining - about work, mostly, but other things as well - a steady negative stream of judgement and thinly-veiled condemnation. Any efforts I made to turn the course of the conversation into more positive channels only worked momentarily, we were soon back into the well-worn groove of complaint. I found two hours with this person draining and depressing. I said to a friend afterwards, "I'm going to go shoot myself now."  They laughed, and suggested I listen to a 12-Step speaker to cheer myself up.

It's one of the main teachings of Al-Anon - stop doing what my first sponsor called "whinging and moaning," do something to change ourselves. Immediately, our situation and conditions will miraculously become easier to bear, because our changed attitude will make it so.

If we continue to work our program, we find that life will become a thing of beauty and satisfaction. That's a promise.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Researching Alcohlism.

From the ODAT, page 204:

"An Al-Anon member may devote a lot of time to reading scientific books on alcoholism because she images it will make her better able to cope with "the problem." Unless we intend to become professionsals in the field, nothing is to be gained by an in-depth study of the disease."

I was thinking about this today, because I've noticed that since I've begun to listen to AA speakers every day while exercising, I'm struck by the wide variety in their childhood experiences. Everything from rampant alcoholism in one or both parents, to
parents that are all any child could wish for.

This underscores that alcoholism is a disease. One cannot always point to a clear-cut reason for any one person to have fallen victim to its ravages. I did a lot of research before I came into program, reading all I could get my hands on, in an effort to understand. I believed if I just understood, I could find a solution, he'd stop drinking, and we'd live happily ever after.

When it began to sink in that none of that information helped arrest the course of the disease, I began to feel despair. It started in that one area of my life, and slowly encroached upon all other areas, until despair was all I could feel. I'd shut down so much of myself, trying to avoid being hurt, that I was running on habit and instinct. Days were something to "get through."

I don't ever want to reach that depth of misery again. I know that I can avoid going to that "cold and lonely place" if I am willing to work my program energetically. When I keep the focus upon myself and my character defects, and don't try to change anyone but myself, I achieve a closer contact with my Higher Power.

Information can be helpful, but it isn't a solution. God is a solution. God is the solution. I have only to ask for help, and it will be given to me: generously, abundantly, and, like a delicious spoonful of real whipped cream, with a dollop of hope on top.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Blind Obduracy or Panic?

How often, when I'm facing what I believe to be obstinacy in another person, am I really facing trepidation and panic?

Is it possible that I'm placing this interpretation upon their actions, so that rather than feel compassion, I may persist in my attitude of scorn, resentment, anger?

I can look back over my own life. and see with clarity, when fear motivated me to make questionable choices as a result of my panic and confusion. Is it possible that the person I'm facing is also in that state of fear and distress?

Why did I always ascribe the worst of all motives to others, and the best to myself?

I've seen my little dog in a state of panic, and when she's in that blind fear, she will fight even loving hands trying to extricate her - her desperation to escape overrides her ability to think or reason.

I've seen newcomers in Al-Anon who are willing to smash the entire structure of their lives to get out, get away. The problem with that, being - one takes oneself along in that mad dash to freedom. And it certainly has been true for me, what George Santanya said:

"Those who cannot remember the past,
 are condemned to repeat it." 

I believe this is one reason we are urged to remember HALT - when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, fear can seep in through the tiniest of breaches. Compassion, for ourselves, and for others, is to be desired, it makes life bearable when we feel we cannot take another step. When I choose compassion for another, I offer our shared humanity as comfort.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Striking A Happy Medium.

Some of us are not adroit listeners; we dismiss points of view different from our own, and ride over protests or comments like a personnel carrier moving toward a previously set objective.

Some aren't at all skilled at "social signals" - those little nonverbal communications demonstrating that our listeners are becoming irritated, impatient, bored or restless.

Conversely, some of us examine people's faces as though we were intelligence service operatives, always checking and rechecking, to see if we can distinguish from facial twitches and eye movements, how they are feeling towards us. My ex once said with great feeling, "Stop gawking at me!" (I was thoroughly offended at the time, but now that makes me laugh; I did gawk at him. He wouldn't tell me how he felt, so I was always trying to discern it. I'd find it very disconcerting to be watched all the time, the way I used to watch him.)

Before Al-Anon, I was not a person who was capable of finding a happy medium. I was an unhappy person who operated at one extreme or the other. I didn't know how to compromise.

In Al-Anon, I have learned that others deserve my respect simply because they are here on this earth. I can demonstrate my respect by allowing them equal time to be heard, and truly listening. I don't have to agree, but I do need to listen. I can be aware of my innate desire to lecture and manage, and work to behave differently. And it is work, hard work, sometimes. I'm going against years of behaving a certain way; until my new behavior becomes second nature, I need to pay attention to what I am saying and doing.

If I wait until other people start acting the way I want them to, before I am willing to make any changes in myself, I may still be waiting, on the day I leave this earth.

Let it begin with me.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Accepting Responsibility.

Am I doing this in all areas of my life? Am I owning up to my mistakes, and making amends? Am I stopping to consider my motives before speaking? Am I taking personal inventory each day, to keep myself honest?

Am I deciding that today, I will not give myself permission to procrastinate again on whatever it is I know I should be doing?

Am I trying to be the best person I can be, or am I giving myself permission to take a holiday from Al-Anon for the next minute/hour/day, in order to satisfy my controlling nature?

The concept of "giving myself permission" is one I stress to newcomers, and to my sponsees. They know, or they learn quickly, that when speaking to me, it's inadvisable to use the phrase "It just happened!"

Try that one on me, and you will see me making wierd little faces while I wage an internal war, fighting to conquer my sarcastic desire to say: "Oh, you were just sitting there quietly communing with nature, and the next moment you were (insert character defect in action)? That must have been distressing for you!"

That's what I want to say, what I usually end up saying is something along the lines of, "Let's back up a bit, and see if we can figure out where you first began to give yourself permission to go down the path which leads inevitably to that action.."

I've learned that for myself, my choices are not always so clear-cut to allow me to grasp instantly where I went wrong, when doing a Step 10. I may need to backtrack quite some distance to find the fork in the road. I often discover that the major wrong has been prefaced by a few minor, always growing in intensity.

I'm striving to catch myself earlier in the process, so that I can accept responsibility ahead of time, and make better choices. That way, I don't have to make so many amends afterwards. Because make them I will have to - my conscience will not let me rest until I do. My conscience appears to have morphed from a "still small voice" to a loudly nagging bellow. If I want any peace from it, I need to practise these principles in all my affairs.